Kathy left the doctor’s office with the prescription in her hand, wondering if she would get it filled. The thought of taking antidepressant medication was depressing. She was already depressed so the shift in mood wasn’t that big of a deal but even so, she didn’t like it. Her family wouldn’t like it either.
Dad would say, “There’s nothing wrong with you. Why do you need pills?”
Mom would say, “Once you start you’ll be an addict for the rest of your life.”
Her sister would say, “You’ll mask the symptoms and never get better.”
Her brother would say, “Pills are for sissies.”
But Kathy had tried everything else under the sun for the pain: Tylenol, aspirin, surgery, acupuncture, muscle relaxers, vitamins, shark cartilage, Chinese herbs, no wheat, no dairy, no food at all, physical therapy, talk therapy, massage therapy, therapy, therapy, therapy. Psycho-tropic meds seemed like the last resort before jumping off a cliff seemed like a good option.
Kathy threw the scribbled note for Zoloft on the passenger seat and headed home. Passing a Walgreens she found herself making a sudden right turn into the parking lot. The car behind her slammed on its brakes and the driver honked at the reckless driving. “F-you,” she shouted even though she knew he couldn’t hear.
She pulled into a parking spot and waited for her nerves to calm a bit then grabbed the prescription and headed into the store. After wandering around a bit to make sure no one in the store knew her, she slunk over to the pharmacy counter.
Fifteen minutes later the pharmacist rung up the purchase and asked politely, “Any questions about your medication today?”
“Uh, yeah,” she thought. “What the hell is this stuff going to do to my brain?”
Out loud she said, “No, thanks,” grabbed the white paper bag and practically ran out of the store.
Back in the car, Kathy ripped the bag open and pulled out the yellowish bottle of pills. Pushing down and turning, she took off the cap and pulled out a giant wad of cotton. She peered into the bottle apprehensively. Finally she tipped a few into her hand. They were a cheerful, pretty pink—the color of pillow-shaped mints in trays at fancy restaurants. Not scary at all. Even so, she was scared.
“Let’s think about the pros and cons,” she said to herself. Logic was always helpful in emotional situations like this.
On the pro side, if she took the pills the chronic pain in her lower back and left knee might go away. Maybe the stabbing pain in her right shoulder would go away, too. It would be great if she could carry the groceries to the car without the help of a sullen, pimple-faced bag-boy.
Maybe she could go for walks although she didn’t hold out much hope for ever being able to run again. Maybe she wouldn’t have five days a month where a migraine made her sick to her stomach.
That all sounded good.
On the con side was the fear of what it would do to her personality. The doc told her the medication wasn’t an opiate and wasn’t addictive, but she thought morphine might be preferable to something that messed with her mind. OK, morphine would probably mess with her mind, too, but still, an anti-depressant sounded really bad.
What if the drugs made her stupid? If she wasn’t Kathy-goody-two-shoes, ace curve-breaker, who would she be? In fact, what made Kathy “Kathy”?
Kathy had always been cranky and easy to anger; even before she had developed the chronic aches and pains. She had won the “Best Smile” award at summer camp because she never did. Her roommate in college told her to kill herself because everyone hated her. Kathy knew she didn’t have a great personality but at least it was hers.
It was getting stuffy in the car so Kathy cracked the windows and continued the debate with herself.
There seemed to be two options for the rest of her life. On the one hand, she could remain a geeky, anti-social, misfit in constant pain. On the other hand, she could be a pain-free, average person who might even smile sometimes. Put that way it seemed like a no-brainer. But still, option two seemed not much different from Kathy jumping off a cliff into the ocean; Kathy as Kathy knew her would be gone and some new, unpredictable creature would rise up from the water to replace her.
That did not sound good.
Still wondering what to do, Kathy shifted in the car seat to relieve the cramp in her back. As she stretched she twisted her shoulder, causing pain to shoot down her arm. Her hand started tingling as a trigger point pinched a nerve.
“Oh, what the hell,” she said to herself and swallowed a pretty pink pill, washing it down with bottled water.
The next two weeks were a blur. Kathy was drowsy at work and crawled into bed as soon as she got home, falling asleep in her clothes. Then, on the way out of work one day, she took a deep breath and looked up at the sky. On its own this was remarkable because she usually had her head down and her eyes fixed firmly on her feet in order to avoid unwanted eye contact and conversation. Even more strange, however, was that she noticed the beautiful blue of the sky. She felt the air on her cheeks, warm and soft. She smiled.
Over the next few weeks everything changed for Kathy. It was as if a medieval, chain-link cloak fell off her shoulders, leaving her feeling lighter than ever before. She stood up straighter and held her head high. Her dismal, shades-of-gray world suddenly turned Technicolor.
She found herself smiling at babies and dogs when she went for walks around the neighborhood. Granted, she forgot where she put her keys and she wasn’t able to concentrate on her full-factorial design of experiments for hours at a time, but it seemed like a fair trade-off. Generally things were looking up.
Kathy was, for the most part, gone. She would still erupt when someone pushed her buttons—like the idiots at work who dismissed her experimental results because they didn’t know the difference between a mean and a median—but most of the time Kathy was gone. In her place was someone else. This new persona decided that since she wasn’t Kathy, she needed a new name. She decided that starting tomorrow she would call herself Kathryn.
The next morning Kathryn showered, dressed, and put on her makeup. She opened the pill bottle and swallowed a pretty pink pill. It was as easy as jumping off a cliff to kill Kathy for one more day. DSS
Cathryn Goodman, 55, of Glen Ellyn, IL has been a technical writer, portfolio manager and engineering manager. This is her first fiction publication.
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