“You’ve got the worry,” the nurse looks down on me with a grim expression.
“I’ve got the worry?” I repeat, but just to myself. “I’ve got the worry,” I sigh.
“Tell me about that,” the doctor walks over to my bed.
I’m lying in a hospital bed and feeling lousy. “I feel lousy about everything,” I shrug and turn away. “Just lousy,” I shake my head.
“Do you feel sick at all?” the doctor asks in a somber tone, looking down at the clipboard she is holding.
I’m lying on my side. I look up at her with one eye. It looks like she’s about to start poking me. “No, not sick, I’m… I’m just afraid of everything, that’s all. Everything is so uncertain, so up-in-the-air,” I exhale in exasperation. “I’m just scared. Nervous.”
“If things were more settled in your mind, do you think you’d feel better?” the doctor looks down at me with a concerned furrow on her brow.
I swallow hard. “I don’t know. Maybe,” I whisper, looking away again. “I’m just so afraid. Afraid of everything. That’s all I feel — just worry and concern. I’m scared. I’m afraid. My stomach hurts… I know it doesn’t make sense, but that’s all I feel. Just worry… I’ve… I’ve got the worry…” I trail off, as if just thinking out loud.
The nurse looks over to the doctor. “It’s been going around,” she says. “This is not uncommon unfortunately. Not lately.”
My mother is sitting on a chair in the corner. She looks at the doctor. “Is there anything you can do to make her more comfortable?”
“No, ma’am. She’s too young for medication. We don’t like pumping kids full of antidepressants any longer,” the doctor shakes her head.
“I’m not depressed,” I wheeze. “I’m just scared, that’s all. I’m uncomfortable for no reason at all, really. Really super concerned is what I am.”
“Generalized Anxiety Disorder,” nods the nurse. “I don’t think medication will do here. Not in a case this severe.”
“Eemmm, I don’t think so,” the doctor swallows. “This doesn’t look like G-A-D. I think this is the other thing, that fear thing that’s been going around.”
“What fear thing?” my mother asks.
“Something that’s been going around,” the nurse turns to my mother. “Like the flu, but without the vomiting. Just a lot of worrying, a lot of fear. Nerves going bad.”
“I’m going to show you a series of pictures now, and we’d like you to tell us how you feel about each picture. Is that all right with you?” the doctor tries to smile, but it is a small, forced smile, like she doesn’t know what to do.
“I guess,” I mutter, still looking away, off to the side, away from the window.
“OK now, tell me how you feel about this one,” the doctor softens her voice.
I swallow and look over with just my eyes.
The doctor holds up a color photo of a butterfly. The image is the size of a piece of paper. “Now, if you can, tell us how you feel,” she whispers and nods, prodding me on.
“Scared… I feel scared,” I turn away. “It makes me feel scared.”
The doctor turns to show the picture to my mother.
“It’s only a butterfly, dear,” my mother tries to reassure me.
“Is it trust issues, doctor?” the nurse asks. “Maybe it’s stress. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?”
“I don’t think so,” my mother utters. “She just crawled into bed one day and didn’t want to get out.”
“I’m afraid,” I sigh. “Like I told you… I’m just scared. Scared of everything.”
“Do you feel overwhelmed? Overwhelmed by life?” my mom asks.
“Nnnoooouugghhhh,” I groan. “We’ve been over this,” I whine.
“If you go after what you’re afraid of, or if you do or try what you’re afraid of, that action should get you more comfortable with the situation and eventually your fear should subside. Though it may take some time, that time will be worth the investment,” the nurse chimes in. “The goal is to lessen the fear, to figure out how to lessen the fear.”
“How ’bout this one?” the doctor holds up another image.
I move my eyes over to look it over. It’s a photo of a fluffy kitten.
“How does this one make you feel? Safe? Overwhelmed?” the doctor clears her throat.
“Scared… Just scared,” I sigh, looking away, disappointed the photos aren’t helping any. “Nervous…. Super extra concerned.”
“How ’bout this one,” the doctor holds up a picture of a man in a dark suit in an alley. The man has on a dad hat and dark sunglasses.
“No. Not scared… Well, scared still, but not any more scared than before.”
“Why did you say not scared?” the doctor asks.
“I don’t know. Maybe because he has on a funny hat,” I close my eyes.
“The hat isn’t scary?” the doctor asks.
“Not scary. But I’m still scared. Just as scared as before,” I close my eyes.
“Whatever is to be done about this?” my mother asks.
“Well, just don’t worry,” the doctor shrugs. “I mean, whatever happens happens,” the doctor begins pacing unconvincingly. She probably doesn’t want my mother to panic or to upset me any further. “I mean, if you’re worried about an exam, then prepare before hand. Try to eliminate the unknown variables… Think about past successes. What did you do in the past to gain that favorable outcome?… The images aren’t making you feel anything. You’re making you feel scared… Something inside of you.”
“I’m not worried about any old test. I’m more worried about everything,” I sigh.
“Everything in general?” the doctor asks. “Or specific things?… An item in particular?”
“All of it,” I yawn, exhausted.
“Well, we’ll talk more about this later. You just get some rest, all right?” the doctor nods and looks over to the nurse with concern.
I nod, my eyes still closed. “I’m not tired, really… I’m… I’m more weary. Weary of things. Of everything. Every single thing.”
