Three weeks later, I’m on my way to Silver Spring to see the therapist. Doubts creep in. After all, therapy isn’t cheap. And really, aren’t therapists just a bunch of lazy buttinskies anyway? Seems to me all they do is sit on their hindquarters listening to a garbage-load of whine, then murmur false reassurance when they get a little sleepy. Winken, blinken and nodden. I giggle at the image that brings up, but stop and chastise myself. How would you know what they do, or don’t do, Liz? Hmm . . . let’s deliberate a moment. Well, there was that one time in my early twenties when I got up close and personal with a psychiatrist.
As I speed down Route 29, I flash back to 1976. Basically, it all started like this. I’m in conference with my English professor. We’re discussing, among other things, the merits of Beowulf. I don’t think there are any. It’s bloody long and painful for me to read, and so very boring. I tell her this. She gently disagrees and we go round and round until finally I say something like, fuck Beowulf. Without warning, I drop to the floor and crawl around, rambling profane nonsense before falling into some kind of catatonic state. Then it’s Liz, meet psych ward. Enjoy your stay.
I have only one really clear memory of that little visit. My first meeting with the psychiatrist. Which doesn’t surprise me since he was the oddest-looking man I’d ever seen; a cross between a funeral director out of a horror movie, and Cary Grant from the movie “North by Northwest.” Or so I thought at the time. Anyway, Dr. Freud Wannabe strolls into my room wearing an elegantly appointed grey suit, brilliant white shirt with, most unfortunately, a silk bow tie clinging to the collar like a bloody red inkblot card. Totally crashed the suit, in my opinion. He takes a seat next to the bed, leans back, and gracefully crosses a leg.
“Miss Dingaling? My name is Dr. Bow Tie Freud. I’m the hospital psychiatrist. I only have a couple of questions. Try not to be nervous. Just do the best you can. All right?” He clears his throat. “Can you tell me what this phrase means?” Pausing dramatically, he murmurs, “A rolling stone gathers no moss.”
I burst out laughing. So much for drama. This guy’s funny. We’re off to a roaring start. Until . . . I realize he’s serious. I put my serious face on and mumble, “What did you say?” Patiently, he repeats the question. Instantly, I have this vision of Jack and Jill tumbling down the hill together, gathering speed, not moss. I giggle. “No. I haven’t the slightest idea what that means. Sorry.”
He jots something down, looks at me again, and says much more softly, “All right. Can you tell me what this means? Birds of a feather flock together.”
I stop giggling and try to focus on the question, because now I’m thinking this must be some kind of IQ test and I’m flunking worse than a college dropout. But then again, maybe the doctor’s just plain loco. “I’m sorry, Dr. Bow Tie Freud, but I have no idea what that means. Are you feeling alright today?”
He sends me a strange look. My third apology in as many seconds whooshes out of my mouth like a tornado sweeping over the lush, emerald cornfields of Kansas. “Sorry, that was rude.” But the good doc seems to realize I’m truly concerned about him. A gentle smile frames his mouth. “Well, just one more question, Miss Dingaling. Can you tell me who the President of the United States is?”
My smile opens up like an angel descending from heaven. Yeehaw! A question I can answer. I’m not so dumb after all. “GERALD FORD!” He chuckles and nods his head.
I’m released from the hospital three days later, and begin therapy with the man. At the end of my second session, he sadly informs me that my mother is unable to pay for anymore sessions. An incredibly compassionate look appears on his face. But he totally catches me by surprise when he informs me that he brought my “case” up before the Texas Vocational Rehabilitation Commission. He's quite sure I’ll qualify for college tuition assistance from them until I graduate. Then they’ll help me find a job. I just need to fill out the paperwork.
I stare at him like his head morphed into a giant red rubber ball, matching the color of his bow tie. Case? I had a minor stress problem. “What? How did you manage to do that? Don’t you have to be pretty sick to get this kind of help? I’m not sick. I feel perfectly fine now.”
He stares at me with eyes the color of warm cocoa. “Liz, you’ve got a form of mental illness called schizophrenia. That's as sick as you can get . . ." My antenna shuts off for a blurry few minutes, then . . . "But my hands are tied since you can't afford treatment. The only thing I can do for you now is send you home with a prescription. Call the office when you need a refill. If you have any adverse . . ." blah, blah, blah. A lot of blah, I think, as he drones on and on. The man is so far off base, he has landed on Mars. After all, I’m not hearing voices in my head. And I for sure don’t wear aluminum hats to ward off lethal gamma rays from outer space. But I fill out the paperwork anyway. I’m not dumb.
I thank him very kindly, and tell him I’ll somehow pay him back for the sessions we’ve already had. He says not to worry about it.
I leave the office and promptly throw away the prescription.
Schizophrenia, my sweet ass!