Life Size Band-Aids

A Personal Narrative on Being Treated as a Symptom

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I’ve been here before. Bright paint on the walls seeping under my skin. The room is somewhat filled with a few empty seats leaving gaps in between patients. Most everyone has disappeared into the glow of their phones. Here I sit, my leg vibrating tremors, face down in my notebook writing these words.

I’m handed a tablet by a woman who called out my name. I am to answer the cycle of questions.

Q. How have you been feeling since your last visit?

  1. Strongly agree
  2. Somewhat agree
  3. disagree
  4. never

Either I’m incapable of selecting an answer or the question is incapable of being answered.

My only concern is a validated parking pass. The hospital parking rates are outrageous. Digging holes in your pockets during challenging times. People are sick and their illnesses are racking up a parking tab at $4 an hour. A validated parking pass reduces it to half.

Next question.

Q. Have you experienced obsessive behavior?

  1. Strongly agree
  2. Somewhat agree
  3. disagree
  4. never

I laid there in bed yesterday. I couldn’t get up. Self-defeating and intrusive thoughts convinced me I had nothing to get up for or look forward to. I felt hopeless laying there staring up at the ceiling as if I were searching for stars in the sky. It was a soul crushing hopelessness. My thoughts drifted and I got side tracked.

I began counting each time my eyelids blinked. I counted to 100 and began again. 99, 100, 1, 2 — is that considered obsessive? ‘I mean, isn’t everyone curious how many times a day they blink? How will I know if I don’t count?’

I stopped taking my sleeping meds three days ago but that hasn’t stopped me from sleeping. I’m prescribed one each night. I can go days without sleep during a manic episode but once I’ve crashed from the high of mania I grapple to get out of bed, sometimes for several weeks. I thought if I stopped taking the meds it would cease. ‘Maybe the sedation is depressing me?’

I would do anything not to blame myself.

This is unusual for me. I always get out of bed. “Get out of bed,” I tell myself and then I do. No one is home. No one will ever know I couldn’t get out of bed. When I tell them they won’t listen. If it’s invisible it can’t possibly be real.

The pain is intense. It sears through me. It snatches my breath.

They say mental illness is invisible but it’s not. I am invisible. I say the words. I plead. I’m not heard, nor am I seen. My husband looked straight into my eyes. He looked through me.

“This weight is tearing me apart,” I said.

His face sunk into sadness. He felt for me. Then his phone beeped and stole his attention.

“Is there a cure for me in your phone?” I asked. It was unfair of me. I justify it with desperation. I am desperate. ‘Love me. Love me. Please love me.’

Days are dark and vacant, one right after the other. The sunrises and then sets again. I’m on autopilot and have been carried away by its rhythm.

I look up from my notebook where I’m scribbling meaningless words. My invisible feelings and fears no one can see. My invisible calmness pieced together with life size Band-Aids. My invisible calmness pressed against the world with adhesive.

There’s a gentleman. He’s filling out paperwork with a pen that has miniature red pom-poms glued to it, so no one can steal it.

There’s a woman sitting across from me shuffling through a magazine. The sound of crisp pages break the silence after each time she licks her fingertips. I find this disruptive.

Q. Did you come to your appointment alone today?

  1. Strongly agree
  2. Somewhat agree
  3. Disagree
  4. Never

I return the tablet to the woman behind the desk and sit back down on the brown chair. Bright walls, brown furniture. The decor clashes the same as my emotions. ‘Was it intended this way? Do the others feel equally as uncomfortable here?’

Bodies disappear one at a time as the crowd in the waiting room dwindles. The minutes drag on.

Our mental healthcare system allows a 30 minute appointment with a prescriber every 90 days. We are diagnosed and medicated after only 30 minutes of interaction. It’s not so much treatment as it is maintenance.

I’m being maintained. We’re all being maintained.

Here in America we’re all treated the same as if we’re a generic brand, a one size fits all, the same ingredients stamped and packaged on a pallet of 323.1 million people.

I write this down in my notebook where I write all of my meaningless words.

Above the whisper of voices I hear my name called. I walk down the hallway where I’m to be weighed and have my vitals checked by a nurse. My fake state of calm escalates to uneasiness as my life size Band-Aids become unglued. My body is being tugged on from the inside-out. It’s panic. I’m panicking. ‘Fuck me.’

It’s vomitous.

30 minutes pass and I walk out as equally invisible as I was before. I’m not treated unique. I’m treated as a symptom.

I’m miserable, medicated, patched up and sent on my way.

As I get ready to leave I wrap my coat snug around me. It’s cold outside. I need to keep warm. I remember to get a validated parking pass before I walk out the door.

On my drive home I feel the same as I always do when I’m in the car — frightened and heightened with anxiety and panic. Nothing has changed. It isn’t better. I tell myself I can make it from one exit on the interstate to the next, and then the next one. I think about the doctor telling me, “You’ll be fine,” and, “Just be sure to take your meds.”

I imagine she says this 16 times a day like a robot programmed to turn patients. 1. Repeat these words. 2. Send them on their way. 3. Next patient. 4. And, so on.

I imagine the human being in her is grateful for weekends off and lunch breaks.

Q. Have you been taking your medication?

  1. Strongly agree
  2. Somewhat agree
  3. Disagree
  4. Never

Newspaper reporter in Eastern Iowa. The views expressed are mine alone.

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