PRAISE FOR HALDOL AND HYACINTHS
“An excellent read, no matter what your level of familiarity (or lack thereof) with mental illness.”
“Infectious, freewheeling humor . . . fierce honesty and comic self-deprecation.”
—The Boston Globe
“Bold and riveting.”
—Parade (named a Parade Pick)
“Blistering, brash and irreverent. . . . For the many who struggle to make sense of and survive this misunderstood disorder, her battered, courageous postcard from the edge can’t come too soon.”
—The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
“Intelligent, accurate, entertaining, culturally relevant, and a little sassy. . . .”
—New York Journal of Books
“Affecting . . . [Moezzi’s] vivid descriptions of being pulled against her will in a swirl of impulsivity, hallucinations, and paranoia are riveting. . . . A poetic portrait of life on the lines of sanity and a mind on the edge of cultures.”
“[Moezzi’s] candor about her experiences in and with the medical establishment is bracing. . . . A bold, courageous book by a woman who transforms mental illness into an occasion for activism.”
“[Moezzi] learned not just to survive but to thrive and has become a voice for both manic-depressives and Muslim Americans.”
“A dazzling flower with poisonous thorns, Melody Moezzi’s memoir describes formidable, twin conflicting identities. Bipolar, she wrestles frenzied, Hula-Hooping highs and psychotic, suicidal lows. Iranian-American, she finds Muslims scarce in the Bible Belt where she grew up, and learns that in Iran, there isn’t even a word for ‘bipolar.’ Her struggle to keep these forces in balance is an immense task, and she tells her story with confidence and a fabulously wry sense of humor.”
—Ellen Forney, author of Marbles
“Haldol and Hyacinths is like the brawling, big-hearted, and hilarious little sister of Darkness Visible and The Noonday Demon. But Melody Moezzi is no imitator and she doesn’t write in anyone’s shadow. She stands alone and speaks her brilliant, fierce, inimitable mind, and we’re better for it.”
—Josh Hanagarne, author of The World’s Strongest Librarian
“Melody Moezzi pulls no punches. A big brain and a big heart inform this courageous and often hilarious memoir which crosses cultures and breaks stigmas—there is, quite simply, nothing like it. Nothing as smart, nothing as frank, nothing as informative.”
—Lee Smith, author of The Last Girls
“Haldol and Hyacinths is Melody Moezzi’s brilliant chronicle of her battle with bipolar disorder, which she was forced to keep a secret. Her memoir is a compulsively readable account of one woman’s descent into the hell of this insidious illness, and a courageous testament of her coping with this tragedy. Moezzi is the newest and perhaps the most important voice in this genre. Those suffering with mental illness (and their family members and friends) should read this book as soon as possible. Moezzi’s story will save lives.”
—Andy Behrman, author of Electroboy: A Memoir of Mania
“With beautiful grace, sardonic humor and sharp intellect, Melody Moezzi casts a light where there is usually darkness. Haldol and Hyacinths may be a book about an American Muslim woman, but it speaks to the struggle of all people to find peace and calm in their lives and in their families. Melody is a modern-day Sylvia Plath—with a happier ending.”
—Asra Q. Nomani, author of “Standing Alone: An American Woman’s Struggle for the Soul of Islam”
Any prosecutor or criminal defense attorney will tell you: eyewitness testimony sucks. It’s notoriously unreliable, while simultaneously giving the impression of fact.*
This book is my eyewitness testimony. That said, I know what I saw, and I didn’t make this up. Then again, that’s what all eyewitnesses say. I don’t share this because I plan on lying. I share this because I plan on telling the truth, and acknowledging the inherently dangerous nature of such testimonials is part of that.
In some cases, I’ve changed the names of certain people and institutions out of respect for privacy. In an effort to maintain anonymity and avoid introducing way too many people, a few figures represent composites of several individuals. Also, edited portions of two previously published pieces appear herein, one from the Yale Journal for Humanities in Medicine* and another from CNN.com.*
Insomuch as the structure of this book parallels that of my own mind, it boasts about as much order and linearity as a hallucination. If you’re expecting fluid transitions or traditional chronology, you can stop reading now.
