An Ode to Dr. Miracle

This place was the sort of space in which one knew she was sick, and not well. Whomever was in charge of the design and layout of the waiting room had at least had the decency to sort the various chairs according to color, size, and material, but the building nonetheless carried an aura that weighed one’s stomach deep into her body, like so many stones of fossilized hope. 


Medicine Man materialized before her, as she had been preoccupied with the pale veins in her feet, and he peered down to smile in her face beneath the tangled waves of hair. He was a squat man, with slacks belted high around his waist, but he was friendly enough. He also wrote the papers. 


Were doctors allowed to hug their clients? Medicine Man wasn’t even a doctor, but he still prescribed medicine, and he hugged her anyway. Her mouth opened and the first thought formed in her brain was what slid from her tongue: “Your deodorant smells nice.”


Your deodorant smells nice?


He was taken aback and she could easily watch his brain recall the individual phonemes, blend them together, create sense of the words together as one statement, and then chuckle. Alarmed, she quickly assured him, “No, really, it smells good.” He continued to laugh, and excused himself to collect her file.


Her feet were swollen and aching, her back damp and smelling faintly of vanilla-flavored Starbucks coffee from the morning (but only just spilled on her this afternoon), and everything else wearing the lingering cigarette smoke from the short drive here from the school. The day had not been a complete disaster; granted, she had manned her classroom alone that day with two substitutes in place of her assistants in a self-contained classroom, and while she appreciated their warm bodies, that was the extent of their aid. 


Her precious thirty-minute break had been spent vigorously scrubbing the toilet. 


Any spare moment in her classroom (and even moments that were not so spare) was spent pacing the rows of desks to carefully nudge each one back to its position in its own little white square (not the gray squares; only the white). The feet of the desks must be placed directly on the lines of tile. The rugs in the reading corner must be slid against the wall and positioned approximately three inches apart, with the zebra pillow on the right, the bean bag on the left, and the rainbow pillow in the middle. Papers were straightened, stacked neatly, straightened, and stacked again. 


Sweep the floor, wipe the tables, erase the board.


The students had grown accustomed to her habits, even allowing her to position their desks while seated and at work. What they didn’t understand, however, was how much it pained her to see the furniture moved, the pillows scattered, the books off the shelves. They were “playing school.” 


Ignoring it had become an art. Allowing students to freely move about and express themselves certainly called for patience and a relinquishing of one’s own need to control. Lately, it had become easier to snap and to point at the children, to shrink away from their touch, than it had to embrace them.


It had been eighteen days since she had last taken any dose of Effexor. This was a personal victory. After six months of halving doses and enduring physical ailments such as the sensation that her neck was floating, detached from her body and head, that electrical surges were flowing from her brain, she had successfully completed cessation and regained freedom.


Medicine Man had a different agenda. Controlling this session would be no easy task. It was clear that an antidepressant was a part of Medicine Man’s plan today, and a considerably large part, at that. Today also brought with it a heavy thud from the DSM-IV-TR on the desk, which fell open to an entry labeled cyclothymia. The word was foreign, but its diagnosis appeared strikingly similar to that of Bipolar type II, which had been in the line-up within the last month.


God, where were her Ray Bans? She needed them on her face.


Depression, bipolar spectrum, cyclothymic; it all meant garbage and six medications that clearly weren’t worth the expense every three months to keep chasing them with water each morning and night. 


Medicine Man begins rambling on about Prozac; she fixates instead on his ticking clock. He knows the clock distracts her. He never took the damn thing off the wall, but then, why should he? She wasn’t his only client. 


“Are you seeing anyone?”


“I–what?” Irrelevant. “I’m married to my job.”


Her mind drifted back to the bronzed bell on his desk, and her longing to strike it, just to hear it clang. Suddenly, the desire to question this new and cacophonous word seized her, and she challenged him.


He waved a hand: “It’s treated the same; I don’t want you to worry about the diagnosis–”


“But it fascinates me.”


“Well, be fascinated over someone else’s diagnosis, but not yours–”


“Do you know why the little stickers on the backs of North Carolina license plates have different numbers on them? I spent an entire afternoon stooping down to look at them, and they all range from 1-12.”


He paused, and intertwined his fingers together at the top of his desk. “Do you know why?”


“It must have something to do with the months in the year. Maybe the month you bought the car? Because mine has a 1 and–”


“I believe it’s the birth month of the owner.” He smiled at her beneath his glasses. She could see that her end of the power struggle was weakening. Another thirty minutes wasted, thrown away by frustration and coiled-up defense, and he was soon ushering her out the door with the ticket bearing her newest demon’s name.


They say that calling a demon by its name robs it of its control over a person, but this is not so. Control is soon coupled with obsession, and countless hours wasted on the World Wide Web researching each side effect and withdrawal.


