I could feel myself slipping away again. I was reaching deep into my closet for clothes I don’t usually wear, trying to pretend I didn’t see the dirty ones overflowing from the laundry basket.

I went to the counseling services at my university because I had decided it was time to address the underlying problems bellying the depression. They told me before I could see a counselor, I’d have to set up an initial assessment and that those filled up pretty quickly in the day so it’s best to call early in the morning. I walked to my car, discouraged.

It was three weeks or more before I called. Each day I would wake up and think, “It’s too late to call — they’re probably booked already — I’ll call tomorrow.” During finals week I finally got an appointment for the first counseling session. I spent 45 minutes filling out two surveys to determine what was going on with me but I already knew. It was depression. I could have just said those words but it’s 2013 so they handed me an iPad, and I tapped little bubbles next to statements: “I feel hopeless” — Strongly Agree.

After a short wait, I was ushered in to see a counselor, a grad student with pictures of her fiancé and happy life staring back at me. I basically said everything that I had just said in bubble form, but now in my own self-conscious words. I felt somewhat relieved; I had made the step. I could get used to coming here, spilling my guts, and if not getting some advice, at least some catharsis.

But getting help is not that easy.

Twenty minutes and it was over. I walked out of the office with a sheet of paper and more numbers to call. I felt vulnerable. I’d told my story, though abbreviated, once again, opened up and what did they say? You have more problems than we have help.

I finally called one of the numbers on the referral list but I got an answering machine saying to leave a message and a counselor would get back with me. I hung up. What would I say? I wasn’t sure when to set an appointment for and not sure if I could pay if I got one. I felt like I needed someone to talk me through this. You know, a human on the line.

Two days passed before I called again, this time leaving a message, short and trying not to sound so unsure. A counselor called me back but I was working in the basement of the university library, so I didn’t get the message until I got off work. I felt better hearing a voice, saying my name, telling me to call back, that she could be reached at such and such a number.

I was hopeful again. I was getting somewhere. I went to sleep knowing that I could call that number in the morning and start to get help.

The next day on a break at work, I called. One ring, it went straight to a voicemail. But at least it was the counselor’s direct phone. I thought maybe she was on the other line or was dialing out at exactly the same time so I hung up and tried again. Same thing. I left a message and went back to work and, of course, having no service in the basement, I missed the return call. I got the message seven minutes after and called back immediately — left another voicemail. I think we did this two more times before I just gave her my supervisor’s office phone number.

The call came just as our department was closing and packing up for a day. After telling her about the most recent depressive episodes and history, she told me I would need a more current psychological evaluation before I could begin treatment.

“But we don’t offer that here. Do you have a pen and paper ready?”

I called that number. For sliding scale services there, I will need to have my S.S. card, state-issued ID, proof of income, proof of residence, and an alarm clock so I can get to the office early because they open at 6 a.m. and are usually at capacity before 9.

When doing everyday tasks is a slog, getting the help you need takes everything you have left.

For more by Jeremy Johnson, click here.

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