Finally, psychosis, mania, depression and tons of the medications used to treat them can seriously damage and distort recollection. Where my memory has failed me, I’ve interviewed other eyewitnesses—mostly friends or family members—to fill the gaps.
As for me, save the disclaimers above, I’m telling the truth as I remember it.
no good reason
There are plenty of respectable reasons to kill yourself, but I’ve never had any. I’ve never been in constant uncontrollable pain. I’ve never lost a child. I’ve never killed or irreparably harmed anyone with fewer than six legs. I’ve never fought in a war or witnessed a massacre. I’ve never irretrievably lost my mind. And I’ve never been raped.
I can’t say the same for the bulk of my former companions on the Stillbrook Institute’s women’s psych unit. If I gained anything from my first inpatient psychiatric stay, it was a deep appreciation for the potential morality of murder. After hearing countless women share their excruciating experiences being tortured and violated, most often as children and by family members, I gained a new appreciation for my legal education. Instead of spending group sessions contemplating my own despair and the pathetic suicide attempt that had landed me in a room full of rape victims, manic-depressives, anorexics, bulimics, schizophrenics, drug addicts and self-mutilators, I spent those sessions contemplating ways to get away with murder. I’m confident that no responsible mental health professional would endorse homicidal ideations as an acceptable cure for suicidal ones, but I’m equally confident that my budding interest in killing rapists drastically curtailed my interest in killing myself. Nevertheless, I’d attempted suicide less than a week before, so I couldn’t be trusted. Hence my residence at Stillbrook.
Despite our differences, my fellow prisoners and I had a great deal in common. We were all seriously ill; we all desperately needed help; and we all resented the fact that we needed it. What’s more, we were all acutely aware of the classified nature of our conditions and whereabouts. This wasn’t paranoia. It was self-preservation. People tend to look unfavorably upon the mentally ill, especially those of us who’ve been hospitalized.
Losing your mind is indeed traumatizing, but doing so in front of a supposedly sane audience is mortifying. It’s not like getting cancer. No one rallies around you or shaves her head in solidarity or brings you sweets. “Normals” (or “normies,” as some of us “crazies” affectionately refer to them) feel uneasy around those of us who’ve lost a grip on reality. Perhaps they’re afraid we might attack them or drool on them or, worse yet, suck them into our alternate universe where slitting your wrists and talking to phantoms seem perfectly rational. Lucky for me, my initial audience was limited to my husband, my psychiatrist and a few strangers in the latter’s waiting room.
As an Iranian-American Muslim in the buckle of the Bible Belt at the start of the twenty-first century, I’ve been intimately acquainted with stigma, scorn and isolation for quite some time—long before and since Stillbrook. But this was different. This stigma was far more suffocating, this scorn more subtle, this isolation more literal. A brutal species of shame set in, so vicious and insidious it easily could have starred in its own series on Animal Planet. Shark Week would pale by comparison.
I’ve never been ashamed of my background, and I’ve never tried to hide it. I’m proud of where I’m from. But I wasn’t proud of where I’d arrived. There’s no pride in being a mental patient. We have no especially loud and high-profile advocates. No Michael J. Foxes, no Christopher Reeves, no Lance Armstrongs. No pink boas or bracelets or ribbons or T-shirts. Silence and humiliation rule our playing fields. While others down performance-enhancing drugs and play on grass or Astroturf, we down antipsychotics and play on quicksand.
• • •
I wasn’t diagnosed with bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression or manic-depressive illness, until years after leaving Stillbrook. Failing to recognize my propensity for mania, the folks at Stillbrook, like so many before and after them, misdiagnosed me with standard major “unipolar” depression. I never questioned them.
