They put me in the seat that’s not really a seat but a plastic stoop at the very back of the car with a belt that holds a moderate illusion of protection. I’m the shortest, the smallest. Not really, my little sister is the same size. Okay, she’s maybe a quarter of an inch taller. She’s basically the same size. Actually, that’s not true. I lost seventeen pounds this month—my first accidental physiological-medical-related weight loss since 1998. It’s messy in my head because of the drugs I am on and the drugs I am not on, and because the accidental weight loss is a high is a low is an I don’t fucking know. It’s messy back here, in the seat that’s not really a seat, what my mom calls the rear bumper stool. Tomorrow is Thanksgiving 2014 and my sister is home and her Australian boyfriend who is not really her boyfriend is in town. My little brother is home as well. We just picked him up from John Wayne Airport—that’s when they put me in the seat that’s not really a seat.
Before the airport, we stopped by a bar, my parents and sister and me, to see my sister’s friend sing. I had two glasses of wine, which may have been a bad idea because I’m on seven antibiotics because I was diagnosed with Lyme disease and now my liver isn’t what it used to be. So we picked up my brother, and now I’m here strapped into the seat that’s not really a seat, loopy from the wine, and I’m trying to snapchat this guy in Alaska but it’s too dark for him to see me, so I brighten my screen. That’s when Mom says her friend wants me to talk to “problem teenagers” about creative writing in LA, because now that I have an agent I’m finally worth something. I’m finally potentially inspiring. Sister says I’d be a pro—I know what it’s like to be a problem teenager, hell, I could still pass as a problem teenager. This is true. Fair game. I make a comment about how Rebecca’s House, the eating disorder treatment center, wanted me to talk to their current residents as an alumni (that’s the word they used in the voicemail, alumni), talk to their residents about what it’s like to heal and live after healing and, guess what, I never called back. Fuck Rebecca’s House. Fuck that place.
I’m still learning how to live after healing. I’m still healing.
This—all of this—is what I say right here, in the car, in the seat that’s not really a seat, and Dad says that people who don’t know my history might think such statements about treatment are shocking, and isn’t it rude of me to go on such a tangent and mention such sensitive words in front of my sister’s dear Australian boyfriend who doesn’t know the whole story?
I think this isn’t fair because Mom brought up the problem teens, which led my sister to her joke, which led me into making a scene. And anyhow, my sister had to have told her boyfriend the mundane story of me as a teen—the “it’s a phase” depression and volatile attitude, anorexia and trichotillomania, screaming for hours in the bathtub because everything was too much and not enough. I was a high school dropout at sixteen with a secret not-so-nice druggie boyfriend tucked away in Colorado, whom I bought plane tickets to see without offering my parents the full story. This is also not the full story.
My sister’s version is simpler: I was mean and she was scared of me.
I’m still scared of me.
Maximillian, the Aussie boyfriend, laughs awkwardly, which is fine. He was just detained in LAX customs for five hours for flying in and out of the US five too many times. He’s tired and he has seen me at close to every level. And my little sister, who is usually my size, usually littler than me, is perhaps amused—she’s used to it. And my little brother, who’s just arrived, he’s chuckling, nothing’s changed, he says. But I’m kind of drunk off of those two glasses of wine and I’m kind of on a tangent, teetering here on this seat that’s not really a seat, and I’m remembering what I read online the other night after remembering the surprise 2012 diagnosis on the thirty-page Heather Ezell analysis after my month-long learning disability testing that was apparently also secret mental illness testing.
And you know, it’s kind of funny because I’ve been in and out of doctor’s offices so many times. I have sat on so many couches. Labels have been patched on and peeled off me. What’s a diagnosis but an excuse? That’s what I’ve always said. But cyclothymia was new and I remember how I briefly looked it up at the time, back in 2012—a chronic mood disorder widely considered to be a more chronic but milder or sub-threshold form of bipolar disorder—only to get distracted by my Ulysses course and the Jungian paper I went crazy over, that I loved, and so I set my knowledge of the diagnosis aside, would think of it randomly, consider it briefly during my lows and feverish highs.
