I’m trying to think of the best way to email my shrink and ask for a refill without sounding scammy. Eventually, I swallow my pride and opt for the truth. It’s been over three months since our last appointment. I’d shirked scheduling because I can’t afford it. I couldn’t afford our last session either, but he graciously worked something out with me so I wasn’t afraid to show up, cringing and poverty-stricken. I owe him money, I owe my therapist money, and, shiny new Obamacare be damned, I don’t know how I’m going to keep paying either of them.
“I’ll work it out,” I say, adding and subtracting numbers real and imagined (to be clear, not imaginary) in the margins of my journal, “I always work it out.”
When I became a full-time freelance writer last May, it was the bravest thing I’d ever done. I took the plunge based on one essential truth: I would rather worry about where I was going to get money than about the likelihood of me stepping in front of oncoming traffic en route to another job that hacked away flecks of the fragile sense of personhood I had to start with. This sounds like a ridiculous bohemian way of thinking to some, I know. Believe me. I get it. I’ve had a job — a proper, I-hate-you type job — since I was 14. To give up security to pursue what I love wasn’t done out of joyful optimistic naïveté. It was done so that, simply put, I wouldn’t die.
I try to remember this now as I grapple with the realities of my checkbook. It would be so, so, so easy to just give up. I don’t mean melodramatically, spurning the world and returning to my own little corner where I hiss at people and fear everything, living a life that is safe and terrible. What I mean is that it would be so deliciously easy to backslide into my old avoidance behaviors and, little by little, wind up back where I was before and all because of something as stupid as my own lack of funds.
There are so many other things I could do instead of tell my doctors that I’m struggling and try to work something out. I could skip an appointment, I could avoid the doctor’s phone calls, I could let the prescription lapse and see how I fare on my own. Other people get through on their own all the time, shouldn’t I be able to do the same? I know that this stuff isn’t true, but it’s amazing how tantalizing the lies and self-flagellation can be when I am low. Forget sweet nothings: Whisper in my ear all the evil “truths” you think about me and I will believe them because nobody hates me more than me.
It’s insane that something like money can undermine a person’s entire sense of worth. As a freelancer, some weeks I am loaded, other weeks I subsist on rice and beans and mentally eviscerate myself for my poverty. In a way, I’m more accustomed to internal forces making me feel small. Money to do my laundry being a tipping point into total self-loathing is surprising, in a way. It’s new.
Someday I will believe that I am a person of value and worth. Some days I almost do. There are whole seconds at a time where I feel part of something vibrant and humming. The rest of the time, I manage the best I can, and if I can’t BE normal, if I can’t turn my brain off, then at least I have learned to look at the things in front of me and admit that maybe the pernicious whisperings of my mean old brain might not always be right. That is progress, and if continuing in that vein means upping the visits I pay to the Penny Arcade counting machine at TD Bank, bring it. I need to keep saying that out loud. I need to loudly stop in the middle of the street and do my best Hulk Hogan (pre-sex tape) impression and growl down the world, demanding that they bring it on, brother! I can’t let an everyday concern like my next paycheck send me into a total tailspin BECAUSE IT DOESN’T MATTER THAT MUCH.
I want there to be a point to all of this struggling. I want to see all the ways in which I am fortunate and be done with the wallowing. Roof? Check. Food? Check. Cats with bellies to rub? Double check. I’m also alive and socially aware enough to realize that even the accident of the color of my skin has removed challenges from my way that others have to face daily. Then again, I’ve also got one of those pesky vaginas so everyone can still pay me way less than they should and feel fine with that.
I guess the point is people, right? And not like, in a Soylent Green kind of way. It is easy to spiral into a “what’s the point cycle” when every day is a quest towards a dollar and time in front of a computer writing something that will be posted one day and forgotten the next. Why do we all work so hard to live and live well? I think of my godson’s breath in my ear as he falls asleep. I think of the way this one guy’s hair smells. I think of the woman in the apartment opposite mine who leans almost three quarters of her body out of her bedroom window and stares out at the trees just on the other side of the highway. I think of the way we can lock eyes with someone and for an instant — a table between us, a world, a passing train — feel utterly known and utterly free.