The Chemical Chronicles: Kill Pills.
After two panic attacks, a night in an ER and reaction of “sucks for you” from my first shrink, a new pill and doctor were in order. I had no idea where to begin. There is no shrink directory to turn to, no compilation of personalities or styles, only a Google bar blinking at me with a dumbfounded look.
“Austin psychiatrists,” I type.
Names upon names meaning nothing appear. I scroll deliriously until it hits me – Yelp. I cross-reference Dr. Patel’s and Dr. Stein’s against reviews only to find that people who need shrinks don’t write reviews to inspire confidence.
“DO NO GO TO THIS CRAZY LADY! Put me on meds that increased voices! Saw lights every time I went! UNCOOL.”
By the time I finish browsing I’m certain of two things:
1. There are out people out there much more bat shit crazy than I.
2. Those people hate doctors.
What I needed was a referral and there was only one other person I knew in this city with a shrink.
“Do you have anyone you could recommend?”
My manager looks at me heavily. It’s an uncomfortable question but I figure once I’ve had a panic attack in the office we don’t have many more boundaries to blur.
“I do. He’s nice. Low key. He’s not a pill factory so he’ll take time to get to know you can. I’ll text you the number later.”
“Thank you… did we just bond?”
He rolls his eyes at me.
My phone chimes later and I find the name of my next lifeline – Dr. M. I wonder after him. What will he be like? Will he be dry and humorous? Will we form a bond and star in a light-hearted yet profound indie movie together? The only clue to him is the image attached to his contact information – a cartoon bunny, skipping through a field. What a happy, fuzzy man.
I arrive at the office (which, to my despair, was not in a sunlit field dappled with woodland creatures) and wait until they call my name. I shuffle into yet another room with yet another couch and begin to tell the same tale. I take a survey and complete a list telling me to check things like “I sometimes become easily agitated” and “I often cry for no reason” if they apply.
“Is it possible I just feel really deeply?” I ask, already knowing the answer.
“This is the accepted checklist for bipolar disorder in the psychiatric community,” he says, holding up the piece of paper for me to see. “Look at how many things you marked.”
The checks smirk and I swear one sticks out a tongue.
“We’re going to give you medicine we’ve had a lot of success with. There are very little side effects but there is one concern. It can, in cases, cause a life threatening rash.”
I swallow hard.
“A rash. Some people get it and treat it with Benadryl and are just fine. But if you contract one you need to stop the medication immediately because it can cause permanent damage or death.”
“Oh. Only death?” He was so cavalier. “But I’ve already had a rare reaction… my body clearly isn’t equipped for this so is it smart to put me on one with… that?”
“It’s in a completely different drug family. Just because you react one way to one doesn’t mean you’ll react the same to the other.”
“How many of the rash people die?”
“About 30… 40… 50 percent.”
I leave the office in a daze with images of me hooked to a ventilator, covered in mortifying pustules as I explain I should have just stayed crazy. I take the first dose convinced I’ll wake up a red scab and even after several days of clear skin the information is still tacked in my mind.
“Oh my god!” I yell from the bathroom after five days of treatment. “I think I have a rash! Jess! Come here! Does this look like a rash?!”
My roommate comes and observes the patch of cracked, puffy skin on my jaw line. After squinting for a minute she replies.
“…. Yeah. It does.”
“No! No. No. No. I am not fucking going through this again! I just need to go back to normal I am not fucking going through another pill!” I’m in full freak out and tears begin to roll down my cheeks. I frantically text Sam.
“I have a fucking rash. It’s faint and small but it is a fucking rash.”
He’s out drinking. He doesn’t answer for a while.
“What?” is his delayed response.
“What is unclear about that?”
“How do you know?”
“Because it looks and feels like a rash! I’m freaking out. I can’t fucking do this again.”
He comes over an hour later and finds me in a fetal, apathetic ball. He’s clearly annoyed I threw this screw into his evening and there’s barely sympathy in his voice.
“Get up. Let me see it,” he commands. I sit up and don’t even have a moment before he grabs my chin and turns my face up. He studies it for a minute.
“Where is the pill bottle?” he asks.
“I… I’m not sure…”
“Carly. Where the fuck is the pill bottle? I’m here to help you so let me fucking help you.”
“My purse?” He huffs out of the room after it, reappearing with the novel of possible side effects. He squints at my face, down at the paper, up to my face again.
“What do I do?” I whimper. I don’t know why I ask. He couldn’t possibly answer such a thing.
“It looks like dry skin.”
I walk up to my mirror and examine it, running my fingers over my pending demise, which, now that I thought about it looked an awful lot like dry skin.
“Jesus Christ,” I say, beginning to cry again. “I’m losing my mind.”
Sam pulls me into him and we sit wrapped in each other.
“It’s okay. You’re just scared. That’s all.”
Scared. I never knew what it meant to feel it truly. I always thought of myself as fearless; an independent who did things like move across country to a city she didn’t know and people she never met. I was experiencing fear over a square of white smaller than my pinky nail when Texas is bigger than France and filled with Republicans and shotguns.
Then again, guns don’t kill people. Pills do.