(If you are new to this blog, a good way to read it is to start with the very first post, “It Was A Dark And Stormy Night.” This is a memoir, the story of my life. If you are offended by expletives, you may want to skip this post. I do not use them to add shock value, but to just tell the story of what happened as honestly as I can).
The terror was relentless. It punctuated every waking moment. On the worst days, I lay on the floor all day long, just attempting to breathe. My thoughts went pinging around my head like a highly polished steel ball in a pin-ball machine. I lost all ability to daydream, as I attempted to control each thought; making sure one didn’t get away from me like a runaway semi-truck. There was no emergency ramp in sight, no way to put the breaks on going very quickly and completely insane. I didn’t understand what was happening, how I could suddenly lose myself so quickly, so easily. I had no name to pin on it. I knew no one who had ever experienced it. I felt alone in my madness.
I went to my physician and he put me on Valium. He sent me to a psychiatrist, Dr. Teemis. Every two days I waited in Dr. Teemis’ waiting room until he called me in, holding the door to his private office as I walked through to the inner sanctum for those privileged enough to have gone crazy. Then he shut and locked the door, then shut and locked another door, which was right in front of the first one. I thought all psychiatrists must have double locking doors, although for the life of me I couldn’t figure out why this was so.
I sat in a chair, as far away from Dr. Teemis as possible. Each visit began the same way. He’d lean back in his black leather and chrome office chair and put his feet up on his desk. He folded his hands in his lap and stared at me from across the room. I would wait for him to speak, to take over, to offer a solution, some answers. But he almost never spoke first. Once in awhile, he broke the silence by asking a question, but he never seemed satisfied with my answers. He asked about my relationship with my parents, the alcoholism, the neglect, and traumatic events of the past. I left every session feeling worse about my life than I had when I was actually living it. There was no way I was going to talk to this guy about Michael the Archangel.
Lunatics are similar to designated hitters. Often an entire family is crazy, but since an entire family can’t go into the hospital, one person is designated as crazy and goes inside. Then, depending on how the rest of the family is feeling that person is kept inside or snatched out, to prove something about the family’s mental health.”
― Susanna Kaysen, Girl, Interrupted
Dr. Teemis always asked what it was that I was really afraid of. I was afraid of being afraid for no apparent reason! What’s not to get about that? Didn’t he understand that one day I felt fine and then the next day I felt such horror and dread I thought I would die from it? I believed Dr. Teemis had the key and was waiting until just the right moment to give it to me. I grew to rely on him to keep me sane enough, to keep me from ending up back in the state mental hospital. I didn’t think he liked me very much but he seemed resigned to see me week after week nonetheless.
As the fear increased, my world narrowed. It became terrifying to drive a car. At first I just stayed in the right-hand lane so I could turn the corner and take the side streets back home if I had to. That worked for a while, as long as I didn’t have to get gas and sit there, waiting for the attendant to take the nozzle out of my gas tank. I was sure that one day I would panic and drive off, pulling the hose right out of the pump. Another day I panicked in line at the market, and I realized that even if I told myself over and over and over again that I could make it through just a few more minutes while the checker rang me up, the truth was, I couldn’t make it. My fear was that one of these days I was just going to start screaming at her and run out of the store without bothering to pay. I left a full cart of groceries in the middle of the store more than once, and drove quickly home, picturing the ice cream melting all over the floor before the cart was discovered and the food put back on the shelves. Shopping soon became a thing of the past.
Depression piled itself on top of the fear, and suicide became an option. I thought about it all day, and then at night too, when I would wake in a sweat, my breathing shallow, and my heart racing. The thick wool blanket that felt like the top of my head got heavier by the month. Soon, I spent most of my days in bed, just trying to make it through the next five minutes. I would watch the clock as the minute hand ticked on, and felt good about making it through another day without dialing the number that would bring the paramedics to my door.
During one of our sessions, I began to talk to Dr. Teemis about how these crazy feelings were affecting how I felt physically as well. At times I was sure I was having a heart attack. I ended up in the emergency room at least twice a month, positive I was close to death. I explained how during the week before, my left leg had felt numb. Dr. Teemis explained how being a psychiatrist meant that he had medical training as well, and he asked me to lay down on the couch while he checked my femoral artery. He pulled down my pants and pressed his fingers on the artery, close to my crotch. He stared into my face, attempting to gauge my reaction. I went stiff and silent. Disgusted, he pulled my pants up and told me to have it checked by my own doctor the next time I went.
I worried about that femoral artery. I was sure it was clogged and I was about to stroke out. That look on Dr. Teemis’ face was proof something was wrong! Who cares that most twenty-three year old young women don’t have strokes? Maybe it was the years of drug abuse. Maybe it was the blows I took to my face and head at the hands of Michael the Archangel. I had to do what Dr. Teemis told me to do and ask my own doctor right away.
“What did he tell you?” Dr. Hutchinson asked. I noted the tone of his voice but chose to ignore it. I repeated the conversation I had with Dr. Teemis and how he felt my artery with his fingers and told me to have it checked. Dr. Hutchinson paused, watching my face, then quickly looked away and began writing in my chart. “Nothing is wrong with your femoral artery,” he said. He sounded irritated or impatient. I couldn’t tell and I didn’t understand. Certain thoughts ran through my mind but I couldn’t let them land. After all, if there was something wrong with my psychiatrist, then I was done. There was no one else who could help me.
Months went by, and I continued to deteriorate. I believed my visits with Dr. Teemis were the thin thread keeping me hanging on to reality. I sat in his waiting room, two or three times a week, trying to make it through the ordeal of being out, away from the one place I felt somewhat safe; my bed at home. One day his receptionist sat behind the tall counter and chatted away on the phone. It sounded like a personal call, but I didn’t care. Where was Dr. Teemis? Thoughts of suicide had overloaded my brain that week, and I did not think I could live through another day without a session. I waited for 45 minutes and finally got up the courage to interrupt her and ask where he was. She covered the mouthpiece with her hand. “I’ll try giving him a call.” She hung up the phone and dialed another number. I heard her ask someone if he was there, and a few moments later she said, “Linda is here to see you. She’s been here for quite awhile.” She hung up the phone without another word and told me he’d be there in a few minutes. She quickly redialed to continue her own call.
Another fifteen minutes passed and suddenly the door to his private office opened. I sighed and smiled as he asked me to come in. As soon as I entered the room I smelled the alcohol. He loosely waved his arm at me, gesturing at me impatiently. He seemed angry. He leaned back in his chair and it tilted back a little too far, forcing him to grab the edge of his desk for support. He swung his feet up on the edge of the desk and laced his fingers behind his head. “How’s the fucking?” he asked. My stomach lurched and I stared down at the floor, unable to speak. “How’s the fucking?” he repeated, more forcefully. His tongue tripped over the words and it sounded like he had too much saliva in his mouth.
“I don’t know.” I stammered.
“What do you mean you don’t know?” He sneered and I looked towards the double locking doors. “Well, I don’t really feel like it much right now,” I offered.
“I bet you’d feel like it if a sexy neighbor down the street asked your husband to screw her!”
“I guess so,” I said.
“I guess so,” he mimicked.
We both grew silent. Dr. Teemis can’t help me, I thought. I was at the bottom of the pit now. There was no deeper, darker place to go. But unfortunately I was wrong about that. I had stepped off the edge and was in a free fall. But I was just bouncing off of ledges. The bottom was there, and eventually I would hit. And when I did, I would lay there for a long while, stunned, and unable to move.