“We’ll let you rest awhile,” the nurse says.
And they all leave. But they leave real slow, as if not to wake me, even though I’m not asleep. They file out one by one in a careful, slower than normal pace. A painfully slow pace.
Later on a man comes in. He looks like a custodian, all dressed in custodian garb — the dark green work clothes and all. He looks around as if something is misplaced.
“Whatcha lookin’ for?” I ask, wide awake and bored.
“The elephant,” he crouches and looks about. “The hospital’s elephant. Well, one of ’em. We have several… One got away.”
“I’m afraid,” I mention.
“Of me? Or of elephants?” he asks, not even looking over at me.
“Of everything,” I exhale. “I’m just scared,” I shake my head.
“That’s stupid,” the custodian is down on all fours now, checking things out, searching under things. “Well, I mean, it’s OK to be afraid of some things, open elevator shafts, strangers in dark alleys, fire, yellow snow. That kind of stuff.”
“I guess,” I close my eyes.
“Life is an adventure, like the monkey bars or the big slide or something. Lots of new stuff around — new kids your own age, new subjects in school. You afraid of any of those?”
“I’m just afraid. I think I’m afraid of everything. Just afraid in general,” I report.
“Hope you’re not scared of elephants,” the man says, looking around.
“Is it a big one?” I ask.
“Eemmm, no. They’re small. All our elephants here are small ones. Like the size of a dog,” he shuffles, bending and searching, his eyes darting. “A few even smaller than that. Like the size of a shoe.”
“There’s lots of different sizes of dogs,” I inform.
“Yes, there are. And there’s lots of different sizes of elephants too,” he answers.
“Hmm, you’re funny,” I close my eyes.
“If I’m funny, what are you then?” he asks as he looks around.
“I’m scared,” I respond.
“Do you have brain monsters?” he asks.
“You know, they’re monsters that are in your brain. They’re stuck in there. Maybe lost or trapped or something. They can’t get out. Or robots. Maybe there’s some robots running around loose up there. Maybe even just one. Just one lost robot… Poor robot… Maybe he can’t find his way out… Lost…”
“No. No brain monsters or robots. Nothing like that,” I sigh.
“Monkeys? What about monkeys? Maybe one got loose up there? A funky monkey.”
I sigh heavily.
“OK, maybe it’s not monkeys… Maybe one of the elephants… Oh, that would be heavy. A small elephant. Stuck in your mind, in your imagination. Just lodged in there, just wedged in there like a great big poop that you just can’t seem to get out… Just…”
“Emm, no,” I draw up a deep breath. “I don’t think it’s anything like that… It’s more of an over-all thing. Just fear. Just worry. Concern. Nerves. But not about anything specific. Fear about everything. About it all. A general, all-around thing.”
“About everything all as a whole? As a complete whole?” he stops and looks over at me.
“I don’t know really. Something like that. Maybe. I can’t figure it out,” I shake my head.
“Is that why you’re here?” he asks, still searching around, not even looking at me.
“I’m worried. I worry too much,” I say. “Consumed with doubt. A loss of faith in things. That kind of thing.”
“Oh…. What about?” he asks, still preoccupied, as if not really listening to me.
“Everything,” I answer. “Everything there is,” I explain.
“Uh huh. All of it.”
“Are you worried about your underwear? Where your underwear might be.”
“No. I’m wearing my underwear,” I explain. “Right here.”
“Well then, that’s at least one less thing to worry about,” he continues to look around — low, then high, all over, not even paying attention to me, more like he’s making small talk just to pass the time. “And a good place to start…. Are you worried about my mustache?” he asks.
“You don’t have a mustache,” I say, continuing to watch the man search around the room.
He continues to search and then re-search the same spots as before. “I lost it…. It’s next on the list of things to look for…. Are you worried about that?”
“Not really,” I sigh.
“Well see then…. That’s another thing not to be worried about…. Add that to the list…. Now, if you’re not worried about those two items, what else should you not worry about?”
“I don’t know,” I shrug, still really worried about everything.
“You gotta learn to let go of your inhibitions, your preconceptions, your fears. Let go of your past. Some people go around wearing them like protective armor. But it just weighs them down,” he says.
“Well, sure. That’s easy. Thanks… I’m better now… Gee, that was fast. What took you so long to get here? What is this, a hospital of nitwits?”
“Like this,” he drops his pants and shuffles around in his underwear. He is wearing large pink boxer shorts with big lime green elephants printed on them. He shimmies around in a slight dance. He shuffles over to the window and hops up on the window sill and then hops right out.
I listen for a moment. I think I hear a rustle. Maybe he grabbed a branch and swung down to the ground.
Then a lady comes rushing into the room. “Did you see a man dressed as a janitor?” she asks, looking around.
But my eyes are closed now. “He left,” I say. “He’s not here anymore. He was here. But now he’s not.”
“Are you all right?”
“You know, now that you mention it, I do feel a little better for some reason. Maybe it won’t last, but I do feel a tad better.” I hear the lady rush out, back into the hall. “I do. I feel a little better,” I admit to myself. Maybe it’s because that janitor guy is out. Out and about. Free. Unafraid. Uninhibited. At least one of us is free from the worry. At least one.