Chaz gives me one of his Adderall. He noticed how much I am sleeping and how tired I am all the time, he says. He says that he was like that, too before he started taking it. He says his head was so crammed with thoughts he would just collapse under them. His girlfriend, Kat, says he is less angry now too. He used to blurt things out and yell, and now he doesn’t. I take it when I get home and am able to wash my dishes for the first time in about a month and vacuum my floors and do my laundry. I feel productive and normal – like I did before it all started.
I had stopped taking meds after I left the Navy. I figured I didn’t need them because the Navy docs told me my problems were caused by the pressure of the Navy – the possibility of being put in the same environment as when I was raped. Nobody told me to keep taking the medication. I was never debriefed. Nobody set my mind right before they tossed me back into reality. I didn’t know how to be a civilian. I forgot that I had rights. I forgot that I was in charge of my life and that nobody could or should tell me how to live. I was alright for about two weeks. The fatigue and the headaches which had been kept at bay by empty promises of people wearing leaves, and bars, and stars on their shoulders, torpedoed their way to the surface and blasted apart my attempt at happiness.
“What’s worked for you in the past?” He has grey hair, but is not old. I wonder if he wants to know my opinion or if he hasn’t taken the time to read my medical records. Nobody ever reads my medical records.
“Well, obviously, nothing, otherwise I wouldn’t be here.” I add a smile. “Right?”
I don’t want to talk to this man. I don’t want to share with him the shame that brings me to his office. I’m pissed that he is making me me relive pain and trauma that I just relived 45 minutes ago when the nurse asked me the same questions and wrote it all down. There are no female psychiatrists, I know. I force myself to stay in the chair. I need his help and the sense of dependence, of my fate being in his hands, adds to my negative experience.
“Well, there must have been something that worked for you before?”
I can’t see why he would think that. Why would I be sitting in his office if I had something that worked for me? I feel like he should know this. I think about it, though, because maybe something did work before and I hadn’t noticed. I try to think of a time when I felt the opposite of the way I feel now.
“I was able to function the best when I was on around 400MG of Wellbutrin, and three anti-anxiety medications.”
With that cocktail I was skinny, was in a relationship, going to school full time and still getting to work at 4:30 AM because the sun rises in the east. I was working for top brass. I had just taken the E-7 exam early for the purposes of submitting a request to become an officer, a better class, and passed! I had been hand selected for a special job at the White House.
I forgot to mention the shadow part, that during this time:
- I was drinking more than one bottle of Two Buck Chuck a night in order to sleep,
- I was asked daily why the hell my hands were shaking so badly, and could not write or type as a consequence
- My mouth moved without my consent and made sounds without my permission
- I began to stutter during conference calls with people in the highest ranks of the Navy who held my career in their hands and eventually refrained from speaking because I was so embarrassed by my inability to control my own body,
- I was failing my California History and Creative Writing classes, both of which I loved, because I was drowning and the only thing keeping me from drowning was the fear of being labeled a shitbag at work and kicked out of the Navy so I had to let everything else go in order to stay afloat
- I was engaging in unsafe sexual practices with a person whose only attractive qualities were his obvious disdain and irreverence for me.
“Well, then, let’s start you back on the Wellbutrin. It’s activating. That should get you out of this slump.”
Relief washes over me. Just the possibility of getting back to my once-upon-a-time-self was enough to get me on board.
“I will cure you of depression,” he assures me before closing his notebook, the signal that we are done.
I leave the VA clinic with an orange bottle filled with a thirty-day supply of Wellbutrin in a paper bag like a hobo leaves a liquor store with a bottle of vodka. I leave wondering if the doctor really understands the gravity of my emptiness. Maybe he used the word, “slump” to make me feel better about my condition, the way a field medic doesn’t tell a guy that his guts are hanging from his belly before he dies.
