The world around me doesn’t know how lucky it is I’m as strong as I am.
The people behind the mirror don’t know what they bear witness to. The doctor leaning in with her pen hand under her chin, she doesn’t understand a single word. She’s got her papers in front of her with her questions and notes and the people behind the mirror watching her, taking their little notes. But all else she’s got is my presence, my words, so she’s lost.
Leaning in with her pen hand under her chin, she keeps asking me,
“And why do you think that is?”
I should be so used to this by now. I kind of am. She notes my “detachment”, the ease with which I, the mental patient, discuss traumatic emotional events from my past. You can tell she doesn’t like it.
The thing is, I’m always nice. Obviously it’s in my best interests for them to do their job well, so I help them out every way I can. But this one’s going nowhere. She wants me to be a choose-your-own-adventure story, the story of a psychotic, a textbook depressive, anything so long as I stay her patient; a confused, clueless victim scattered in pieces she can rearrange on the papers in front of her until there emerges the perfect picture of a disorder.
She asks what she thinks are all the right questions, takes furious notes on all the wrong answers. I want her to know about my decreased energy, social anxiety, physical numbness, dizziness, PMS. She listens politely, then raises her hand and says, “Sorry to interrupt.” Looking back to her papers, she wants to hear about my relationship with my parents. She has her pen ready this time.
I answer her little questions. I try. I really try.
But all I can tell her is what, when, and how. Still she leans in, professional, focused, but after an hour you can tell she’s almost given up. Her doctor face betrays a helpless searching while the people behind the mirror wait silently, pens and notepads in hand, poised to learn.
She can’t see the problem is she’s searching in one place, clawing at the dirt with her one question,
“And why do you think that is?”
After an hour and a half she’s found nothing. I’ve given her everything I can, and she’s got nothing. She says we’ll have to stop there, she needs to confer with the people behind the mirror. I say that’s fine. I step outside for a smoke and find myself consumed with a headache. That surprises me. The pain and stress make me feel 14 again. I rock gently in the snow, haul on my cigarette and pray to the only one who truly understands. But I’m distracted by the thought of all those doctors discussing me. It’s all so much like a movie. I look exactly like someone having a smoke outside a hospital in january. But there’s no mirror here. No one’s watching.
She meets me in the office half an hour later, apologizing for the wait. I politely assure her I don’t mind them spending extra time on me. She sits across the table from me, perches her chin back on her knuckles and studies me with her quizzical, assessing face. She thinks we’ll have to see eachother again to get a clearer picture.
I tell her, “I don’t think you’re that far off, really.”
her eyebrows arch in pleasant surprise. she tells me the consensus among her and the people behind the mirror, despite my mention of “shadow people” and distant phones, is that i do not have a psychotic disorder.
I tell her that’s good.
But she regrets to say I can be very inarticulate and hard to follow when asked about my own thoughts and emotions. She wants to know, “Do you find your own thoughts hard to follow, or difficult to pin down?”
I’m silent for a second. Then I say, “Yeah. Sometimes.”
She nods. She’d like to meet with me again next wednesday. And she’s not sure if this is something I’d be ready to think about or act on before we talk again, but she and the people behind the mirror agreed that my alcohol use is definitely something that should be addressed.
I tell her, “I was just thinking that.”
She leads me out to reception, writes the date and time of our next appointment on one of her cards and sees me off. It’s already twilight out. I don’t know it right now, but the past three hours have taken so much out of me I’ll sleep the next fifteen and be late for my next shift. For right now, it’s all over. I spark another smoke and when the bus comes my reflection in its doors looks like my future corpse.
The doctor doesn’t know it but she’s lucky I’m as strong as I am. The people behind the mirror will continue to observe, taking notes on one mental patient reassembly after another. They won’t know that in doing so they exist only by the grace of a case study come and gone. They’re impatient with anything but my weakness. But my weakness is exactly what would set fire to their white waiting rooms, unwrite their Bibles, engulf them in a holy flood of judgment and pull them down into the eternal, black, unreasoning guts of the earth.
As it is, I am calm and reflective, gazing out the window of the moving bus.
As it is, I will see them again next wednesday.
What does the specimin see while the doctor studies it?