Home > Girl on the Line(5)

Girl on the Line(5)
Author: Faith Gardner

“Tell me why you’re here,” Dr. Shaw said, clipboard balanced on khaki knee.

“I feel . . . not right,” I told him. “Like everything is meaningless. I used to be so happy, I could do anything. I felt important. Then this depression hit me. This thought struck me out of nowhere: the world would be fine without me.”

Dr. Shaw shifted a few papers around in his stack and reclipped them to his clipboard. Clack. “On a scale of one to ten, how depressed would you rate yourself right now? Ten being extremely, one being not at all.”

I sat slack-jawed for a moment, the words stuck in my throat. Because I had come prepared to lie on the couch and talk about my dreams and how I felt about my mother. And now he was asking me to reduce my tornado of inexplicable emotions down to a number between one and ten.

Was that one to ten on the grand scale of happiest person in the world to saddest?

Was that one to ten relative only to my own experience? Like, how happy I’d ever been to how sad I had ever been?

If this wasn’t ten, did that mean there was a way to feel worse than this? I didn’t even want to know.

He said “extremely.” Ten equals extremely. I was extremely depressed.

“Ten,” I said.

He nodded and marked it down. I opened my mouth, ready to talk about the car accident, to say, I’ve always been moody, a handful, but my emotions veered to scary recently. I figured Dr. Shaw should probably know that about me.

“Recently, I was in a—”

“Let’s finish the survey,” Dr. Shaw said, tapping the clipboard with a pen.

“Don’t you want to, like, get to know me?” I asked.

Another pen tap. “That’s what the survey’s for.”

Oh . . . kay. I glared at the certificates on his walls, thinking, the world is a sham. This man is a crappy psychiatrist, and now we can add one more to the list of lies grown-ups tell: that psychiatry will make you feel better. That a degree and a “Dr.” before your name means anything.

“Sometimes I am very spirited and/or irritable,” he said.

At first I thought he was telling me this. About himself. And in my head, I was like, okay, sir. I’m the one having a session here. But after a long stare-down, I realized he was waiting for me to answer.

“On a . . . scale of one to ten?” I asked.


I’m feeling pretty irritable right now, Dr. Shaw. And spirited? What did that even mean? Of course I was spirited. I’d skinny-dipped in freezing ocean water on a December evening. I loved my boyfriend so much I wanted to puke on him sometimes. The right song at the right time could make me weep like a banshee, whether it was a damn commercial jingle or not. Yes, I was spirited.

“Ten,” I said.

“At times, I feel extremely self-confident, and others, I feel full of doubt.”

It was like a line from my imaginary autobiography. Sometimes I was mighty; sometimes I was a mote. I thought this was teenage-girl universal, but guess not? “Ten.”

“Sometimes I am much more interested in sex than others.”

I raised an eyebrow. Seemed pervy for a middle-aged male stranger to ask. There were times when Jonah complained I wanted it too much. We did it at school once during fourth period, my suggestion. But lately, Jonah had been complaining that I didn’t want it enough. “Ten,” I said quietly.

“Sometimes I am despairing, others I am vibrant and creative.”

Lately, despair had been the word of the day. I used to dance around my room hanging Christmas lights and FaceTiming with Jonah or Marisol all night long, devouring poems, talking to myself in the mirror and putting on lipstick for nobody but me at one a.m. Now I soaked my pillow with tears for no reason.

“Ten,” I said.

“Sometimes I am greatly optimistic, and others I am extremely pessimistic.”

The world was such a beautiful place full of babies and flowers and parties and kisses and holidays and jewels and glittering shorelines on white sand beaches but the world was also a place of carcasses and graveyards and bullies and broken bones and darkness and in one moment a giggly car ride could turn into an inescapable inferno. So.

“Ten,” I said.

He kept on with the questions, checked boxes on page after page.

Ten, ten, ten, I said.

Dr. Shaw never asked me about my mother or my dreams. There wasn’t even a couch to lie upon in his office, just a creaky swiveling chair. There was no time to mention the car accident, because of the length of the questionnaire and the fact that our insurance only paid for a half-hour visit. Nor did we talk about my parents’ separation, how every week now, my sisters and I traded Mom’s house for Dad’s, and my parents didn’t even bother getting out of the car for the drop-off. How just a month after they separated, Mom had moved in with Levi, an acquaintance she knew through work. We didn’t talk about any of those things.

“You have moderate to severe bipolar disorder,” Dr. Shaw told me in a flat, uninterested tone, the way someone might inform you you have food stuck between your teeth. “I’m writing you a prescription for Depakote, a mood stabilizer.”

I couldn’t believe it. Bipolar? Because I’d said ten for everything? That’s how they diagnosed things? He handed me the paper and guided me gently back to the waiting room in the middle of the dark maze of offices. I collapsed in a vinyl chair next to a stack of magazines, looking at the indecipherable prescription in my hand and suddenly seeing an answer.

Scrolling on my phone, I read the definition of bipolar disorder aloud. “A mental disorder marked by alternating periods of elation and depression.” Sounded plausible. About ten seconds later, I noticed there was a woman in the corner of the room, nearly hidden by the enormous palm plant. She was eyeing me like a curiosity.

“Sorry,” I said.

She looked back down at her magazine. I wondered why she was there. Did she have bipolar disorder, too? She looked so normal. Did she sob for no reason sometimes, like while braiding her sisters’ hair, or reading a Robert Frost poem to her English class? Did she sometimes hate her own boyfriend because she loved him so much it seemed to physically hurt?

Apparently I have bipolar disorder, I wrote in my journal.

A sense of relief seemed to lift me, a lightness returning to my body, a spirit returning to my step as I headed out of the office. It was as if Dr. Shaw had handed me a key to myself, one I had always needed without knowing. So this was why I was the girl with big feelings.

At the counter, I listened while the pharmacist rattled off every side effect of my new drug.

Mild drowsiness, weakness, sleepiness; diarrhea, constipation, or upset stomach; changes in your menstrual cycle; enlarged breasts; tremors; weight gain or loss; vision changes; hair loss; an unpleasant taste in your mouth.

A small price to pay, I thought, for feeling normal. For not weirding Jonah out anymore with my drawings of zombie girls in the margins of my composition books or by weeping and pulling my hair. For not making Marisol tell me “It’s time to lay off the Sylvia Plath, buddy” and give me the name of her mom’s life coach, Berry, who, of course, I never called. For not making Ruby and Stevie ask me why I was so sad all the time, and not making me answer, “Because life is sad.”

Life isn’t sad.

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