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“I’ve met you three times now,” she says as if this fact is somehow important. I nod, not because she’s right but because I have nothing to say.
This one doesn’t ask as many questions as the others, just states a lot of facts. It bothers me, but I don’t tell her. It wouldn’t be something she’d like to hear. She’d squirm in her seat like all the others when I confronted them. I don’t blame her for this. She’s had this job for years, long enough to think she knows what she’s doing. After all, no one wants to be told what they’ve learned isn’t right.
She says today were going to be talking about my stay in the hospital. This topic has so far been very interesting to her. I don’t get it, she already got my files from the hospital, and she already knows what happened. There’s not really a point of prying me for details. I clear my throat and tell her this.
“You’re going to have to give me details if I’m going to properly assess you,” she says. “The file the hospital gave me wasn’t very extensive.”
That sounds about right, they didn’t think very much of me. I was too run of the mill crazy. They said that everyone had a reason for being the way they are, that mine would come out eventually. It didn’t though; I saw the affects of my illness, but no reason behind it. I was in there for four weeks, and nothing, no light bulbs turning on – not even a flicker of reason behind it. They must have grown so tired with me, day after day they’d ask about when I started feeling this way, and I would say the same thing ‘When I was eleven, around the beginning of the school year.’
Sometimes they’d try changing tact. “How was your childhood before you started noticing these shifts in mood?” So I would say, “It was mostly happy, normal even.” And that was that.
I realize I’m not saying anything again, that there’s a forty-something year old woman sitting in front of me (completely decked out in olive green I might add) waiting for me to explain the story of my illness. “I don’t know. I just don’t know.”
“You know, sometimes we say “I dunno” because we’re too afraid to say something, or it makes us uncomfortable.”
I want to say ‘I don’t know’ again just to piss her off, but I don’t. Instead I add a fraction of a sentence, just something to make her stop saying stupid s***. “That’s not why I said it. I. Just. Don’t. Know.”
“How are you feeling today?” she asks. It’s a question from her, which seems so rare I feel oddly thrilled.
“Irritable. Angry,” I say. “No sort of energetic today, I’m always irritable.”
She doesn’t correct this fact, but marks off my response on her charts. “You said angry at first, are you angry with me?”
I shudder, just a little. I wasn’t angry but now all of the sudden I feel it. Suddenly I don’t want her asking questions, I just want her to say that I look angry today, or that it’s pretty warm for mid-October. Her stupid olive green suit glares at me through my peripheral vision. This question, so pleading, so pathetic, makes her seem so weak, and I don’t want to talk to her anymore.
I don’t respond. She moves onto a new topic.
“In grade six I lashed out and hit my teacher, miss. Luther. She’d just ridiculed an assignment I’d worked quite hard on in front of my whole class. Humiliated, I felt suddenly a great force make my fists clench together. Before I knew what I was doing, this force was raising my fist, making it slice through the air, and attempt to hit Miss Luther in the face. I missed and hit my teacher’s shoulder instead, but the strength behind my punch made her rock where she stood. Then there was a lot of yelling on Miss Luther’s part, but everything seemed so silent.
“After that I started seeing social workers, much to my parents’ dismay. They were very disappointed in me, mom said. To my parents I was just another child who lashed out, who needed more discipline. A good smack to the rear, maybe a grounding – that would fix me. In truth I think my parents’ must’ve been embarrassed by me. I don’t blame them; it looks bad to other parents when your kid is a mental case.”
“Maybe you need to stop seeing these therapists if they’re not even helping you,” Alice says.
Alice has been my best friend since we met in the hospital two years ago. I trust Alice, because she knows what it’s really like. Not to have my problems or anything, but to deal with therapists who never seem to get it right.
“I mean,” Alice continues. “Sometimes therapy is just too… primitive. It only covers what’s conventional, like… It tells you there’s a reason you are the way you are, that it’s because of the way you were nurtured. Even though, like, sometimes it just runs in your family, or sometimes you’re just defective or sometimes talking just isn’t enough.”
“I must be defective then.”
“Well if you’re just figuring that ought now, no wonder you’re frustrated with therapy. You should’ve been able to like figure that out ages ago.” Alice is only half joking when she says this. A lot of people will try and say that I’m normal despite my condition, but from the moment I stepped into the hospital I knew this wasn’t so. Call it what you want, a chemical imbalance, bipolar, or just ‘emotional’, I know I am different. And Alice knows she’s different, too. We’re in this together, Alice and me.
