Barbarella
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Nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal. — Albert Camus

I stole a glance at the elderly couple seated to my left and wondered what they were in for. Dementia? No, they looked sad, and sadness requires a certain awareness. Must be depression. Whatever it was, I knew it had to be specific. A general sense of ennui was insufficient here. You don’t show up at a psychiatrist’s office with a measly case of the blues; you show up with a Dumpster-full of drama.

Against the wall opposite me was a man in a highly decorated Army uniform. His presence in the cramped waiting room confused me — this wasn’t a military facility. Maybe he didn’t want a diagnosis for post-traumatic stress disorder on his official record. To the man’s left sat a woman, watching over a child who was playing with toys on the floor in front of her. I hoped they weren’t here for the kid. I don’t like the idea of medicating children. Drugs are too easy a fix to mute irritating behaviors, most of which are natural for ankle-biters (loud, rambunctious, easily distracted). Chemicals don’t belong in little bodies that are still developing.

The wall separating the psychiatrist’s office and the waiting room was too thin. Even when the elderly couple disappeared, they were plenty audible; I couldn’t make out exact words, but I was able to pinpoint who was speaking and, by the tenor of their voices, whether or not they were upset. I made a mental note to keep my voice down once I got on the other side of the door.

I nervously pinched the skin on the back of my wrists. It was two years ago that I first attempted therapy, that time with a psychologist. She had me write my thoughts on a piece of paper, after which she replaced words like “should” with less judgmental words, such as “could.” I found the method patronizing, and after three sessions, I figured it would be a lot cheaper and less aggravating for me to “shoulda-coulda” myself at home.

I loathed the idea of having to do it all over again, to confess my uncontrollable anxiety to some new stranger whose methods I might consider even more asinine than repetitive writing exercises. So, why was I sitting in this chair, listening to Charlie Brown’s grandparents squawking incomprehensibly on the other side of a flimsy wall? Hadn’t I gone two years without this? Hell, my whole life? My heartbeat sped up as I contemplated leaving — the “no show” fee was a small price to pay for my dignity. But then the door opened. The older couple emerged, their sadness lightly veiled with wispy smiles as they thanked the doctor. I heard my name called, and like a good girl, I hopped up, shook the doctor’s hand, and followed him into his office.

I’d spent days rehearsing what I’d say to him; I didn’t want to get it wrong. I approach everything in life as a test, pass or fail, and to fail is to die. It’s that “life or death” feeling that finally drove me to seek professional help.

Two weeks before my appointment, I’d had an episode. On a particularly stressful day, with an assignment due and a growing list of tasks, one negative email was the bump that knocked me from a perch at the edge of my sanity. I’m not sure how much time passed before David found me standing in the corner of my office, bawling at my bookshelf. Embarrassed and exposed, I began to hyperventilate. Fearing I might never again catch my breath made it impossible to do so. Dizzy from lack of oxygen, I swayed backward, but David caught me and guided me to a chair. It was the closest I’d ever come to fainting. The most frustrating thing about the whole scene was the realization that I had not been in control of my body. The next day, I made an appointment with the doc.

“So, what brings you here today?”

It was a simple question. I opened my mouth to form the answer I’d practiced: “I have anxiety issues. I think Valium might help.” But when I opened my mouth to speak, all that came out was, “I…” Something cracked in the back of my throat and I erupted, a Vesuvius of tears flowing over my cheeks, collecting at my chin, and burning through my shirt like lava.

My promise to myself completely forgotten, I sniveled and wailed without heed to how I might sound to the people in the waiting room. At the end of our meeting, the doctor expressed his opinion that I required something more serious than Valium. I was unprepared for such a recommendation. My apprehension toward antidepressants is ironic considering my liberal attitude toward recreational drugs. I told him I needed some time to think (i.e., obsess) about it. I wiped my tears, slapped an optimistic grin on my face, and bid the doctor goodbye. I did not allow my smile to falter until I reached the privacy of my car.

Two days later, I stood in the kitchen with David, eyeing a small white pill in my hand. “What if you like the new me better than the old me? Will you resent all the drama you had to go through unnecessarily? What if I have side effects?” David stifled a laugh. “What?” I asked.

