“We are the eleven percent.”
Eleven percent of Americans now say they are on antidepressants, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The depressed and their family members should march and chant for better health care and education about depression.
I once decided against publishing an article on depression because I realized some of the people I’d interviewed did not understand that public knowledge of their illness could lead to the loss of reputation or even of jobs.
So let’s say I know the eleven percent and recognize them among my friends and family members.
In 2006 I took my research and wrote a rough draft of a novel.
I called the novel Cards because the illness seemed so random.
I should probably change the name to Eleven Percent.
I have decided to post a chapter here in the spirit of writing about mental health (and will go back to my usual book talk tomorrow). Most of the characters have depression, agoraphobia, or OCD. The character, Dorrie, has anorexia and bipolar disorder.
Dorrie was down to 90 pounds. The doctor told her to drink a nutritional supplement. She opened a can and drank it with a straw. If she lost weight, she would have to go back into the hospital. Anorexia. Three cans of Ensure a day and meals. It grew harder and harder to eat. A little yogurt, a little soup, some of Rose’s casseroles. The Ensure went down easy.
Ben and Rose kept bringing her milkshakes. It didn’t matter to Dorrie if they were from McDonald’s or the good diner. They were good and they kept on the weight.
Have you considered the eating disorders group?
Dorrie begged them not to make her go to group. Only young women went to group. She didn’t want to know who threw up, who cut herself with knives. Her doctor agreed that the eating disorders group could be annoying. Most of them are borderline, he said. You’re not borderline. Oh, dear, thank God she wasn’t borderline. These women needed so much attention. All of them had read all there was to know about anorexia. “I called this expert, I called that expert.” What? Oh, they had to interview doctors: it wasn’t enough to read the articles. In Dorrie’s day she had done research from books and articles. Ever heard of a medical journal? she wanted to say. At the groups Dorrie said nothing. It was best. Sometimes she would say she forgot to eat. They would suggest she write it on her calendar. They passed around candy at the group: hard candy with no calories!
Check off three meals a day even if you have to eat them all at once.
Dorrie thought of her friends Rose and Megan, both fatt by Dorrie’s standards, size 12 and size 16, or at least she guessed so, eating all day long. She would look at them and want to be like them but she couldn’t eat . Something about it.
Dorrie kept her note cards on history in an old recipe box. Her cards. She alphabetized them. She might as well. She was writing the history of the world and her history. She was the ideal librarian: a librarian who had never worked as a librarian. Alexa, Candi, Krista, Lola, Sandra, Susan. Alexa and Susan had been her roommates. Alexa had made phone calls all day long from the pay phone and walked up and down the halls with her iPod because she “had to lose weight.’ You only weigh 100, they tried to tell her in group. You’re 5 ft. 10. But Alexa continued to walk. And she made scenes.
Who’s been reading my journal?
It was supposed to be behind the nurse’s station. The nurses couldn’t find it.
Dorrie loved the way Alexa screamed. She never would make a scene like that. But Alexa explained that you might as well act crazy because they expected it. And she didn’t want the nurses reading her journal.
One of them had it. That’s why they couldn’t find it.
How do you know?
You’ll get to know after a while. The nurses are NOT your friends.
They’re NOT supposed to read your journal.
Alexa had to go to groups and Narcotics Anonymous all day long. She explained to Dorrie that she had done so much coke that she couldn’t sit still any more. She got a lot of attention from everybody.
Dorrie didn’t go to many groups. She, too, was journaling like mad. It was the only thing that brought her back to earth since mature women like her were not expected to need much help. She read aloud from her journal to her doctor and he told her he thought it needed “editing.”
Dr. Navarro, you are such a drag, said Dorrie. The main thing is that I’m writing a journal at all, not that I need to edit! You should encourage me.
He smirked. Some animals are more equal than others, he said.
Dorrie did not think that was exactly true. She thought he should not be a doctor. What kind of psychiatrist said things like that to his patients?
