The Unwelcome Guests

At first I wrote them off as a startling nuisance, like the random couple who barged into my apartment one Saturday. I heard the key fumbling in the lock, two voices in the hall. Before I could rise from the couch, we were face to face in my living room.

The dark thoughts started just as abruptly, sometime during my 32nd year. One moment I’m watching Friends, the next I’m chest-deep in self-loathing. That’s how it happened you know. Suddenly, inexplicably. I tried to take responsibility for them, but they flew in from the outside. How could they be mine to own?

 A quick flash of detestation, then poof! it’s gone. That’s how they rolled. Like a bird at the kitchen window, they stayed just long enough to be seen. I couldn’t tell if they were real or imagined. 

I analyzed them to bits, puzzled them back together. They never seemed to be about anything. That’s why I suspected Lamictal as their source. It was never a question, really. Life wasn’t all that rich, but it was getting richer. And that made me happy, in a momentary sort of way.

Before Labor Day, I’d begun writing for Metromix. It felt like seeing Chicago for the first time. 

 Also, I was hanging with a guy I knew was trouble, and I didn’t care. Because he made me laugh harder than anyone. There were long runs along the lakefront, “Sex and the City” dinners with Sue and Sarah. Saturday nights at the Green Mill jazz club. Life had become suspended in a tenuous state of grace. Things were good, but would they last? It didn’t feel like it, but who was I to say? 

 The thoughts never posed a real threat, only begged to be seen. They seemed rooted more in anxiety than anything, and I batted them away like a pesky fly. For a long time, that sufficed. 

Until it didn’t. I don’t know what made me say, “enough.” The cumulative effect of them finally took its toll I guess. It got exhausting constantly reaffirming to myself that I wasn’t loathsome.

At some point I told myself I didn’t have to live like this, and by the end of 2003, I’d decided that I wasn’t going to. I emailed my neurologist at the time, a doctor in Chicago. I asked her if the drug could be sparking negative impulses in me. Because, as I told her, that’s the way it felt.

I don’t know what I expected her to say. I only know that what she did say wasn’t helpful. The dismissive tone of her message upset me most. Lamictal is a mood stabilizer, she said. It helps lift people’s moods, not the opposite. She suggested I see a psychologist. 

While I recognized that my doctor was trying to help, it also was abundantly clear that she had not heard me.

They call epilepsy “the invisible illness,” because its symptoms can be invisible to the eye. But I think it’s called that for another reason: Because there are times on this journey when you feel invisible, when you have to scream just to be heard. That afternoon, as I read her email, I felt invisible.

That’s when I decided. I would wait for an opening, however long it took. Then, I would go for it.