I was sitting in the waiting room with a teenage boy. He didn’t look at me, he was staring at his feet, tapping fingers on his skinny thighs. I don’t remember his face, but I can still picture the weird, black cartoon ACDC T-shirt he was wearing. He reminded me of my brother, a sad metalhead whom no one understood.
In movies, places like this looked daunting, empty and frightening. But instead of white, sterile walls, a neat interior, and a magazine stand, one wall was painted a bright, almost uncomfortable yellow, and the other three were black. The yellow wall had bees painted on it and a strange quote: ‘If a bee stings you, it dies, not you.’ I assumed it meant we shouldn’t let anyone hurt us; they’re really hurting themselves. Maybe. Or maybe not.
‘Mark Creiser,’ the nurse called from a speaker. The boy picked up his orange backpack and disappeared behind the white door, leaving me alone in the room. I tried to read some of the magazines on the table next to me, but I couldn’t focus. I wish my mum was here. Although she had offered to come, I had wanted to do it by myself. So stupid.
After what felt like forever, Mark appeared back in the waiting room, eyes red but with a hint of a smile on his face.
‘Bye,’ he said and was gone. Bye.
‘Lili Grosserova.’ My heart skipped a beat. I didn’t know how it would go, what I’d say, or how they could help, but I took a deep breath and stepped in.
The nurse wasn’t old, maybe in her fifties, and her blond hair made her look even younger. I had never seen blue eyes like hers in my life.
‘1997. Uhm, 48 kilos. No, I don’t take any medication. Yes, my parents are together. Asthma. Diagnosed? My mum, as far as I know. Yes. No. Thanks.’
‘Wait here for a second,’ she said. She finished making notes and disappeared behind another white door. Minutes passed. ‘The doctor is ready to see you now.’
The doctor was beautiful. Her umber hair touched her lower back, the same-coloured eyes were narrow and filled with compassion. Her pantsuit perfectly highlighted her curves, and her pointy high heels showed off a tiny dolphin tattoo on her foot. She had a soft voice that made me want to listen, and even though it was monotone, it was somehow calming. I had to dry my sweaty palms on my trousers so I could shake her hand. She ignored the wetness and told me to sit down on the opposite side of a marble desk. Many files were laid down on the desk, but the box of tissues struck my attention. So this is a place where people come to cry, a temple.
‘Let me tell you a story,’ she said with no further delay. ‘Once, there was a woman who came to my office, shaking and crying. I thought someone had done something really bad to her, but the more she talked, the more I realised that was not why she was so upset. Nothing bad had happened to her at that time, she just did not understand why she felt the way she did. She continued to see me for years. Every session revealed more of her past. But one day she sat down, just like you did right now, and did not say a word. We did not talk the whole session, and when it was almost over, she stood up and said, “My life is better now, thanks to you,” and without another word, she left. The last time I talked to her, she was making an appointment for her daughter, who, even at such a young age, felt the same way.’
I felt my eyes filling with tears. I can’t cry during the first session! I opened them wide, blinking unnaturally fast to get rid of the tears. I looked around the room. I had no idea how to reply. The ceiling was high, and the windows were big, so there was plenty of natural reflection on the white wall, like a meditation room, giving off the impression of relaxation and openness. I remember thinking about my mum. I knew she had gone to therapy here, but I never expected to hear it from the psychiatrist herself. Isn’t there a doctor-patient rule or something? Later that day I found out that it was my mum who told her to use this story, to make me open up more and realise I don’t need to have a reason for feeling like shit. Even though I didn’t know it at the session, the story somehow made me feel welcome.
‘Lili,’ she said, bringing me back to reality. She smiled at me with her soft-looking small lips and nodded.
‘I don’t know what to say,’ I said, but that wasn’t entirely true anymore. I had too many questions I wanted to ask, but even though she looked trustworthy, I still had no idea if I could trust her.
‘How about we start with how you are feeling right now and how your day has been?’
‘Uhm. I’m fine.’ How could I describe the feeling of loneliness, self-doubt, and sadness? How could I say that in the morning I didn’t want to get out of bed, not because of laziness but because I actually physically couldn’t? How could I talk to this stranger about my small problems and about the shame I felt because nothing major had happened and I felt like a fake. A pretender. Attention seeker. Rubbish.?
‘Let’s start with a simple meditation.’ She didn’t force me to speak, instead, she pointed at the sofa and walked over to the armchair next to it. I followed her and laid down. This is so lame. I couldn’t help but nervously laugh, picturing all of the movies where this happened. I’ve never thought I’d be the one (not) talking to the therapist, laying down on the sterile white sofa, listening to her voice.
‘Close your eyes,’ she said calmly, and I remember looking at her like a fool. Are we really doing that? ‘Close your eyes,’ she repeated. This time, I did as she said. ‘Listen to my voice.’
‘What if I fall asleep?’ I asked and she laughed. She said it didn’t matter. As long as I followed her instructions, I’d feel better afterwards.
‘Imagine you are in a forest, surrounded by nature. Nothing else matters. Bring your awareness to your toes. Feel how heavy they become.’
I tried to bring my awareness to my toes, but it felt like an impossible task to do. How can my toes get heavier? I didn’t say anything though.
She continued, ‘Now focus on your ankles. They are sinking into the sofa. Take a deep breath in with your nose. Hold it. Exhale through your mouth, releasing all negative thoughts and emotions into the air. Now move up to your knees, thighs, belly, chest, head.’
Her voice became more and more distant until I could no longer hear her. My head was cleared of any thoughts.
