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.”