Stephen smuggled in a cube of coke (a cube?) and he and Candi got caught snorting it (on a greeting card that Candi had taped to her wall and taken down for the coke). Dorrie was a little scared after that. She didn’t know who these people were in the hospital. Stephen, it turned out, was some small-time dealer with a drug problem. He was there for rehab. He got kicked out. Where did he go? Dorrie didn’t know where they sent him. Candi was there because she had schizophrenia and had wanted to kill her boyfriend. They let her stay. Her boyfriend had committed her after she tried to bean him with a big Oxford English dictionary.
He was cheating on me, she said. If I COULD kill him, I would, she added cheerfully.
Now that’s not really funny, said the social worker.
Let’s talk about Candi’s real feelings.
I was very, very hurt. I could not believe it had happened. Really could not believe it. He said he loved me. I thought we were so happy.
Don’t you feel like crying? It’s safe here.
I’m on 100 milligrams of antidepressant. I can’t cry.
I can’t cry, either, several people said.
So there they were. Depressed. But on pills, pills, pills. If you go off the pills, you’ll be depressed, Dr. Navarro said.
Dorrie knew there was no point in explaining that she was depressed anyway.
Dorrie was in such pain in the hospital that she spent most of the day in bed. Her other roommate, Susan, never said a word. She would not go to the dining room and wrote notes asking Dorrie to bring her tea.
Out of the hospital Dorrie went to group for a while and was reunited with Alexa, Susan, Candi, and the rest.
Silently she collected their names. She didn’t want to do it. She wanted to forget. She remembered all of them. the names went on and on. It was a memorial to depression and eating disorders. No one was supposed to give last names but they all knew. She was afraid that someday she would have to bear witness. She could see it. Everybody she knew dead, a new revolutionary anti-psychotropic regime collecting history. And Dorrie had been there.
Her history: taped sessions in the psychiatrist’s office. Note cards. Computer data. All their histories would be there.
Dorrie looked at her note cards. Notes on World War I, World War II, and the years between, alphabetized and cross-referenced. Treaty of Versailles: “malignant & silly to an extent that made them obviously futile.” 1927: Wall Street Crash and worldwide reverberations. 1930: 2,300,000 unemployed in Germany. Flip, flip. The answers were in the cards.
She couldn’t keep diaries. She had done that once. Everybody knew she wrote. Then a neighnor had broken into her slum apartment and read them. He had left some of them opened to what they supposed were significant pages. “Saw drug deal in street.” What was significant? They were always out there smoking by the busstop. She would have to be blind not to see them. The police knew. Who cared if Dorrie wrote it down? “Shut up,” somebody’d written.
Dorrie was spending too much time on index cards. She didn’t mind taking notes. They weren’t too organized, but were organized enough. French Navy, treaty limitations on. In case she ever wanted to know. She was learning so much about the art of war. It gave her a sinking feeling. Like the ships Britain and France agreed to sink after WWI. She was depressed. She realized there was not a single day when she had not seen war in the streets, in schools, in politics, in offices, in the hospital. If I do this, will he do this? That’s what everybody was thinking every minute. It got to be a bore. She would stand by the bus stop and somebody would come up to her and start a conversation. Was it all right to talk, or not all right to talk? Poor Dorrie didn’t know anymore. Until she’d attended some of these groups, she’d felt perfectly fine about talking.
Dorrie really didn’t care what another person would do if she said or did X. She didn’t care to manipulate people. Wasn’t the fun of things spontaneity? Why did everything have to be so “Animal Farm” these days?
She had to say it: Dr. Navarro had given her some useful hints. He thought of her as an animal!
History: the Turks thought the Armenians were animals. The Nazis thought the Jews, Catholics, and intellectuals were animals.
She had to drink Ensure. She thought she might eat an orange. If only it weren’t so hard to peel an orange. She went into the kitchen and sat at the table and concentrated. She cut the orange and then peeled it. The slices were good! She was surprised at how much she liked it. She wanted to eat another orange but she could not peel it. She just couldn’t. She was too tired. She drank the Ensure.
If only someone were here…Gabrielle…anybody…to peel her orange.
Could you peel this? she asked when someone came up the stairs.