I stand before my array of bottles and stare at them, as my heart beats inside my chest. They are arranged carefully on my dresser, just beneath my mirror in my room, in a neat, straight row. I like things organized. It is nighttime, approximately 30 minutes before bedtime. It’s time to swallow the pills which hold the key to my happiness. This concoction is what will keep me together tomorrow, what will allow me to sleep tonight, and what will help me take a breath, deep and satisfying. These pills are the key to my sanity and the secret of my life.
Acquiring the pills has become a game in and of itself. It has turned into the ultimate juggling act—one which has taken me a long time to learn. First, there is the all-mighty, super duper Doctor—the revered psychiatrist! Each time I visit him in his dimly lit office, he is full of hope and promise. This time it will work. This time it will be different. We will beat this, he trills. At these times, I am filled with hope and look forward to the freedom I have been seeking all my life. I leave his office with the new prescription in my hand and my bag full of sample medication, which I can never afford to buy, and which my insurance will never cover. I try to visit his office regularly, but at $300 a pop, it’s not always possible. He is very nice to me and charges me only $200, but this is still very costly when you are as sick as me, and when one visit is never enough.
The morning after my visit with The Doctor, I proceed to fill all of my various prescriptions. I am an equal opportunity medication receiver, and I buy my medicine from 3 different pharmacies in my neighborhood, and a 4th which is further away, but open 24 hours, and is there for me during dire emergencies, which unfortunately happens more often than I can count.
By this point, I have become a regular at the pharmacy, as my condition is chronic. I greet the pharmacists by the names printed on their white coats. They are the powerful Givers of the drugs that will save me from possibly wanting to not be alive anymore, or from staying up all night, or from simply laying in bed, unable to get up. And so: There is Kathy and Peter at CVS, who are a bit spaced out at times, and will often give me the sleeping medication before it’s due. CVS is also home to the very stringent Mary Anne—don’t mess with her—who will never cross the line of the law, and makes me wait until the very last day the controlled substances are due. In Costco, we have the extremely serious Kanichi. He stares intensely at my collection of bottles, and gives them over reluctantly, as if he doesn’t believe that I really do swallow them all. I think he thinks I am selling them on the black market! Then we have the friendly local pharmacy, run by a frum lady, Tammy. Here, there is always some sort of problem with the insurance, or the availability (“Wait 2 days until we get this medicine in.” 2 days of panic attacks? Are you actually serious?), or the hours (11-3 on Fridays and 12-4 on Sundays—really?!). Soooo, unfortunately, Tammy and I don’t see each other that often.
Whenever The Doctor prescribes a new medication, there is always a barrage of questions that I have learned to ask:
What are the side effects? (Will it make me gain weight?)
Is there a generic of this? (I will NEVER again pay $600 a month, like we did with the brand-name medication that shall remain nameless.)
How long does it take to work?
Why are you prescribing a 7th medication when I’m already on 6??? (This question is one which I have recently begun to ask, as I’ve gained a ton of weight, and I am suspicious that it has been caused by the 7 pills I have become addicted to.)
And The Doctor reviews all the answers with me, like I am a young child studying for an exam: This one is for panic attacks. And also anxiety. This one is for sleeping. I understand you need more of this one, but I can’t give it to you. I’m sorry. Rules are rules. This one here is for mood swings, and this one for depression. “What about the other 3?” I ask. The Doctor says they’re necessary and that I am already addicted to them and will go into withdrawal if I stop taking them. Withdrawal is something that I am deathly afraid of, so I don’t ask any further questions.
One time, my friend Kanichi refused to give me one of my medications. These prescriptions are monitored by the Almighty People in charge of all the pharmacies…or possibly the FBI. He claimed that I was given a similar medicine at the 24-hour CVS just the previous night, and it would interfere with my regularly scheduled program. He was right. But what he didn’t know is that this particular new addition to my repertoire made me feel horrible and could possibly have killed me the night before, so I had already thrown it deep into my garbage can so it could never make me feel like that again. And therefore, I needed to get back to my regular regimen. But Kanichi didn’t believe me, and he refused to give me my anti-anxiety loot. Days went by, and I began to feel like I was really dying. I began to sweat. My mind began to race. My hands and feet began to shake. I was unable to drive my car. This is what is known as withdrawal from drugs. Eventually, the Secretary for The Doctor was able to convince Kanichi to release my medicine. It was a pure miracle, and I am not asking what she said to him. From then on, I have a great fear of going off of my meds. So I listen to The Great Doctor. I stay on the drugs. Even if I am 40 pounds overweight.
