This story is by Amanda Kauer and was part of our 2017 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the Spring Writing Contest stories here.
I am holding on by a thread. I attend my classes despite the heat rising, stomach twisting, shaky hands anxiety. The Klonopin my psychiatrist prescribed helps, but I keep forgetting things. Forgetting the jokes I crack in class, the circuit diagrams in my notebook, the thoughts in my brain.
I can feel myself falling day by day into the depression, my depression, a depression? Each day is different. Yesterday, I felt like myself. Minimal suicidal thoughts, coherent discussions with friends over drinks. I managed a few sips of my drink and silently changed to plain soda, trying to hide how my drugs made me a cheap drunk.
Today, though. Today is a day of anxiety. After waking up, I lay out my multi-pill regimen. Klonopin to calm my nerves or none to retain information… I opt for no Klonopin, and head out the door for my first class. My anxiety is nearly crippling and despite the spring warmth melting away the snow, it feels like the depths of winter without snow shoes. I trudge along the clear sidewalks to the cheery bird songs. I wish the day matched my mood, but if it did, I would make excuses to stay inside, bundle up, and cry. Per my therapist, “Getting up is good. Everything that you get up and do will make you feel better. Ride the spiral up, not down.” My therapist means well, but all that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy feels like bullshit. Do things that make you feel good, and you’ll feel good. The energy it takes to even fake it leaves no room for enjoyment.
I arrive at the old brick building, ascend the stairs to my classroom, and find a seat. Listening attentively, I take notes as I can, but most the time, my hands are below the table. Gripping myself, my fingernails leave half-moon indentations up and down my forearms.
Once class is over, I eavesdrop on my classmates’ plans, not to crash them, but to long for a sense of normalcy in my life. I am no longer invited to study parties and get-togethers, since my classmates think I’m a flake.
I trudge on through the rest of my day, alone.
I wake up. It’s the day, I can tell. The depression has peaked, and I can’t fight it anymore.
“The world would be better without you in it,” my thoughts badger me.
This time, my mind is right. I’ve run out of reasons. I am exhausted with the continuous arguments. Let’s see how I can get this over with.
My medicine cabinet is full of drugs – Zoloft, Wellbutrin, Klonopin, Valium, Effexor, Celexa, Buspar, Trazadone, Prozac. Some of them I take, some of them are discards, drugs that were tried but failed. There are just 3 people outside of the specialists I see that know of my problems – my parents and my best friend, Katie. It’s a lot for them to hold, and I don’t want to add the burden to other people. Plus, the looks of pity are too much most days.
I methodically take out all the Acetaminophen out of the cabinet. Shit, there’s only 2,000 mg here. That’s not going to work.
I love up the LD50s of the various medicine on my computer. I don’t have enough for any of these… Let’s see. If I take the downer meds, and drink some of the alcohol around the house, it may do the trick. I gather up all the supplies and put them on the coffee table in the living room. I double check that Katie is still asleep after working the night shift.
After each handful of pills, I sip the Chardonnay I found in the cabinet. How classy I am, drinking Chardonnay in my pajamas, slowly trying to kill myself. So glamorous.
Once it is finished, I fall into a delightful sleep.
I wake up in a non-descript room. Everything is beige, and all the particle board furniture has gently rounded edges.
What happened? Why is my mind so foggy? My mind starts filling up with questions.
I get out of bed and stumble a bit due to vertigo. I wander outside the room to find an equally unexciting hallway. Everything is the same dull colors. It looks like they don’t want anyone to get too overstimulated here. Up ahead I see someone in pale blue scrubs scurry by.
“Excuse me, excuse me!” I yell at the man; afraid he doesn’t see or hear me.
He startles and turns to shush me. “Shh. You’ll wake the others.”
“Where am I? Who are you? What day is it?” The words come out harsh from a dry and scratchy throat.
In the time it takes to rasp out all 3 questions, he had met me in the hallway and took my elbow gently. “I’m Kyle, one of the floor nurses. You’re in the hospital, dear.” He lifts my arm to look at the flimsy plastic bracelet. “Shelly, You’re in room 215. Let’s get you settled back in and I’ll go call the doctor to let him know you’re awake.”
“Why am I here?”
He continues to firmly lead me down the hallway. “It’s best to wait for the doctor to explain it. Don’t worry. You’re safe here.” He gets out a key to open the door. “Just sit here and wait for a few minutes. There is a bathroom here in your room, and we’ve left a workbook and some pens at your desk.” Kyle leaves the room and I hear the click of a lock after the door closes.
Twenty minutes later, the door unlocks and a professional in a white suit comes in reading from a clipboard.
