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🎧The Big Day Arrives
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My sister’s car pulls into the bank lot, where I’m waiting. She parks and gets out first. My brother-in-law and nephew come around the car. The back door opens. My niece steps out and turns to help their sheepadoodle, Lady Augustine Fluffington, a.k.a. Augie, out of the car and lowers her to the ground. My niece and nephew have just turned eighteen and are here to put their bank accounts in their own names. I’m here to have my living will notarized. Augie is along for the ride.
Augie greets me, wagging and trickling pee on the sidewalk. No one has ever been as happy to see me in my entire life. Augie has black fur with patches of white on her chest and tail and perfect white sox on all four feet.
Technically, we aren’t dog people, but we all love her with reckless abandon. We had cats growing up. My brother-in-law, who’s allergic to much of the animal world, didn’t have pets. None of us has ever owned a puppy, so Augie generally gets her way. She mostly does what she wants, and when we say no, she keeps doing it until eventually she gets bored and moves on to something else.
My sister holds stacks of papers in her hands. She asks if I brought my ID. I didn’t bring my ID. I rarely carry my ID—a leftover from never leaving the house when I was sick. I offer to take Augie while they open my niece and nephew’s account. We can reschedule my appointment.
I hold Augie in my arms as her core family goes inside. She starts to whimper. She cries for them and licks my face to be sure I know she loves me, too.
Augie leads me to the park. Only a few dogs mull around, noses to the ground. I let her off the leash. “Go!” She dashes toward the other dogs.
I still haven’t talked to my family about the fact that I’ve healed from serious mental illness. They were told I could only manage my symptoms. Healing actually feels like a betrayal. Will they think I faked it all those years? Will they think I’m lying about my recovery?
This morning, I sat at my desk and wrote the feelings and sensations that wreck me at worst or trouble me at best:
● Vibration in my chest for no reason
● Pit in my stomach
● Dislocation, feeling like I’m not in body
● Panic attacks
● Needing to move
● Inability to stop moving
● Pessimism/negative thinking
● Inability to see the good
● Mood swings
● Negative self-talk
● Weighing myself
Before, these would have been symptoms; now, they just are.
Augie leaps across the grass, first alongside one dog and then behind another. Unfazed by the icy ground beneath her, she invites them to chase her, always keeping on the move, free but always with the other dogs in tow.
I’m at my mother’s apartment. Augie follows her as she walks from the kitchen to the living room. A Kleenex dangles from my mother’s pants pocket. Augie eyes it greedily.
This has become a pattern. My mother takes care of Augie when my sister, brother-in-law, niece, and nephew go on vacation. It’s more stressful than fun. My mother loves Augie but being a dog sitter is a job best suited to a dog sitter. Plus, Augie pooped on her rug. My mother worries she’ll do it again and won’t leave her alone in the apartment. So they’re together twenty-four, seven.
I come over every day to give my mother a break, taking Augie for a long walk to run with the dogs in the park—anything to tire Augie out so she’ll sleep, and my mother can read her books on Ancient Egypt and archeology.
Augie comes when I call her, trotting away from trailing after my mother in the hope of treats. I ask my mother what else she needs and what I can do.
“This is great. Just take her.”
Augie sits, her mouth moving in anticipation of a treat. She takes it from my hand as I clip her leash to her collar. “We’ll be back.” Augie gets another treat in the elevator and another once we’re outside and she pees.
My recovery feels almost complete: health, home, purpose, community. I live in a different brain. I have a home. My memoir, Pathological, will educate people about psychiatric diagnoses and save them from making the same mistakes I did. I have my family.
We walk—or rather Augie walks me. The air is crisp. Snow blankets the sidewalk.
How will I know when my recovery is complete? It’s been slippery and strange. What’s the you’ve-recovered benchmark? Do I need to have been happy for a year straight? Anxiety-proof and depression-free for a decade? Two years clean like in addiction circles? Five years without a trace of mental illness as with some cases of cancer?
