What is a time of joy for many women was my darkest hour.
I was on the lowest possible dose of Fluoxetine for a week. I met with my shrink to see how things were going. “How are things going?” He asked. I started to snort-cry -- you know, the sexiest of the cries.
He asked me if I was alright with going up to 20 milligrams a day like we planned. I kept crying, but I also nodded, shaking an epic-sized snot bubble.
“Just promise me that if you have any questions or concerns, you’ll reach out.”
I don’t know what I said but it was probably something along the lines of “Of course, sure, totally”. Something like that. But I didn’t mean it. I don’t reach out for help. I don’t ask for what I need. That’s because I’m too busy worrying about what other people need! Whee! *Pauses to throw her hat up in the air, Mary Tyler Moore, style.*
I told my shrink I’d reach out without even thinking about if I actually would. Because I can’t do something that feels like ‘letting people down’ without waking up at 4 the following morning, eyes racing around my dome as I replay the exact moment someone’s idea of who I was changed forever because I failed to meet their expectations. You know, girl stuff. Pretty, pretty princesses, we!
I left his office with the new prescription in hand and a feeling of resentment. He also asked me if I thought any of this anxiety was brought on by turning 30 this past July. I tried not to be too vociferous in my denial. I said something like: “No, and also f**k your blowhole forever, penis-having monster”. Only, you know, charming-like.
Because I am a charm monster. I seldom if ever say what I mean. I smile while I carry around this roaring beast in my guts. It wants to chomp you up . It wants to feel your bones fracture in its maw. But I don’t let it. Instead I smile and nod and say exactly the right thing. I’ve been doing it for so long that every pore bristles with the strain. My skin cracks and pulls. I don’t know why I still bother pretending. Everyone knows. It’s official. “Hi, I’m Rebecca Stokes, and I’m an anxiety-riddled, inwardly raging, control freak. That’s my deal. Let’s rub genitals.” If only stopping it was as easy as assuring everyone that you are actually in on the joke.
So I didn’t lash out at the shrink. Charm monster reigned, while my innards roiled. I kept myself calm by thinking about how I’d bitch and moan about him to my therapist. Then I realized it was good I didn’t go off on a tangent about how I was “totally fine” with turning 30. If I did that not only would the shrink no longer ‘like me,’ (an actual concern) but I would suddenly find out that I was living out a Cathy cartoon. Next stop, shopping for bikinis and settling for Irving. Ack, indeed.
“If you start to feel like you want to kill yourself, call your doctor.” I didn’t blink and just nodded quietly. I wasn’t thinking about killing myself. Not that moment, anyway. I was thinking about killing the pharmacist who was currently addressing me. He was a naturally loud-talker and nothing seemed to bring him greater satisfaction than discussing my mental health loudly enough for the entire lunch-time line of folks waiting behind me.
I took the small bag in hand and scuttled out of the CVS, sizing up the folks waiting nervously as I left. They would receive their birth control pills, prescription anus creams, and swollen boil tinctures, but not before the requisite public shaming courtesy of the man in the white coat.
At the end of the line, two girls stood talking to each other and sharing a travel-sized bottle of Purell. They rubbed their hands together like a pair of house flies. I hated them, their blow-outs, their overly loud way of talking. What were they waiting for? Probably an Adderall prescription that they split. They made me want to puke my guts out all over the floor.
Everything made me want to puke my guts out all over the floor. When I wasn’t this close to hurling, my mouth awash with hot saline, I had heartburn to rival someone’s dad post sloppy joe number seven. I’ve never had heartburn before. It could be a side effect, my shrink says, and it could pass. He wants to wait and see. The discomfort it brings fits my whole monster metaphor deal fucking perfectly. Any second I sure I was going to start vomiting fire. Like some unholy version of Jean Grey. Ha ha. That exists: A week on antidepressants and I’m the Dark Phoenix.
Back home, I up the dose as prescribed. The goal is still to get me to 40 milligrams and see what that does. But for now, 20 for a week, and then 30. Unless the side effects are too bad. Unless I decide to stop. I’m not so mad anymore now that I’m at home, lounging on the couch idly checking to see if my belly button smells. I reflect on the fact that I was angry all day and it wasn’t at myself. Usually I’m the one who gets the worst of it when it comes to my temper. In addition to slapping myself out of panic attacks (awesome), I think of all the things I’ve broken when someone has hurt me -- jewelry, torn pages from books I love. I can’t let the monster out for anyone else to see but me.
But today was different. The monster wasn’t screaming at me. It was screaming at everyone else, and it didn’t care what they thought. Today I felt its thoughts boil to the surface along with the molten lava in my throat. See? The whole monster-heartburn thing? It works. Figuratively speaking. Before I go to bed I resolve to do two things: See if I can get through this heartburn, and call back my doc and tell him if it turns out I can’t. Both feel like huge steps forward. I eat my weight in chewable Tums. I wait to fall asleep.