With bipolar disorder, it’s mildly common to jump from depression to mania after a suicide attempt. I vaulted. My garrulousness, impulsivity, rapid speech and elevated mood, combined with my obsession with instructing the other patients in all matters imaginable, should have set off some serious bipolar alarm bells, but they didn’t—at least not for any of my health care providers. Conversely, a few of my fellow bipolar patients lacking any formal mental health training or education quickly caught on. When they approached me, suggesting I seemed more manic than depressed, I immediately dismissed them. Telling someone who is manic that she’s manic is like telling a dictator that he’s a dick. Neither is going to admit it, and both are willing to torture you to prove their points.
Never having been one for denailing or waterboarding, I tortured my accusers with pity: “I don’t blame you for trying to recruit me. It’s human nature. Misery loves company and all that. But as bad as I feel for y’all, I’m still nothing like you,” I told them. And I believed it.
In my mind, I was a burgeoning guru, a mystic full of purpose and pristine judgment. In my mind, it had been a lifetime since I’d been on suicide watch. In my mind, I was put on that ward by God Himself to guide those broken women, my future disciples, toward the land of enlightenment: the Persian Dalai Lama of Stillbrook.
In reality, where time and the Divine aren’t nearly as foolish or forgiving, I was just another floundering psych patient. Perhaps I would’ve taken my comrades’ diagnosis more seriously had a doctor shared their concerns, but I doubt it. I’ve always been exceptionally gifted in the delusion department, and the idea of having bipolar disorder doesn’t sit well with my classically bipolar delusions of grandeur. Still, by that point, I’d been living with the brilliant highs and debilitating lows of the illness for well over a decade. It was my normal.
At best, the marriage between mania and depression is a rocky one. At worst, it’s lethal. It’s just a matter of where your mind is when death approaches: so delusional and ecstatic that it tricks you into believing you can leap tall buildings in a single bound, or so depressed and hopeless that it has you begging gravity to work its morbid magic. This is what the land of manic depression looks like, though the terrain and mode of transport vary considerably from victim to victim. A disproportionately large number of us seek solace in words, art and music.* Others among us pursue more conventional professions, with positions ranging from CEO to media mogul to world leader to drug addict to ad executive to doctor to teacher to engineer to lawyer to invalid to some amalgamation thereof. Studies show that up to half of us attempt suicide at least once in our lives, and twenty percent of us succeed.*
No one arrives at or departs from insanity in quite the same way. The airports are plentiful and the gates are infinite. But whatever the route, given a certain history and genetic inclination, going crazy is cake. And for me, it’s simpler still, for my bipolarity is more than a chronic clinical condition. It’s a corollary of birth. A wide variety and combination of variables are responsible for my condition, but genes, history, a dysfunctional gut and perpetual displacement carry by far the most consequence. Though I don’t know the exact weight of each variable, I do know that my bipolar identity was born long before any mental malady.
• • •
More than any others, three historical events provoked the byzantine geography of my body, brain and being. All transpired before I was born: the 1953 CIA- and MI6-sponsored coup that overthrew the democratically elected prime minister of Iran, Mohammad Mossadegh, who presumptuously tried to nationalize oil so that Iranians might benefit from their own natural resources; the American* and British imperialism that defined my parents’ generation as a result; and the so-called Islamic Revolution that this imperialism ignited while I was still a fetus. Were it not for these events, I would have grown up, like my parents, inside Iran. Instead, born in Chicago in the spring of 1979, I was guaranteed a dual existence from the start.
As I grew in utero, a revolution brewed, one that would ultimately end more than twenty-five hundred years of Iranian monarchy. I was less than a month old when, on April 1, 1979, the Islamic Republic of Iran was born. Given the fact that April Fool’s Day (or Sizdeh Be-dar) originated in Iran, it’s only appropriate that it would also be the day that Ayatollah Khomeini pulled the biggest joke in modern history on the Iranian people—convincing them that Iran would never become an oppressive theocracy. Thus, Iranians traded monarchy, tyranny and imperialism for theocracy, tyranny and independence. A mild improvement, but pathetic nonetheless. Independence alone cannot bring about liberty.
