A single covered lamp lit up the room from a corner just a little too far away to make the atmosphere welcoming; the light barely made it through the large, thick shelves, loaded with books fading to blurry memory as soon as I’d glanced at the titles, past the brick-a-brack of family artifacts layered on a cluttered desk far too big for this small office, to the small antique chair where I’d been gestured to sit. At my back, a door to freedom that, at any moment, could help me escape what I was surely about to be told in such an uncaring way that the years of forcing myself to be better, to act better, may as well be shredded with the rest of my determination. My foot tapped uncomfortably as the doctor’s beady eyes gazed at me beneath his small head of thinning hair; his narrow cheeks crested downward to meet at a thin mouth, pursed in thought about what could possibly bring a young, healthy looking girl like me into his office when, just outside the door, a boy waited with arms of bone and a gaunt, lifeless face. What could I be doing, breathing in his dusty, musty, thickening air and waiting, arms crossed, for him to “ahem” in his shaky, high-pitched voice while he looks down at my file to size up years worth of health problems in less than 5 minutes.
Opening the small manila folder with my name dutifully labeled in the top left corner, he “hmm’ed” and “haww’ed” while profiling me through the brief “yes” or “no” questions created to determine the severity of my case, and, after enough time had passed for my imagination to formulate twelve different ways I could book it out of here and excuse myself for doing so, he asked, “So, what can I do for you?” I sighed and wondered how to wrap up twenty-four years of life into a single sentence that would adequately explain why I was sitting across from this clearly uninvested man. How do I tell him that, of all the things I could be here for, I was here for the one thing I’d spent my entire life praying I would never have to deal with, fighting in the one battle I never wanted to fight because I knew it was the only battle I couldn’t just win or lose and be done with. My gaze met his and I felt myself freeze instinctively, the words holding on to my throat for dear life while I tried to force their meaning into reality.
I’d been seeing therapists for years in an attempt to fix the multitude of issues I’d been having with my relationships and my day-to-day life; from controlling my reactions, to how I stored memories, something about the way I conducted myself was never right. Men and women who’d earned their various degrees throughout the mental health trade continuously tried to coax me into the idea of getting proper help to deal with it; however, they never wanted to push me too hard. They were afraid that I would leave their offices and forget to reschedule appointment after appointment until I fell off of the radar. The thing is, I knew what was wrong with me, I just never wanted to admit it: to admit it would make me too much like her.
My mother wasn’t much to look at by any means; she stood, pleasantly plump, at 5 foot 4, her hair hung in a dark braid that ended at the base of her back, her eyes were a honey-brown color that always felt too shallow to hide anything truly meaningful behind them, and her face was soft featured with cheeks that looked so thin they would tear if she bit just a little too hard. The most striking part of her image happened to be her teeth, which stuck out in a large overbite due to years of being pressed on by the tip of her thumb while in deep concentration. Her demeanor, in a good moment, was light hearted and welcoming; jokes were a constant for her, and she rarely made one that she wouldn’t cackle at with genuine glee. She had a charming attitude that earned her many temporary friends who, until they’ve done her wrong in some way, believed she was an openly honest and kind woman they’d be lucky to have in their lives.
Mental illness had always been an excuse for her to act in ways that would not be tolerable to anyone outside of our home. She claimed that bipolar disorder caused her to respond irrationally to things that may, otherwise, not have been worth the fight. During these outbursts, everything about her would change. She would grow a few inches taller, forcing you to turn your head back just to keep eye contact. Her hair would break free of the band holding it in place, causing it to fall and frizz in random areas in a way that reminded me of a lion’s mane. Her small mouth and thin cheeks would curl into a snarl one might reserve for the wildest animal confronting a large predator. Her eyes would dilate as she stared into you, locking on to anything she could say that would cause enough damage to paralyze you while she continued her onslaught. When she’d said enough and knew that you would not fight back, she would go in for a final blow- if you were lucky, it would be verbal. For a while, she was remorseful. Growing up, I’d excused her behaviors as mental health issues, but knew, with certainty, that I would do everything in my power to never be like her.
Ten years after I moved out, I’ve had no contact with her. I am in a home that is not my own- the walls are too close and the ceiling is too low; there is no sound of cats playing around in the living room, and my daughter will not come running over to me with our dog, begging for attention. The finger that once held my engagement ring is bare and cold. I stare at the words written on my bathroom mirror in deep red lipstick, mimicking the blood I left behind to start my own life away from fighting and anger, “Try again, everyday.” Something I’d said to inspire hope now locks me in a cage like a misbehaving circus elephant, begging for a second chance at redemption after knocking the tent down and chasing everyone away from the show. I haven’t slept more than three hours in over a week, haven’t eaten more than one meal a day for two, can’t focus on any task long enough to complete it, and the mood swings have become unpredictable. The damage I’d done was irreparable, but all I wanted to do in this moment was curl up with my fiance, and watch my daughter play RoBlox.
For the third time, my life was gone, and, like all the times before, I could not stop myself from the outbursts of violent reactions, or from making the decisions that led to me uprooting myself and restarting my life over and over again; moreover, this time I’d hurt so many people with my behaviors that even I had no excuse. I couldn’t blame hormones, low blood sugar, or some combination of issues being brought up in less-than ideal ways. This could not be fixed with alternative methods of self-care, essential oils, schedule changes, exercising, or an increased water consumption. The mess I’d made was so familiar to me, it was hard to accept that it wasn’t what I needed to live, that it wasn’t where I liked to live. There was comfort in it, and that comfort consumed me when my moods would shift to the point where I couldn’t see out of them, and I firmly believed that what I was doing was the right thing to do; nevertheless, moments like these were sorrowful reminders of what I would lose every time I let myself fall victim to my episodes. I looked deeply into the mirror; honey-brown eyes looked back at me, too shallow to hide anything truly meaningful behind them.
Now, the psychiatrist watches me, a bird of prey waiting for the right moment to fly down onto it’s victim. My heart beats to the tune of “Danger Zone” by Kenny Loggins, causing my blood to race and my stomach to turn; so many words run through my mind without cohesion, and panic starts to set in. I breathe in deeply, look away from his intimidating gaze, and relax my shoulders in a way that releases the tension forming across my body. I knew that the only difference now between my mother and I was this doctor; she, and her mother before her, were far too afraid of the effects of medication and doctors to get treatment for their illnesses- I was not going to be that way.
I told the doctor everything.