On Sunday, my father and I have lunch. We sit on stools at a bar table at the Japanese restaurant where we eat each week. The waiter, who knows our order by heart, comes to the table to confirm. (Routine: I eat the same thing almost every day, and it’s rubbed off on my father—at least during our lunches.) It’s early, and the restaurant is practically empty.
It’s time to tell him—someone—I’ve recovered, but I don’t know what to say.
My father tells me a story he’s told before. I love to hear him tell it. He and my mother lived in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in the 1960s. My father helped translate the government documents written in French into English. (He’s fluent in French.) One night, my father and mother had some of his Ethiopian colleagues over for dinner. My father is a masterful cook and dinner-party host. He served doro wot (spicy Ethiopian curry) as well as French pate and cured meats. He also put out a jar of Dijon mustard.
“Just regular Dijon,” he says. “Nothing special.” He smiles and tells of how his colleagues had no reaction to the spicy curry. “But the Dijon made their mouths burn. I hadn’t thought about it. The spice in mustard seed affects a different part of the mouth.”
It’s a story he delights in, likely because the years he and my mother lived in Ethiopia were some of their fondest together. Travel brought and kept them together for twenty years.
Our food arrives. My father opens his chopsticks. I do the same.
“Dad.” I hesitate. “I think I’m well. I mean, I think I’m cured. Not sick anymore—at all.”
He nods, certain. “I know.” He smiles. “I know.”
The call comes at 10 p.m. No one calls me that late. My mother’s voice is riddled with panic.
“You have to come over,” she says. “I had some chocolate out, and Augie ate it.” And then: “Don’t tell your sister.”
Chocolate is potentially life-threatening to dogs.
My mother moans. “I turned my back for one second.”
I tell her we’ll take care of it. My tone is reassuring. “I’ll come over in an Uber and take Augie to the emergency vet.”
“Do you think she needs the emergency vet?”
When I say I’ll ask my sister, my mother doesn’t object. I call my sister in California and tell her what happened. She calls poison control and then the emergency vet. Meanwhile, I’m on the phone with my mother, who’s trying to calculate the number of chocolate squares Augie ate and the percentage of dark chocolate. Yes, Augie needs to go to the emergency vet.
The Uber ride is swift. My mother is waiting in front of her building with Augie.
I tell her it will be fine and take Augie’s leash. In the Uber, I put down the window. Augie sticks her head out, practically smiling as the wind blows against her face.
At the vet hospital, the waiting room is packed. Augie and I are ushered into the pet-triage area. Augie glances around the room. Behind us is a wall of metal crates. Inside each is a blanket and a cat. IV drips go into their paws. The joy Augie exuded in the Uber is gone.
One of the techs comes and takes Augie’s vitals. Augie is trembling. I kneel down and hug her, trying to settle her. “It’s okay, Augs. It’s okay.” My voice coos—settled, strong.
The vet arrives and injects a solution that will make Augie throw up. It takes about ten minutes, but Augie does. Several times. The chocolate is there, not even digested. One of the techs takes the bucket away.
We have to wait an hour—an observation period to be sure Augie doesn’t throw up or react to the chocolate. I kneel down and hug Augie. She licks my face, which is both disgusting and sweet.
The hour passes slowly. Augie and I watch the goings on in the emergency room. Across from us, a distraught-looking couple dote on a ferret swaddled in a blanket. A cat is rushed in. It moans as it’s given an ultrasound. A little boy cradles a teeny pit bull puppy in his arms.
I text my sister that everything is fine.
Thank you so much for taking care of all this, she texts back.
She has no idea how much this means to me. When I was sick, I couldn’t have been the one taking care of others; others took care of me.
Being the one to step in and get Augie to the vet has made me even more certain that I’ve healed. I don’t mind that it’s almost midnight. The jittery darkness isn’t descending; the familiar sodden pit isn’t there.
Enjoying ‘Cured’? Read the prequel, ‘Pathological’ (HarperCollins):
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