I'm shut in a windowless 8x8 room, whose concrete block walls are painted a muddy grey best described as institutional. A single housefly buzzes drunkenly against the florescent lamps overhead. Pushed against the far wall is a green metal exam table, stirrups and all, crisp white paper pulled tightly over the top. Although I've never been to Russia, in my mind, this is exactly what a communist-era doctor's office would look like. Instead, it's the office of one of the area's best psychotherapists, nearly 100 kilometers from the security of my home. I feel fragile and fucked up, viewing psychotherapy as a last resort to understanding why I feel so angry and sad all the time.
Like a good patient, I've tried doing all the things that mental illness sufferers should do: I eat well, sleep as best I can with young children in the house, I exercise and take my Effexor at the same time every single day (because I learned the hard way that missing a dose, even by a few hours, sends me into a tailspni that takes hours to recover from). But still I'm here, shifting uncomfortably in a thinly padded burgundy office chair, avoiding looking at the stirrups, instead reading facts about the digestive system on a full-colour 3D plastic poster taped to that damn grey wall.
I don't want to be here, but I don't know where else to go for help.
The psychotherapist reminds me of my favourite uncle, a curious and kind man, and for that reason, I trust him instantly. In minutes, I tell him my life story, or at least of the time since being diagnosed with chronic depression seventeen years ago. I tell him about my immediate family, who in one way or another, are crazy too. I tell him every single antidepressant I've been on, and how the most recent one makes me feel like I'm losing my mind, when it's supposed to do the exact opposite. That I can't sleep, drive a car, complete sentences or grocery shop. That I've gained 20 pounds and my joints ache all the time. That I can't run anymore because the Effexor-induced vertigo, nausea, aches and weight gain make running to painful and that I cry all the time.
I stop short of telling him he's my only hope, but I think he gets the idea.
Tell me more about when you were diagnosed as having depression, the psychotherapist prompts me.
I think back to my nineteen year old self, and the three days I spent lying in bed, scaring my best friend so much she drove me to downtown Toronto ER. It was my last year of college and I so desperately wanted to succeed, that I'd spent days in the computer lab at school, eating from vending machines and going home to only change into clean clothes. I remember sitting in that ER exam room (not much different than the one I sat in with the psychotherapist, but instead with peachy-beige walls), with the attending doctor pressing two pills and a prescription into my hand.
This one will make you feel better. The other one will help you sleep. You are depressed. In time, you will be OK.
Did anyone ever stop to think that maybe you were just really tired and needed to sleep? asks the psychotherapist. And did you ever think to question your doctors as to why you needed to take these pills for so long?
I shook my head, tears and snot sliding over my upper lip, which from my anxiously biting at it for the last hour, tastes a little like blood.
I thought I was broken. I trusted them to fix me.
But I'm telling you that I think they were all wrong. I don't believe you suffer from depression.
What do you do with a diagnosis - or undiagnosis - like that? To tell you the truth, I am terrified and relieved, but mostly terrified. I don't know how to be an un-depressed person. I don't know how to live without medication, even ones that mess me up and make me fat and forgetful.
I feel like I'm supposed to be a new person, even if I have no clue who that person is supposed to be.