I once had a teacher tell me to write something about myself that few knew. Something personal, yet safe enough to let others know. I wrote a story of aviation and Christmas classics, of an immature child running through the most crowded place on Earth. But my hand wanted to trace a different story. A darker story, that some believe they know but can never truly understand. It is a story of split existence, a war hiding in red and blue veins. When I attempt to explain the details of the battle, people nod and smile, a sign of false acknowledgment. I wish to tell the story of clear orange bottles living in a kitchen cabinet, ones that help me act normal.
I once told my best friend of my four-lettered condemnation, and she replied, “Really? You don’t seem like you have that!” I smiled and gave an ersatz chuckle, continued with my life. This exchange has occurred countless times, and each time I pray for another response or for someone to ask me something, anything. But most of all, to ask what I’m like after 3 o’clock every day, once the medication has left my body. But, I remind myself, not many people would enjoy me. The other me. The one I hide behind pink pills and psychologists’ doors. The different one.
Apparently the signs of my “difference” were evident from childhood, but it was only when I was seven that the adults in my life were sure enough to diagnose me. To label me, to crush my body under the ink-covered rubber of a seal. I remember the day my mother handed me the pill and a glass of water.
“Here,” she said. “Take this.”
“What’s it for?” I asked, staring at the tiny yellow pill. It read alpha 10, and to this day I don’t know what that means.
“Trust me, it’ll make everything better,” she said.
And, like a good child, I placed it in my mouth with the water.
And then spit it all over the floor.
She screamed, and picked the pill up before the cat could eat it. And in my seven-year-old mind, I wondered what she would give me that could harm the cat.
Instead of letting me avoid the pill, she handed me a cup of yogurt and a spoon.
“Here,” she said. “Don’t spit it out again. These are expensive.”
And that was the first day of My Medicated Self.
For the next eight years, I have been stuck in the void between Myself and My Medicated Self. I still haven’t figured out which one is true. Myself, the person I was at six, the dumb child who got in trouble for forgetting to do the other side of the test, the one who would get up from her chair in class because she couldn’t stand the notion of still. The one who, even after several years of popping pills, still just needed to “apply herself.” Or My Medicated Self, the other side of the clear bottle, who can keep a conversation without butting in or screaming out the punchline of the joke. The one who is acceptable to her mother and, at some points, the one I believed she loved more.
I once had a psychiatrist tell me a story of a child like me who said, “It’s crazy, Doctor! When I take that pill, everyone else gets better!” And I smiled politely, wondering if I was the only one who saw that as the most depressing moment in that child’s life. That a child had to take medication for others to accept them and act accordingly. And as time crawled on, and as my tolerance increased, so did the dosage, and the disappearance of Myself followed. I matured, and my tongue became accustomed to the acid flavor of the pills, allowing me to abandon the yogurt for a glass of water. But, as the effects have remained constant, the only time I recognize that seven-year-old girl is when I’m hungry, for the side effects of the pill haven’t starved me yet that day.
I walk through halls, and walk through life, sending smiles and feeling tears, like any other pubescent adolescent. But, in the quiet moments, when the right song comes on and forces me into a place when all I do is think, I wonder: am I walking, running, singing, crying, feeling, day after day, as someone I am not? As a mask of pills and prescriptions, a face finally acceptable to people who know? Yes, the pink drugs allow me to focus, to get acceptable grades, but outside of education, thinking outside the proverbial box, I don’t remember a time before that first pill. I don’t remember anything but the yelling, the “U” at the top of my second-grade paper, my mother screaming as I ran across the street, the doctors visits, the psychological testing, anything leading up to the moment where the tiny yellow pill rested in a tiny white hand.
I am left with the question, and I can see the blurry answer slowly forming but not yet readable. So for now, I will choose. I am not Myself. I am not My Mediated Self. I am the middle ground between the two extremes. I am not the chaos of Myself, nor the cookie-cutter version that is My Medicated Self. I am whomever I decide to be. No drug or test can determine my worth. I am not 90 mg living inside the clear orange bottle in the kitchen cabinet. I am the silly child who ran to the wrong plane, and the owner of the fingers typing this essay. And for now, that is enough.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.
This piece won the February 2016 Teen Ink Nonfiction Contest.