“I was just thinking that maybe one of the effects of the medication will be the loss of your ‘what ifs,’” he said.

“What if I like myself this way? I mean, I do like myself. I’m afraid of not feeling like me.”

“Maybe this will allow you to really feel like you. You know, like you were when we were on vacation in Italy — happy, carefree, not curled up in the corner crying and smacking your head,” David said. He used his thumb to brush a tear from my cheek. “If you don’t like it, you can always stop taking it,” he said.

“What if you do like me better when I’m on it, and then I stop taking it and I go back to how I was, knowing that you liked me better another way?”

David shook his head, put his hands on my shoulders, and positioned his face so close to mine our noses almost touched. “I love you. Just as you have been, just as you are, just how you will be,” he said. “So take your pill, and let’s grab some lunch.”

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Comments

bohemianopus April 21, 2010 @ 3:04 p.m.

Wow. Please take care of yourself. If I can't read your column every week, then I will need medication.

Sounds like David is a one-in-a-million kind of guy, to stand by you a provide so much support. I applaud him.

To cheer you up, here's an article I wrote for Vision Magazine sometime ago about us Italians and psychiatry:

http://www.visionmagazine.com/archives/0903/Viewpoint_ModernHealing.html

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antigeekess April 21, 2010 @ 3:57 p.m.

"Children are creepy." LOL! Agreed.

"I told him I needed some time to think (i.e., obsess) about it."

Always an important part of the process. :)

It'll be interesting to read an update from you as your meds kick in. They 'can' make you feel unlike yourself, based on my limited experiences with Ritalin and Lexapro. I actually felt like they made me a bit dull and unable to make the usual creative connections that my mind (ab)normally makes.

Your David's a keeper. And he's right. If you don't like it, just quit. Or try another one. Thanks to Big Pharma, there's almost no limit to the selection.

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CuddleFish April 21, 2010 @ 4:05 p.m.

All the best on your new journey, Barb. :)

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MsGrant April 21, 2010 @ 4:10 p.m.

Good for you for taking care of your mental health! It's just as important as your physical health. It was brave of you to write about your experience. And don't be afraid of a little pill. It will most likely work wonders!!

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ebrphoto April 22, 2010 @ 11:56 a.m.

The new drugs are pretty amazing! Hope you're doing well, and the 'what ifs' are less audible. :) Love the video - forgot how funny it is!

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kissamyb April 22, 2010 @ 9:27 p.m.

Thanks for writing this piece!!! So many of the things you wrote were exactly how I felt 6 years ago when I began my medication. I am happy to say that in my case it worked so well I was able to stop after 2 years and have almost 4 years without! It helped me to realize that it's not something in my control, it's just something I can't help - like allergies, or acid reflux :) You'll find that things do get better - I'm glad you have someone to support and help you on your new adventure. My husband, David, sounds remarkably like yours - we are two lucky girls! Good luck and thanks for the chuckles :)

j

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jabbinan April 26, 2010 @ 2:03 a.m.

Barbarella,

Yeah, although I am a loyal reader, your column about the auction, just seemed so self-absorbed-could be something about me on the subject of auctioning off men-that it not only was the only column of yours that I didn't finish, but I vowed to never again read your column, though you can see that didn't last long.

Yours if the most entertaining column available from any SD writer.

Now, on the thing about sitting in the corner, devastated (funny Horace Simpson said offhandedly: "physical harm is the only thing men can understand" and all males wish life were that simple. I know of a 12 St group, EA that deals with those issues, phobias, panic attacks, etc.

Good luck, my columnist idol Royko had personal problems, all 'conquered' via the bottle, it seems. Seemingly rampant, when your job includes lots of introspection.

Jabbinan

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a2zresource April 26, 2010 @ 4:25 p.m.

"Nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal. — Albert Camus"

The above is true of more people than you know, but probably less people than I suspect. Darn those acute paranoid delusions.

I detect in the video either self-actualization, idealization, or the potential for a Woody Allen film script. I mean all of that in a good way, as long as we can agree on a definition of "mean"? ... and of "good", for that matter...

