A Note From Your Mortician:
The Universal Order’s very first guest post is by the death phobic Sheera Talpaz. At this moment, Sheera is the only person in the world I’m pleased is death phobic, because she used it to create the following essay. It is honest and fantastic and articulates what so many people experience in a society that CREATES severe deathphobia in its members and then makes them feel like crazy folk for trying to address their fears.
A link to Sheera’s blog (which is very funny & less deathy) is to your right under the Comrades of the Order sidebar.
Begone, Death – Die!
I don’t have an anecdote about shaving babies. They don’t, after all, allow razors in mental hospitals. They don’t allow pens until the patient is off the intensive floor. They take away your bra, with all the potential of its metal underwire. They give you, in uneven exchange, a toothbrush, off-brand deodorant.
I sure do know a lot about mental hospitals! Realistically, I only know about the one I ended up in – Lakeshore something something. It wasn’t really a mental “hospital,” if we might qualify a hospital as something useful; it was geared toward chemical dependants with the exception of a few suicidal patients. It was also unclean, unfriendly, and filled with a menagerie of addicts, schizophrenics, a few seemingly homeless types, possible criminals – aaaand some of these made up the personnel. I hope you’re getting a clear picture of my benefits situation (big ups, United Health Care!).
I got here because I’ve had an underlying issue of anxiety for a few years. My anxiety popped up, clinically speaking, in graduate school when I lost my virginity. That wasn’t fun. More on that in my memoir From Hymenectomies to Hysteria. The point is I get anxious, but never to the extent that I can’t function – eat, sleep, do stuff, walk – until I took a medication that flooded my bloodstream with hormones and put my anxiety on blast (which is also a clinical term).
When one’s anxiety is on blast, one often thinks of the end times. Her own end times and the end times of those nearest her. I became prone to touching my boyfriend’s face. I called my father to hear him breathe loudly (which is just how he breathes, as he doesn’t take special requests). I can’t explain the timing except to say it’s timeless, this ticking bomb: I come from a traumatized family, an Auschwitz’d family, a cancer doctor’s family, a heart attack family. My father has seen girls named Shira die in pediatric wards. My father makes jokes about his impending death all the time. It really fucks a 6-year-old up, I can tell you that.
Back to the narrative: in those two weeks of panic before I ended up in Lakeshore something something, I tried to get in touch with a psychiatrist to no avail. I had no access to prescription medication – certainly not the kind that would immediately kick in (e.g., Xanax, Klonopin). So what did I do? Emailed my old writing instructor, death expert Thomas Lynch, who ever-so-kindly replied:
…that’s not mortality whispering its old news in your ear. That sounds more like your garden variety depression, and all the joylessness and meaninglessness that attends a bout of same. That is not death (which is irreversible); rather it is sickness (which is occasional and quite remediable). Illness can be treated and fixed, whereas mortality can’t. Does this make sense to you, dear Sheera?
This made sense in a way that put me out of my mind. Soon after this I went to the ER, and the fun & folly began! (There is, apparently, an ER specifically for mental health, one that nobody tells you (me) about.)
First I waited for about 2-3 hours in the waiting room with people who cut their fingers open. Then I waited about 5-8 hours in a room where instead of drawing my blood, they punched needle-sized holes into my arm and laid convenient blame on my veins instead of their ineptitude. My best guess on why they drew my blood: they took me for a pill popper. (Which means some people are desperate enough to cough up 500+ dollars in ER trips for pills?) Then a nurse came in and asked “what I expected to happen” and told me there were no “magical pills.” She looked like Shaquille O’Neal with a more persuasive ‘stache. I drank some water and vomited some water. A resident asked me, after a thorough review, if I thought I should stay overnight. I was like, “It’s probably cool if you could answer that one.” Then they put me in a room with padded walls, then I couldn’t stay at the fancy hospital because of $$$, then I was in an ambulance, then I was in a low-rent mental hospital, then I got a couple marriage proposals and was told I look 18, then I sat in a room where people talked about Jesus and drugs a lot, then my roommate had HIV and Hepatitis +/- a few teeth and an abusive boyfriend, then I befriended a suicidal queer patient who told me I didn’t look stupid like everyone else, then I was put on the “highly functional” floor with people who cut themselves and drank a lot, then my roommate was a grandma from the projects who told me they wouldn’t let me out after 2 days, then my psychiatrist wore stilettos and spoke with an Eastern European accent and said death was no big deal and said it happens “like that” while snapping her fingers, then there was a man named Willy who was the closest thing I had to a friend, then there were some really dick personnel, then I didn’t know and still don’t why I was there, then I didn’t get therapy, then they let me out after 2 days and a lot more money than they deserved. All I really needed was a nice shot of Ativan. Whew.
I know I’m not talking about death – I’m talking around it. Well, like most Americans, I’d like to stop thinking about it. It is at the fore of my thoughts, and I’d like to know how you better Americans successfully avoid it – I can stock up on Cheetos, watch the Superbowl, just tell me, I’m only first generation here. So it comes to me when I can’t distract myself enough with worries over sexmoneymediocrity. Then sometimes I think, okay, Johns Hopkins, even if you let me in, Harvard, Yale, even if you by chance want to get in on this, and I become a scholar, I am validated as a writer, I get married (terror!), I have children, someone lets me have a puppy, I buy a very expensive handbag, even then…I will one day die. The puppy will die. The handbag will probably be lost or stolen, which is a kind of death. My husband will die. My children will die (hopefully after I do, unless they suck). Harvard will die (fingers crossed). Stuff ends, and that bothers me into the night.
I hate to admit it. I “know” I’m going to die and those around me will too, but I only know it in an intellectual sense, because people have told me this. I’ve never been to a funeral. I also “know” this because my last therapist made me write it down a lot.
I can’t live in the now when the later is death. I’m also not a fucking Buddhist, and I don’t find it spiritual or beautiful. Were I to believe in God, I wouldn’t in an afterlife, because I think that’s stupid. I’m not Pascal, and I’m not wagering. I find nothing comforting in death. I find comfort in complaining about it, in whiskey, in prescription medication, in the other anxieties I have, the small picture. Will I get into Johns Hopkins? Did I fuck up my interview so badly that I have managed to upset their impressions? Did I gain weight? Good! Let me care about all these! Let my woes be silly! Let me forget!