But then this week, the week of Thanksgiving 2014, when I crawled beneath the coffee table to sob into my Labrador’s face, when I crawled under that table, my mom said I’m not crazy so why do I act crazy, and it hurt and I hurt, and she asked why—I remembered the disorder then, and turned to Google again, deeper this time, and Google says what the psychiatrist claimed I have can be amplified by the antidepressant I’ve been swallowing since 2010: The use of antidepressants as monotherapy typically worsens the disorder and can induce mood switching, cycle acceleration, mixed states, and prolonged treatment resistance. What the fuck. What the fuck, I remember thinking. What the fuck.
I explain this unnecessary backstory from the seat that’s not really a seat, and my family is confused because they’ve heard a lot of words attached to my physical and mental health but not cyclothymia. Not this term that I can never correctly pronounce despite the fact that its pronunciation reminds me of my blanket blood disorder, spherocytosis, which I can never spell. And my dad asks me what it is, this new word, new mental illness diagnosis that I learned from this education-specialist psychiatrist in 2012—the psychiatrist who was paid by my undergrad’s student life office to test me for my plethora of learning disabilities but who also supposedly solved a riddle and pulled out a new term for me to find later with no explanation, no suggestion that I should seek further treatment post-testing.
I tell my dad. I tell the car. I read the online description off my phone to my father and my mother and my sister and my brother and Maximillian, the Aussie boyfriend. And it scares me—what the Internet says, it scares me how it fits, it scares me how it can change, the claim that the disorder worsens as an adult climbs deeper into her twenties—I’m twenty-three—and that it may turn into a disorder far more violent if left untreated scares me. I feel raw and drunk and I’m reading these words from my screen, wondering why it took me two years to actually investigate the diagnosis. I’m also wondering why I mentioned it now, thinking maybe I mentioned it because I want someone to tell me to seek help, tell me it’s okay to again ask for help.
This is me asking for help.
I’m no longer snapchatting. I’m falling off the seat that’s not really a seat, reading with a slur and eyes that burn because these days my mood is nowhere and everywhere and I just dropped midline. These days, that happens a lot sometimes.
I’ve read the line, and my dad, flinging us south down the I-5, changes lanes and the car goes kind of quiet in the pre-Thanksgiving Day calm, or maybe the aftermath of my just having said something I shouldn’t have said, and my dad says: “Right. You’re a human with emotions. Who doesn’t have mood swings? What’s the big deal?” And he laughs again. “I guess we all have cyclothymia.”
And here’s the thing, I sat on my first couch at age seven, so this is an insult that shouldn’t be an insult. I shouldn’t care. I shouldn’t care. It’s just a word. He doesn’t understand. My ass hurts on this seat that’s not really a seat because I have a lack of fat in that region and I tap my forehead against the window. My father isn’t scared alone at night like I am. He doesn’t think his license should be revoked because of irrational thinking. I’m not going to fight. I’m not going to fight in this car. I will let myself quietly cry like a pathetic dumb ass but I’m not going to fight.
We fight as the I-5 meets the 133, and we fight as the 133 meets the 241, and I’m angry that this is a fight at all. That even still, after everything, after his own hit from depression, after being married to my mother, after the hours on the phone with the insurance company because Rebecca’s House screwed us over, after twenty-three years of me as his daughter, that this fight still needs to occur. I fight. It’s like fighting a memory.
And then I give up and the car is silent. I wish I were in a seat that was really a seat. I try to snapchat that guy in Alaska again and I pretend like nothing happened. The next day, I pick at Thanksgiving dinner, but don’t really taste a thing.
Over a year later, living in Alaska myself—light gaining on me seven minutes a day, sunset after midnight—the highs and lows will become fugue states. I’ll scream for help. But there’s a shortage of psychiatrists in Fairbanks, and I’ll be turned away, directed to the ER. After eight months on a waitlist, a doctor will finally let me in. She’ll listen closer than anyone has yet. She’ll ask me what the previous doctors were thinking. I’ve run out of time. My diagnosis will be adjusted to bipolar II and new medications will be prescribed.
And in Alaska, 2016, not even close to Thanksgiving, I’ll wish I were still sitting on the seat that’s not really a seat with my family to explain it to, my family to make light of this new weight. Texting “they think I’m bipolar now” doesn’t feel brave when I’m 3,000 miles away. In Alaska I’ll wish I were trapped in the back of my parents’ car, for my brother to laugh and say nothing’s changed, and for my father to remind me that my diagnosis doesn’t change anything, that I’m only a human with emotions—that I’ll always be sitting on a something, that I’ll always be just the same.
Rumpus original art by Genevieve Tyrrell.