“Hello, Shelly. I’m Doctor Hyde. I took on your case when you first arrived at the hospital. You took a large amount of medication, and it depressed your nervous system long enough to keep you sleeping for about 3 days. We removed what we could by pumping your stomach.”
Shoot, Katie must have found me. I try to gather my thoughts to try to think of a question. The fog keeps me from finding one, and I continue to stare at the doctor. Luckily, he is making notes on his clipboard and doesn’t notice my vacant expression.
“So, now you’re here, in the psychiatric ward. Sorry about the locked doors. Until we know you’re no longer a threat to yourself, you must stay on the B side, and there are protocols to be followed. I’m sure you already know this. From our records, this is your third time here?” Dr. Hyde asks like this is a question I don’t know the answer to.
My mind is clearing and I remember that Dr. Hyde has been my doctor in the past. I wonder if this is his professional demeanor or if he has forgotten that he has been my physician every time I’ve been here. “Yes, it is my third time. And you know I’m not a danger to myself, Dr. Hyde.”
He stops reading and looks up, “Ah, yes, Shelly. How are things? Wait, that was a terrible question. Ummm… So, you know the drill then. So, we need a treatment plan and some sort of markers to work towards. Since the last two attempts and hospital visits have been moderately helpful, what do you want?”
Dr. Hyde is taking a noticeably different tone than the last time I was here. Is the change due to realizing who I am? This just seems weird. “Ummm, I don’t really know what I want. My medication doesn’t seem to be helping. I keep seeing my therapist like I’m supposed to. What else is there to do?”
Dr. Hyde lights up, “We have developed a new treatment protocol since the last time you were here. It’s looking very promising. It involves electrically and magnetically activating certain parts of the brain to try and locate the location of your depression and excise it out.”
This sounds promising. “Can I meet any of the patients currently being treated this way?”
Dr. Hyde frowns, “Well, you could, but we’re starting a double-blind study to determine its efficacy, so we technically do not have people for you to talk to that have definitely undergone the procedure.”
“Then how do you know it works?”
“Before we went through starting the trial, we had several successful patients. Unfortunately, these patients are so healthy that they do not want to return to the hospital. We do have a tape of their success story if you want.”
“Yes, I would like to watch this tape.”
“Okay, just wait a few moments, I’ll have Kyle bring it over for you to watch.”
The video seems like any other depression video. It starts with people discussing their symptoms, which sound a lot like a reading out of the DSM-V. Then, a dumbed down explanation of the procedure. At the end are happy people, smiling and recounting how much they enjoyed their days. It seems like a very promising treatment. But something is off.
Kyle turns off the movie and was gathering everything to leave.
“Kyle, what do you think of the procedure?”
“I think that for the people it works for, it is very good.”
“What do you mean ‘the people it works for’?”
“You know how some anti-depressants don’t work for certain people? Like that.”
Stock answer. Can’t say I am surprised. “Would you get the treatment?”
“Why? I’m not depressed. Did something I do make you think otherwise?” His tone was starting to border on paranoia.
“No, no, no. I was just wondering what you thought of the treatment, that’s all.”
Kyle visibly relaxes. “Okay. Well, I’m going to head out. I think Dr. Hyde will be back in about 20 minutes.” Kyle heads out the door without the click of a lock turn. I wonder what is going on around here.
I sneak out to peer into the windows of the hallway I accidentally wandered into earlier. The patients are all either sleeping or looking out their windows. In one of the rooms, a patient hears me in the hallway and turns around to smile at me. I can’t figure out if their smile is genuine, automatic, or malicious. Before Dr. Hyde comes back, I turn and hurry back to my room and sit down to look out the window. It overlooks a paved courtyard. They had somehow dyed the concrete the same beige that the room was painted, so the outdoors was no different from the inside.
After a few minutes, Dr. Hyde returns. “So what do you think about the treatment?”
“I think I’ll pass this time doctor.”
“Okay, Shelly, I just think you would be a really great candidate.”
“Maybe next time,” I shrug my shoulders and laugh.
“Yes, maybe next time,” Dr. Hyde drops his voice. There is a moment of silence.
Dr. Hyde claps his hands, ending the dark spell. “Okay. We’ll do the standard treatment then. I’ll get you into the other ward, and the psychiatrists there will help with your medication and what not, and once you’re stable, you’ll be out. I’ll have Kyle get you moved over.”
The rest of the week goes like the others, group therapy, individual therapy, medication management. I crawled my way out of my depression the best I could, wondering if I should have taken the miracle treatment. Katie comes to pick me up. “Did they get all of your meds straightened out, so you’re all back to normal?” she jokes.
“Yeah, I guess.” I sullenly reply.