It is on the eve of my second visit to an emergency room, for a severe depressive episode that has cost me 20 pounds and approximately 63 hours of sleep, that I find myself staring at my urine sample perched on the windowsill of nurse’s station and starting to think very seriously about One Direction’s depression themed barn burner “Through the Dark”. It can be found on their third full-length album, Midnight Memories, released in 2013 when Harry Styles was 18 and his baby-fat-to-dimple ratio was such that you could feasibly pour Lucky Charms into those bad boys and have breakfast.
It is somewhat ridiculous for an almost 31-year-old woman to take mental health advice from a pack of teenage boys, made more of rubber bands than common sense. But the problem with being an almost 31-year-old woman in the hallway of a psych ward is that you’re almost always looking for what works, not for what makes sense. So I take out my computer and start to write, with all the fluorescent chaos of triage humming behind me.
I am trying valiantly to check myself into an inpatient facility, which is proving to be more like breaking into the Pentagon’s mainframe. That is, if the Pentagon mainframe could only be hacked by typing “I will be jumping off a building imminently lest I get the blueprints.” I am not planning on jumping off a building, so mental health services are only available to me several weeks out from multiple providers, relying on energy most people who are cheerful don’t have, let alone someone who goes back to bed at 2 PM and wonders what it would feel like to evaporate into the ceiling. Our health care system is not set up to support the very bad, just the OK and the nearly dead.
I am not technically allowed to listen to music during my purgatorial waiting time here, so I have to conjure up the song on my own. This isn’t hard, since I listened to it on my way up to the hospital over and over again, the perky guitar line carousing like tumbleweed through my head as I stared blankly out the window.
You tell me that you’re sad and lost your way
You tell me that your tears are here to stay
I start to focus on it. Maybe I focus on it because the kindly nurse Steve is trying to find a vein, not 24 hours after I was stuck in the other arm at Harborview in downtown Seattle, where a woman had a dissociative episode outside my room and screamed that she hated my guts through the crack in my door as I shook on a gurney surrounded by smooth beige walls. He laments that he has to do this again, in a hallway no less, but that’s the system. I focus on the first chorus, wherein the five boys enthuse in unison that they’d carry me over fire and water for my love.
It’s that bravado that gets me – that big promise wrapped in boundless optimism. As a person with mental illness, I’ve heard that before from loved ones. The “I’ll be there to hold you” declarations. It makes sense that they’d need five voices to carry that promise over, because it’s a hard one to keep. I mistrust it because I don’t think any one person can, as the Beatles say, carry that weight. And I should know, because boy, I’m gonna carry that weight a long time.
Idealistically, we want to be that for each other – the shoulder, the ballast, the shelter in a storm. But most of us are merely human, and a strong gust of wind can send one of us tumbling down whether we are the shelter or the seeker.
During that first chorus I want to pull these dummies aside and ask them if they really know what it’s like to be there for ER visits, for the deadened eyes, for the lank hair, and panic attacks. I want to scold them like a schoolmarm and tell them to stop stomping and clapping, for god’s sake, this is too much for any one person to promise. Their clear-eyed voices catch in the back of my throat. They really think they can do this.
Steve is much better than the nurse at Harborview who kept complimenting my “ink” and looking sideways when I sobbed. Steve is efficient and friendly, but not chatty. I start to feel faint and tell him, and he asks what I’ve eaten today and I can’t answer because I had three bites of chili but that doesn’t seem notable so I say “beer” and that seems like a worse answer. Steve does not have my sense of humor. No one I have met in hospitals while casually dangling from the last ¼ of my rope has had the decency to laugh at my jokes. This is why I have been driven to sing One Direction in my head.
Which is still happening.
After that first chorus, the 1D boys back off. They take a second to consider what they just promised to their partner who has their head held in shame, screaming and shouting, hiding in the dark. They maybe realize that this situation is wall-to-wall shit. Then, after taking an honest look at what they have to offer, Louis gets sad, too.