Despite our closeness in age, the “Islamic” Republic and I are different signs. I’m a Pisces; she’s an Aries. As a water sign, I should be able to put out a fire sign, but alas, no such luck. Regardless of my myriad efforts as a writer and activist, along with those of millions of other Iranians, we* have thus far failed to put out this duplicitous fire. Yet another reason to dismiss astrology as the stinking pile of crap it truly is.
So it was that I was born beside a nascent fire that I’d spend years trying to extinguish as an adult. At the time, of course, I had no idea. Nor did I have a clue that just by being born in the United States with distinctly Persian DNA, I was destined for a bipolar identity and propensity over which I’d have no control. In short, I was both Westoxified (in the Ayatollah’s words) and highly inclined to lose my mind. Whether the former facilitated the latter is anyone’s guess, but if it were calculable, I suspect there’d be a statistically significant association between the two.
Exactly eight months to the day I was born, several hundred Iranian students stormed the American Embassy in Tehran. Holding over fifty American hostages for 444 days, those students determined more than the fate of future Iranian-American relations. They determined the fate of my family, not to mention that of a generation of exiles, residents and political prisoners. To say that there were only several dozen hostages is about seventy-five million people off the mark, as that event affected the future of every Iranian alive today.
The hostage takers destroyed my parents’ immigration documents (along with those of countless others), prompting their expulsion from the United States. As a result, like millions of other children of the Revolution, I spent my infancy as a nomad: from Greece to France to Iran to the United States and a bunch of countries in between. My first-ever photograph, taken in the hospital when I was less than a day old, doubled as my first passport pic.
When we returned to Tehran, the political situation was shit. The ideals of the Revolution (freedom and civil rights in particular) had fallen by the wayside. People were being imprisoned and forced into exile for being Baha’i, Jewish, Leftist, Communist or just opposing the increasingly fanatic regime in any way. The government had begun cracking down on women’s rights—forcing ridiculous morality laws upon the entire adult female population, laws that had nothing to do with Islam and everything to do with politics and old-school, backward-ass patriarchy. Where the Shah had forbidden women from wearing headscarves (roo-saris), the Ayatollah was now forcing them to do so. Watching all of this, my parents quickly concluded that there was no way they’d allow their two daughters to grow up as second-class citizens, and they began searching for a new home.
One of their friends suggested Australia as a promising place for two young Iranian doctors to raise a family. They took a shot. My dad visited first, to sit for the Australian medical boards. While there, he garnered more than his fair share of nasty looks and was kicked out of a bar—not for being too drunk, but for being too “foreign.” He quickly decided he wasn’t going to bring his family to what he now calls “the bottom of the world.” With that, like so many other Iranian professionals of their generation, my parents set their sights higher—on a place without monarchs or Ayatollahs on its money, where God is trusted but never a valid legal argument. On America.
But their final decision to cross the Atlantic, made even more pressing thanks to the start of the Iran-Iraq war, still wasn’t easy. Today, when I ask my father about choosing to leave, he doesn’t hesitate:
“After Australia, for about a year I used to sit down and put the pro and con on a piece of paper. This is a fact. I put on one line America. On another I wrote Iran. Then I wrote down what was the most important to me, and really truly it was the family. It was very difficult when people that you love, you want to decide between them. Between brother, sister, mother, father and all the memories that you have. Not only that, you will also leave all your friends and all those memory behind.
“Then on other side there was you, Romana [my older sister] and Jazbi [my mom]. I thought you would have a better future in United State. And especially being a girl, I thought that you cannot have the full advantage of your abilities in Iran. And this is the main reason. I thought like woman lib, woman liberation, the way that a woman feels. I thought that you deserve more. So, between my feeling and your future, I decided to choose your future . . . I never thought about financial part. I thought I could live in mobile home if I couldn’t find a job. But at least I know that the school that you go, it is a good school and they value you as a person, not as a girl or boy.”*
When I ask my mother the same question, she pauses, then provides a far briefer, more practical and less overtly feminist response: “Iraq had bomb and keep dropping them. I didn’t want for us to die.”