With my condition, I have to be careful what I say (thus the anonymous name on this article). People are scared to hear the things that come out of my mouth and often feel that it is their job to take away my rights as a human being by putting me in the mental hospital. This they do out of pure concern for me and my well-being. But they don’t realize that I have shut my mouth many a times, because I want to be able to have control over where I will be sleeping that night and who will be treating me and when. I do not want to leave my family, my life, my job behind. I do not want to be deemed incapable, when, in fact, I am very strong.
One time, I was on the phone with the darling people of ObamaCare, and they informed me that my insurance was being taken away from me and would return in 2 months. I was young and stupid then, and full of fury and fire. “But I need my medication!” I shouted. (This was the $600 medication that shall remain nameless.) “I’m sorry, but there is nothing we can do,” they kept on saying over and over and over. I was frozen with the fear of withdrawal. “Do you want me to commit suicide while I wait two months to get my insurance back?!” I screamed into the phone. (You see, I was used to insurance being flexible and accommodating, as it had been before ObamaCare. I didn’t realize that now, insurance was being run by the government, who didn’t care, and possibly the FBI, who apparently cared too much). 10 minutes later, while I was still negotiating with terrorists, I heard a knock on my door. Then the bell rang. Then I noticed there were lights flashing—the blue and red ones that could mean one of two things: police or ambulance. In my case, it was the police. All of a sudden, I was surrounded by 6 officers with guns in their holsters.
“We heard there was someone suicidal here?” the one in charge said loudly.
My children came out of their beds and stared with wide eyes, as the blue and red lights reflected severely onto their scared faces. There were 3 cop cars outside. The fear I felt was debilitating. I thought I would faint. Conveniently, the ObamaCare squad hung up on me just as I was going to have them explain to the police officers what it was that they were doing to me. So, I went to into a deep discussion of my situation solo, trying to sound as normal and healthy as possible. My neighbors started to look out their windows at the fiasco. I wanted to fall through the ground and actually be dead.
“You need to come with us to the hospital,” the head police officer said.
“No, no no no…that will not be necessary,” I pleaded.
The police officers didn’t believe me. They kept on repeating that same sentence over and over until I thought I really would have to go to the hospital. It was like being buried alive in a coffin. Like being unable to move your body, although your brain is working perfectly. It was the most fear I have ever felt in my life.
Somehow, my husband and I were able to convince them to leave without me accompanying them in a stretcher. Somehow, I managed to convince them that I would not kill myself, that I would go to The Doctor and get samples, and that I am a normal, functioning part of society. That I am not a psycho. That I am not crazy.
After they left, I never said the words suicide to anyone ever again. When I feel like I want to die, I turn on my iPad and watch a show. I cry. I write a poem. Or sit at the computer and write this. I schedule an appointment with The Doctor, who truly becomes the god. In order to protect my rights, I suffer more. I suffer in silence. I will never feel so degraded in my life ever again. I am a human being with choices and options. Free choice will never again be taken away from me.
But you are ill, you might say. We don’t want you to die. I won’t die. I have people in my life who make it necessary for me to be alive for them. I have passions, and things to say that are important. I have a job where what I do actually matters. I promise that I will not die at my own hands. And if I feel like I might, I will go to the hospital. I will drive myself there. I will choose to go to rehab, to see my doctor, to talk with my therapist. But it will be me who will choose, because I am a human being and I deserve dignity, just like you do.
So. I am back at my dresser. Opening my pill bottles, spilling the pills out into my hand, and swallowing them with a swig of water. A lot is riding on these pills. Promise is brimming out of those magical bottles.
They are my hope in a bottle.