I'd cried when I started talking to the doctor, the one I'd waited three years to come back to because no doctor in D.C. compared or made me feel comfortable enough. I answer "yes" to all of his questions: Do you get teary like this a lot? Well, yes, but doesn't everyone? Are you having trouble sleeping? Yes, but it's probably my own fault for not getting in bed sooner. Do you feel stressed out? Yes, all the time, & I don't even have a job! Are you afraid of making big decisions? Yes. Oh, God, yes. Do you lash out at people you love? That, too. And so on. I tell him about the dizzy spells & the crying jags & my sudden paralyzing fear of the future.
"It's chemical," he assures me, "And genetic." He asks about my father: "Did he struggle with depression or anxiety?" No. No, I don't think so, but what do I know? There are more questions: What about my grandparents? Aunts, uncles, cousins? I find myself wanting to defend my family, to say that it's not their fault that I'm this way. That they are normal & that it's only me who is not.
There are more questions. There are tests. There are kind words of encouragement & reassurance. And then he writes me a party pack of prescriptions: one for anxiety and depression & a temporary one to help me normalize my sleeping schedule. A face wash & a night cream to clear up the skin problems he says are likely an effect of an increase in anxiety. There's another, too, the crowning jewel: a small slip of paper with the name & phone number of a therapist, someone to help me "smooth things out." Drugs & hugs, a combination deal.
I should feel better. This is a relief, isn't it? There are names for these things, for these problems, & there are ways to overcome them. I've spent years arguing that mental health issues are nothing to be ashamed of, that they're chemical & genetic, your body's fault & not your brain's, just like any other disease, but amplified by your environment & the circumstances of your life. Yet here I am, newly diagnosed - newly re-diagnosed - asking for help because I can't get through it through sheer perseverance alone. Feeling defective & damaged & ultimately blaming myself instead of my body.
I don't feel depressed. I just feel scared. And even when I'm scared, I'm happy. This isn't like it was before, with all the dark & twisty parts. My life feels beautiful, even when it's a mess. I just feel scared - scared that I won't make the right decisions, scared that I'll squander what I've been given, scared that I'll fail at adulthood. I look at the diagnosis on the small slip of paper in my hands, & my heart sinks every time I read the words on it: "Anxiety/depression." Anxiety, maybe. But depression: I don't have that, not anymore. Do I?
On the way home, I stop by the cemetery to talk to him. I haven't been in months, not since early spring. I brush the snow off of his grave to find fresh flowers underneath, preserved in a sheet of ice. Like always, I promise both of us that I will never be him. That I will try harder. That I will always - yes, always - be OK.
I stop crying. I get back in my car. I call my new therapist & I fill my new prescriptions & I restart my life. Ready, set, keep going.