As for any liberal tendencies of anyone towards recreational pharma, NEVER mix artane, haldol, stelazine, and alcohol in more than modest quantities. At least, not before 8 AM and not until one has had a good hearty breakfast. If unavoidable, then at least one of the above supposedly reduces the need for restraints and/or additional "sedatives".

Be well!

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antigeekess April 26, 2010 @ 7:32 p.m.

"NEVER mix artane, haldol, stelazine, and alcohol in more than modest quantities. At least, not before 8 AM and not until one has had a good hearty breakfast."

Sounds like solid advice ta me.

:)

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SDaniels April 26, 2010 @ 9:13 p.m.

Darn, temporarily deprived of speakers, I cannot comment on this piece as a whole--with the video.

So I'll just summarize my own experience, hoping it will lend some quick and useful perspective:

I've tried almost two dozen different antidepressants over a span of about twelve years (since a specific point, when all other remedy failed).

Some drugs have worked, some haven't, but those that have worked have bought my anxious brain some chemical relief for a while. They work for months, or years, then, for no reason you can discern, they just cease to work...

So you try others. Sometimes two drugs work better together, and at particular dosages that you have to gradually augment in order to discover. It takes patience to work these combinations out, and it can be frustrating to feel uncertain whether you are accurately measuring their efficacy. I was worried at first that I would not be able to think or write with the same edge, but depression makes you feel as though your intellect has been sapped or dulled anyway, unless you've got some manic tendencies, in which case you are going to OVERrate your intellectual capabilities. :)

So there is nothing to lose, then.

In sum, with the help of a capable and sensitive psychiatrist, the peace of mind can be worth it--. (As long as your standard of measure of well being is not how the people on the commercials seem to be doing. I'm currently on Wellbutrin and Cymbalta, and cracking up on commercials for the latter, replete with walking zombie robot toy, held up familiarly and tenderly by the woman whom it resembles and represents-- NOT on Cymbalta :)

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nan shartel April 27, 2010 @ 10:06 a.m.

it's amazing to me how many people r attracted to neurotic people

aaaah ur only trying to entertain huh

well then i guess u'll just have to go on with ur bad self ;-)

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Robert Hagen April 28, 2010 @ 12:37 p.m.

I would rather you try medical marijuana than get strung out on big pharm pills. Everyone is stressed, and its good that you feel your feelings, but you shouldnt feel like theres something wrong with you. One way or another, there are as many paths to happiness as there are people to walk the path. I have alot of confidence in you, Diva.

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a2zresource May 18, 2010 @ 11:19 a.m.

RE #13:

I bet there's an Rx for pills covering that, too!

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Barbarella Fokos May 18, 2010 @ 3:36 p.m.

Probably the same kind that treat ADHD. ;)

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Barbarella Fokos Nov. 19, 2010 @ 1:05 p.m.

Thanks for asking, Blue! It goes very well. Better than ever. The pill was clearly the way to go for me. :)

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Barbarella Fokos Nov. 21, 2010 @ 7:33 a.m.

Mindy, that's terrible, I'm sorry to hear it. I used to freak out in the dentist's chair, even for a cleaning. At first, mild sedation worked, and then, over time and several "not traumatic" cleanings, I was finally able to go without the sedation. Good luck, panic attacks are no fun. Regarding the medical establishment, as with anything, people are people - some are smart, others dumb; some are helpful, others harmful. It's important to go with someone you trust.

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nan shartel May 5, 2011 @ 12:11 p.m.

in my earlier comment i was a supreme as*hole Babs...please forgive me

i didn't know ur whole story then

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Radical Uterus May 5, 2011 @ 12:46 p.m.

I'm sorry to tell you there is not any kind of pill, or drink, or supplement that can teach you how to let go of fear. In my case, I invented a battle cry for myself, which helps a great deal when I'm feeling anxious,

I say to myself "Let go of your fear baby, you are a uterus, and you are already fu*ked." When I say that, I know, I have nothing to lose and I can continue to plug away.

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Barbarella Fokos May 5, 2011 @ 1:22 p.m.

I love it, Diana, thanks for the tip. I need to work on my own little mantras. :)

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