‘Take a deep breath in, and with a deep breath out, open your eyes, and bring your awareness back to the world.’ I heard her talking from a distance. While I was lying there, the sun had come out, and when I opened my eyes, I saw it created a cone of light on the wall. ‘Slowly sit up. How do you feel?’
‘I told you I’d fall asleep,’ I said and raised my eyebrows. Somehow, being right made me feel better. ‘It helped for a sec though.’ I looked at the clock. 30 minutes!?
We went back to the desk. She started to type something on her computer, not watching the keyboard, observing me in silence. She opened the drawer, pulled out an old book and gave it to me. The book had this big guy, Buddha, on the cover. He was surrounded by flowers. A really long, uninteresting title, spread across the front page. When I opened it the quote, “No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path,” was in the centre of the first page.
‘Why is there a need for psychiatrists then?’ I asked.
‘We just help you follow the path,’ she replied, ‘you already made the biggest step. You asked for help.’
‘That will be all for today,’ she said. ‘I will prescribe you Citalopram, and you will take a pill when you get home. Then every day one pill in the morning and one before going to bed. Eat before that.’ She looked me straight in my eyes ‘You must take it every single day, otherwise it will not work, understood?’
‘It was really nice meeting you. And do not worry, it will get better, I promise.’ She smiled. I nodded not really sure if she was right. ‘Make an appointment for next week with a nurse before you leave.’
I left with the prescription in my pocket and went straight to the pharmacy. I couldn’t help feeling embarrassed as I gave the prescription to the lady behind the counter. She repeated how to use the medication again and told me that I should be proud of myself. Proud? I didn’t even know what the doctor diagnosed me with.
The medication came in a white rectangular box with a blue curve under the name on the front. It included the pills and a leaflet. I read the leaflet first, turning it straight over to the ‘side effects’ section.
Citalopram 28 film-coated tablets
How to take Citalopram tablets
The recommended dose is 20mg per day. This may be increased by your doctor to a maximum of 40mg per day.
The starting dose is 10mg per day for the first week before increasing the dose to 20-30mg per day. The dose may be increased by your doctor to a maximum of 40mg per day.
Which one of those then do I suffer from?
1 in 5
Nausea, dry mouth, headache, increased sweating, sleepiness, loss of body strength.
1 in 10
Tremor, dizziness, decreased appetite, weight loss, anxiety, inability in women to achieve orgasm, impotence, absence of emotion or enthusiasm.
1 in 10!? Not that things like ‘absence of emotion or enthusiasm’ mattered, I hadn’t felt anything apart from pain for months. But ‘inability to achieve orgasm’!? It’s hard enough already.
1 in 100
Slow heartbeat, fast heartbeat, increased appetite, increased weight, depersonalisation, euphoria, fainting, hair loss.
I don’t want to take this shit!
1 in 1,000
Bleeding, taste disturbances, liver inflammation, feeling unwell.
Why the hell are the rare side effects better than the more common ones?
Not known (frequency cannot be estimated from the available data)
Panic attacks, teeth grinding, restlessness, vision disturbance, bruising.
Sure, why not suffer from more panic attacks than I already do.
I folded the leaflet and stared at the package for a few minutes, trying to decide if it was worth it. I just hoped my doctor wouldn’t prescribe me anything she didn’t believe in, but in my head, I wasn’t sure about anything anymore. I left the pills on my bedside table and took a bite of a protein bar I had stashed in the drawer under my bed. I turned on my computer. It was an old, red HP model, but I couldn’t afford a new one. It was a habit of mine to record all of my thoughts on the inbuilt camera and then, privately, post it on Youtube. A little therapy from the comfort of my own home. It’s almost unbelievable how slow technology is when you need it the most. I sat the laptop aside and decided to do a bit of the meditation I had learned that day.
I couldn’t remember everything my therapist had said, so I created my own ritual and slowly got into a safe place. I pictured a rainy forest, surrounded by wolves. The sound of raindrops slowed my heartbeat, and the fresh air filled my lungs. It’s unbelievable how well this worked, considering it was the first time. Even now, I do it almost every day to clear my head. Thanks to meditation, I am more creative, friendly, and open to the world. But back then, I could have never imagined how much Citalopram and therapy would help me.
A noise in the hallway distracted me. I opened my eyes, confused. I could hear my mum talking to our cats and then walking towards my room. The moment she stepped inside my chest constricted, and I felt the urge to hide under the blanket. The tears running down my cheeks soaked through the duvet cover. She’ll be so disappointed, I thought. But she didn’t say a word. She just sat down on the corner of my bed in silence and gently placed her hand on my back. The touch was warm and comforting, but I couldn’t relax.
She slowly untucked me from the blanket and wiped my tears with the back of her hand and then gently stroked my cheek. I’ve never seen her as old and worried as at that moment. Her hand was soft but wrinkled, and so skinny that her wedding ring was almost falling off of it. She reached to the bedside table and picked up the pills, examining the contents.
‘You didn’t take any,’ she stated.
‘Why, Little Mouse?’
‘I don’t know, I guess, I don’t want it to change me,’ I said.
‘Don’t be silly, it will help you like it helped me.’
‘Promise?’ my voice trembled and broke at the end of the word. I wasn’t used to crying in front of anyone, especially in front of my mum, but I knew I couldn’t hold it in any longer, and I didn’t want to deal with it on my own.
‘I promise,’ she said. She pushed the tablet out of its foil wrapping and gave it to me.
This creative piece was submitted as part of our January Theme: Journey. If you would like to submit your own creative work to aAh! Magazine, please email aAh.Editor@gmail.com, and be sure to check our latest “Letter from the Editors” to find out next month’s theme.