Medicine Man had walked her to the small window at the exit, and she prepared to arrange a follow-up appointment. Thirty minutes of struggling to delay an analysis of symptoms and syndromes, and another swipe of her benefits card, but no sooner had her hands reached through the window pane to hang into the office (a bad habit, peering widely into another’s work space), than another familiar face peeked back at her: Dr. Miracle.


Named by birth and by purpose, Dr. Miracle cracked a smile and reached through with a dry, warm palm, eyes crinkling in the corners with radiating benevolence and compassion.


She felt unexpected twin stings in her eyes; was she crying? At the sight of her psychiatrist? Had it been this long since she had had a session with him? And didn’t she usually pull the same war games with him? 


After months of dreading the crumbling steps to the folding door, she grasped at this newfound pang of longing to be his client again, really be his client. Ready to learn, ready to listen, ready to grow and to change and to heal. 


But, as is the case with humans who often learn too slowly and not soon enough, that day was not today.


Can I see your I.D.?

Everyone above 30 will cringe when I write this, but for once I’d like to look 24.

And not 18 (average response given by first-time acquaintances and convenience store clerks).

And in the deepest twist of irony, I cried on my 23rd and 24th birthdays because I didn’t want to grow any older.

I’m only good at being young.

John Mayer’s an asshole, but he’s right.


Ten Lies Depression Tells You

“The reason I talk to myself is because I’m the only one whose answers I accept.”
― George Carlin

The Belle Jar

1. You are a bad person who deserves bad things.

2. You are unhappy because you are lazy or lacking in willpower. Happiness is a choice, a choice that you have failed to make. Somehow, somewhere over the course of your lifetime, when faced with some metaphysical fork in the road, you chose the wrong path. You brought this curse down on yourself.

3. Your sadness is the baseline by which the rest of your life should be measured. This sadnesss is your norm, and any other emotions, especially positive ones, are exceptions to the rule. Yes of course there will be good times, of course there will be flashes of joy; you will certainly, on occasion, experience the pleasure of a good book or a ripe juicy peach,  However, those experiences will be few and far between. Your bad days will always outnumber the good.

4. Your family and…

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Even Better Yet

The Format, 2002

I don’t know what the hell I’m doing, other than that I felt inspiration thump me between the eyes and I immediately dragged out a keyboard to respond in willful obedience.

There’s too much sensory input in the room; the volume on the television is too damn loud because my father can’t hear (and it’s probably not even set to a number that’s a multiple of five), the dog is whining behind a closed door, and my nephew has become a resentful participant in one of life’s greatest ironies: refusal to sleep when sleeping is all you’re really expected to do.

I shuffle to the medicine cabinet for my nightly regimen. It’s become automatic now, and I twist the caps off each prescription bottle without pausing to read the labels. It doesn’t truly matter; most of them end in some form of “-azapine” and they’ll knock me out regardless. Here’s one to stabilize my ever-shifting moods, one to counter the headaches they’ll cause in the morning, one for anxiety (a six-letter word for compulsive cleaning, obsessive thoughts about my impending death by stroke or overdose, needless straightening, heavy sweating, and a side of residual guilt [please note the oxford comma, of which I am particularly fond]), one to put me to sleep that is barely legal in several countries abroad, and one bitch of a drug by the name of Venlafaxine (commonly known as Effexor). Two pills, one pill, two, two, one. Lights out.

The friction of my dad’s sweaty foot against mine and the dog’s fur is too much for me and I’m in flight again, off the couch and back to the bedroom.

If your home is violated, you will no longer feel safe there. You will no longer feel comfortable. You will no longer be able to relax. The same is true for your mind.

Wouldn’t it be nice to drive a car, one hand casually draped across the steering wheel and another tucking a cigarette between parted lips – perpetually twenty-four, deluded enough to believe you understand something about existentialism, unafraid of your eventual death, trusting the car flying at sixty miles an hour across from you? Wind-swept hair, partly-cloudy skies, a decently singable tune on the radio; all is well.

Until you pass the man with the electrolarynx. He was a usual at Fred’s, where you worked part-time. You used to duck and hide from him when he came to the counter, because his computerized voice made you uncomfortable when you weren’t able to understand him. You wondered what could have caused him to lose his larynx. Smoking, more than likely, you presume. He’s there on the corner; you can see the device winking in the faint sunlight.

It’s going to happen.

The smoke is curling in your throat. You were a fool to doubt your own mortality. Throw out the entire box; throw the lighter out the window. Death has crept upon you and now has his chapped and scabbed hands around your own larynx.  Twenty-four seems young now, but twenty-four soon turns into forty, and then seventy-one, until you’re face-to-face with a doctor younger than you, lips pursed in pause at the death sentence he must deliver.

Pop an Ativan. Realize you’ll always need it, and though you’re already coming down from the panic of your imaginary near-death experience, sink back into despair as you contemplate the inevitable seizure you’ll suffer when you attempt cessation.

If I’m going to die anyway, maybe the car should’ve just hit me.