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Corbyn Hightower Headshot

We Are Totally Not Supposed to Talk About This at All

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I go back to work in a few days after psychiatric disability leave. I've been going to the strange little Indian psychiatrist in the broken-down office with the half-star on Yelp where I sometimes wait in the waiting room for three, four, five hours. He mutters to me about things unknowable, because I sense good in his heart and because his small smile pleases me, and because he lets the tears roll down my cheeks and says, "Yes, Corbyn, SSRI meds have blocked your ability for orgasms, for sneezing, for easy laughter or anger, even for crying. You're doing all the grieving you've been prevented from doing for what, a decade? Two decades? Likely more! For as long as you've taken them, your emotions have been on pause." We talk about why the newer medications I take now let me emotions break through, and that's why I'm crying.

And even though he speaks of "the homosexuals," with something of a sad (but compassionate) shake of his head, I choose to forgive that (and please forgive me for that, as an active, out, bisexual woman with so many gay friends and family, because he is trying to love and to be professional, and follow the guidelines of that profession... and because his culture is unknowable to me, and his generation is also older and less-enlightened at times).

And even though my insurance pays for 45 minutes once a month for me to see him, he often sees me for two to three hours every week or so, and he lets me cry in all sorts of ways. Deep wracking sobs, gentle tears rolling down my cheeks while we talk about the science of the brain. And I don't know if I am getting this right because he speaks in heavily accented English, and so quietly, and I am partially deaf in one ear, but he speaks to me over and over of the chemicals that cause us to build neural pathways that are like broken Plinko boards that cause us to repeat patterns that don't serve us, and how we can rebuild and redirect those pathways through proper medication, rewriting our stories through new versions of old experiences with new and better outcomes, and through simple things like long walks, regular sleep habits, and charitable acts. Today he made me cry in a happy way (I do that, too, because what the hell? Why not cry?), while we chatted (yet again, because it's his favorite story these days) about the teenage scientist who is busy perfecting a way to diagnose pancreatic cancer through a simple blood test.

I've lost 50 pounds since I've been going to him, because I guess crying out my pain and eating to stuff it away cancel each other out, once you get the pesky nutrition part taken care of -- at least in my case. Food is a tedious chore that I get out of the way, minimally. Then I get on with this work I am doing. A couple weeks ago, he said if I lose my job and/or my insurance, he will never stop seeing me -- for free, and he will make sure I continue to get my medications even if he has to pay for them himself. That the wait is long at his office because he does this for others who cannot pay. After having lost so many friends to this illness I have, and the person it turns me into sometimes, this made my body crumble in on itself and broke me down into a big ugly cry. To feel that protection, that devotion. Oh, and did I mention? My doctor has rheumatoid arthritis and his body is breaking down quickly. He confided to me he worries about leaving all of us behind.

I'm good at losing people. I can tick them off on my fingers: one hand, two hands and where's that other hand? I am able to disappoint dear and valued friends in ways that surprise even me, as I'm in the process of doing it... and even the most cool-headed and steady have bunted me over the highest, pointiest barriers. I'm good at breaking people down until they kick me the out of their lives. Today I told my doctor I'd been "pretending" to kill myself at my darkest moments this year. That I have asked my husband to just to let me drag the knife along my arms -- and that I promise not to "really" do it, because oddly, for me (for most people?) my children are insurance against that. I shan't leave that grief and that legacy for them to painfully process until they, themselves, finally die. They are reason enough to be here, and I won't leave them, even though what they get right now is a broken version of a mother. I wonder how it feels for them to see me cry so much.

And to my comfortably-atheist self, he brought up "God" yet again. "You see, Corbyn, there are things that are the domain of God. God has given you a gift bringing life into this world! You had no control over that, that was from Him. And your departure from this life is His decision, too." And I don't know if I'm getting this right, I let his soft, Eastern lilt flow over me like an embroidered silk blanket. But the message was received. It is a sort of gift that I won't leave this world of my own hand, and that gift comes from my children, who came through me but are not of me. It just so happens I call that a scientific miracle, but in the end, it's the same thing.

Ironically, he says there's no way the company that permits or denies these sorts of claims would never extend my leave beyond this point, for Major Depressive Episode with Suicidal Ideation and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. That diagnosis merits 42 days. 42 days is what you get. That's how long Noah dealt with the flood, about. That's how long he had to reckon with a vengeful God who wanted to fuck shit up on a global scale, so I guess I should be able to get my act together enough to sit at my laptop and click "Delete. Publish. Pass," on behalf of the news website that employs me.

And my doctor's wife (who helps in the office) said reassuringly, "well, Corbyn, you work from home. You can do this," but the isolation is what kills a depressive. On this leave of absence, I've left this dark living room and gone out to my community. I've tried to be more of use. I've helped. I've socialized. I've connected. I've shared laundry-folding times with lonely new moms. I've spent time on the porch at night, drinking wine and laughing with people I've ignored for too long. I've steam-cleaned dog poop from a friend's carpet.

So in a few days, I need to figure out a way to bring my job out there into my world. It's always about something stupid like the Wi-Fi connection is too slow at the library, or I don't want to spend money unnecessarily at the cafe. But that's my medicine, I think -- my town and the people in it. Just to be near them, to look at their faces and maybe smile and get a smile back. And if I get too skinny, someone please tell me, and maybe I'll stop crying and start eating a little more food. For now, there's still more crying to do. And climbing and climbing. I'm part way up this rock wall and I look down to my small doctor, standing in a half-crouch in pain due to failing knees and shout, "Belay?" And I see a grin through his beard and a raised arm holding a rope and a hear a faint, cheerful, "Belay on!"

Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

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