the royal academy of alprazolam

BY NATALIE T.

IMG_1853
art by jade hutchinson

Author’s Note: The stripper mentioned herein has since departed the male entertainment industry. In the interest of not harming her reputation or affecting her future endeavors in securing what her parents would refer to as a “real job,” her name has been changed.

“Once you reach adulthood, you are in control of your life. You have to be who you want to be, not who your parents want you to be. You make your own decisions, and only you get to decide if those decisions are correct or mistaken.”

-Juana, the Colombian stripper.

Friday

Week Three of living on my own in the chaotic spaghetti soup that is Lima. I am an outlier in a city in which nobody moves away from their parents until they are married, or have a baby, which in Latin America is practically the same thing. I was raised by extremely conservative parents who believed that success was a linear pathway between high school, university, and a 9-to-5 job. However, my parents moved back to Canada, and thus they have no right to complain that they miss me because they are the ones who left me completely on my own to defy Peruvian demographics in this crazy city whose population is minutes away from reaching 8 digits and yet cannot be bothered to build a subway.

I have a theory that my parents did this to me on purpose in an attempt to cure me once and for all of my psychiatric disorder. Co-Dependent Personality Disorder, to be precise. The People Pleaser. The Acceptance Seeker. N.B. This is not synonymous with Dependent Personality Disorder. If someone needs clarification, I just send them a YouTube link so they can listen to the lyrics of that song from the 1970’s, I Want You to Want Me.

In short, my condition means that, while I do not rely exclusively on others to maintain my existence, I do rely extensively on the approval of others. The way this was explained to me by my psychiatrist was, just as a person can get addicted to a drug, a person with CPD can get addicted to the acceptance of those around them. Meeting people causes me great anxiety because of my overwhelming fear that they will not like me, and consequently, the behaviour that this fear triggers is often the reason I scare potential new friends away.

My parents have left me in the hands of a specialist whom they refer to as “my last hope.” I shall refer to him as Dr. Last Hope. He is the wittiest psychiatrist I have ever exchanged glances with, and trust me, this is saying something, as my emotional instability has led me to do so with many psychiatrists. His piercing blue eyes are full of scrutiny after everything you say, and his therapeutic approach is to answer every question with a question.

The apartment in which I currently reside is located a run-down neighbourhood in North Lima filled to the brim with stray cats and cheap fucks; thus, one can rest assured that there will never be any shortage of pussy in my part of town. The upside is that my Faculty is a mere 7-minute walk away. I wanted to have a roommate, adding the caveat that I would be able to split the rent, but my parents said no, because they did not want anything to hinder my productivity. However, I cannot lie: Living alone has its perks. I have reached the following conclusions, as there is no greater time to write reflections than while boiling water for Kraft Dinner:

1) I can walk from the shower to my bedroom without fear. No towel? No problem.

2) Lower incidence of Urinary Tract Infections / Candidiasis. Need I say more?

3) I bought a thong and do not have to worry about receiving a “Heaven Will Deny You Entry” spiel.

4) I can now use tampons without having a conversation about the sacredness of virginity with my mother.

5) I can wear both of these articles at the same time.

6) I can go to clubbing and stay until they shut off the speakers.

7) I can stay at home and sleep in during lectures in which the professor merely reads off the slides.

8) My best friend and I can talk about boys we would hypothetically screw over the telephone and do not need to employ parental censorship.

9) I can drink everything straight from the carton.

10) I can eat everything straight from the pot.

11) I can have friends stay overnight regardless of the day of the week.

12) I can have friends stay overnight regardless of gender.

.

.

.

13) I can leave my Xanax lying around. Nobody will care.

Saturday

Went clubbing with my friends in Fourth Year. I am in Third Year. Third Year of Medical School is a year for cramming Latin names into your brain without even knowing if said name is a muscle or a parasite. Third Year is a year for learning disease names like glomerulonephritis, colouring dots on a Scantron, and then tequila shotting oneself into oblivion, all in the space of 12 hours. Fourth Year of Medical School, on the other hand, is the party year. Fourth Year is a year in which you have the privilege of being able to tell your non-medical school friends that you are fully immersed in hospital life and the luxury of your attending not expecting you to know anything. Fourth Year is a year where the most popular girls are taken to Lima’s hottest clubs, on the guest list, by people who are already doctors. Doctors. You can always hear buzzing in the cafeteria lunch line, “See that chick? I hear she’s going out with a doctor. Didja hear me? A doctor!”

I have a really close friend in Fourth Year. Her name is Luz, the Spanish word for “light”. Luz and I are neither popular nor are we dating anyone who belongs to the College of Physicians of Peru. We were not destined to enjoy mixed drinks in lounges cloudy from cigarette smoke where the wealthiest of Peru would show that they, literally, had money to burn. This second-hand, malignant luck simply was not meant for us.  Instead, we agreed to meet with the rest of her friends in Fourth Year at Trapiche, a rustic discoteca with upbeat Latin music whose wooden dance floor squeaks and whose bar has all jungle-themed drinks which are (in)famously prepared with cheap rum of a completely unknown precedence.

At 11:30 pm I popped a Zanny and headed out the door. I had bit of a spook on the way there. One could argue it was my fault, but I had to exercise my newly awarded privilege being able to leave my apartment whenever I wanted. I was in the taxi going to Barranco when there was a traffic jam on the highway. I suddenly became very tired; clearly, the Xanax was taking effect. I decided to take a power nap, but as I was drifting off to la-la land, I saw in the side view mirror through the slits of my eyelids a thief approaching the taxi holding a huge stone. As soon as I saw him make his intentions clear by raising his arm with the stone above his head, I curled up into a ball with my purse in the centre and rolled off the seat onto the floor. I screamed as loud as I possibly could, and once the taxi driver realized what was going on he swerved out of the way and floored the accelerator. My body was still positioned in a protective cluster around my purse while I listened to the motor of the car against the floor when the taxi driver said, “Okay, you can sit up now, it is safe. Nice one, thanks for saving my window.”

