Paranoia vs Apathy

Suddenly , the pilot announces that we’ll be landing soon . Upon hearing the news , the fat man , the Asian woman , and I simultaneously squirm like mealworms and stretch in our seats . The fat man obnoxiously sneezes , landing a few sticky drops on the side of my neck . I cringe but don’t wipe them off right away . I’m distracted by the Asian woman who starts frantically digging in her oversized black purse , pulling out a handful of tissues and holding them up to cover her mouth and nostrils , as if allowing in another molecule of air will kill her instantly . Her eyes are wild and frightened . They bulge even further when the obese man sneezes again . I can’t help but snicker . If paranoia isn’t the opposite of apathy , I don’t know what is .

Manic Kingdom: A True Story of Breakdown and Breakthrough by Dr. Erin Stair

A Pet’s Unconditional Love

Maybe it’s stupid to love a cat so much , but she really is the only thing I can count on in my life . No matter what I thought or did , she never failed to cuddle next to me every night . On the nights I couldn’t stand myself , the nights I binged and purged and felt defeated and disappointed in myself , she was always there for me . In this world , you need a cat or a dog to experience unconditional love .

Manic Kingdom: A True Story of Breakdown and Breakthrough by Dr. Erin Stair

More Prop Than Person

I got the last word , the most genuine thing I could say out loud and not get kicked out of the rotation . What I wanted to say was that most of the patients are restlessly meandering , drooling , sleeping , or loitering around the nurses ’ station all day long . I wanted to comment on how they’re hunched over in a lobotomized line for a cupful of pills or a tray of food and look more like bizarre props than people. I wanted to tell him to forget the medication and give them something meaningful to do. But I didn’t say any of that.

Manic Kingdom: A True Story of Breakdown and Breakthrough by Dr. Erin Stair

Expert Destruction

I’m in disbelief . The tension between Jamal and Dr . Patel is rising . Their cultures are relentlessly clashing right in front of my eyes , like a sword fight between wealthy India and West Philadelphia . My honest impression of Jamal is that he’s bright , sane and doesn’t need medication . If anyone sounds crazy , his mother does . Some part of me will not allow me to remain silent . Jamal’s young and smart , he has a future . He doesn’t need big – gun medications , and I’m overwhelmed with an urge to save him .

“ Dr . Patel , ” I respectfully say . “ When Jamal says he spits in the mirror , it means he’s rapping . He’s a rapper and that’s how he practices . ”

Dr . Patel stares at me blankly . Nothing registers . I’m a stupid , white girl. “But he hears voices . Why else would he talk to himself ? ” Dr . Patel asks.

“No , he spits . He raps . He’s not hearing voices . He’s practicing to be a musician,” I explain. The conversation continues in this relentlessly circular fashion . Nothing is sinking in . I give up and excuse myself to the bathroom. Let the “expert” seal the young man’s fate .

Manic Kingdom: A True Story of Breakdown and Breakthrough by Dr. Erin Stair

Tattoo Relief

Tory continues to work while I mentally command my body to adjust to the pain and discomfort . The needle spills color under my skin. Tory doesn’t say a word . I break out in chills . My pain tolerance is high, but each time the needle hits, I feel a new, excruciating sting. It hurts but part of me loves it. All I can think about is the growling device marking my back, and not the morbid sentences in my pathology book. The physicality is a relief .

Manic Kingdom: A True Story of Breakdown and Breakthrough by Dr. Erin Stair

Death of a Mind

I leave the books behind and go to my room. I cry, as if Chase recently died and isn’t brooding in the room next door. I almost wish he’d die. Seeing him lose his mind feels more painful. At least if he died, I wouldn’t have to be teased by seeing his physical body, because the Chase I adore doesn’t exist anymore. His body is a house that is falling apart, and his mind is a prisoner in the upstairs attic. I have no hope. Still, sometimes, a glimpse of his malnourished body makes me want to violently shake him until the chains holding his mind captive fall free. As if that would work.

Manic Kingdom: A True Story of Breakdown and Breakthrough by Dr. Erin Stair

Army of Dolls

Dr . Jonas is a psychologist . She’s petite with short grey hair , wears thin glasses , and dresses like a nun . I heard about her through a friend who told me she’s not only good , but sees students at a discounted rate . I’m like a desperate whore these days when it comes to therapists . I’m willing to give anyone a go. She’s currently on the phone.

