I take my chances with a bottle of small blue pills. They’re intended for my grandfather, but since he isn’t here anymore, he won’t mind sharing a couple, maybe three or four. Ten minutes into surfing the Web, I can’t feel my legs. I am slipping from my chair, and I can’t stop myself from falling. I am on the ground. I have enough strength to reach up and knock my cell phone off the desk. Next thing I know, I am in a hospital bed surrounded by worried faces as I am force-fed a new stomach lining, a black tar toothpaste of sorts. It is gross. I have ash in my teeth for a week.
“If she had gone to sleep, she would have never woken up.” At least that’s what they tell my mom, two hours after I am admitted.
I am lucky. But now, I have to pretend I am somewhat normal. As the days, weeks, and months went on, the fetal position becomes my only escape from the real world.
It all started with David Westerfield, the pervert who snatched a seven-year-old girl.
Ever since I was little, I would check my closet. Not for monsters or ghouls but for murderers and rapists. I was afraid of being kidnapped. As I grew, that paranoia became an everyday obsession. TV news didn’t help. With creepers and media working together, it was impossible for me to ignore my fears.
It was February 2002. I was 13, at a friend’s house for the night. A relatively quiet, safe Sabre Springs neighborhood was about to break its silence.
“Taylor, wake up!” My friend shook me.
“What?” The sunlight was scorching my sensitive eyes.
“Don’t you hear those police cars? Someone has been kidnapped! Right down the street!”
“Who was it?” I was now on full alert.
“Some girl I knew. It’s all over the news.”
After a late-night pizza party, Danielle van Dam’s parents noticed that their little girl was not in her room. She was taken in the middle of the night by Westerfield, their neighbor. The innocent seven-year-old girl with the choker was never to be seen again.
Stories like Danielle van Dam’s had a major effect, especially because they were going on right around me. I don’t know whom I should thank more for my phobia: David Westerfield or cable TV shows. If they didn’t report on child abductions, maybe I wouldn’t even know these types of crimes existed. But weirdoes like Westerfield are real.
While I am in the hospital, I am told that I need to see a psychiatrist. Days later, my mom and I spend most of our time on the Web and phone, trying to find someone. We schedule an appointment as soon as possible.
It takes the five-foot-tall Asian doctor a couple of questions to figure out what is wrong with me. I’ve only been sitting on the love seat in her office for five minutes.
I am depressed. Obsessive-compulsive. Anxious. She writes a prescription and I am out the door.
The thing about the pharmaceutical companies is that they brainwash doctors and patients alike into believing that there is a pill to cure any ailment. If there is a little something wrong with the medicine you are taking, there is another one you can add to your handful. Like when they put me on Zoloft. I hated it.
“So how is the…” The doctor stops talking to look at my file. “How is Zoloft working for you?”
“Well, honestly, I just don’t think it is working.”
She gives me a fake empathetic look. “Why do you say that?” Like she really cares.
“When I miss a dosage, I feel like crap. I am gaining weight and sleeping all day.”
“Those are the side effects, you know, the ones I told you about.” She seems smug in her big office chair, which swallows her tiny body.
“Okay, the thing is, I don’t want to feel like this anymore.”
Instead of taking me off the medicine, she adds another one, Lamictal, to the mixture. I am in high school, on antidepressant, antianxiety, and mood-stabilizing pills. I am losing focus and my GPA. As my attention slips, self-control slides away.
“I don’t want to take this stuff anymore!” I complain to my mom as we are walking out of the doctor’s office. “I hate the way it makes me feel.”
“It isn’t as bad as you think, Tay.”
“Really? Then why have I gained, like, five pounds?” I grab the roll of fat.
“I’m sorry, but you should really just do what the doctors tell you. They say it for a reason.”
My mom agrees with the doctors, and why wouldn’t she? She is the drug industry’s prime target. She never had the best health and always has to take a new medication for something. My dad never misses a chance to call us the family pharmacy with “all our fixes for whatever ails ya.”
He isn’t lying. Our pantry is loaded with painkillers, tranquilizers, and vitamins of all sizes, shapes, and colors. The lazy Susan, piled high with bottles, is at our disposal for any type of headache or dietary need. Just like the little blue pills that sent me on my journey.
When my cousins were old enough to have their spongy minds infected with anything and everything, you can bet I was there. We put on dance shows to classics like Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Baby Got Back.” I taught them to say phrases like “Somebody needs a Prozac!” which even my 12-year-old mind couldn’t even fully comprehend. Seven years later, that would come back to bite me in the ass.
Even though the medicine was supposed to help my obsessions, I still lived in fear. I would use my cell phone or laptop as a nightlight in order to fall asleep. Sometimes, if I heard footsteps outside my door, I would sleep with my field hockey stick, staying up for hours planning an escape route just in case something happened.
