I don’t think I realized just how clinically depressed I was. I missed my kids, I missed being a mom, I was scared shitless over the fact that we had no money in the bank for our retirement, and I was back to working in a law office where my boss was young enough to be my son except that my son showed me respect and never hollered at me like this creep did. Anyway, it was in this state of mind that I decided to experiment with my own holistic health plan. If I died because I didn’t take my pills, at least my corpse would have all its teeth.
I decided not to return to the drug store. I was going to take a chance that I could survive without modern medicine. And if I died, so be it. I convinced myself that no one would really care. My husband would be free from my hypochondria and my kids free of the guilt I tried to impose on them daily for having the nerve to grow up and move out. And yeah, I would finally be at peace from all of the financial stress and sadness over empty-nest syndrome. But if, as I really did suspect, I didn’t need all this medicine, maybe, just maybe, I could have my old life back. I would get that creative spark again – I would write and be published and my kids would be proud of me and love me as much as they did when they were little. And as an added bonus, I would never have to sit in the doctor’s depressing waiting room again and the dentist would exclaim, “It’s a miracle!”
The month of December flew by, and I got an email from the druggist that my prescriptions had been sitting there for thirty days and if I didn’t come claim them they would be put back on the shelf. Ha! Go ahead, put them back. See if I care, you evil corporate leeches. I was so pleased with myself: an entire month pill-free and I was still alive. My conspiracy theory had proven correct.
In reality, my overall condition had not improved other than my teeth. I had not written one word, let alone knocked out another novel as planned. I was still depressed, probably more so than ever because in addition to all of my other phobias, I learned my beloved dog, Monty, was dying of Cushing’s disease. We should have put him down as soon as we got the verdict because Google had really ominous stories about that particular ailment, but since our vet recommended a miracle chemotherapy and Monty was still eating, loving, and sleeping with us without incident, I conveniently went into fantasy world and ignored how awful he looked and the fact that we now had to carry him up the steps to lift him into bed – no small feat for my middle-aged, smoker husband.
The kids, on the other hand, were horrified that we didn’t do the humane thing and put him down. But instead of telling us their true feelings, they withdrew even more. They couldn’t bear to see their beloved childhood pet in such obvious decline. We justified keeping him alive to them by saying, “He’s old! He’s over eighty in people years. When Dad and I get to be that age, are you going to lethally inject us just because we’re sick and ugly?”
For me, Monty was the last piece of our old life. His impending death would be the final straw. Rather than take him to the vet for any more testing, we fed him organic, grass-fed meat from Whole Foods; we lovingly attended to his every need; and I would like to believe that his last days were spent in peace, slowly slipping away, and not in pain. Looking back, I guess I knew otherwise, but again, I was completely out of my head by that point. I could not take one more trauma.
Anyway, back to me. Four months before his death, on New Year’s Day 2012, I was sitting on the sofa with Monty and when I stood up I felt a sudden, sharp pain on the side of my head, like I’d been hit with a sledgehammer. My husband was upstairs, and I tried to scream but no words came out. Then, as quickly as it came, the feeling dissipated. After standing there for a few minutes, I decided I had just gotten up too quickly and that over the years, most people get sharp, sudden pains for no apparent reason. It was all part of the lovely aging process. The day continued without incident, and I never said a word to my husband.
I was now six weeks drug-free. I had beaten the system. I was going to live after all. Oh, well.
The next day I returned to work. Oh how I hated my job. There was so much yelling and insane office politics, but I’d just been assigned to a new associate. He was also young enough to be my son but he seemed nice and easygoing so I decided to stick it out. I had a vague headache, but I chalked it up to the stress of working for someone new and wanting him to like me.
At noon I went out to lunch and it was freezing cold outside. Inside the restaurant, my head started to throb again, but I blamed the weather, my job, you name it. I popped a couple of Advil and by the time I finished eating felt a little better so I put on my coat and headed back to the office. The last thing I vividly remember was walking out into the frigid air and thinking, “Oh my God, someone just shot me in the head! I have been assassinated. I’m going to die on the street like John Lennon.”
I have a vague memory of collapsing to the ground right outside of my building, and of feeling pain so unbearable it simply had to have been from a bullet. This was so not the glamorous Nelson Rockefeller-type death I had imagined–i.e. dying of a massive heart attack at a nice old age while dallying in bed with some young buck. To expire outside of a sleazy law office was the worst trick my Higher Power could have possibly played on me.
I was writhing on the ground, and people just walked by, like a screaming, nicely dressed blonde sprawled out on an icy downtown sidewalk was a normal occurrence.
Strangely enough, I ended up being rescued by a co-worker who had severe medical and emotional problems of his own. Rather than call 911, he simply hailed a cab, threw me in, and told the driver to take me to the hospital. I guess someone telephoned my husband, because as I sat in the emergency room, crying out of my mind with pain, he showed up and started freaking out at the staff, who were busy chatting among themselves about the latest celebrity to be eliminated from Dancing with the Stars.
I finally made it into the triage unit where my blood pressure got their attention. I was in cerebral hemorrhage territory; they rushed me upstairs to radiology for a CT scan.
It was then I came clean about not taking my medicine since November. Their jaws dropped. Apparently I had been on a suicide mission after all, and the only real shock was that I was still alive. They hooked me up to an I.V. and immediately began pumping me full of the drugs my body so desperately needed. I saved them the trouble of lecturing me; I lectured myself out loud so they’d leave me alone. But the look on my husband’s face…ah, it is one I will never forget.
“I wasn’t trying to kill myself. Honestly, I really thought I was cured and didn’t need this stuff anymore.”
“But you knew…you were tested…”
“I’m an idiot, okay?”
“Did you want to die?” He stared into my eyes, seeking out the truth.
“No,” I lied. Well, let me rephrase that. I didn’t want to die, but I also didn’t care if I lived or not. Does that make sense? Up until that moment, anyway. Stretched out on the hospital gurney, I chose life. Oh boy, did I ever. What the hell was I thinking?
The doctors told me that even if my condition wasn’t genetic, one just couldn’t cold turkey the medication I had been on for over ten years. That alone would usually kill a person.
So just to rule out something fatal, they made me do the CT scans, anyway. Then a young resident came in, with a troubled look on his face. You really never know how much you want to live until you see an expression like that.