Psychiatry, Tokyo Style by Jonathan Mack

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ink-blot-testMy psychiatrist is probably 4’11”, but she looks much smaller in person. A little girl face with tired adult eyes, her hair pulled back in a simple ponytail and her voice a teeny-tiny bobby-socks whisper. “Everyone! Makes mistakes! Please remember! Even doctors! Make mistakes! And that’s okay!” When an ambulance passes in the street outside with sirens blazing, she winces and apologizes, “So noisy! I am very sorry!”


A bamboo screen over the window blots out gray Tokyo, a white noise machine pacifies, an aromatherapy gizmo releases a delicate cloud of eucalyptus. It is nothing like a doctor’s office—imagine instead a luxury clinic for tooth-whitening. Everything whispers, everything assures you that nothing is wrong, and nothing is wrong with you. Wait patiently, chat pleasantly, produce your National Insurance card, and you too shall receive, in pristine white paper packets, heavenly silver strips which, when pressed, release delicate balls of precious medicine, each one a little angel come to take the edge off.


“I want you to tell your troubles! To the box! On the floor there is an imaginary, trouble box! Can you see it? Good! Now tell your trouble! To the box! And toss your trouble! To the box!”


Obviously I am so fucked-up that I have been demoted, at age 36, to kindergarten, a very special kindergarten—with drugs.


The psychiatrist is assisted by two attendants, adorable gawky college boys chosen, no doubt, for their ability to radiate complete and utter harmlessness. Two handsome pups, one with long hair and a goofy mustache, one with short hair and the expression of a nerd near a microscope. They are earnestly and sweetly friendly and treat me with the same single-minded solicitude they would show an armed gunman.


This extreme caution is doubtless a good idea because, by the third or fourth appointment, I find I am hankering for the long-haired attendant and his adorable moustache. I’m tired of filling out medical forms and tossing my troubles into the imaginary box, tired of waiting as he goes into the back room to nestle the silver packets into their crisp white envelopes. I want to enter with him into that sacred refuge, that psychotropic cornucopia, toss him on the counter, and fuck him really hard, with a vast and mutual joy, while cradled within that resplendent nest: a lifetime supply of Zoloft and Ativan, Xanax and Halcyon.


I think that this would help me more than tossing my troubles into the imaginary box. Perhaps I am wrong. But I would like to try.


My psychiatrist likes to give advice. She doesn’t have much advice to give, but she’s comfortable with it. The trouble comes when it is time for medicine. Prescriptions require calculations—two pills, three times a day, for seven days, etcetera. Because, for my psychiatrist, numbers have slipped down the rabbit hole.


These drugs are dangerous and addictive. (Or so says the Internet; my psychiatrist has never mentioned it.) They must be dispensed with great care. At my second appointment, she decided I needed 20 pills of a particular medicine. But, according to my calculations, to take it as prescribed I’d need at least 36. When I questioned her she became quietly agitated and began to ramble. “Do you want 30 pills? Or 60 pills? 120 pills? It’s important!”


Oh hell, I thought. I’ve set off some red flag. Now she thinks I’m an addict. I’ve heard a lot about addiction to prescription drugs. It’s a tradition in my family.


I felt ashamed and wondered what I’d done wrong. It took me several more appointments to realize that my doctor was calling out random numbers, not as a test to me, but simply because she had no clue. She offered numbers in a random sequence until I agreed to a number, which she wrote on a slip of paper, passed to the long-haired attendant with the irresistible mustache, and thanked me warmly for coming.


Making an appointment was also difficult. A statement like “How about the Thursday after next?” or “How about three weeks from tomorrow?” threw her into a despair she could scarcely conceal. It was better for me to say, in my very gentlest voice, the voice I reserve for injured forest creatures, “May I?” Then take the calendar and pencil myself in.


It must be difficult to work all day beside a storeroom full of mind-altering drugs. Certainly it would be hard for me.


Like many psychiatric patients, I have a marked tendency toward self-absorption. Important cues from the outside world may pass too long unheeded. Thus it took me half a dozen appointments to notice what anyone else might have realized at once — my delicate lady psychiatrist is stoned right out of her mind.

jonathan mack reading at micJonathan Mack was raised on a family farm in New Hampshire, but has spent most of his adult life in India and Japan.  Stories and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in Gargoyle, Epiphany, Zymbol, Quarter After Eight, Mary, Jonathan, Quick Fiction, Green Mountains Review, Collective Fallout, The Tokyo Advocate, Japanzine and elsewhere.  His blog is Guttersnipe Das.


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