My fears didn’t just stay in my room at night; throughout the day, they followed me. Even though I was an active, outwardly happy person, I was a terrified child on the inside. My therapist refers to it as catastrophism.
“Your problem is that you take a small thing, and your mind creates an elaborate scenario around it,” she says.
Her curly hair and sweet disposition keep me comfortable on the sofa in her air-conditioned office, but it is her tough-cookie personality that makes me stay. Facing my problems is vital to fixing my issues, especially my ability to distort a situation.
“So I am Chicken Little, so to speak?”
“Exactly. If something hits your head, you start thinking the sky is falling.” She has a pad of paper in her lap, but her eyes are on me.
She’s right. If I am at the grocery store and someone looks at me funny, that produces a horrible scenario of murder in my brain. And even though I can shake off the idea and laugh about how stupid I am being, in the back of my head, I am wondering if I should look up the number of registered sex offenders in the area on FamilyWatchdog.us, just to make sure.
Every day seems to be a new roller coaster, and I am getting sick of the ride. I tell my miniature psychiatrist about my attention-span problems. Instead of listening, she sits in her enormous chair, writing yet another prescription for some sort of ADD medication. I am fed up. I say no to the new meds and walk out. I never make another appointment with her. For the two years that follow, I deal with it, myself.
Leaving high school, ready to enter college, I want to leave all prescriptions of the past behind me. Thinking I am cured of my disorders, I start weaning myself off the pills. It is a rocky road, but I feel it’s worth all the bad emotions.
I’m off the meds for less than a year, but I find myself checking into the San Diego State Medical Center. Mascara running, body trembling, I am a knee-buckling mess. My out-of-control spiral leaves me feeling out my skin, which is all too grotesquely familiar. The doctor, who knows nothing about prescription-anxiety medications, gives me the same stuff I’ve been taking. It’s a punch in the gut. After almost a year on nothing and just dealing with my problems internally, I get back on the path I tried so hard to avoid.
For six months, I continue on the medication. I get over the fact that I don’t really have a choice. Instead of enjoying the days, I take them as they are.
After the pill-plagued fall and winter, I again really dislike the medicine. I decide to be done with Zoloft and Lamictal for good.
After going off the medicine the second time, the fears become worse. I am more jittery and anxious. My friends aren’t as sympathetic, so they don’t understand. I can’t blame them for calling me a [email protected]#$y. I am a coward, but at least I can own up to it. It has come to the point where I have prohibited myself from watching certain movies, knowing they would keep me up for nights on end, crying over which body part the ax murderer is going to chop off first.
I find myself getting flushed about the dumbest things, like outfits that don’t feel “right” or when people wear the colors brown and black together. I obviously need help for these issues, but I really don’t want to jump back on the pill wagon. I want to take a different route.
Enter: cognitive behavioral therapy. This focuses on the problem and fixes it with tasks and mental focusing. My tough-cookie therapist won’t take my crap any longer. I am all aboard to fix this problem for good.
“You can’t control what goes on around you, but you can control your thoughts, rather than them controlling you,” she says. “Being able to take the bad news — crime, media, apocalypse — and separate it from your own life, you will be able to start living free of these debilitating thoughts.” She hands me a paper with different faces on it, representing a range of emotions.
“Can you identify what you feel like when you think of being killed?”
I struggle with the question, looking from the paper to her face. In this no-pressure atmosphere, I feel put on the spot.
“Um, well… I feel vulnerable.” The faces are wrinkling in my tightening grip. “I feel helpless, scared, and out of control.” I feel better, saying it out loud.
“Good, now we are getting somewhere.”
I begin to relax. Someone is going to help me.
We are two sessions into working out my problems when the words I fear come out of her mouth. She tells me that my problem is biological. I still need medication.
“Prozac,” she says.
Tears roll down my cheeks.
“Tell me, why are you crying?”
“I am 20 years old, and for the rest of my life I need to be on medication to keep me sane. Other people my age don’t have to deal with this. I don’t think it’s fair. Why can’t I be normal?”
“It takes work, but I really can see you overcoming this,” she reassures me. “Medicine will help for the time being.”
Well, that’s it. I admit defeat. Pharmaceutical companies 3, Taylor 0.
I have an ongoing battle with an industry that has a drug for everything but a cure for nothing. It is like a profitable inside joke of the pharmaceutical bigwigs, because as the rest of us try to fix ourselves with their meds, some of us end up dead because of too many prescriptions. (Rest in peace, MJ.) The joke might be on the pill-popping world, but since I am on Prozac now, I can have a good laugh at it.