The drive back from Monterey to San Juan Bautista is short and beautiful. The sand dunes covered with yellow and pink flowering ice plant give way to frothy white wave crests colliding with clean, camel-colored sand, propelled by ocean filtered true blue by the kelp forest it passes through on its way into the bay. The Salinas River, which brings water north from San Luis Obispo, through the Los Padres National Forest, flirts with the Pacific before they marry and become one. Everywhere I look is misty with fog. Artichokes send periscope eyes up from the earth overnight, and gangs of thugs come along in the morning and chop them off before they have a chance to open. A whole town of eucalyptus where redwoods once stood. It turns out eucalyptus makes terrible lumber, but the smell isn’t bad, so I don’t get too sad about it.
I open the sliding glass door of my little pink house on the corner and walk into a sink full of dishes, a counter full of crumbs and a to-do list a mile long. The shades are drawn. It’s dark and I’m assaulted with the acrid smell of garbage. I’m overwhelmed with all of the steps I have to take before I can let myself relax after the stressful morning:
- Turn on hot water in sink.
- Wait for the water to heat up.
- Gather garbage in the meantime.
- Plug the sink
- Start putting dishes into sink.
- Add soap to the water.
- Pick up garbage
- Walk to the sliding glass door.
- Open sliding glass door.
- Walk to the garbage can
- Open garbage can
- Lift garbage bag up and let it drop into the can
- Let the lid of the can fall
- Run back inside to wash hands
- Wash hands in bathroom so as not to sully the dish-soaking water.
- Go back and close the sliding glass door left open so as not to sully the handle.
- Shut off the water in the sink.
I become exhausted thinking about it. It’s an insurmountable endeavor.
“If this shit is activating, then I need to take it right now. I need to activate!” I take the pill and decided to take a nap while I wait for it to start working. I lay down hopeful that I will wake up like Dorothy, back safe in my bed with a renewed appreciation for my life and the people in it; awash with new perspective and faith in god and goodness.
It’s around three in the afternoon and the sun has dissolved the fog. He is reaching his slender finger rays through my bedroom window, his warm hand rests on my feet. I kick off the covers. I hear whispers from the living room. It sounds like a radio playing through static, NPR, maybe, but I don’t have a radio in the house. It sounds like people whispering, like they do at a funeral, trying not to offend the dead with their life. I lay perfectly still for a moment straining to hear what the voices are saying. I try not to breath, because I’m certain they will be able to hear me. Are they robbers? Are they going to kidnap me, rape me, torture me? I’m sure they heard the rustling of the down comforter and are sharpening their knives and loading their guns. I can’t move; they’ll hear me. I lay still, breathless, for a long time trying to figure out what they are doing and waiting for them to come into the bedroom.
Finally, my adrenaline takes over. I explode out of bed and fling open the door to the living room, expecting to see one, two or three people, a man and maybe two women standing in a circle, conspiring against me. The room is empty and the closed shade, garbage and dirty dishes underscore the emptiness. It’s quiet. There is nobody in the living room, bathroom, hiding behind the shower door, or in a closet. There is nobody in the house at all.
I sit on my back porch and drink a glass of wine with Kat. She always brings the good wine and I love her for it.
“My doctor is trying to kill me,” I confess to her. I know how crazy I sound, but I think it’s important to tell her, tell someone, so that when I’m found dead and my little pink house on the corner is surrounded by yellow crime scene tape, she can tell the lead detective that the VA should be his prime suspect. “The VA is trying to kill me. I think it’s because I’m worthless now and they don’t want to deal me. Maybe they have a deal to kill off any veteran who can’t work so that they aren’t a burden on society.” I imagine Barney Miller and Fish following the lead all the way to the top and busting the VA racket wide open. I imagine Barney on television breaking it all down for reporters, Fish standing to his left looking sullen as ever while cops drag people in suits away kicking and proclaiming their innocence. I can’t tell if Kat thinks I’m joking or being dramatic. She offers me another cigarette and pours more wine. It makes me feel a lot better.
