So, I picked a Russian therapist named Martina. I didn’t pick her because she was Russian, but I did hope that she perhaps possessed the tough-love, hard-assed depth that her countrymen are famous for. Russians know tragedy, and I was feeling tragic. Plus, one of her specialties was counseling people traumatized by war. She’d have to have chops to do that.
But the thing is, just because a therapist is doing something doesn’t mean they’re doing it well. I sat across from Martina in a puffy white chair in a little box of a room. Though she wore the dowdy uniform of the therapist, the purse that was parked at the foot of her own puffy white chair was black leather and hung with gold hardware. I tried not to stare at it. I instead stared into the face of my new therapist, her dark hair and eyes on her pale Russian face.
I didn’t wait for Martina to ask me any questions. I jumped right in –- I’m an alcoholic, I’m sober, I’m queer, I’m trying to have a baby, I’m going to go off my meds and I’m scared. When I’m off my meds, to the best of my memory, I become intensely dissatisfied with everything, quick to get into a fight on the Internet, need lots of rough sex and cry a ton about my mom. Not looking forward to it.
Martina seems to think it is possibly a good thing that pregnancy will be bumping me off my Citalopram. “You don’t want to have to take a pill every day for the rest of your life,” she says, and my blood runs cold.
This is one of those weird sayings that people say about having to take a pill every day for the rest of your life: You don’t want to have to take a pill every day for the rest of your life. I don’t get it. What’s the big deal? Taking a pill every day takes approximately one nanosecond. Gulp, it’s gone.
I guess I do have to walk down to Walgreens and pick up my prescription each month, but who cares? I have to do that if I want a bag of Jelly Bellies and some Ibuprofen anyway. The underlying meaning is, You don’t want to be dependent on something for the rest of your life. But I can promise you that being dependent on a little pill each day is waaaaaaaaaaay better than living with an anxiety condition that left un-medicated I try to medicate with making bad romantic choices, copious smoking, playing mad scientist with my diet, and shopping.
One little pill a day that makes all of that go away, and makes me stable enough to have an amazing healthy relationship with my dreamboat and to pursue having a kid? I don’t see the point of a discussion, even.
The meaning underlying the underlying meaning is, mental illness is not of the body, you just need an attitude adjustment. Because if you were struggling with any other sort of physical problem, no one would try to talk you out of the medication you need to feel better.
As my mother says, “You’d take insulin if you were diabetic.” She really sees the problems as not too different, and so do I. For whatever reason, I got some serious serotonin problem up in here. Maybe I busted it up with all my drinking and speed snorting, or maybe that was just another futile attempt to fix the problem in the first place? Don’t know, don’t care. Just want my goddamn Citalopram. Or, while I can’t have that, a therapist who actually believes in mental illness.
I explain to Martina that, as an alcoholic I already have to go to meetings all the time for the rest of my life, and that is much more of a pain in my ass than popping a pill. She seems delighted, genuinely illuminated, by this comparison. Awww, man!
One of my mental problems –- or, character defects, to use recovery parlance –- is a tendency to feel smarter than the people I’m around. It seems dangerous to have a therapist that will encourage this tendency. I tell her about the internet research I’d done about people coming off my particular psych med, how miserable they reported feeling, how it worried me.
“Don’t read things like that,” Martina advised. “You will only upset yourself. It is important that you stay positive. You have supportive relationship? That is something to focus on. What are your hobbies?”
Excuse me -– did this bitch just ask me what my HOBBIES are? I’m a writer, I don’t have hobbies! I’ve monetized them, they’re jobs! I don’t even know how to answer this question. I try not to judge my therapist -– how quickly I resorted to calling her a bitch!
OK Maybe I do have a hobby. Reading? It’s sort of work. I guess mindlessly flipping through fashion magazines and dog-earring pages depicting luxury items I’ll never own is a sort of hobby. I used to joke that changing my Facebook picture was my hobby, but now that I’m medicated and not starving myself, my vanity streak has subsided.
What about cooking? Every day at around 4 pm I pack up work if I can. I clean the house and start cooking a meal for me and Dashiell. Sometimes it’s something Spartan and wholesome from the Clean Food cookbook, sometimes it’s something I pinned to my Pinterest dinner board. Dashiell’s mom gets us a subscription to the Food Network Magazine and sometimes I’ll cook from that. It took Dashiell a little while to get comfortable with me bringing her dinner every night while she sits on the couch in her sweats watching HGTV.