You tell me that your hurt is all in vain
But I can see your heart can love again
And I remember you laughing
So let’s just laugh again
This seems like a more appropriate response to their partner’s depression, since it has a hint of selfishness to it. It’s a sweet desperation, the desperation of a partner who not only wants what is best for the other person, but wants who they fell in love with back again. That “so let’s just laugh again” is painful, and I hold onto it as a woman in a robe makes audible grunts as she works her way down the hallway under the tinny sound of Wilson Phillips being piped through the treble heavy speakers.
The woman pauses at the end of the hallway and looks at me and I imagine what she sees – a woman hunched on a gurney shoved up against the nurse’s station, cowering in her jacket and bags, her eyes a kaleidoscope of red and gray and green, guarding her urine.
I’m not sure which one of us is more embarrassed.
You see, I’m not interested in that first chorus. It’s only after they let that little shameful thing slip – that they want to laugh with their partner just as much as they want their partner to laugh again – that I really buy in. That’s the crack in the armor I needed. No five teenage boys know how to show up for severe depression with that much grace. I want it real, and that’s when it gets real. That’s when the song digs all the way in.
Niall roars back in during the pre-chorus to warn against burning out, promising to come back, back to you, before they launch into the back half of the song, this time with conviction. They’ve grown in a split second’s time before the band has a minute to catch up to the next sweeping declaration. They do it with the sweet surety that comes with youth, with quick leaps forward and big stretches.
Then Zayn and Liam say it. The thing that everyone who has walked into these halls has ever wanted to hear. They sing the most vulnerable thing to anyone who has ever slowly packed a bag in the morning with soft clothes and favorite books, knowing that they’re only doing it because they can no longer do anything themselves. It’s the molecule at the center of the slow drip of fear, the atom itself, the stuff inside the atom when it’s blown apart, and these teenagers sing it with a tenderness that could kill.
And you don’t need, you don’t need to worry
And you will see it’s easy to be loved
I know you want to be loved
The social worker with tired eyes, probably tired from wanting so badly to help and so often not being able to help, comes back and tells me there is no room for me. Anywhere. That without insurance I couldn’t get into private facilities anyway. I point out that I haven’t been able to eat or sleep for weeks and that I don’t want to get to the place where I have to be taken involuntarily. Her mouth goes into a line and she says that she can get me an appointment the next day at a different clinic, to see a psychiatrist.
I do not know yet that I will show up the next morning to find locked doors, to be told that they gave me the wrong day. I will stand outside in the cold air and think about the last part of “Through the Dark”, when Harry breaks away from the chorus to repeat a frantic “Oh I would” as the rest of the boys hold the line. Because at that moment, no one would. No one was there.
But for the moment as the discharge papers are being drawn up with the incorrect date for my lifeline, I curl up on the gurney, and remember the times I’ve had someone to hold me, a warm stomach that presses into the curve of my spine, arms that hold tight until they slowly hang off me as sleep gives way to gravity. It’s dramatic and pubescent but I cry anyway, because of the absence of that love now, because I have a chorus of five cocky teenage boys at my back telling me they’d carry me through fire and water. That they really would. And it occurs to me maybe they’re not idiots, because they need each other to make that promise real. That they’re not offering a pair of arms, they’re offering an army.
As I stand by the locked doors the next morning it dawns on me that I will not be getting help. I think about what it means to love someone when they can’t love themselves, or to be loved when you can’t do it for yourself anymore. Usually it means asking for help, and the people who can help asking for help, and so on.
I hear the UW nurse on the phone apologize and ask me to wait another couple of days for help, though I have spent a week begging for it. I start doubting that anyone would, with the contradictory chorus in my head.
I sit on the concrete steps, wrapped in a scarf at 8 AM on a Saturday and delete Facebook and Instagram from my phone, because you can bet social media won’t. I call people. All the people who drove me to the ER and picked me up and brought me soup. They say they would. They already were. An army.
I go deep inside and look into the bruised fall sky as that last chorus plays out in my head, Zayn taking over the final countermelody, the five of them becoming a shiny pop portrait of what is true – sometimes we are too heavy to carry over all that fire and water and it takes a few more hands. But what matters are the people who would, no matter if you think they should. And there are always people who will.