Feliks Garcia was working on this essay when he suddenly passed away on February 24, 2017. In tandem with its publication, Executive Editor Mimi Wong has memorialized him at our Medium blog.
The office of Central Health is almost empty at eight in the morning. I had anticipated an overflowing waiting room and, despite my appointment, at least an hour long wait.
Government agencies are generally slow, always full, and there’s never an easier way. But this isn’t so bad. Only two other men are in the room, including the security guard. The TV is buzzing, bright orange with morning talk show couch chatter, and I’m tapping my left heel against the linoleum floor, stained with footprints of previous tapping shoes, waiting to hear my name.
I was there to see someone about qualifying for a medical access pass, or MAP card—the one thing that could get me antidepressants, as the Affordable Care Act wasn’t so affordable in Texas. I didn’t have a dime, but I did have an irrepressible urge to hang myself.
One week before, I sat on a toilet in the bathroom of my favorite bookstore. I wondered if I could tie a knot around my neck with a jacket sleeve; if there was any fixture in the bathroom that could hold my 185-plus pounds. I could. There wasn’t.
For months, I wanted to blow out my brains, splashing every awful thought across the faux-stucco wall of my filthy one-bedroom apartment. But guns cost money; I had no money. I imagined my girlfriend finding me, and the trauma of finding her partner dead in a pool of blood. I visualized my cats smelling my body, licking my fingertips and pawing at my face. I cried over that thought regularly, like it had already happened; it broke my heart.
On December 1, 2014, two months before I sat in that bright, buzzing waiting room, I quit my job at the State History Museum.
The work had been disguised as a promise of full-time employment at what I thought was a prestigious institution. I was enticed by the idea of literally writing history; I had never felt more important, more validated. However, it wasn’t a full-time job, but contract work—not such an unusual occurrence in the growing 1099 economy. But once the program director decided to revise the contracts in such a way that could potentially extract countless hours of labor from their writers without paying them, I had to go.
I sent in the resignation letter—effective immediately—and the couch swallowed me whole.
I laid under my 30-year-old Mickey Mouse blanket and let the videos stream off my borrowed desktop computer. I passively stared at the screen. The explosions and senseless destruction in The Avengers drowned out the cacophony in my head. The Hulk ripped apart a plane, fought Thor, and nearly killed Black Widow before I dozed off. I came to, and the Hulk punched a space snake in East Midtown Manhattan.
An aggressive knocking at my door pulled me out of the banal destruction of Park Avenue; I debated whether or not to even answer. The floor was mud beneath my feet. I considered hiding under my blanket, but my lights were on. My cat-tattered blinds on the window that faced the parking lot exposed me to the entire complex, to the birds and feral felines, and to the man knocking.
I opened the door (no easy feat) to be greeted by a short, burly man with a cross tattooed on his hand. We exchanged a quick, casual greeting, and he proceeded to tell me I needed to sign for a letter. “They want us out?” I asked.
I knew my fellow tenants and I were on borrowed time. The new owners of the building had put all of us on month-to-month leases as their normal agreements expired. My lease would end January 1. Luxury duplexes already sprouted on both sides of my rundown complex, and the money couldn’t move into the neighborhood with such an eyesore blocking its view; a symptom of a city growing much too quickly for its economically disadvantaged inhabitants.
“Yeah, man. They’re tearing this place down. It’s too broke to fix,” he replied.
Austin Travis County Integral Care
To get a prescription, I needed a diagnosis and the MAP card. To get the MAP card, the county needed to evaluate my money situation. To get a diagnosis, I needed to meet with a social worker.
I mustered up the energy to drive to the county Integral Care office to receive a diagnostic evaluation at two in the afternoon; the day after my extended bathroom break at the bookstore; more than two months after my eviction. The buildings had been situated in a quickly developing East Austin neighborhood since the late-‘80s. Difficult to navigate, the labyrinthine structure was split into quadrants. I walked into the wrong office before figuring out where I needed to go.
“You’ll be the last one,” the woman in the intake office told me as she handed me a questionnaire. She made sure to remind me that they closed at five. Two young men sat in the waiting room with me—one furiously wringing his hands and scratching his head, the other on the opposite corner filling out paperwork. I could barely hold my head up, so I sat sideways and leaned it against the wall, and listened to the muttering from the office on the other side.
I waited an hour before finally seeing the social worker.
The interview lasted at least 90 minutes, and I had to lay it all out to a man I had just met. He reminded me of a classic rock dad, or a weekend rocker. His silver hair was short enough to convey that he was a professional, but long enough to say that he liked to party. I could imagine him in a Foreigner cover band with a monthly residency at his neighborhood sports bar. He didn’t let his rock and roll spirit get in the way of the analysis, though. He went down multiple lists asking me questions about how I felt, my family history, the frequency of my mood swings, if I ever considered killing myself.
The social worker swiveled his chair to look at me when I confirmed my suicide ideation of the last few months. The tone of his voice hardened. It was almost end of business on a Friday as he opened up new documents and proceeded a more extensive line of questioning, adding an additional half hour to the interview.
The questions could be answered within the range of “Never” to “Always,” but I still felt the need to explain my answers to the more harrowing items.
“I mean, yeah, I thought about killing myself all the time,” I said with an uncomfortable chuckle. “But it’s not like I would actually do it.”
I gave him enough information to reach a diagnosis of Major Depressive Affective Disorder. I knew that’s what I had, but hearing it made me feel a little better. Then I started to wonder if he believed me.
The Community Health Center
When I finally got the MAP card two weeks after the interview with the social worker, I went to see a physician who could prescribe some antidepressants.
Yet another long wait, this time in a crowded office of a community clinic. None of this process was easy, but I felt relieved that I was actually in the final waiting room. I knew antidepressants weren’t a cure, they only reduced the physical symptoms of depression. My friend had described them to me as “perspective.” I knew that there was no losing the triggers, but without the pain of feeling my head in a box, the tension in my teeth, I could use the tools my therapist gave me so I didn’t find myself in another bathroom with a sturdier pipe on the ceiling. That wasn’t what I wanted, and it would take a lot more persistent work to remind my mind that there are ways out, that all of the garbage in life is, in fact, temporary.
“What is it about that day that bothers you?” my therapist asked me about my extended bathroom break at the bookstore.
“Well, it’s not me. It feels like something outside of myself. I feel like I’m watching it happen, watching myself think about it. I don’t want to die, and I don’t know if I have in me to do it—but Thursday was really close.”