By Nicole Cater
I normally write only about personal experiences. But it is my firm belief that no matter the illness, all sufferers cringe a little upon hearing this phrase: Are you taking your pills?
What sounds like an innocent combination is a loaded question even when asked in the most casual way. The answer is fraught with danger. And so I give you replies to this question. Whether you think them in your head, mumble them under your breath, or go balls to the walls and shout them like they deserve to be shouted; they are true. Hopefully, any well people reading this will pause before asking.
I would like to point out that the hard work my mom does. There is a certain difference that comes over when medicated, call it calmness. It is there that my mom knows I’m in trouble, that a panic attack is eminent. She is the unsung hero of my disease, who deals with my crazy mood swings when I can’t sleep for a week and a start seeing this out of the corner of me eye. And no matter how nice I try to be to her, it comes out strained, shaky, and sounds mean. I love her, and everything she does for me.
And what would I do without Jeremy, The Keeper of the Sleep. He has seen what lack of sleep can do, and it can turn me into a not-very-nice person. And so, with one sleepless night under my belt, he takes me from the writing room, Fredo too, and the current book I’m reading and let’s me fall asleep.
I mention this because they never ask, “are you taking your pills?” They trust me… with a few peccadilloes. I, a normal human. Show me human without peccadilloes and I’ll show you a human that doesn’t exist. We all have strange quirks. People with mental illness just have to take medication for our strange quirks.
Dedicated to Shelby Keister
By Nicole Cater
I want to take you back, far back, back to ancient history, people. These were the carefree days of my youth, when I went out and partied often, had copious amounts of friends, and if I felt a little twinge in my back, so what?
I was a receptionist at a bank. I worked in the Davenport office in the morning, and then traveled to the Moline office on my lunch break. I heard all the jokes: Have I seen you somewhere else recently? Do you have a twin? Do you get paid double to work in two offices (NO)? But these were made by gross old men who had hair in their ears and if I was a smarter girl, I would have jumped for one of them because they also had large trust accounts.
Alas, it was a copier technician there to replace a printer who was surprised by my double office duties. A copier technician with bad hair but a good sense of humor and that’s what counts, in my book. And wouldn’t you know it; he honest to god had the nerve to ask me on a date? Not would I like to hang out sometime… not coffee. This man, whom I did not know, was brave enough to ask me to dinner and a movie. I was impressed, not by him, but by his nerve, and said yes.
Flash forward three weeks and I’m telling my mom and my best friend, Laura, that I can’t do this. I feel nothing for this guy. I must break up with him. Give him time they counseled, it was early yet, and I may just be nervous. Well, one of us was right.
I’ll skip the boring parts, no one cares. But let me say this, there is more than one kind of abuse. And the man I pledged my troth to forever and a day was a master manipulator; he was a destroyer of all forms of confidence; and he was a warrior at getting control.
For starters, little things that I had come to look forward to when we were dating stopped. There were no flowers, no deliveries of candy, and no surprise getaways. Just who the hell did I think I was? That kind of shit is for girlfriends. I was a wife, I already bought the package, sorry, no refund.
Shortly after we married, my AS reared it ugly head. My treatment at that time made me gain an enormous amount of weight. That and not being able to exercise, feeling fatigued all the time and not sleeping. I ballooned up from an average 145 and I stopped getting on the scale when it registered 220. Of course, this was all my fault. As if I wasn’t feeling bad enough about the weight gain, being blamed for it was certainly the death of my confidence. He bought me work-out tapes and a Gazelle, never realizing I was too tired and fatigued to do any of it.
And cleaning! His mom’s sole purpose in life was to make sure her house was spotless. You know what my mom did all day? She taught four-year-olds to write their name and hoped my brother and I didn’t kill each other after school (it was possible.) And then he entered, a much respected institution not known for its lack of cleanliness. He fit right in.
I never truly learned the art “a place for everything and everything in its place,” nor much care about the occasional clutter my books made. And most definitely if no one can see it, it’s clean. Theses were my rules.
And my rules, like everything else, weren’t good enough. I dusted, rarely, and with a dry cloth, not furniture polish. I, rarely, vacuumed and I went around furniture, not moving it to clean under it. I did not wash the floors at all, because they would just get dirty again. I separated my laundry on the basement floor because it was already dirty. I didn’t use a brush to clean the toilet because a hand and washrag work better. And the kicker, I didn’t get out of the shower correctly. Huh? Excuse me? Perhaps I heard you wrong. There is a wrong way to exit the shower.
But the most telling state of our marriage came during one of our fights over my slovenly (I would argue unorganized) ways. He was yelling me at the top of his lungs - berating me for being the person I am and always had been. He wasn’t even bothering to hide his disgust with me. (Just so you know, I’m not disgusting, I’m delightful!) Finally, in as calm a voice as I could manage; I informed him that we had lived together before we were married. He knew I was like this. It shouldn’t be a surprise. And he responded, and I quote, because it’s just too good not to: “I thought those were traits of Single Nicole, not Married Nicole.” Are you, like me, picturing the marriage fairy sprinkling married magic dust on me while I sleep? Or are you conjuring a Stepford Wife?
It matters not. This argument took place in the first year of my marriage. And with that one fucked up sentence, the scales fell from my eyes. This man honestly believes he is a reborn Ozzie. And there is no way in hell I am his Harriet. But because of my illness, I wasn’t working. I had no money coming in and no insurance. For three years I pretended I loved this spawn of Satan to survive. I could do that. Because I had my eyes on the prize: Divorce. I didn’t know when or if would happen, but I would be ready.
