“Did you fill it out at least kind of honestly?” Dr. Tom asked, laughing. He flipped through the paperwork.

I’ve had terrible results with telling the truth, but I am a bad liar. My face sells me out. It flushes red, and my pale pale skin is quite the canvas…

My heart beat skitters. Lies are lost to me, but saying nothing? Blank spaces are safe.

Previously, I’d stopped filling out the depression forms in doctor’s offices. I hated that they came up later in ways I couldn’t predict. Usually as a way to write off some weird physical symptom I was having as anxiety.

I hated that it didn’t seem to matter anyways… I’d been informed by therapists that I needed someone who specialized in cults or religious trauma or something that basically meant I’d either be priced out or never find them.

Not that I wanted a therapist. My therapy begins and ends with blaring Alice in Chains, for whatever that’s worth. I welcome being down in a hole. I put up my hood, I brood as I drink the blackest coffee staring at an equally brooding Pacific Northwest sky. Gray. Everything gray.

But Dr. Tom isn’t those other doctors, and somehow blank spaces felt a bit like lying. So I filled them in.

Do I feel hopeless?

That is a hilarious question. I’ve read the research. My condition is progressive. There is no cure. I’ve felt it progress.

Fuck, yes, I feel hopeless! It is hopeless! Not to the death, I hope, I mean… Everyone dies, but… Jesus. Yes. This is hopeless. What a question. For good measure, I’ve put on the record Dirt while I write this. Just to help me through it, therapeutically.

Hope is a weird thing. Because I also feel hopeful. Despite the increasing pain and diagnoses that stack on each other like an unwieldy pile of pick up sticks, at least I’m not alone. I have validation. I know I’m not completely insane. A touch insane, maybe. Not totally. Just the right amount to laugh at the absurdity of it all. Laugh instead of cry, which is a good thing, because once you start to cry you have to fill in the next question with…

Are people around you worried or some such?

I think more it’s that I get grumpy when my pain levels soar. I get grumpy when I’m touched, and people are made to touch. So they reach; it isn’t their fault. It’s a human need. But even a little brush can send this awful searing pain through me and I lash out. I try not to, but even if I manage not to say anything… it’s in my eyes. That what the fuck look, and it isn’t great.

I need to work on absorbing the pain because it’s either that or absorbing the ruination of relationships.

How do you do that?

I used to drink whiskey. That question is now no alcohol because of my meds. But before, I could numb it a bit with the whiskey. Hide the eyes.

Now it’s nothing.

Sober and stretched looking at a long life of pain and hope and hopelessness twined together chronically.

There isn’t anything to do about it.

Not that I can think of.

I’m depressed, but emotions don’t matter. Their weight depends on the value I give them. And mostly I value nothing.

Everything is transient.

Everything is what it is, and I’m… drifting. That’s the problem with me. I think too much. I’ve been warned. That will be the death of me, not any of these other things.

I try to pin tuck my deepest miseries into me, sewing the fabric closed as tight as possible. I cover my tracks with laughter, laughter and long sleeves.

I learned the art of embroidery from my grandmother as a child. She was an incredible artist. Tiny, perfect stitches in a rainbow arching over blankets and pillows and sundry other items. My own stitches were never as perfect. They meandered like my thoughts, despite her best attempts at making me learn discipline. Despite the many times she ripped my seams out and made me start again.

She was not an easy woman to love, but I did love her. Love is an odd action, skipping around the hurts like bad stitches.

I seized on her floor, and she let me. She didn’t call an ambulance. She scoffed and said I did it for attention. I was trying to tear the family apart with my theatrics. I was crazy. Crazy. Crazy. Crazy.

That was a word that beat like a pulse in me, next to the love. Next to everything else. It became a wound I held to me like an animal in the woods, not letting anyone near. Shame at what I couldn’t hide consumed me.

The needle I used to stitch darling little puppies traced lines into my soft skin easily. Punishing me for all the parts I failed to hide. The mistakes. The seizures… not that I knew they were seizures, then, but- I wanted it all to end.

I found the cuts stopped the emotion. The emotion was something I loathed. Not a mere dislike. A seething hatred for my weakness. For all the parts of my life that I lacked control, which were all the parts because I controlled nothing.

Maybe it stemmed from an earlier time. I was told that as a little girl, I’d bang my head into the wall. Then I’d laugh.

What is that?

I’d turn off the voices of hatred with the needle and then I’d be ready to laugh again.

I moved out of my parent’s home as a teenager and as one might imagine, young adults aren’t that wise. I lived with roommates who couldn’t fathom my slips from consciousness, who didn’t want to fathom them because they wanted to do more shots.

I wanted to do shots. I wanted to be normal. But I wasn’t, and no amount of alcohol made me normal.

I think my lack of partying led to a resentment that resulted in thoughtless accusations. Again, it was my craziness that was the problem.

This is the evolution of my general distrust of people. People don’t like to be bothered. I can’t tell you the many times I’ve heard the saying “good vibes only” and wanted to shake someone, because good vibes only absolves responsibility.

To love and be loved means accepting bad vibes along with the good. Learning from them, peeling back sleeves. Bandaging.

It was from my vocal coach that I learned to love myself. To find myself interesting. To realize the adage “you have to love yourself before you can love someone else” is another complete crock of shit.

She loved me before I loved me, fiercely. She said it, looking right in my eyes, and somehow I believed her. She isn’t a liar, so that helps. I loved her, and then eventually… I loved me.

Eventually she laughed at the word crazy and I laughed at it too.

Eventually I married a man who was with me in a hospital with his brand new nonfiction book on my cot when I had a seizure. I urinated all over it. He wasn’t angry at me for ruining it. He didn’t call me crazy when I woke up. He just bought another copy of the book.

Stitches change in time; the thread can fray. Scars fade white. Words can change their meaning; I read dictionaries to prove it to myself.

I found out after my grandmother died that she’d been on antidepressants and anxiety medication. It was sad. It was funny. All the times she tried to convince me I was crazy she was convincing herself it didn’t come from her. It did.

I understand the fear, and fear makes people angry. They don’t want to fall apart. They don’t want to be weak, and my grandma always wanted to be strong. Everyone who knew her says she was a tough old broad. She was. But she was a coward too. She refused to dial 911 and know the truth. She had headaches too…

We’re all hopeful and hopeless.

We’re all terminal too.

Do I ruminate often? I drink too much tea now. I think about death. I know how to sew by hand beautiful things, even if these days I mostly can’t. I listen to Alice in Chains, and I get angry when I read studies about my conditions that claim I must have therapy to cope.

Anger is a coping skill. It rises one up in the morning. It can carry one through until exhaustion sets in. I don’t need someone trying to take that away. I like it.

“Yes. I filled it out kind of honestly,” I said. Then I told Dr. Tom what I meant.

Anaïs Chartschenko hails from the Canadian wilderness. She has come to enjoy such modern things as electric tea kettles.