January 31, 2009
The psychiatrist studied me. His name was Dr. Charles Malinick III. I didn’t like the name and had told my mom as much, but all she had done was look me square in the face and say, “Well, if someone would have gotten out of bed in the last month, someone would have gotten to choose a doctor herself.”
I was too tired to explain why her sentence was grammatically incorrect, and anyway, she had a point. I’d been complaining about being depressed for months. My chipper primary care doctor, a young blonde woman who wore pastel-colored cardigans tied snugly around her shoulders, had asked me a series of, as I saw them, stupid questions when I made an appointment to talk to her about my situation.
“Have you ever had suicidal thoughts?”
“Obviously. I’m a teenager.”
“Have you ever sat down and planned out how you would kill yourself?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well, have you or haven’t you?”
Overdosing on sleeping pills, jumping off a building, lying down on the train tracks in front of my house and waiting for oblivion. Eating copious amounts of peanuts, which I’m allergic to, forcing my best friend to shoot me in the head, slitting my wrists lengthwise, the correct way to get the job done.
“No,” I said. “I haven’t.”
“Have you ever had violent thoughts toward yourself or others?”
The long, thin scabs on my inner thighs throbbed when she asked this, afraid of being found out but excited nonetheless at the possibility.
“I’ve been mad at people.”
“To the point where you think about harming them?”
I thought about the damage I’d done to James’ car, the paint that was probably ruined from the various slices of lunch meat and raw eggs that covered the entire exterior by the time I was done, the tires that would need to be replaced after my not just slashing, but complete maiming, the shards of glass piercing the leather of the front and back seats. I knew it was crazy, but even now, years later, I’ve not felt that same exhilaration again.
My PCP ended up referring me to a psychiatrist, which is what I had asked for in the first place. She sent me a list of doctors to choose from. They all had obscure last names, no Joneses or Smiths or Johnsons – I just wanted something simple – and I was generally feeling like shit those days, thinking about who James was with and what they might be doing together and if he could be telling a girl the same story he told me that made me clutch his hand tight, the one about how his dad, under the pretext of teaching him to box, broke his nose in the front yard when he was only ten years old. So instead of just picking a name I burrowed deep under the covers of my bed, sometimes sleeping for days on end, earplugs in, blocking out almost everything.
Because of my inaction and her concern, my mother ended up choosing Charles Malinick III, Ph.D., the doctor located closest to our house than any others on the list, a mere 2.1 miles away. My mom was very worried about me. Though I’d always been, and still am, a serious, pensive and overall pessimistic person, she could tell there was something bigger at work in this case.
After James broke up with me but before I had decided I was depressed, my mom had tried to talk to me. I must have looked pathetic – I hadn’t showered in four days. My hair was greasy and matted, but I couldn’t find a reason to care. It hung down over my eyes like a dark curtain. Maybe that was for the best – my face looked infinitely worse than my hair. My eyes were bloodshot. I’ve had chronic red eyes since I can remember, most likely a side effect of wearing contacts every day since age nine, but when gut-wrenching sobs were added to the mix, I was nearly impossible to look at.
My cheeks were tomato-red, another condition I’m used to that happens, without fail, anytime I get worked up. To this day, I can’t work out in a gym without several people coming up to me and asking, “Are you okay?” This time, though, my cheeks stayed painfully bright red for weeks. On the few rare occasions during that time that I left the house and cared what I looked like, the several coats of liquid foundation with powder caked on for good measure still weren’t able to mask the angry red splotches.
“Honey?” my mom said, opening the door.
I was propped up in bed, hands folded in my lap. My eyes were open, but they weren’t focused on anything. I’m sure I was thinking about James.
“Hi,” she said, pushing into my room. The piles of dirty clothes covering the floor were also partially blocking the doorway.
I didn’t answer. I could feel her gaze, her helplessness. I wanted to say something for a brief moment, but then thought, What’s the point?
My mom made her way to my bed, trying to sidestep the crumpled jeans and sweatshirts and cringing each time she caught one with her sneaker. She sat down on the edge of my bed and sighed.
“Do you want some lunch?”
It took most of my energy to shake my head.
“You need to eat.”
“Let me make you some soup.”
“I’m not hungry.”
She reached for my hand. I allowed her to hold it. “What can I do for you?”
I shook my head again. I couldn’t decide whether I wanted her to feel sorry for me or not. I thought being neutral would give me a little latitude.
“I have to tell you something,” she said, her voice small. Her grip on my fingers tightened, then relaxed. “I didn’t want to tell you, but Dad says I have to.”
She sighed. “James called.”
I was looking at her wedding ring, which was now, after many years and five children, far too tiny for her but choked on anyway. There were deep indentations marring the width of her finger.
“When?” I asked, meaning to sound casually disinterested, but noting instead the desperate urgency with which I spoke.
“I didn’t know if I should say anything, so I didn’t,” she said.
I was livid. “What do you think I’ve been doing in here this whole time?” She didn’t respond. “Waiting for him to call!” This was half true. I had also been sobbing, starving myself, counting the cracks in the ceiling, wishing I was dead. And, obviously, at many points in time, wishing, hoping, willing James to call.
“I’m sorry,” my mom said. She sounded like she meant it, but I ignored her for a week after that anyway.
I tried to reach James, but something had changed. He wouldn’t take my phone calls. I declared myself depressed and Charles Malinick III soon had the pleasure of my couch-ridden company.
I disliked him immediately. True, I was already biased by my disapproval of his prep school name, but had he been, say, Michael Green, Ph.D., I still would have been turned off by his tortoiseshell glasses, his thin, scraggly brown hair pulled back into a tight ponytail and his completely smug, condescending greeting: “Hello! Dr. M is going to help you.”
I should have given him a chance, should have bared my soul. Maybe Dr. M, as he referred to himself, really could have helped me. I felt especially guilty a few months later when I found my mom’s checkbook and saw that Dr. M was costing her $50 per half-hour session.
Ironically, my lack of reverence for Dr. M is what ended up saving me. Of course, I didn’t know that at the first session when he invited me to have a seat and said, “Now, how are you?”
“Great,” he said. “How old are you, Christina?”
I told him I was sixteen.
“Sixteen.” He scribbed something on his legal pad. “And can you tell me why you’ve decided to come visit me today?”
I searched for an appropriate answer, one that would convey the general nature of my complaint without being overly specific. Since I couldn’t take him seriously, I was going to have fun with Dr. M.
“I’m depressed,” I said. “My mother thinks it’s because I broke up with my boyfriend, but really” – I paused for effect – “I’m in love with my cousin.”
“What’s his name?” Dr. M asked, unfazed.
“Angela.” I didn’t think Dr. M. believed me. I had to gain his trust, so I pulled out the big guns and started crying. It wasn’t hard to do. Actually, the more surprising thing is that I stopped crying long enough to climb into the car with my mom, drive the 2.1 miles to his office, and sit patiently, albeit uncomfortably, in the hard, high-backed waiting room chairs, all the while appearing to feel what I hadn’t felt in far too long – normal.