October 19, 2021. I’ve hesitated on sharing this story publicly for months now but I’ve shared it with enough people who found it valuable in their own journey that I’m going to give it a shot.
It was almost 8 p.m. when David stopped to ask if I was okay. I was still on the phone with my therapist, parked outside the library in a torrential downpour, and I told him I was okay. I guess he didn’t believe me; I was kind of in the middle of crying. He went up around the block and parked at the bank across the street, and just stuck around for a while.
Eventually my therapist had to hang up. I was going to go home, but my brain was spiraling down the street drain like the rainwater outside, and I was pretty sure if I started driving home I would just drive right past the house and keep going to Rangeley, but I’d run out of gas before I got there and I would be stranded.
I couldn’t figure out what to do, but that police cruiser was still there.
I drove over to the bank and went over to the cruiser. I was terrified to talk to him but I didn’t know what else to do and he was right there. He got out and asked me, again, if I was okay. I said I thought I needed help, and he got me settled into the passenger seat and turned the heat on so I could stop shivering, and we just talked for a few minutes. He had a bunch of questions and asked a couple times if I needed to go to the hospital, but then he just let me talk. I was panicky and stuck in a year-old memory and all I wanted was to go home and see my mom, but my mom has a traumatic brain injury and I have post traumatic stress, and sometimes—through no one’s fault—we rub against each other like sandpaper.
When I finally stopped crying, David asked me a question that has completely changed my entire approach to my mental health.
“What are you going to do for the rest of the night?”
He sat and waited until I worked out a plan for the rest of the night—I would go home, have a glass of milk and the huge cookie I’d bought at the Orange Cat earlier that day, and watch a movie with Hannah. Then it would be time for bed, and I hoped I would be able to go to sleep without much trouble.
He thought that sounded like a good plan, and he gave me his card and said if I needed anything for the rest of the night, I could call Dispatch, ask for him, and he would come help.
That idea—of having a plan for getting through the next few hours—has stuck with me ever since. I actually created a ‘mental health first aid kit’ with instructions for using it and on the really bad days when I can’t figure out what to do or where to begin, I pull that out. But even when it’s not that bad, I can pause, figure out a plan for the next hour or two, and give myself space to process what’s going on. I just need to get through two hours and then I can reevaluate where I’m at. It’s become automatic—a thought process on my way home from a difficult day at work, a hard story I had to cover, a rough call. It’s just there: “what am I going to do for the next couple hours?” It is a good thought to have in my head, a good response. I don’t have to be okay right now, I just have to make a cup of cocoa and put on a familiar show and snuggle my cats for a couple hours. I create a space where I am allowed to be not okay in a safe way, and that makes it easier to move forward.
I wish I could articulate how much that changed the game for me, but it’s hard to explain when I don’t entirely understand it. All I know is that that one sentence, that one question, has been a lifesaver.
Originally posted on Facebook on October 19, 2021.