In the fourth year, when we entered counseling, I was drinking a six-pack a night just to let him make love to me. He, with his lack of education, didn’t believe a word the counselor said. I began playing a game in my head. When the counselor talked, I would play “beat the clock” on my husband’s rejection. And then one day he asked me to wait outside while he spoke to the counselor alone. I had no idea what was going on, but I was not prepared for what did happed. My husband told me he never wanted me to have children, ever, with anyone.
Let me digress here a minute. My doctor who treats my AS said that I was cleared to have children. And I had a small window of time when I could have children and keep up with them, as opposed to having them and being too tired to care for them. This was my window. He was shutting it.
As we had arrived separately from our jobs, I didn’t even pretend to go through the rest of the session. I left. And I refused to talk to my husband all that next day. It was the day after that he greeted me at the door. “I want a divorce.” Four easy words that I wasn’t even sure I was going to say once they were out. My husband, soon to be my ex-husband, knew nothing of my plotting and fervent hoping to get out of this marriage, thought it was all his fault, He gave me whatever I wanted, which was meager. I didn’t even hire a lawyer. I moved out and back into my mother’s house.
My family worried and clucked over me as families will do. Finally, about a week in, my mother confronted me about everyone’s worry; that I was showing absolutely no post-divorce emotion. And I said to her the same things that were going through my mind when I left session, when I worked in limbo all that day, that still come to me as a gift from the gods on high: “I can’t believe he made it that easy.”
By Nicole Cater
I remember it as clearly as if it were yesterday… the day I entered into legal limbo. Of course, I had no idea. But sure enough, I joined the rank and file and became a cog in the great machine. I was an inconsequential ant and Social Security Disability insurance was the great and mighty boot.
It was a beautiful, August Thursday; the perfect day for a nervous breakdown. This was not my first nervous breakdown; I’d had at least two in the past 10 years. The treatment was leave from work and antidepressants, a treatment that never worked, the reason which soon became apparent.
But this breakdown was different, more severe, on a deeper level, an intensity I had never experienced before. I wound up in the emergency room (don’t I always?). And unlike your run-of-the mill general practitioner, the doctors are trained to recognize mental illness. I have nothing against GPs, and they are certainly your friend if you have a cold, earache, or the stomach flu. But anything psychological makes hoof beats, and therefore must be a horse, or depression. They are not trained to see the psychological zebras, or other mental illnesses that also make hoof beats.
In my ER visit I was given a choice. Go straight to Robert Young (a local mental health facility), do not pass go, do not collect $200. Or see my GP and also see a Robert Young diagnostician. I wasn’t ready for a visit to the center yet. Had I known what great cookies they had, maybe I would have changed my mind. The GP was absolutely no help at all, besides booking me an appointment with Dr. Evil, may she roast in hell for that.
I spent three hours with the diagnostician. Enough to think I was never leaving, that suddenly this had become a hostage situation. All he did was page through a book and ask questions. “Do you drink?” “Are there any alcoholics in your family?” “Is there anyone with mental illness in your family?” “Do you have insomnia?” “Do you spend more than you earn?” Uh-oh. “Do you feel guilty about it later or exhilarated?” Oh yeah, uh-oh. “Do you feel your mind racing frequently?” This is bad. “Do you have a history of promiscuity?” Why, what have you heard? “Do you have burst of energy at odd hours and feel you must follow through with them?” That’s it, I’m fucked! So Mr. Never-Ending Questions was happy to tell me that I had a bipolar disorder. But unlike most people with the illness, I skew heavily manic, which means all those antidepressants doctors have tried aren’t going to work because they’re treating something I really don’t have.
Dr. Evil tried this approach too. He couldn’t understand why I wasn’t getting better. He accused me of lying to him and holding back information. The truth was he was treating me for depression, from which I rarely suffered. He was so evil; I had to take anxiety medication before his appointments. And I had to have my mother go with me. I wouldn’t talk to him; she would talk to him for me.
Eventually I got a good psychiatric nurse practitioner who gave me very low doses of antidepressants and tolerable doses of antimanics. Antimanic drugs, who knew there was such a thing.
All of this brings me back to legal limbo. I have the autoimmune disease Ankylosing Spondylitis, which attacks the tendons in my spine, causing massive amounts of arthritis, which can cause my spine to fuse. It is incredibly painful. The treatment (which does not stop the disease, nothing can stop it, it only slows the process down) is to take immune suppressants. Immune suppressants! You name it, I get it. Flu shots are not an option; they are a necessity for me and anyone who lives with me. Until I got my tonsils out at the age of 32, I was getting strep throat five times a year. I still get ear infections, normally a child’s disease. And if you come near me with a cold, I will get it and it will last longer and will affect me worse. And this is the best treatment available for my AS.
Like many people with auto immune diseases, I also have fibromyalgia. This, among other things, causes muscle pain and tenderness for no real reason. The fun thing about all three of these illnesses is they each cause chronic insomnia. So you can imagine the effect when all three are combined, I’ve been suffering from lousy sleep for 20 years. As an added bonus, I also get migraines and irritable bowel syndrome.
I am the person for which SSDI was created. I haven’t worked in three and a half years. Because even though I went to college for business administration and every employer will tell you I’m the best, conscientious to a fault and hard working , no one can keep an employee who misses an average of 5-6 days a month.
And so I wait. Dealing with denial after denial. Thanking God I have the support of my parents and boyfriend or else I would surely be homeless. And I wait and wait in legal limbo hoping fate will be decided in my favor. I wait in limbo, scared of the answer, scared of another denial, yet scared more by the silence. And still I wait. For this limbo can’t go on forever. Can it?
This is our new Wicked Short Stories page with submissions from various Authors. Please look for bio-snippets about the Author at the bottom of the various pieces. Enjoy!