I can’t say whether I still would’ve tried to kill myself had we stayed in Iran and endured the war, but I suspect it wouldn’t have made a huge difference. It seems stupid to off yourself after surviving a war, but then again, people do it all the time. My guess is that had we stuck around, I’d have a healthy dose of post-traumatic stress on top of the bipolar to show for it. Who knows, I might have tried to kill myself sooner and perhaps have succeeded. I highly doubt I would ever have received an accurate diagnosis in Iran, let alone proper treatment. There isn’t even an agreed-upon label for bipolar disorder in Farsi. If anything, people just steal from English or French, saying bi-polar or maniaco-dépression with a Persian accent. And that’s only if they’re especially well educated.
The stigma surrounding mental illness in the States is bad, but it’s beyond measure in Iran. People are about as likely to discuss their psychological issues as they are to discuss their bowel movements. That’s not to say Iranians have no mental health concerns. Far from it. We just prefer to sweep them under our prettiest Persian rugs, hoping the intricate patterns sufficiently obscure the truth.
When I was first admitted to Stillbrook, the intake counselor asked me if there was any history of mental illness or suicide in my extended family, most of whom still live in Iran. Even in my miserable condition, I about died laughing before producing my most honest and thorough response: “Hell if I know.”
• • •
The first things people want to know when they find out you’ve tried to kill yourself are how and why—generally in that order. As a rule, most of them suppress the urge and refrain from asking, at least initially. Unless, that is, they’re in the same sinking boat.
I met Angela only a few hours after being admitted. We were about the same age, but she looked way younger on account of her petite frame, braces, the giant purple pillow in her arms and some extra melanin courtesy of her West Indian roots. One look at her and I knew she was another suicide attempt. Her hair was a hot mess, most of her turquoise nail polish had been chipped off and her eyes had about as much life in them as a turnip. She looked more than drugged. She looked defeated.
Everyone comes into these places looking doped up on something—generally because they are, but not always. That’s not to say they’re all drug addicts. In fact, most of the time, they’re high on something they got in the hospital—something a caring health care professional prescribed and happily provided.
I still don’t know what Angela was on, if anything, but if she was on any of the fun stuff, it didn’t show. After finishing my tentative diagnosis, I set out to confirm. Since I was on suicide watch at the time, my movements were limited to the three-yard radius around the nurses’ station that the patients dubbed “the observation deck.” Until Angela arrived, all I had to entertain me was a random assortment of items you’d expect to find in most kindergarten classrooms: crayons, puzzles, construction paper, Play-Doh, glue, even glitter. But no scissors. Never any scissors. Not even the dull safety kind.
After hours of unsuccessfully trying to engage the nurses in conversation, I was happy to see Angela. I knew she’d have to stay on the observation deck long enough to check in, and perhaps longer if they decided to put her on suicide watch too.
“Hi, I’m Melody,” I said as she approached the round table where I was sitting. “What’s your name?” I asked, kneading a chunk of stale blue Play-Doh.
“Angela,” she said, taking a seat and setting down her pillow.
“You look like crap,” I said. “Couldn’t go through with it, eh? How’d you fuck up?” The standard rules of polite society and social comportment don’t apply on locked psych wards. Besides, I was conducting more of a test than a genuine interrogation. If she couldn’t appreciate the humor in a query like that, or at least overlook the insolence, then she wasn’t worth engaging anyway.
Without a hint of hesitation or annoyance, Angela confessed: “Pills. You?”
“Slit my wrist.”
“A pair of traditionalists, I guess. You been here before?” Angela asked.
“Hell, no!” I replied. “What, you have?”
“Yeah,” she said, looking at the floor. I could tell I’d offended her, and I felt bad for it.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t know,” I offered, hoping she wouldn’t move to an empty table.
“It’s okay,” she said, looking back up at me. “I’ve tried a few times, and I keep screwing up. I throw up the pills or someone stops by the house or something. It’s not like I have this horrible life or something. It’s not like my husband beats me or I have some deadly disease. I’m just sick of waking up every day. So this is your first try, then?”
