Treating post-Katrina Anxiety Disorder
Written by Tara Jill Ciccarone
Tuesday, 11 March 2008 18:00
A gynecologist in a Red Cross tent told me I suffer from anxiety. The fact is, lately, I’ve been stumbling about as if intoxicated even when I’m not. My legs are covered with bruises that I don’t remember getting. I spent twenty minutes behind the bar where I work looking for a bottle of Bombay gin that I had placed in the ice bin. “You need some sleep,” a regular customer told me. “They finally opened up the mental health clinic, and you can get stuff for free.”
He gave me a Xanax and that night I slept for eight hours for maybe the first time in weeks. He recommended the Chartres Mental Health Center on Elysian Fields. I used to spend my time trying to score uppers, maybe some Adderall or Concerta or street speed, but since the storm, I’m so strung out on my daily routine that I can’t sleep at all.
The waiting room was empty save for a security guard dozing at the desk. The only reading materials were stacks of brochures. Are you drinking too much because of the recent hurricanes? The brochures wanted to know. I waited forever to see a psychiatrist with an African name that lacked vowels.
He asked me my age.
“I’m thirty,” I told him.
I read upside down while he wrote: Claims to be thirty but is much younger.
Did he mean that I appear much younger? The man did speak broken English.
We got into the nightmares, usually dreams about being eaten by wild animals, which I have before I wake up to find my hands asleep under the pillow.
“Do you have nightmares when you’re awake?” he asked.
“No,” I told him and looked him in the eye.
Patient denies her delusions.
Afraid to come across as confrontational, I said nothing, wondering why he hadn’t written something like: Patient doesn’t have delusions.
This went on for a while, the good doctor believing I had imagined my boyfriend, was chronically unemployed, heard voices, and had never, ever used drugs. I thought about correcting him, but was hoping the prescription would match the symptoms. Maybe some Valium would result from all of this.
If that’s not bad enough, my boss is convinced that I am losing my mind. It has to do with my wearing a hardhat at work. As if everyone isn’t wearing a hardhat these days. The hardhat was a gift, given to me because of a wall, or more aptly, because of a cooler.
The owners of the restaurant wanted to buy a cooler and carry 100 beers from around the world. This was kind of my fault because I ran the tap for the draft beer until it was clear of foam and the owners thought I was wasting beer. Better beer than time, I told them, but they didn’t agree. I was already agitated that day because of this local creep named Wojtek who has been going around stealing Ipods. It turns out I had more important things to worry about because the owners were having the cooler delivered smack in the middle of the lunch rush. We had to move all the tables out of the dining room to bring it in.
Everybody tried to eat outside which would have been fine except these workmen came and tore the shelves off the wall where they wanted the cooler to go and they put all the silverware and coffee cups and ketchups and hot sauces and napkins in a bunch of unlabeled boxes and left them in the Laundromat. Then they brought the cooler in, and, surprise surprise, the kind of people who have a cooler delivered in the middle of the lunch rush are the same kind of people who don’t bother measuring a wall where said cooler is supposed to go. You could have buried four people in the thing.
The cooler movers were sweating. The customers didn’t have any condiments, but I gave them plastic silverware. Then the owner decided to tear down the wall so the cooler would fit behind the bar. A crowbar was their primary tool, and as pieces of plaster flew about and the wood paneling was ripped off, the men swung the crowbar dangerously close to my head. It was then that a plumber brought me a hardhat. It gave me a headache, but I felt safe. I was going on and on about how horrified I was when my boss, crowbar in mid air, looked at me. “You are losing your mind,” he said.
The only thing that kept me from losing my mind was the good night of Benadryl induced sleep I’d had and the knowledge that the next day would be Krewe de Vieux. After the parade, I ended up outside on Decatur Street, and there was only one place without a line for the bathroom door. I brought a friend with me in case anxiety set in. We were chatting in front of the locked bathroom when I saw them. All of them. The drug dealers.
The first time I ever bought blow was in this place on Krewe de Vieux night four years ago. That night, I hadn’t enough money and the guy had told me to come back with forty dollars after I’d stammered, “I would like to buy some cocaine.” Since then, I’ve learned every phrase from “I’m looking to party,” to “You got the white?” and my two twenties were always ready in my hand.
But this night, my wallet packed with a week’s worth of tips, my hands were shaking. I could anticipate the drip of it in my throat like the first breath of winter air inhaled. Of course the person in the bathroom was taking forever. I knew if I ran my hand over the back of the toilet seat I’d wind up whip quick and bright as a star. The world would come together, and I wouldn’t have to try to sleep ever. My feet did a little dance. I had promised myself no more for a while. Then my eyes met his. That guy who’s always around and is prayed to like a saint by some of us.
“You partying tonight baby?” he asked.
I was still surprised I had it in me.
“No,” I told him. “I’m already fucked up on life.”
Tara Jill Ciccarone is an artist and writer living and working in New Orleans.
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