“I don’t want you slaving over the stove for me,” she said, concerned. “I don’t want you to come to resent me.”
I had to convince her that I actually love getting to shut my computer and wrap my hands around some vegetables. It’s the perfect way to transition out of the I-Worked-At-Home-Alone-On-A-Computer-All-Day-Speaking-To-No-One spookiness and into something less heady, more grounded, ready to greet my businessman as he comes in the door and hangs his coat on a hook and immediately inspects the dog for fleas. It’s our little habit, and I really love it.
I guess I do have a hobby, and it’s cooking. Who knew? I learned something about myself in therapy after all.
I decide to stick it out with Martina, even though she takes another swipe at meds at the end of our session. “Your problems don’t go away because you take a pill,” she says, making it sound like I’m mindlessly popping Klonopin.
Actually, if the problem is your serotonin depletion, it actually does go away with the right medication. Grrrrr. Still, the thought of returning to the vast list of therapists and taking a stab at another, having to go through my abbreviated life story for another stranger, feels exhausting. What’s to say the next one I pick is any better? This is the same logic that has kept me in really bad relationships for really long times. It’s like I’m off my meds already.
I get a call from Stella, our fertility nurse, who wants to hook us up with an appointment with Dr. Waller. The only time she can get us in is at 5 pm on the Friday of the annual fundraiser my non-profit throws to pay for our writers’ retreat. I agonize over it briefly -– my pledge is to put baby stuff ahead of everything else, but we’ve been building up toward this one-a-year gala for months and 5 pm is take-off. I can’t not be there.
Because I have to go to New York and do book promotions at the giant Book Expo there, it means our meeting with Dr. Waller is pushed back by three weeks. This is taking sooooo long! And at least part of that is my fault.
The writers’ retreat we’re raising money for happens the first couple weeks of August. This is the sixth year we’ve done it, and we’ve begun to see the books worked on become published and hit the world, and it’s super exciting. The retreat –- called the Lab -– has no funding, and every year we SWEAR we’re not going to do it anymore, it costs too much money, and raising the dough is so super stressful.
But every year we see all these writers with finished products saying how the Lab changed their life, and we dedicate ourselves to one more year. It used to be a month, but between the high cost of providing free shelter and food and ground transport to the writers who get in (it’s competitive) and my pledge to not be away from Dashiell for months at a time (it damages relationships, yo), we cut it down to two weeks. But those two weeks seem to be falling precariously close to the pregnancy test I’ll take a couple weeks after the embryo transfer.
I give the dates to Stella. “Can I go?” I ask. She’s skeptical and hesitant.
“I don’t think so,” she says. “That’s during the two-week period where we have to monitor you for an ectopic pregnancy. Maybe you can go away for a weekend close by, but that would be all. We can see.”
“It would be for a couple weeks,” I say. “In Mexico.”
“Absolutely not,” says Stella.
My heart tumbles. Going to the Lab is one of the highlights of my life each year. It’s location in a sleepy Yucatan town called Akumal, right on the ocean, where endangered turtle mamas come up to the shore and arduously dig nests to shoot their eggs into, then arduously cover it all back up. Where nests of baby turtles erupt every other night, scooting into the water like a giant baby turtle-race.
Where I get to work non-stop on my writing among other writers working non-stop on theirs, while eating amazing cinnamon cookies called Cannelitas that you can only get in Mexico (not to mention this amazing Mexican breakfast cereal, Extra Pasion, which features lumps of waxy chocolate and a box with a photo of a blindfolded woman being fed a big spoonful).
I started this retreat five years ago with Tali and Bernadine, and every year we’re so proud of what we’ve managed to accomplish with it. It breaks my heart to miss out on it. But, the only thing that would make me not give a crap about missing it is being pregnant.
“I can move your calendar around if you want,” Stella offered, but there was no way I was going to let my so-called ‘career’ bump our baby making plans into another month. Bump it past the Lab and we’d be getting pregnant in September. No way! The clock was ticking. Even though my eggs weren’t at risk for expiration, I’m still getting old.
“Please don’t change anything,” I said. “I’ll cancel the trip, it’s not a problem.”