by Katherine Shelton
1. She was fast. She did not have long strides but her short legs fluttered like a hummingbird’s wings. When she said “follow me” she meant “just try to keep up.” You could get lost walking down the long corridors with offices and conference rooms plopped every few feet. One time, she speed-walked to a giant room filled with boxed drugs. They were situated on towering shelves. “You need an antidepressant,” she mumbled. “And you need an anti-psychotic.” She slid one of the larger boxes out and flipped through the flimsy, smaller boxes with dexterity. She handed you one of the boxes without looking at you, returned the large box to the shelf, and repeated the process with another box nearby. These two brands were the ones most often given to her patients. She explained to you in rapid speed that they would start doses small (10 mg) and work their way up (getting as high as 250 mg). The drugs would take 6 weeks to make a noticeable difference, but she would check the drugs’ progress in your body every week by asking you how they were working. You had just turned 16.
2. She liked paperwork. In addition to drugs taken twice a day, your psychiatrist prescribed PDF’s meant to be in color, with smiling children’s faces barely visible amid the black and white ink. One read “Thinking, Changing, Rearranging!” This, like many others, outlined CBT– Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, the ability to change your emotions by changing your thoughts. One packet illustrated the five stages of grief. There were four different packets on assertiveness training, explaining the difference between passivity, passive-aggressiveness, assertiveness, and aggressiveness. Because she only met with you for an hour every week, these PDF’s provided you with therapy. In the course of two months, she told you to write a letter to your mother five times. In the course of two months, she had been informed that your mother did not react to your four separate suicide attempts, yet your psychiatrist still insisted you give your mother every letter. Her diagnosis was primarily based off of a twenty-page personality test. There were practice bubbles at the start of the test; you needed to know how to really bubble for the machines to register your responses: “Is someone always watching you?’, “Do you think about suicide more than four times a week?”, “Do you believe you are God?”, etc.. The other half of your diagnosis came from a doctor you only saw once, whose purpose was to administer a Rorschach test. Your psychiatrist took his findings and the personality test’s findings and compiled them into six words that you would memorize and repeat to staff members as an easy means of identification. When you entered your psychiatrist’s office, she would be studying papers, as if cramming for an exam.
3. She was a Filippina like that. You had thought she was Indian, perhaps, until she mentioned Philippine ancestry, joking about unfamiliar stereotypes. “I’m just a Filippina like that!” she would tease. She treated almost exclusively white children day in and day out. She said you could call her “Dr. V.,” but you prefered the sound of her actual name, “Valeña.” She corrected your pronunciation a couple times. She beamed the day you got it right.
4. She wanted you to agree. “You tend to exaggerate your pain,” she would say proudly, “It all makes sense now!” then she would continue, “Don’t you agree?” Or else she would say, “Don’t be greedy. Yes, our deal was that after the completion of these assignments you would be let go, but you were so jittery, I had to keep you here another three days to see what your medication would do. Wouldn’t you agree, that you were jittery?” Sometimes she said,“Yes, although this had been confidential, as soon as you tell me you were molested by a family member, I must tell CPS and I especially must tell your aunt about your cousin. Yes, it happened four years ago, but your safety is important, wouldn’t you agree?” She was so considerate. She would give you, the mentally ill, the opportunity to disagree with her, the professional.
5. She wanted you in. Two and a half months after your 16th birthday, she told you that you were going to be hospitalized. She felt that outpatient therapies, with only 2:00-6:00 claimed every day, were not helping you at a fast enough pace. She felt that inpatient therapies, the opportunity to live inside one floor of a hospital under constant surveillance, were going to be a better fit. She brought your father into the room. She called your mother on the phone. She needed their consent. She did not need yours. Time passed in silence. She asked you to get up. She asked gradually louder. She had your father try to persuade you. She threatened security. She could, and would, call an ambulance. She said you were hyperventilating. She cooed, “Oh, you poor thing. You poor, poor thing. You’re shocked. You poor dear.” Loud footsteps approached. She watched you stand before large men could get their hands on you. She smiled at your obedience and explained to your father that you needed extra attention.
6. She wanted you out. A healed patient was one functioning well enough. On your second day at inpatient therapies, she clearly outlined the behavior that would lead to your release. She said that it is okay, healthy even, to fake your smiles until they start to feel more real. The sooner you did this without looking “jittery,” the sooner you would be back with the parent of your choosing. She also required that you complete eight assignments to get rid of your issues. She illustrated how your issues weighed you down by putting eight large books in a pillowcase and telling the hospital staff that you were never to be without it. If you disobeyed, looked jittery, consoled a fellow patient, spoke too loudly, spoke too softly, threw a chair, hit yourself, hit someone else, forgot your bag, removed books from your bag, hid anything up your holes, traded medicine, called anyone besides your parents, used the phone without the staff’s permission, refused to have your letters read by hospital staff– for any of these transgressions, she had you hold your weighted pillowcase in front of you for ten seconds. When you completed an assignment to her satisfaction, she would remove one book. However, she later said that asking to remove more than one was greedy. She only acknowledged one of the four assignments you had completed in a single day.
There were veterans at the hospital that would leave inpatient, go to outpatient as if for vacation, only to return to inpatient treatment. Many of these were Dr. Valeña’s. She knew her veterans well, but she did not want you to fall into this trap. She knew your mother was unwilling to put any money into this and that your father and stepmother could not actually afford it. Both you and your psychiatrist would craft a version of you that could stay the fuck away.
7. She stayed late at night. Dr. Valeña would spend her entire afternoon at outpatient therapies, perhaps from 2:00-5:00. One day in the week, she went to the building where your outpatient sessions had been located. She had a number of other locations she visited every day. She would then spend her evenings speaking to inpatients, staying until 11:00 or later on those nights. She nodded often during these meetings. When you told her what one of the other patients said about you– that you were “amiable”– she broke out into a wide grin. “That was Jack, wasn’t it?” You nodded. She chuckled, eyeing a cat poster on the wall but clearly looking at a memory. “That sounds just like him.”
Katherine Shelton is a senior at Butler University in Indianapolis, IN, studying English and Theatre. She has performed in many local productions and spent a semester in London. Her piece “Stained” won first place in the Best Short Story category at the Indiana Collegiate Press in 2017. She has had additional pieces published in the literary magazines The Malland Manuscripts, ranging from academic papers to poetry.