“So, do you want to switch medications?” Dr. Doctor is in his usual attire: white button-down, khakis, loafers, socks, watch, wedding band, wire-rimmed glasses. He looks so Gap I can barely look at him without asking him to swingdance with me.

Shake it off, girl. Back to present.

“No.” I am not this firm when I’m puking on the pavement, trying to dart out of the street-lamp’s weak radius into shadows. No one look, please. I am not this firm after the fourth morning’s hangover-style headache, complete with more thumping than Chad’s subwoofer during one of his Starcraft binges. I am not this firm after leaving the bathroom, exhausted, on legs full of pins and needles.

But still, surprising myself for the second time today: “No. I want to give it at least three weeks.”

The first surprise was making it out of bed and here.

There is something of a Florence Nightingale in me, something maternal and fluttery and caregiving when someone close to me is sick. Strong and supportive. Running to the store in the middle of the night to fetch plastic bottles and paper boxes of cure-alls, salves, zinc lozenges that cure one’s sore throat at first taste.

Conversely, when I get sick, I turn into the most pathetic, whining, pitiful creature you’d ever have the misfortune of asking, “How are you feeling?” Don’t think I don’t know how I am; I do, I do.

I’ve always needed quite a bit of attention during these sickly times, but there’s also always a catch. If I’m feeling really awful and someone says, “I’m sorry you’re feeling bad,” that’s enough attention for me for at least a few hours. If someone keeps after me, asking my symptoms, suggesting things that might help, offering to do things for me, I start feeling incredibly guilty. I already feel immensely guilty for staying home from work. Being sick delineates “I don’t want to” from “I can’t,” and I’m always thinking that people don’t believe me when I say I can’t.

Even when I really can’t.

“What I really want for my birthday is for these side-effects to stop!” I smirk wryly, typing at friends. The day before my birthday, they did stop. And was I happy then? No.

Because now I don’t have any proof the meds are doing anything at all.

“Are you feeling self-conscious about being here?” Dr. Doctor asks, pen poised, ready to fill another yellow sheet of legal paper with notes about me. He explained during the first appointment that he had to write a lot, and if it bothered me I should tell him. He’s a resident, so I’m guessing Dr. Boss at some point is going to look over his notes to make sure he’s really spending 8 hours a day listening to freaks talk about freaking out. Am I self-conscious? No. I feel like I’m on Candid Camera, but I’m not self-conscious.

Dr. Doctor doesn’t ask a lot of questions. He lets me talk until I run down, and then with a gentle prod I start back up again. After maybe three of those prods and restarts, the 50 minutes is up.

The last appointment was more like a conversation than anything, which was odd, since he didn’t talk much. But I felt like I was in a conversation with someone I had recently met who was curious about how I was doing certain things. Dr. Doctor reminded me of Vonetta, all of a sudden.

I work with Vonetta at the library. She has a soft, lilting, querulous voice and an easy smile. The last time we talked, she asked me questions, more questions than Dr. Doctor would ever ask me, but I was comfortable with her. She asked me about the panic attacks, and I answered. I can’t remember what all we talked about, but I left thinking to myself about what a good conversation it was. Maybe I am too selfish in most conversations; I feel best after conversations in which I can talk and talk and not worry about the other person or people judging me by their own standards.

Even though people always do.

I found out a few days ago that there’s a stomach flu going around. That all my side-effects might have been the flu, and that the zoloft might be doing nothing at all but building up quietly in my brain, screwing with my liver perhaps, or defacing my kidneys. My body just opened the door, welcomed the tiny pills in, and then ignored them, like my study hall teacher in high school. We surreptitiously passed notes, wrote on the desks, escaped with made-up sicknesses to the nurse’s office, slept. The teacher looked remarkably like Abraham Lincoln and smelled like rubbing alcohol. We had an unspoken agreement: do what you want, just don’t bother me.

And here I’m begging the meds to bother me. Show me that you’re doing something Γ³ anything Γ³ that you’re wreaking havoc with my intestines, that you’re subtly changing my brain’s chemicals, that you’re framenjamen the hoomiejobbie, that you’re doing anything at all I might need. Nothing. No response. Not a sound.

My birthday was the three-week mark of the new me on medication. I got the present I asked for. What I wouldn’t give for an eye-searing headache instead.

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I acknowledge that I live and work on stolen Cowlitz, Clackamas, Atfalati, and Kalapuya land.
I give respect and reverence to those who came before me.