Bell, let’s talk about fixing the system

“I wish someone had told me this simple, but confusing truth: Even when everything’s going your way you can still be sad. Or anxious. Or uncomfortably numb. Because you can’t always control your brain or your emotions even when things are perfect.” —Jenny Lawson

 

“Sabrina, can I talk to you?”

I walked into my office, expecting another thing to be added to my list. Being editor-in-chief of the Fulcrum, a student paper in Ottawa, meant I was doing a lot less reporting than I’d wanted and a lot more of being responsible for other people’s problems.

She launched into a series of apologies for bringing it up. She said she was sorry, but she couldn’t work this way. Why was I being so abrupt and unfriendly?

I looked at her through watery eyes and felt like someone was seeing me for the first time in months. I burst into tears

*          *          *

It’s not the kind of thing you worry about, having a bad day. Everyone has them.

An occasional bad day turned into bad sets of days. Eventually the good days were so rare that I wouldn’t want to go to sleep at night, terrified of losing the normal, good feeling.

And I should have been happy.

Everything was going great. I had a job I loved with great co-workers; our paper hosted a huge student journalism conference and I got to meet Peter Mansbridge, Diana Swain and Anna Holmes; I got paid to write my first freelance pieces; and I had my first press pass so I could report at the House of Commons.

It was all of the things I wanted, but I felt so awful. Not awful about those things, just awful about being alive. I opened my eyes every morning and wished I had never woken up. If this was going to be the rest of my life, I didn’t want it.

*          *          *

“Oh god, I’m so sorry Sabrina, I just say what’s on my mind, and it comes out,” she said it all in a flurry and it took me a few minutes to stop crying enough to respond.

It spilled out. All of the awful feelings, all of the unhappiness and the desperation. The trying more sleep, less sleep, staying home, going out. How none of it made me feel better or less numb.

The night before, in a moment of wanting more than this weak half-life, I had prayed for the first time in a decade. My co-worker felt like an answer to that prayer.

She knew a psychiatrist who operated out of her home and could be paid using OHIP. I could talk to someone, finally, without waiting weeks and months for a referral appointment through the university.

The last therapist I’d seen through the school had told me to start meditating and quit journalism. That experience hadn’t felt entirely helpful, but I was willing to try someone new.

*          *          *

This therapist worked out. Now I take medication and I try hard to go easy on myself. I’ve had to convince myself it’s OK to take breaks and get a good night’s sleep and ask for help.

But I was terribly lucky. Most students get six paid therapy sessions through the university and then they’re on their own. If you don’t see eye-to-eye with your therapist, you might have to wait weeks or months to see someone else.

This isn’t a personnel problem. My first therapist had the best of intentions. The problem is she’s probably seen thousands of people in the past few years and she’s limited by time and money, just like everyone else in the mental health field.

I hope the funds raised by Bell Let’s Talk go toward expanding and fixing a broken system. If I’d had to wait for months to see someone, I’m not sure if I would have believed it was worth it. I don’t know if I’d be writing this blog post. A long life of unhappiness stretching before you is a lot to face.

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