Christmas was never going to be easy. On Sunday, just thinking about the week ahead gave me a headache that no amount of black coffee could cure. So I took a pill.
By Monday, I should have felt better but, instead, I felt worse. My doctor prescribed Xanax for the anxiety and Ibuprofen to counter the side effect of swelling in the hands as I still needed nimble fingers to decorate the tree. It was a real tree, a spruce, so I took an antihistamine to ward off my pine pollen allergy and carefully hung one bauble for every guest, making sure no one’s faced the wall. I needed to double my dose of Xanax and Ibuprofen to get through the evening but slept well that night thanks to the Ambien.
At that dose, though, I was too moody to write Christmas cards. Faithfully; Sincerely; Love you; Fuck you: I applied them randomly. So on Tuesday my doctor prescribed Lamictal to stabilize my moods and Topamax and Bisoprolol to aid my focus on the Christmas shopping. By the time security evicted me from Macy’s my mind was buzzing but my body was a mess. I had to eat something. I popped a Deltazone to digest the pretzel and Nexium to prevent the stomach acid giving me heartburn. I followed it with Miralax to keep the pretzel moving and Imodium to stop it coming out unannounced. Then there was the issue of the Christmas photos: It was imperative I look my best, especially next to my husband’s new wife, so I popped some Hydroxycut to lose a few pounds and Hydrochlofothaiazide to shed water.
Wednesday the heart murmurs began. I was hauling a turkey under one arm and a ham under the other so I brought them to the doctor’s office and he wrote us all a prescription for Verapami to block the excess coronary calcium.
By Thursday I woke up basted in a cold sweat that no amount of Robinul could dry up. I knew I was overdoing it. I needed to cut something out. I made the Christmas pudding, took one less Nexium, three less Aspirins and toasted my restraint with the leftover brandy. It didn’t mix well with the Effexor which I had been taking to treat my underlying depression caused by the previous Christmas.
I didn’t eat on Friday. I was too busy. I took vitamins instead. If you think about it vitamins are just food with all the water taken out. So, while I went uptown for sausages, downtown for seafood, east for bagels and west for pickles, I ate a breakfast of Super Mass Gainer, multivitamin and Cranberry tablets and a seafood lunch of fish-oil tablets (cod-liver: no bones) then a handful of vitamin B to keep me caroling into the evening.
Saturday I woke up in intensive care. The doctor laid out the pills in neat rows: Xanax, Ibuprofen, Lamictal, Topamax and Bisoprolol. The jaunty purple Miralax and calming blue Imodium. The Deltazone, Nexium, Hydroxycut and Hydrochlofothaiazide. He grouped the Verapami, Robinul, Effexor together and set aside the Super Mass Gainer, multivitamin and Cranberry and fish-oil tablets. The pills looked so festive laid out, a carnival of colors and shapes.
He examined first my body and then the pills.
There were uppers and downers, stoppers and starters, ziggers and zaggers. Each one an emoticon of chemical perfection, unwavering in its purpose. “I can prescribe you something else but, do you want my honest opinion?” the doctor said. “The problem here is you.”
I went home to my Christmas and cleared my cabinets of capsules and potions, emptied my handbag of half-bitten pills. I said goodbye to my SMTWTFS box for good.
It’s Sunday today and there will be another next week — and the week after that for as long as I live. I just have one question. How will I know when to feel what, and what to feel when?
Adam McCulloch am an award-winning fiction writer and NATJA award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in Travel + Leisure, Conde Nast Traveler, Men’s Health among others. His poetry and fiction has been published by Easy Street and in the anthologies Coffin Bell and Tiny Crimes, by Electric Literature. He recently won the First Pages Prize at the Stockholm Writers Festival for his novel-in-progress, “The Silver Trail.”