While I wait across the desk from her, I glance around her peculiar office . It’s actually a spare room in her house , and that makes me uncomfortable. The walls and floor are a pale pink . Numerous old – fashioned dolls in Victorian dresses and doll houses are scattered throughout the room . It reminds me of a five year – old girl’s playroom . I hate dolls . They’re creepy, plastic , miniature humans who probably come alive at night and kill people…The label doesn’t feel right to me, like an ill – fitting jacket . She’s the expert , so there’s no convincing her, but it can’t be right. I squirm in my chair. I want to tell her every single person on earth exhibits some traits of mental disorder, but I don’t want to start a fight . It’s not like she’d believe me . She’s the doctor and I’m the patient, even though seeing patients among an army of dolls hints of her own mental issues . I look up , straight into the eyes of a beautiful doll with long locks of golden curls. I want to smash its porcelain face .

Manic Kingdom: A True Story of Breakdown and Breakthrough by Dr. Erin Stair

By the Book and According to Protocol

She nods but looks dissatisfied. Her expression betrays that she already knows the root of my problem and wants me to provide her with supporting evidence. I don’t think she’s going to change what she’s decided , even if our conversations don’t support her theory. I sigh . She’s one of those people who goes by the books . The medical rule books, that is . The books are the rules that shrinks and therapists follow, full of guidance and expert opinions, the Bibles quoted by professionals when their judgment is questioned. Deviating from the books is too risky , both emotionally and legally , too intimate , and too involved . No one has the time or the energy to deviate from the books , and no one wants to get sued . It’s tough to get sued if you follow the rule books exactly .

The problem is , I don’t feel like my mind fits an exact diagnosis . My mind , like everyone’s mind , is a mysterious , vast world that’s barely been explored . How could it fit under one confining category? Whenever I see a shrink or a therapist, it seems as if they purposefully tweak and manipulate my mind till it does fit, or until I believe the label I’m given. The goal is a nice clean classification, and since I despise labels, I despise the books.

Again , Jessica interrupts my internal monologue and asks me a few more questions . I stay pleasant and answer as best I can . She hands me a few forms to fill out , mostly surveys , and excuses herself . She is back in a few minutes and hands me a script along with a sample of pills .

“I want you to try these,” she says , handing them to me . A psychiatrist , who oversees the Eating Disorder clinic, has prescribed them . I haven’t met him and probably never will . The drugs are given to me almost like protocol.

Manic Kingdom: A True Story of Breakdown and Breakthrough by Dr. Erin Stair

Medical Exorcism

Without warning , the patient leans forward slightly in her bed . With her eyes still closed , she spews green and black bile out of her mouth, splattering her hospital gown and hair. She falls back against her bed . Her sister grabs tissues off a table in the room and begins wiping around the patient’s mouth. My mouth opens and won’t close . My heart is galloping. I feel like I just witnessed an exorcism.

“Should I call someone?” Like a priest. I have no idea what just happened, but it looked bad .

“No, no.” Dr . Brown calmly waves me off . “It’s a reflex . She has done that frequently now for the last month and a half .”

I can’t believe it . She’s been like this for a month and a half ?

“It’s horrible to see, I know,” the sister says , now tearful. She caresses the woman’s forehead with her hand. “But I just can’t pull the plug. Not now. I don’t think she’d want that. That’s not what she wanted, and I couldn’t live with myself if I did that.”

There are so many machines that can keep people alive indefinitely. The thought terrifies me . Everyone’s narcissistic , that’s the problem. That’s why death isn’t as naturally accepted as being born. I want to bolt out of the hospital and drink, but I know I can’t. I want to be a doctor, but I question whether I can stand all the physical ugliness of it .

-Manic Kingdom: A True Story of Breakdown and Breakthrough by Dr. Erin Stair

Naive Youth Needs Tattoos

Studying doesn’t start well. My pathology book is open to a chapter on lymphomas. I try reading a page, but nothing sticks. The glossy pictures of swollen, diseased lymph nodes don’t help, nor do my various brightly colored highlighters. It’s tough because the nature of the material is gloomy and morbid, a complete antithesis to the sunny day outside. It’s disease after disease, ad infinitum. Abnormal cells, malignant lumps, blocked vessels, yellow skin, crusty ulcers and green discharge . It’s death and dying every day, all day, so much so that I feel like medical school robs me of my naive youth. All this mortality stuff should be reserved for old people, not young. It makes me want to burn my books. It makes me want to scream, drink, eat fattening foods, go to an amusement park and get a tattoo.

-Manic Kingdom: A True Story of Breakdown and Breakthrough by Dr. Erin Stair