About a year before I graduated from college, I was president of student council, working at the front desk of the school’s offices and doing a lot of extracurricular studying, in addition to taking a full course load. My wife and I were living separately, and that (among other things) was taking a toll on our relationship. It started to become clear that it wasn’t going to work out, and soon after that, we separated.
All of these stresses and strains added up. My depression, which up to that point had been mild and livable without any therapy or medication, began to get worse and worse. Soon, I began to have regular suicidal thoughts and lacked the energy to function the way I had over the previous few years. I graduated, thinking I would start to recover once I was less busy, but things only got worse. A year later, the suicidal thoughts were turning into vivid fantasies. I moved from job to job because I could barely get through a work day. I was unfriendly, gloomy and constantly unhappy. It became harder and harder to laugh or smile, even momentarily. One night, I sat at my desk with a razor blade in my hand, just staring at it. I put it away and went back to bed.
The next day, I called the help line for Covered California, the exchange that opened up after the Affordable Care Act passed. By the end of that phone call, I had health insurance. It cost me about $40 per month. I called psychiatrists and got an appointment that same day. There were a lot of ups and downs along the road from there, but now I’m happier than I’ve ever been, I’m able to talk to people with ease and make friends and I’m able to keep myself busy and pursue success in my life.
When I was in the depths of my depression, I thought of using psychiatric medications as a kind of giving up. I was afraid I would lose my individuality in the pursuit of a drugged bliss, and that felt like a betrayal of myself. I decided to let myself try it only after it became clear to me that I would eventually lose my life to my depression if it didn’t change. It was a move of desperation. At the same time, having to look a receptionist in the eye and tell them that I couldn’t afford my bill was unthinkable to me. It was a barrier that may have kept me from seeking help at all.
One of the effects of Obamacare that many don’t consider is the shift in the relationship between patients and their insurance companies. When a person can expect to be covered, the distance between having a problem and getting help becomes much shorter. And when medical problems get worse day by day, as so many of them do, that distance matters. Shortening it saves lives. It saved mine.
Robin Brienne Foss is a longtime resident of San Luis Obispo County. She works as a barista and as a writer, and is involved in various forms of activism and volunteer work, locally and in Los Angeles.