The next day I send a complain to the VA about hearing voices over the Internet. I want there to be a paper trail, I think. Perhaps the doctor gave me too much at once, I suggest to Iris, the Internet interface of the VA. I don’t want to see him again, I tell her. I leave out the part about him trying to kill me because I know it sounds insane and I’m convinced they will lock me up if they think I’m on to them. I’m fucking scared, Iris. I need help. I feel insane. I feel saner than I ever have before.
I’m sitting across from a very serious, not at all empathetic woman at a picnic table in the courtyard or the VA clinic. She’s pissed about my asking to have my doctor changed. She is some kind of administrator in charge of the doctors, she explains. I can’t understand why I need to explain anything to her. She isn’t a doctor. My issues are private issues, and we are sitting in the middle of a courtyard – in a fishbowl – with offices and windows all around us. I’m sure everyone inside is watching and listening.
I can tell she hasn’t read my medical records. She knows nothing about me, my history, why I’m asking the VA for help. She’s probably a veteran. I can tell because she’s acting like the Petty Officer in charge of me. She’s treating me like shitbags are treated, like lazy, lying, troublemakers. She wouldn’t if she knew anything about me, but I don’t want to say tell her because of the people watching and listening, and because it’s none of her fucking business.
“We don’t have another doctor for you to see. Doctor X is a very good doctor and there is no reason why he shouldn’t be able to help you if you let him.”
“I don’t feel comfortable with him. He prescribed me a very high amount of Wellbutrin and I was hallucinating, hearing voices, I felt suicidal.” Didn’t she talk to Iris about this?
“Maybe we need to think about an inpatient treatment for you.”
A flashback to rehab and night checks, no sleep and group therapy. Endless hours of rumination and complaining with no improvement in symptoms. Rooms with no windows, fluorescent lighting. Being locked in a building. Needing to earn permission to go outside or make a phone call. Being alone. Being vulnerable. Being drugged. A prisoner, like being a sailor on a ship in the middle of the ocean. She is using the threat of inpatient psychiatric treatment like a punishment.
Panic. My adrenaline is burning like fire through my veins. I try to stay calm, I try to simultaneously stand up for myself and protect myself.
“I would like to be able to work everything out as an outpatient. If he is so good at his job I don’t see why that should be a problem.”
“You see, right now you don’t have a reason to request another doctor. He is a very good doctor and ‘because I don’t like him’ isn’t a good enough reason to get another doctor. There just aren’t enough doctors. If he did something wrong I need to know about it. If not, I can’t let you see another doctor.”
I must have used all of my adrenaline stores because every bit of umph I had mustered drains out through my feet. My heart drops. I’m suddenly aware that the Pacific Ocean, the largest in the world, is just across the highway, beating herself mercilessly against the shoreline while he just sits there and takes it. She’s telling me that unless he was sexually inappropriate I had to see him. I want to take all of the pain that I’ve kept locked away because of duty and fear and shame and throw it in her face like acid. Everyone is listening. Everyone is watching. I want to get better. I want to work, make money, be a success. If I am crazy I need professional help and the VA is holding all of the cards.
“I don’t feel depressed. I only feel tired and then depressed when I realize that I have nothing left in my life because I am so tired. Maybe this is why the antidepressants aren’t working?”
The doctor looks at me wearing a condescending smile. I can tell he is aware of my plea to Iris. His face says, “how dare you tell me which medication to prescribe. I didn’t go to medical school so that some cast-out, crazy veteran can tell me how to do my job.” I can tell that he still hasn’t read my medical records and that he, too, now views me as a shitbag. Needless to say I don’t get any Adderall. What I do get is a note in my medical record that I am something akin to a meth addict who needs a fix and will rob his momma to get it, the kind of person who is addicted to opioids and is constantly going to the ER in severe pain demanding a refill of their Oxy and some Valium while they’re at it.