I miss my psychiatrist. I miss the way he would grit his teeth so as not to show his annoyance that I’d skipped my last session. I miss the way he would ask how my week had been, and attempt to make eye contact with me to ascertain the level of truth in my response. And I miss watching him scrawl notes in my file by hand.
I sit in the wicker chair in the corner of my bedroom and stare at the folds in the laundry. Sometimes I mix it up a bit and stare at the curtains, trying to pick out figures or faces in their damask pattern. I start to wish that they were real people; that they would just hop out of the fabric, give me a hug and tell me I am valuable. That’s not so healthy, I think, so I call Linda to ask her to come over. She only responds to messenger so she doesn’t answer, but when I select her name on my phone I see those three little dots that mean someone is typing. . . and a few seconds later I get a “Hey what’s up” in my inbox. I tell her I’m not doing so good, I could use some company, and she says she’ll be round in 5.
She’s round in 54, and has apparently spent around 32 applying make-up. “What’s up,” she asks again and, while she checks her messages, I explain that I’m struggling to find the point in living. “Totally,” she says as though in agreement, “are you taking your meds though?” She does not look up from her phone. I say sure I am, but often I wonder whether the meds are missing the point and what I really need is a warm hug. Linda is scrolling. She shows no sign she has heard me, so I resign myself to losing the scrap of pride I have remaining and ask her outright, “please will you give me a hug?”
“Aww sweetie, of course! Hang on…” she pauses to adjust the settings on her camera and leans into me with her lips all pouty and still staring into the phone. She takes a snapshot of the two of us: her from the angle she has calculated to give the most flattering image, and me in the background with my unwashed hair and sore red eyes. It is not a hug, it is a social media-optimised brushing of shoulders. My throat is dry but I manage to stammer out a few words about the meds turning me into a zombie, missing my psychiatrist and contemplating the meaning of pareidolia.
“Sounds like you need to go and see TAD,” she says, and without a pause follows with “Oh my god! Can you believe Liam has put an angry face on our picture already? He is so still hot for me, what do you think?”
“You’re right, I should go see TAD again,” I say, thinking at least it’ll get me out of the house, and she skips off with her eyes down and her thumbs occupied; no doubt telling the world what a good deed she did today, helping out the depressed.
There’s always a queue for TAD, so I have to wait outside beneath the vinyl sign: Therapy And Dispensary. Nobody in the line acknowledges anyone else; it’s a sort of game we play, I guess. We’re all desperate to interact but we are all equally anxious in the presence of strangers. It’s best all round if we just go in, get our pills and leave.
When it’s my turn, I walk up to the sliding glass door of the clinic and press my index finger against the pad to prove my identity. I walk in and take a seat in front of TAD’s screen.
“How are you feeling today?” He asks in his cold monotonous tone. I know this is only to distract me from the fact he is scanning me; reading my body language, my temperature and the concentration of meds in my blood. The answer to the question has no consequence. I know that because more often than not I skip it entirely and TAD doesn’t even notice.
“Have you exercised today, please answer clearly ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Beeeeep.”
“Well I walked here, so I guess yes.”
“Sorry, I did not understand your response. Have you exercised today, please answer clearly ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Beeeeep.”
“Did you sleep well, please answer clearly ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Beeeeep.”
“Did you eat today, please answer clearly ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Beeeeep.”
“On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is the worst you have ever felt, how would you describe your mood today? Beeeep.”
“Have you seen a friend anytime in the last 24 hours, please answer clearly ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Beeeeep”
“You have scored 30%. In your last session you scored 45%. Your dosage will be increased to 1000mg per day. Take your pill before bed with a whole glass of water. Medication is being dispensed, please wait.”
I take my medication from the tray beneath the screen, and shuffle off towards the exit. Patients leave the clinic via an enclosed botanical garden, and the sight of it in bloom lifts my spirits a little. The grey city at the other end is a stark and uninviting contrast, so today I decide to linger a while on a bench amongst the greenery. I fill my lungs with the cool fresh air, and look up to the clouds where I can pick out the faces of the people I used to know. There’s Jane, Andrew, Claire, Mr and Mrs King; my psychiatrist, my parents and my younger brother Charlie. They’re all trying to break free from their misty trapping and fly down to see me, to hold me tight and tell me they still care. But I know none of that is real; the only faces in the cloud beyond my imagination are the selfies people have uploaded, lest they forget those special moments they had with their phones. I let out a sigh, clutch my bags of meds close to my chest, and head back into the grey.
My first book – Fragments of Perception and Other Stories – is due to be published in November by my independent micro press, Orchid’s Lantern.