“First and last,” I replied.
“That’s what I said. But here I am. Again.” She rolled her eyes and shrugged her shoulders. “Why’d you do it?”
“Well, my husband beats me, and I have a deadly disease,” I said. Angela laughed. “Honestly, I have no good reason. I want to believe all the ‘chemical imbalance’ shit, but none of the meds have worked for me. If anything, they’ve made things worse. It doesn’t matter now, though. I know it sounds weird—I’m not even a day out, but somehow, I feel fine now. I mean, as fine as you can feel in a place like this. Whatever the case, I don’t want to die anymore. Just a few hours ago, I did, I really did, but not now. How does that happen?”
“Scared straight, I guess,” Angela replied. “Happened to me the first time.”
“Not this time?”
“Not yet at least,” Angela sighed. “But who knows, it could happen again. It could even work for good in your case. I hope it does. It’s just never lasted for me. Obviously.”
“It has to last for me,” I said. “Suicide just can’t be an option anymore. I don’t care that it’s a ‘permanent solution to a temporary problem.’ I’m all for permanent solutions. But I just can’t do it. I’ve got a fucking family. This is so my most dumbass move to date. So selfish. Seriously, never again.”
• • •
But after you’ve tried to kill yourself once, you’ve proven that your “never again” can’t be trusted. You’ve proven that you’re capable of abandoning the strongest and most basic human instinct, that even your reflexes can’t be trusted. You can’t reasonably expect anyone to believe your claims of “never again” ever again after that, not even you.
Still, I was desperate to believe it. More than that, I was desperate to get Matthew to believe it. We’d been married for only four years at the time. He didn’t deserve to lose his wife at twenty-seven—and certainly not at her own hands. He would have been by far the most fucked had I succeeded, and I would have felt by far the most guilty for leaving him. More than anyone else, he’s the one who has tried the hardest to help me, to fix me. He truly believes that every problem has a solution, that all you have to do is stick with it long enough to discern a pattern. I can’t think of anything more absurd, but I envy his confidence.
Matthew started keeping notes roughly a month before I slit my wrist. He’s done it before and since. He never tells me about them until I make it back to sanity, and I’ve never had the slightest urge to see them. Not even now. Without them, however, my story would be more than incomplete; it would be a lie.
Ultimately, I’m grateful for his diligent notes, not just because they represent his relentless resolve to find a solution but also because those pages remind me that my disease is real. They remind me that it isn’t just “all in my head”; it’s also all in my brain. They remind me that bipolar disorder is a legitimate and lethal illness that has nearly killed me on several occasions. And they remind me that my malady doesn’t belong to me: it weighs on all of those who love and depend on me.
All illnesses leave collateral damage, but mental illnesses are particularly brutal on innocent bystanders. Matthew’s records are my proof: my souvenirs from hell. They force me to continue using whatever weapons I have at my disposal to keep the demons and delusions at bay, not just for me, but for all of those I’m capable of taking down with me.
Matthew finds hope and solace in data, mathematical models, logic, proofs. When I first asked him to read this book and give me his thoughts, he came back with a chart and an intricate Venn diagram with themes and chapter headings. The man can’t make any major (and many minor) life decisions without creating an Excel file full of folders and formulas; he adores charts and graphs and he’s always hunting for patterns.
While he has yet to find anything close to a pattern in my madness, he refuses to quit trying. Some might distinguish this refusal as a type of madness unto itself, and I’ve accused him of as much. But he insists that having a consistent method to his madness makes it more pathology than chemistry, more personality than anatomy. Whatever the case, it’s not the type of thing that would ever land him in a mental hospital, and for that, I thank God. One crazy person per family is more than enough, and if nothing else, Matthew’s testimony serves as decidedly compelling evidence to that effect.
10/19 [2005, a few weeks before my admission to Stillbrook]
Morning (10:30): “Feels like ants crawling inside me”; “building a colony.” Super restless; shaking and wanting to jump out of skin. Can’t sit still. Pacing. Doesn’t want to go outside for a walk. Just pacing for hours at a time.
