For no reason at all, I crumpled the piece of paper with my appointment information on it. It was wimpy paper, the kind that comes on small, notecard-sized tablets and never tears off properly. You either get a ragged top edge or a bright-pink scabling from the plastic binding. It was easy to crumple; maybe that’s why I did it. Although it was rather unsatisfying. Crumpling parchment, or tinfoil – now that would have felt good.
Ms. Very Nice Counselor is already explaining, as I slide one arm from my coat, that I am much too crazy for regular counseling. This does not surprise me, but her frankness does; granted, she never said “crazy” or “mental” or even “nutso” – she was utterly officious. And when she found out I didn’t have health insurance, she didn’t flinch, just started calling around to find out where I could get a psychiatric evaluation, as soon as possible.
A psychiatric evaluation. Psychiatrists prescribe medication. Or at least they can prescribe medication. At least the “intake assessment” had an innocuous ring to it; this “psychiatric evaluation” phrase is the blunt edge of a knife across the backs of my knees.
Still, I am smiling, watching Ms. VNC nod the receiver against cheek and shoulder. She is smiling, scribbling on the cheapo pad of paper. Words like “catchment” and “sliding pay scale” would normally calm me but I am distracted by the huge mural I’ve just noticed in the office.
It’s a lake, with mountains on either side, and a diabolically blue sky. The perspective’s all wrong; the shadows aren’t right and the mountains look like they’re about to keel right over, into the glassy lake. Either it’s an imperceptive artist’s idea of a sunset or a sunrise, because there is a sun on the horizon, its emergence like a suppurating wound. I’m angry at this mural. It takes up an entire wall and it makes no sense and it’s badly done and it’s the opposite of calming and cheering and it’s actually agitated me now, to where I am making a mental list of exactly how I would fix it if someone would only be so kind as to give me a set of paints and a few brushes …
“February 1st, 7:45 a.m. How does that sound?” Ms. VNC tells me. I nod, dumbly, still enraged by the grotesque the counseling office has become. The first time, it was all muted colours, browns and greens and taupe, Ms. VNC’s degree on the wall, an appropriate Gateway computer and a picture of some happy people beside it. Now that I’ve noticed the mural, it’s distorted to the point where I can’t focus, can barely breathe, and I want out of there as soon as possible. I nod. Anything to get me gone. She presses the cheap notepad remnant in my palm and smiles at me. Any other comforting words she gave were lost in my panicked retreat.
I cancelled the “backup” appointment I scheduled with Ms. VNC on the Friday before the psych evaluation. Originally, I scheduled it to make myself feel better, to provide some sort of pep-talk before I went on the 1st. When Friday rolled around, all I could think about was the mural. I left some fumbling explanation on Ms. VNC’s voicemail and I’m sure I sounded like I really did need that appointment after all but it was true: I didn’t need the pep-talk. Somewhen between that intake assessment and telling Chad about the psych evaluation, I had made up my mind.
What’s left of it, anyway. Ha ha.
Folding and refolding the paper, I walk briskly into a building I have driven past nearly a thousand times without noticing. It’s that sort of building: the palest brick that could still be considered limestone-y, utilitarian, unremarkable. I am reminded of my elementary school; they are the same colour and I am feeling just as small.
Now that I can’t think in future tenses very well, I do things by manageable increments. Get inside doors. Find, call, and enter elevator. Press button marked 4. Remember philosophy teacher who insisted that we assume too much when we get in elevators; who’s to say one is really the same person on floor four as she is on floor one? Decide that teacher watched too much Star Trek. Exit elevators after doors open.
Oh. Um. I’m supposed to figure out where to go now.
I stare at the folded piece of paper, now resembling a poorly-done limpet in origami. It says nothing additionally helpful. No “turn left when you get to the vending machines,” no “you’ll see a water fountain and it’s the second door on the right past that.” This is it. This is all I’ve got. Navigating my own way through unfamiliar territory. It’s some kind of pre-test, isn’t it? To see if I can successfully find my way to the shrink without flipping out?
“Where are you going?” a gentle, feminine voice asks, somewhere behind me. I turn around and am faced with a delicately small, professional-looking woman of indeterminate age. I somehow mumble the shrink’s name and my pathfinder opens the correct door for me and escorts me all the way to the sign-in desk. I feel foolish but grateful, and I’m sure she’s done it a hundred times but it makes it no less reassuring to me. ‘We can do this,’ says the limpet. Turns out I did need a pep-talk after all, only from origami.
Dr. Doctor is younger than I expect, in his early thirties, with an infrequent smile and a wedding band. Within five minutes of the evaluation, I am crying, and despite the presence of Kleenex it feels better to touch all my tears, to press them on my cheeks like I do when I am alone to stop the flow. I tell him that no one believes me. I answer all his questions – myriad questions about people in my life, past events, what I do or don’t enjoy doing anymore – and I answer them all without tears, almost detached. Dr. Doctor has me take a hilarious test, involving such tasks as copying a diagram he has drawn (“I’m such a bad artist,” I apologize) and doing what he writes on a sheet of paper (“CLOSE YOUR EYES” so I do, and smirk). I shouldn’t be laughing; there are people who can’t do these things. I am not as crazy as I could be. There is something wrong with me, but it could be worse. Thinking these things, I stop smirking.
“At first I thought the anxiety would be the primary focus for your treatment, but after talking with you in more detail, I think the long-term depression is another priority,” Dr. Doctor says, and I’m getting rather attached to both his neutrality and his candor. He gives me options, suggesting the combination of meds and therapy first. Before I even entered the building, that’s what I had hoped for. He offers me the opportunity to continue treatment with him; again, no choice to make there: I like him and I tell him so. Then, one last step, Dr. Doctor says. Since he is a resident, we have to meet with his boss to discuss this decision, and see what she says.
Dr. Boss is the same, delicate woman who held open the door for lost little me. She has a smile that smacks of thousand-dollar dental work, and it is a bit too sudden to put me at any ease. Two minutes later, Dr. Boss, Dr. Doctor, and I are all on the same page and ready to go. Dr. Doctor disappears for a while, returns with a new slip of paper (yay, more origami) and a PANIC RELIEF KIT. The kit is a three-week supply of Zoloft, free, because I have no insurance. The slip of paper is my first real prescription, for Klonopin, which I will have to pay for myself, although Dr. Doctor assures me it is cheap. I’m staring at the tiny Zoloft pills so I miss most of Dr. Doctor’s instructions. The first week’s pills are the green of insides of Andes mints. I’m still wondering about how tiny the bump will be on my tongue, how much water I will have to swallow to not feel it anymore, what it would taste like if I crushed it against the backs of my lower teeth … and meanwhile, I’ve multitasked enough to sign myself out and get to the car.
Reluctantly, I put my new acquisitions down long enough to leave voicemail for Chad. “I’m done, it went fine, I have pills to take and therapy on the 12th.” I gently tuck the script into the PANIC RELIEF KIT so it doesn’t wrinkle before I can fill it, and pat my pockets for my cigarettes. Out with the pack comes the paper limpet, now looking as if it should be receiving retirement benefits. ‘Wasn’t so bad after all, was it?’ it says, so I tuck it away, too, in my backpack next to the letter from Karawynn and the picture of Chad.
It’s not that I’m a packrat, or even sentimental. Some things just need to be kept.