Ghost story

I’m pretty sure I made the endocrinologist cry.

I’m not positive, because she lowered her head until her hair covered her face, but her shoulders appeared to be shaking and her voice sounded all choked up.

This was after we talked about the extreme probability of my being clinically depressed, and I told her about the last five years. (I was even depressing myself all over again. Ever see those charts of stressful major life events? I’ve had most of them since 1999 – some of them, more than once.)

She, of course, suggested antidepressants. Even though I told her they hadn’t worked before.

“I don’t know how I’m going to pay my rent,” I said.

“Isn’t there a generic form of Prozac now?”

“It’s over $100 a month and besides, it didn’t work the last time I tried it. And I don’t know how I’m going to pay my rent,” I repeated. “Today my job got cut back to five hours a week. That’ll cover my health insurance and taxes. There won’t be anything left over for anything. Not even food.” Just listening to myself made me want to cry, but the endocrinologist beat me to it.

She’d told me we should get all the tests done while I still have insurance. She said the good news is, I don’t have an underactive thyroid, although it’s at the low end of the scale. “You’ve just been under so much stress. You’ve had such a hard time of it, and of course your body is reacting,” she said. “You’ve had such a hard time…” (This was when she started to sound like she was crying.)

God. Doctors listen to crap all day. I must really be a mess if I’m making a doctor cry… The thought made me even more depressed.

Anyway, she suspects my adrenal glands may be malfunctioning. Or there’s an outside chance of a tumor on my pituitary gland, because my previous blood tests aren’t looking so great. She ordered some new ones.

She was very kind. She listened for a long time; I needed that.

I told her how being chronically unemployed was like being a ghost in the land of the living, how invisible I felt. How people’s eyes glazed over at the news of yet another economic catastrophe, how they needed to believe it was something you did or didn’t do because they were so desperate to believe it wouldn’t happen to them, and besides, it’s Just Not Their Problem.

I said people were so determined not to be co-dependent, they couldn’t muster up plain human decency anymore. (If it didn’t require any extra effort on your part, it wouldn’t be kindness, now, would it?)

The only reason I even could afford to see her, I said, was because I had a blog, and my readers donated the co-pay. “They bought me a car, too,” I added.

“Really? You must be good,” she said.

“Writing’s the only thing I’m good at,” I mumbled.

I told her it’s getting impossible for me to talk to people, because they usually fall into one of two categories: Those who bitch about problems I only wish I had, and the others who talk about how happy they are and how much God must love them.

They make me want to scream. No, they make me want to punch them in the face and feel the satisfying crunch of cheekbone against my fist. But that would make me Not A Nice Person, and these are my loved ones. I should cut them some slack, right? So my solution, I’m afraid, is to avoid them.

I never used to be the kind of person who begrudged happiness to other people, and it appalls me that I feel that way now. And I don’t want to be someone who says, “Excuse me, I think my problems are a little more urgent,” because, as my nana used to say, “Everyone’s cross is tailor-made.”

I mean, it could be worse. I could be dying, right? Who am I to be so angry at people for being happy? What the hell kind of friend am I?

The deal I made with myself is, they’re entitled to their bad moods – and their happiness. I just don’t want to hear about it.

The thing is, I know people feel overwhelmed in their own lives, even the happy ones. There’s not enough time for everything that needs to be done, people are so rushed. They’re just trying to get through the day.

They don’t even see me. I’m a ghost.

While waiting for my car in front of the hospital, I eavesdropped on a conversation between two strangers – a young woman and an older one who appeared to be a cancer patient. (She was in a wheelchair, wearing a blonde frosted wig tilted to one side.)

“You just have to let other people take care of you and you’ll be fine,” the young woman said, in the blithe way only a young person still believes.

“There’s no one there. I’m all alone,” the older woman said and started to cry.

I couldn’t listen anymore; I moved away.

Ghosts, everywhere.