Lessor [my psychiatrist at the time] says avoid “death” conversation.
Afternoon (1pm): Goes to gym after some coaxing. Used elliptical for ten minutes while confessing problems to Jesus [our building’s super] in Spanish. More of the same. Tightness, tense, very restless. Ant colony.
Ask Lessor why he thinks it would help to admit her. Won’t take benzos—rarely. Long-term plan?
DR. LESSOR APPTMT:
She’s behind on everything, but insists she has to finish the semester.
I can’t see how she can. Won’t go to class. Fine for law school [I rarely went before]; not ok for MPH [I was in a joint degree program, studying concurrently for a J.D. and a Master’s in Public Health]. She has homework there. Super anxious about school, but can’t sit still to do work. Talk to her profs. Disability services.
Lessor Dx: Major depression; really bad; Recurrent type; “3 options.” She refuses all of them.
-Luxury treatment: $30,000/month
-Hospital treatment: $1,500-$2,000 [per day]. 3 days-3 weeks. Overnight stays
-Middle ground: day treatment.
Suggests Cymbalta . . . thinking about it
Insurance: 70-80%? Call UHC [United Healthcare], e-mail list of in/out of network to Lessor.
Evening (7-2): a lot worse; always worse at night; lots of crying, shaking and pacing. Eventually cries herself to sleep. Call Lessor, get another appointment alone.
The notes go on like this for over a month—meticulously documenting times, moods, behaviors and statements for nearly every day until my hospitalization. Only three days are unaccounted for. Matthew took over fifty pages of handwritten notes during that month, the only observable pattern being his consistent, visible frustration on the margins of nearly every page: “NO PATTERN.”
I’ve fantasized about suicide off and on since I was fourteen, but the floor of Dr. Lessor’s waiting room was the closest I’ve ever come to execution. Such was not the plan.
My plan was a hell of a lot more original, not to mention way cleaner. Go far away: somewhere I can be sure no one I love would ever have to pass or revisit. Leave a note full of love and apologies, identifying my exact location to avoid a womanhunt. Do it outside, so no one would have to clean up the mess. No drugs—best to be conscious and in control at a time like that. Take a sharp chef’s knife to a femoral artery (not a blunt Swiss Army knockoff to a radial one); be quick about it, and by all means, don’t do it in a psychiatrist’s waiting room.
Beyond that, the details vary, but overall, my suicidal fantasies have always run along these lines. Attempting suicide is like getting married. If you do it right, you only do it once, and to do it right, it’s best to construct a solid plan and follow through. It’s not enough to just sign a contract, you’ve also got to live up to the terms, and that’s where I fell pathetically short.
So there I sat, still in Atlanta, a few miles away from home, across the street from the fucking CDC, directly upstairs from Dr. Lessor’s office, surrounded by strangers, slicing my wrist with a dismally dull pocketknife. No note, no solitude, no fresh air, no chef’s knife—no elegance or redemption. Only disgrace. After my abhorrent deviation from the ideal, all bets were off.
• • •
I was over an hour early for my appointment and kept my back to the receptionist as I waited. Nevertheless, my name was called quickly after the blood started dripping. I’m pretty sure another patient snitched. I got up and made my way to Dr. Lessor’s office as if this were no different from any other appointment, as if I weren’t leaving a faint trail of blood behind me along the way. But once I walked in and got a good look at my wrist as I shut the door behind me, I was immediately struck by the fact that he couldn’t just let me go. There would have to be consequences. The liability alone was enough to call for an immediate response.
I’d been seeing Dr. Lessor for several months by that point, and he was well aware of my depression. That’s why I first came to him, and that’s why he first started prescribing me Zoloft. A couple weeks before my embarrassing theatrics in his waiting room, after increasing my dosage and realizing it still wasn’t working, he’d latched onto a newer, supposedly smarter, drug. At that point, I would have tried battery acid had he suggested it might help. Enter Cymbalta.