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.