But you have no idea
Today I mastered a tempest. But to the 20-something clerk at the clinic check-in desk, I was just another incoherent lady who thought she was vaguely entitled to special treatment for reasons that weren’t very clear.
I had a 10 a.m. neurologist appointment that I’d made months ago. The clinic is 21 minutes from my home, so I left with 20 minutes to get there. Okay; my bad; I should have left the night before. You know — brought a lawn chair and snacks and a sleeping bag.
But I’d checked in online, the sky was sunny, traffic was clear, and I planned to drive too fast, as usual, so I figured I’d be fine.
However, today the universe has other plans, and my navigation device tells me to turn left from the freeway instead of right. I end up at an RV sales center.
An RV sales center! Well, I’m pretty sure that’s not right, so at 10:05 I pull over and call the appointment line. I get directions and ask them to tell the clinic I’m on my way.
Back one exit down the freeway; make a u-turn; up again, and turn right this time. The office is nearby and I’m at the desk at… 10:14, I believe. Just under the 15 minute grace period.
Not so fast, dear. The office assistant — the Gatekeeper, really — says I forfeit the appointment if I’m ten minutes late. I must reschedule. It’s their policy. Sorry.
There it is: the white rage is like a microburst in my head. So I crash through the doors leading back into the clinic, and I’m knocking over furniture till I find that doctor, and I’m yelling right in his face what a crap policy it is…
No, that’s not what happened.
See, it’s not an accident that this madwoman has stayed alive and out of restraints this long. Instead, I said, in a clipped and shaky voice,
“No, I won’t be making an appointment with the doctor. He just lost a patient.”
And then I turned on my heel and left.
I was interviewing this doc for the role of the Neurologist in my personal daytime drama, As The Guiding Light World Turns Our Lives. In the this long-running saga, the Neurologist obviously has to be familiar with the storylines that intersect with the Psychiatrist role, since my character interacts with her as well.
My character is the Madwoman, of course, and I often play her in disguise. She is mad in all the good ways: mad skills; mad for life; proud to be mad. But mad in the classic sense as well, with the diagnosis and all, and conscious of the wordplay that tells me that I can be mad in public all I want. But I can never, ever get angry.
Because I know in my bones that anyone with “bipolar” in their chart will never be taken seriously when they are angry.
(Actually, it doesn’t even take “bipolar” for that to be true. “Female” in your chart will usually do it.)
The diagnosis of bipolar alone — or female — or, God forbid, bipolar female — poisons your arguments. It’s a chronic, inescapable case of Poisoning the Well — the logical fallacy that people will always commit about you without even knowing it.
It’s quite an experience: you make an indisputable case, but because you express it with passion or with rage, the only response you get is the hated, thin-lipped question: “Have you taken your medicine?”
And that maybe the best-case scenario for someone whose anger is a symptom, not a response to reality. The worst-case scenario if you lose your cool in the clinic or city hall or the street? Well, we’ve all seen the movies.
So we don’t get to play those dramatic scenes, we of the moods, we of the tempests, we of the mindstorms — not if we’re still trying to pass for good citizens so the straight world will leave us alone.
And the discounting and the policing and the silencing become exponentially more grotesque and menacing and politicized for people of color, dissidents, prophets — society is afraid of feeling and true anger and righteous rage, just as it is afraid of difference. So the only ones who get to have temper tantrums in public are toddlers and tyrants.
On second thought
So, because this is real life, there was no big scene and I was allowed to walk out to the car. By the grace of God, I didn’t trip and fall on my face. Good for me.
But…now what? I sat in the car and thought. What did I prove? Nothing. Patients aren’t scarce; doctors are scarce. Who was going to feel the consequences of my refusal to see this doctor? Me, that’s who.
Now I’d have to find another neurologist who took my insurance. That meant a new referral, more phone calls, more waiting, more vetting, transferring records, and more anxiety about maintaining a medication that was finally working. Or — I could take a deep breath and reschedule the damned appointment.
Because although it wasn’t a matter of life and death, it was at least a matter of better or worse. Inconvenient as it was, I preferred better.
So, after some crying and cussing (mostly cussing), I put on my big kid Underoos and went back in the clinic.
I apologized to the Gatekeeper and asked for the name of the Keymaster — that is, the clinic manager. I said I would speak to her later about the clinic policy. (I probably won’t, though. I just said that because I thought it made me sound grownup.)
Then I made a new appointment with the actual clerk, who was sitting one desk over. I civilly asked to be put on a list in case of an earlier cancellation. We had a little chat, me trying to look a little less like an assclown and let her know that there was some urgency about my seeing the doc. If you please.
Still, it was clear that I was not her problem and it was her goal to keep it that way. I don’t blame her. She has a tough job, sitting there between sick people and their hope of survival all day long.
At one point, in her infinite wisdom, she sagely advised that I try to get there a little early next time.
Oh, good grief. Another storm cell erupted in my head and I wanted to say this:
Well, that’s just a GENIUS idea! I can’t believe I never thought of it, in all my years, and you, just a third my age, you figured it out all by your widdle self! You arrogant little —
Instead, I just muttered something obsequious and said goodbye to another falling shard of my dignity.
As you can see, I’m not really a nice person. I just play one in public. Most of us are giving a performance of ourselves, most of the time. I’ll say without much false humility that I’m pretty good at detecting artifice because I went to school for a long time to learn it. I’m pretty good at detecting it in myself, too, and I don’t let myself off easy. (Lie to Me was one of my favorite television shows ever.)
I only rarely let myself rail or weep with abandon. Unfortunately, that usually means I”m taking it out on the handful of people I trust, namely my nearest and dearest. Sorry about that, nearest and dearest.
And holding myself in check is exhausting. Maybe one day I’ll go full Network, right in a coffee shop or in the pulpit or somewhere. Who knows what will happen then? Maybe after that, I’ll finally be able to relax.
So why am I telling you all this? Well, for one thing, it helps me to get it off my chest. That’s what writing is good for — saying things too powerful for voice.
More importantly, this story — and others like it — may cause you to look differently at the next mild-mannered little lady you see in the doctor’s office or the supermarket or the library.
Maybe you just told her to try to arrive earlier next time. Or maybe you just told her the store policy wouldn’t let you refund her money for something she bought that she can’t use. Or maybe you just called her by her first name when you’ve just met, you’re not friends, she’s twice your age, and you didn’t even bother to ask.
And maybe you’re just sure that sweet little lady just finds you adorable and enviable and wants to be your friend, and maybe she does.
But she might be a madwoman, and kiddo, you’d best not make her any madder.