Alice is much easier to talk to than any therapist I’ve ever dealt with or any adult really. I’ve always found adults disappointing; they offer lessons but no guidance. Most adults have this attitude of ‘well I made it through being a teenager. I survived and so can you.’
“Maybe you should get a new therapist,” Alice says.
I shake my head, but I don’t respond. I’ve had a lot of therapists, and each new one seemed better than the last – at first. Eventually all their faces bleed together, their statements and questions become one, and it doesn’t really make a difference who I’m seeing, just so long as I’m trying -
- Trying so hard to defeat this defection within myself. When I’m not feeling euphoric, or when I’m not depressed, I’m just lost. I feel happy and sad both at once, as if both sides of the coin are fighting to assert themselves. And me, or whoever’s trapped inside that isn’t bipolar is being thrown about, destroyed by the intensity of my emotions.
“People like us,” Alice says out of the blue. “Our problem is that we don’t want to admit that we’re the problem. It’s easy to say like ‘Oh I have a chemical imbalance, it’s God’s fault.’ But like, it’s not God. A lot of people have chemical imbalances that never cause them problems, because that switch is never flicked, you know?”
“What sort of switch are we talking about here?” I ask because I honestly don’t know where she’s going with this.
“Stop taking things so literally. What I mean is yeah sure you’re defective or whatever, but something happened, or like maybe a lot of things happened to set it off. There was always a possibility you’d be bipolar, just like there was always a possibility I’d be depressed ‘cause my mom was f*****, too so it’s in my genes. But I became depressed cause of Riley, not because I was born. He flicked my switched, so what flicked yours?”
“Why are you asking about this?”
Alice sighs dramatically. “Because you brought up your therapist being dumb, which I don’t deny as being true, but I know that’s not really the problem. And because I’m not psychic, I just like know from experience what you’re going through. Not knowing can really hurt, but you do know, some part of you knows what event or events made the hospital doors open for you.”
She’s being insightful again, depressed people often are. Something about sadness must make you good with words. Alice can read me really well, too. She doesn’t need to hear me talk, but can just read my body language and know what’s wrong. It’s a shame someone like Alice is so depressed, I mean she’s really smart. I wish I could personally destroy Riley and erase him from her memory just so she wouldn’t be such a hermit, maybe leave the house once and while. I bet other people would like her, too.
And suddenly it hits me like a truck. Alice says I’m talking too fast again, that I should slow down, but I’m on a roll.
“There was another Alice. Well, Alison actually. She was my babysitter when I was eight. We used to go to the park together, and play in the sandbox. Alison spoke to me differently than my parents or teachers, like I was worthy of her attention. I spent hours chatting about the kids in my class, or where I’d like to go if I could vocation in space. Alison dutifully listened to me, even though it must’ve been boring as hell for a teenager to sit listening to some brat all day.
“I felt as if she was the only person I could really talk to; because my parents never really listened to me and me teachers had other students to look after. But one day when I turned nine she disappeared.
“Mom told me she went to university. I couldn’t comprehend why Alison would just up and leave without saying goodbye. I thought we were friends. Dad said not to think about it, that someday I would forget about her. A couple weeks later a kid at school asked me if I knew why she’d killed herself. And after that, I took my Dad’s advice and I pushed her out of my mind and tried to forget. I never really did, I just convinced myself that because I wasn’t thinking about it then it must not really matter. But it does, Alice, it does.”
It’s the not knowing that hurts the most. Not knowing why I’m this way or why Alison did what she did. It would be too easy to say I’m bipolar because I have a chemical imbalance and Alison died. I could blame my parents for not paying enough attention to me, or for lying like they did. I could say I felt betrayed by Alison, and that I have trust issues. But none of that would be my answer. This question ‘why am I bipolar?’ has been haunting me for so long, but it doesn’t even matter. Not everything has an explanation or needs one.
Alison was sad enough to kill herself, to find someway out of the mess that she must’ve felt. I will find a way out too, but I will not give up as she did. I will fight, as I always have, and somehow someway, eventually I must win.
My Alice, my living, breathing, palpable Alice smiles at me, and I know that the present is all I need.