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October 16, 2014

A Very Important List

By Cami Applequist, a former client in recovery

I struggled with both an eating disorder and depression for several years of my life. Over the past few years I have been living a life free from both. I am very grateful for every person who stepped in to give me a hand along the way and for every single thing I picked up that helped me realize that this life of happiness is possible.

Early on in treatment for my eating disorder and depression I learned that keeping one important list was vital to my ability to recover – even survive.

It was a list of names and phone numbers. I had it everywhere: in my pocket, my wallet, the kitchen drawer, my glove box. It included numbers for my doctors, my therapists, and emergency contacts for moments when I felt in crisis. My parents kept the same list nearby at all times as well.

The list also included numbers for friends and family. I was lucky to have several people living nearby with whom I had openly shared my struggles and who had offered to help in any way they could. They were people I had asked to be on this phone list of support people. For me, this support often meant sitting silently with me while I cried, listening to me ramble about what may have sounded like nonsense to them on the other end of the phone, or coming over and helping me decide whether or not it was okay to eat dessert.

Early on, however, it was more than just support. When I was in the darkest depths of depression, it was the people on the list that perhaps kept me alive.

Depression took me to a place that is nearly impossible to describe, almost impossible to fully recall now that I am recovered. It was dark and murky. I was slow and my thoughts moved through my mind slowly as if molasses had been poured into the top of my head, yet at times my brain seemed to make split decisions for me that came like lightning bolts. These decisions were often based on the saddest and most terrifying moments of my life, even if at that given moment everything was peaceful with the sun shining and our Maltese dog sleeping quietly on my lap.

I can easily see how a suicidal thought can become reality to someone with depression.

My doctors and therapists asked me at each appointment if I had suicidal thoughts. Thoughts of death came and went for me, and although I never specifically thought about causing my own death, we knew it wasn’t okay for me to be alone since I usually answered that I didn’t care if I was alive. We all knew, that based on this and the chemical make-up of my brain at the time, this illness could be terminal for me.

I needed my list to stay alive.

At the time, I was in my last year of college and lived with my parents. I was in a mental health day treatment program for depression so I had care during the day. In the evenings my parents were available to keep me company, but it was exhausting for them. It was draining work to sit with me every night of the week.

They used the list. Very dear friends would come and sit at our house just to make sure I kept breathing while my parents left to take a break. I wasn’t entertaining or fun. The most I did was sit there silently, or sleep, or talk about feeling miserable. But still they came and probably saved my life.

They knew they were called simply to be there, knowing there was nothing they could do to fix me, nothing they could do to make it better. They just came and sat and listened, ready to take me to the hospital or call 911 if it seemed as though I was turning toward a panic attack or suicide.

I’m guessing they were uncertain, concerned, and sad for me, as well as bored silly, but still, they came and sat patiently with me, as did my family, until the day my treatments began to work and my depression lifted.

The medications and talk therapy brought me back to a place where I could function normally once again. Meanwhile, it was the list of friends and family that kept me safe. As I moved forward from that severe episode of depression I faced other minor episodes on and off. My medications changed and I continued therapy to keep on top of the illness.

Throughout the years I have been in support groups and met several wonderful women who are now the top names on my list. It was the continual treatment and the growth of support that kept me healthy and here today, recovered and certain that neither an eating disorder nor depression will ever beat me.

Today I still use my list. Even though I am not in crisis and have not been depressed for several years, I still feel like it saves my life because it keeps me recovered. I know which people are people I can call on in moments when I need someone to just be there – for me. I have learned that it is okay to ask for that when I need it and I call.

I am also aware that depression is a medical condition and that it can pop up at any time so I need to be prepared with the best tools I have to fight it if it returns: I always have my list. I also make sure people have my name on their’s and that I make time for them when they call.

If you can’t reach a friend or family member and are in crisis please call 911 or reach out for help at these crisis lines: 1-888-511-SAVE (7283) or 1-800-273-TALK (8255).  

This is part of my personal recovery story. If something I have written affects you strongly in any way, be it negatively or positively, I urge you to take that to your therapist or process it however you see fit. Not everything will work the same for all of us! But SOMETHING WILL WORK and it will be wonderful. – Cami

Get help. Find hope.