‘The Good Doctor’
I struggled to get to sleep, worried voices would speak to me – since Dr Victor had put the question to me, I had to be close to this being possible.
Surely, it was as simple as being balanced on a fine line:
Sanity | Insanity
Just the gentlest nudge, and I’d be over.
People who heard voices were crazy. That’s the way they’re depicted in media, unless they’re Joan of Arc or something. But they burned her. Everybody else who heard voices ended up in institutions, doped up and lost to reality. Whatever the case, no good could come from hearing voices.
Now, I questioned every sound – even simple sounds, especially when I was in bed, and it was just me and the quiet of the night. If somebody walked down the hallway, then I had to tell myself, Somebody walking down the hallway – no problem. Stranger sounds were something else. There was a twangy hiccup, short and faint. I froze, held my breath, questioning whether it had been real. If it was real, I needed to hear it again, so I could identify it, dismiss it, and move on. If it wasn’t, then I didn’t need to hear it again. Of course, if I didn’t hear it again, then I was left with the questioning of the sound’s existence. There was no winning. But there it was again: unmistakeable now, though – a cat meowing away in the night.
Then, I did hear a voice. I didn’t get what it said, but I did hear it. What happened next? Where did this go from here? Did voices just begin prattling away, as if they were picking up a conversation that had been interrupted? Or were they sly and did they ingratiate themselves into your awareness, until it was like you’d never known any different?
I lie as still and quiet as I could until I heard the voice again: the neighbours in their laundry, which was adjacent to my bedroom. The way our houses were positioned, there was only about ten feet and a wooden fence separating them. Sound funnelled between the houses and bounced off the walls.
Manic thoughts pushed my sleeplessness through to the early morning when I finally drifted off. I got up about 9.00am, head clogged, like I had a flu; my eyes scratchy, like somebody thrown sand into them; and the anxiety still burning. It was a constant now, like breath.
I took my Thioridazine, forced my way through breakfast, and then went into my back room. It looked empty without my map and typewriter. It didn’t feel right. I wouldn’t survive a year without writing. Writing was me. Now I felt empty, other than for Dr Victor’s plan to find a job with exhausting physical labour. This was my only salvation apparently.
I had to catch two buses to get down to the local job agency. On the trips up, my whole body was alive with energy that threatened to explode. The more I thought about it, the worst I felt. I read road signs and number plates to distract myself. Whenever I felt I was beginning to calm, there’d be a surge of panic. The fear that it’d overload was the most terrifying thing of all.
The job agency was one of the bigger ones around and advertised jobs on rows of pin-boards. But when I got there, the pin-boards had been roped off, and a sign had been put up saying that the section was closed for the day.
I went up to the counter and told the guy I needed to look at the jobs. He said the section was closed and to come back Monday. Monday! I told him my doctor said I was heading for a nervous breakdown, and that I really needed a job, so I really needed to look at the boards. The guy’s face crinkled, trying to work out whether I was for real or not. It was probably the first time ever he’d been told that somebody’s sanity hinged on finding a job. He let me through.
I ducked under the rope and checked the jobs, finding lots of clerical positions, but nothing requiring exhausting physical labour. There was some factory job, which might be suitable. I took down the details and went back to the guy behind the counter. He looked it up for me, rang the place, and discovered the position was gone.
I left and went to the bus-stop, but couldn’t sit still. I decided to walk, and it wasn’t long before I saw a HELP WANTED sign outside a boilermaker factory – not that I knew what boilers were, how they were made, or why they needed making. I walked in and asked for the job from a big guy in overalls. He went and spoke to his boss, then came back to tell me there was nothing available. I indicated the sign outside. He said it didn’t matter, because the boss said there were no jobs. Since there was no beating that logic, I left.
I caught the bus home, panicked the whole time. My biggest worry was where all this would lead. I imagined snapping, and then doing bizarre things, although I couldn’t imagine what those bizarre things might be. Dr Victor hadn’t told me either. If I howled at the moon, fine, they could come, take me away, and lock me in a padded room. But what if I hurt somebody? What if I went on a rampage like these spree killers? Not that I had access to guns.
I wasted the afternoon playing computers games and watching TV – anything to try occupy my mind. I would’ve read, but Dr Victor had said I could no longer read fiction either. In the evening, my cousin Roo and his friend Con visited. I was shaky throughout and didn’t tell them what I was going through. It was too embarrassing. Every now and again, panic surged through my body. I wanted them gone. Their presence was heightening my fear I’d lose control.
It was about 10.30pm by the time Roo and Con left – good enough to go to bed. I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep, that it would be like last night, where every sound had obsessed and worried me. But if I could get to sleep then I could escape.
Until morning, at least.