The Other Me

‘The Good Doctor’

iii.

Inside Dr Victor’s consulting room, I told Dr Victor what had happened. Dr Victor listened stoically. It could’ve been any other appointment, bar for the gravity of his expression.

Then he asked me questions about whether I’d had any other symptoms. Had I heard voices? No, I told him, but just that he could ask that question worried me into thinking that I might hear voices. I asked him what I should do if I do. He told me to ignore them. That didn’t seem helpful at all.

I said I couldn’t believe I felt this way, because I hadn’t been too bad in the weeks leading-up to this appointment, other than for all the intrusive thoughts. That piqued his curiosity. I explained how sometimes I felt I might lose control and hurt somebody, and also how sometimes I thought nothing was real.

He asked me if I thought I would hurt anybody. I guess he was trying to work out whether he should have me committed. I told him I didn’t think I would. Dr Victor nodded, then asked me about questioning reality. I told him how sometimes I questioned everything I saw, that I could even look at the walls in his consulting room and question whether they were real.

He nodded. Paused. Then told me I was heading for a nervous breakdown.

Just like that.

I asked what would happened if I had a nervous breakdown. Dr Victor said I’d act bizarrely, until somebody took me to a hospital. The prospect was terrifying. There it was: the worst case scenario of everything I’d experienced. It wasn’t just an ongoing battle, feeling up one day, down the next, panicked one moment, calm the next. It could lead to a crippling overload.

My constant questioning of reality, Dr Victor said, was due to me being a writer, and always dealing with the imaginary. I was sceptical. If that was the case, why weren’t institutions filled with more writers? Dr Victor said they were, making it sound like institutionalisation was a common pitfall of writing, right up there with firemen running into burning buildings.

He advised I should pack away my book and not touch writing for a year. I shouldn’t even read fiction. Instead, I should find a job that involved a lot of hard labour – that would exhaust me and not give me time to think about all my stuff. Like a fishing trawler – wake up at the crack of dawn, get exhausted dragging in fish-nets, go to bed too tired to think about anything else.

I told him I’d get seasick and that I didn’t think I’d last long enough to find any other suitable job. He asked me whether I wanted to check into a psychiatric hospital. I was worried that being around other crazy people would make me crazier, that I’d worry myself into experiencing their symptoms. I was impressionable that way. I told Dr Victor no.

To tide me over, he prescribed me Thioridazine. The name sounded remotely familiar. Thorazine was the drug of choice for crazies in movies. It’d become iconic. I wasn’t sure whether Thioridazine was related.

When we were done, Dr Victor told me to make an appointment for two weeks’ time. Two weeks. That was it? I was heading for a nervous breakdown, so take some meds and see me in two weeks? If I was worthy of being asked whether I wanted to check into a psychiatric hospital, then surely I needed to be seen again sooner than a fortnight.

I went out to reception and silently cursed every person and every question they asked and every administrative hang-up that had me waiting longer than I needed to. After I made my next appointment, I got my prescription filled, and left PANCH.

Every step jolted some tremor of anxiety, like an aftershock. At one point – just as I was passing somebody – the anxiety exploded again. I was tempted to ask the guy I was passing to walk me back to the hospital. But he was gone before I had a chance to say anything.

I had to cross a busy intersection, where there was a line of fast-food shops. I bought a can of Coke, popped open my bottle of Thioridazine, and took out a pill. It was small and round with a glossy finish. I looked at it desperately. This was my saviour. A little pill. Dr Victor said I could take two a day. I tossed it into my mouth and washed it down with some Coke.

I returned to the station, waiting for the Thioridazine to set in, but nothing. I rode the train home, waiting for the Thioridazine to set in, but nothing. I walked the twenty minutes from the local station to home, still waiting for the Thioridazine to set in, and still nothing. I was tempted to take the second. But what if I overdosed? Or, worse, what if it did nothing also? That meant these pills were useless and I was on my own until my next appointment. I didn’t want to find that out.

Back home, I packed up. My cousin Ange had given my book to his friend to read so I’d have to wait before I could file that away. I had a map on the wall I’d drawn of the land the story was set in – 5*4 A4 sheets taped together, which always let me know where my characters were and what they would face next. Now, I pulled it down, folded it, and put it away in a box. I put the lid on my typewriter, thinking I wouldn’t see it open for another year. I put away all the notes I’d accumulated over the years.

My little bungalow seemed empty now. It no longer seemed to be me.

Then I tried to watch television, counting down the seconds until I could take my next pill. Throughout, I kept having aftershocks – small but violent enough to remind me how precarious I was. What would it take for me to snap? To lose my mind? Would I even know it? Would it be like when I broke my arm – a horrific pain, and then left to deal with the repercussions? Or would it be seamless – sane one moment, crazy the next, and none the wiser?

The Other Me

‘The Good Doctor’

ii.
I got to the hospital, checked in, and took a seat. It was just me and a nurse in the waiting-room. The amount of people always varied in this waiting room. Being crazy must’ve been a seasonal thing. Then the nurse left, and I was alone.

I sat back.

Ran my finger down the contour of the plastic chair to the right of me.

Wondered how long I’d have to wait.

And then felt like I was shoved, only I was still sitting in the same spot. What had been shunted from me – shunted as it’d been pounded out of me by a speeding train – was all my composure, all my self-assurance, all my calm. Dread flooded me. Panic overflowed. Seethed. Tingling all over my skin, inside me, pulsing, prickling, flaring, like I might fly apart.

I had to get out of there. That was the only option. I needed to run, to flee. Everything inside me screamed, Run! and it didn’t matter where. It was terrifying to remain. But I couldn’t. I couldn’t just go. Whatever had happened, this was the reason I was here.

I needed help. But the waiting room remained empty. The damn nurse! If only she hadn’t left. I could bust into Dr Victor’s consulting room, although that would be a horrible intrusion on him and whichever patient he was seeing, but right then it seemed a perfectly reasonable option..

No, I had to hold on. I told myself to relax, told myself over and over, and sat back, thinking I just had to bide my time. Dr Victor was usually prompt, so surely it was only minutes before he came out to see me. It’d be okay. There was a settling, like I could assert some self-control. I just had to hold on, hold on, hold—

There was another blow, worse than the first. The alarm screamed inside me. The fear was unconquerable, and yet wasn’t attached to anything – wasn’t attached to a rational cause I could address, or even to an insecurity I could assure myself would be okay. It just was. It was an abyss I’d fallen into and there was nothing else – just me and this panic.

I looked around, left, right, left right, leftright, praying somebody would show up to help me. But nobody. I could go out onto the hospital promenade. There’d be somebody there. The other times I’d had these attacks – when I’d had the delusions of Arabs and wallpapering, and the episode that had mushroomed into this long-running debacle – I’d been asleep. That had cushioned the blow.

Again! and again! Like violent hooks, pummelling me, the way a boxer might batter his wearied opponent to the canvas. Pixels of light danced before my eyes as my sight dimmed – like I’d gotten up so quickly I’d made myself dizzy. But I hadn’t gotten up. I was falling – falling right through the chair, the pixels of light like quicksand closing over my head to drown me.

I shook my head. It was like waking up. The terror was still there, but I could see, and if I could see, I could hold on, although every second felt like it would be my last, like it was bringing me one step closer to the end and once a crossed that threshold, that was it, there was no coming back.

Then the door to the consulting room opened. Dr Victor escorted out a patient. They made pointless small-talk. I wanted to yell at them to hurry. They’d had their time to talk. Now, it was my time!

Finally, Dr Victor bid his patient goodbye, greeted me, and waved me in.

And like a plane out of control, I came in to crash.