I arrived at the main square of Barranco. The taxi driver handed me my change and after he drove away I remained standing on the sidewalk exactly where the taxi had dropped me off, still shaken from the robbery attempt. I was waiting by myself for Luz and her friends to show up, surrounded by couples and crews stumbling into Lima’s main party district after clearly having one too many cocktails at their pre-drinks. In my desperation I dialed Luz, shouted into my flip phone, “LUZ PLEASE HURRY UP I’M SCARED!” and hung up before she even had the chance to say hello.  I looked over and saw a guy in a dark blazer and red jeans leaning against a lamppost roughly a block away, texting on his phone.

Once Luz and her friends arrived we walked over to Trapiche. I spent the night being twirled around by the guy I saw at the main square. He taught me an excellent technique on how to get back at someone who spills their beer all over you. Luz was terribly wasted, but she is a very lovely drunk. She becomes very affectionate, even more so than she is normally, and snuggly too. In the taxi home she was still buzzed and she put her arm around me and invited me to fall asleep leaning against her shoulder, which made me feel very warm and not suicidal. From there we went to our friend Karol’s apartment, who also lives alone. We arrived there at around 5am and had a sleepover, watching movies and eating panettone for breakfast, falling asleep just as the sunlight began to peek through the sides of the curtain.

Sunday

Juana, the Colombian stripper I met in Arequipa at a backpacker hostel on my solo backpacking trip to Santiago, Chile three months previously, messaged me saying that she was in Lima working but today was her day off since finding work in her industry is not an easy task on Sundays. She wanted me to go visit her, and left me her number. I called her back, and her voice sounded exactly as I had remembered it.

“Hey, Juana!”

“Umm… who’s this?”

“Natalie.”

“Helloooo you beautiful son-of-a-bitch! How are you? When can you come?”

Normally I would feel guilty about going out on a Sunday afternoon after spending the previous night and then some partying, but then I remembered that I live on my own, so if I really wanted to go then essentially there was nothing stopping me. I finished my pharmacology paper and went over.

Juana was living in a backpacker hostel in Barranco. As I went to the reception desk to sign in as a Visitor, there was a sign that said:

Sorry, Visitors are not allowed inside the dorms. If you need privacy, please ask reception if there is a double-bed room available.

I was instantly hit with a wave of memories of my weekend in Arequipa and all the sleeping around that took place in the bunk bed dorms. My official warning had been the fact that the WiFi password of the entire hostel was “Sex 0069”. After consulting with backpackers much more experienced than myself, I came to the conclusion that this is simply a worldwide trend at budget backpacker hostels, never mind the under-30 age bracket in general.

The receptionist led me to the TV room, where Juana was curled up on the couch eating junk food and watching I, Robot.

“Hi, Juana! Whoa… what’s all this?” I asked, pointing at her smorgasbord of Cheetos and chocolate-covered almonds.

“Dinner,” she replied. She spread her arms out to hug me, and patted on the couch for me to sit down next to her.

We talked about a lot of things. She asked me how old I was and if I had ever had a boyfriend. She gave me insight on the piss and glitter of the stripping industry. She told me that she had finished university the year previously and she was taking the year off to travel as much as possible. In December she is going back to Colombia but she is nervous about that because she loves her parents but she thinks they are disappointed in her life choices. Nevertheless, she is trying to assure both her parents and herself that she is her own person. I had completely under-estimated her. She is a much deeper person than I thought; I feel very guilty for ever having thought otherwise.

We spent the rest of the evening playing Ping-Pong together and watching The Simpsons on the couch. She and another tourist used information pamphlets for guided tours of Machu Picchu to roll up joints. They got high together and Juana shrieked with laughter at all of Bart’s jokes.

At the end of our visit she gave me a really tight hug and thanked me for coming to visit her. Her hug made me feel fuzzy inside and not suicidal. She said one of these days she will return the favour at my new place. We might see each other again this weekend, although as much as I really like her, I would rather wait until the end of my next Pathology exam before I go out and relax again.

Monday

Suicidal thoughts have come back to pay me a visit. The bizarre thing is that my SSRI-Xanax combo cannot make them go away. I want to drop out of medical school, but I can’t. I want to be a musician or a stand-up comedian. I have always wanted to be a musician or a stand-up comedian. But I have to be realistic about my talent and if said talent would provide me with a realistic probability of employment.

Tuesday

Nothing really happened.

Wednesday

Feeling suicidal right now. Convinced I am going to fail this semester. I have missed a sinful amount of classes thanks to the fact that I take one Xanax every night right before I go to bed and sleep through my morning classes. Once I wake up and realize the lecture is over I take another Xanax to calm down from the anxiety that skipping all these classes brings. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. All I want to do is sleep, ideally forever.

I am going for a chat with Dr. Last Hope tomorrow. In my opinion, his time is a complete waste of money. I feel just as horrible now as I did when I first started treatment. When I tell him what is bothering me, he always gives off the impression that my problems are making him irate, and sounds exasperated whenever he gives me advice. I felt pharmacological guilt simply because I had disobeyed Dr. Last Hope. He told me that Xanax and ethanol should never, ever mix, and he gets mad if he catches on that I am still drinking while on Zanny. I do not listen. This is not Star Wars, he is not my father.  I lay in bed, reminiscing about my last session with him.

Dr. Last Hope reviewed my clinical file. While thumbing through the pages, he asked me, “Do you feel you made any significant improvement in your clinical condition since you have started taking alprazolam?”

“Why yes, doctor!” I exclaimed. This was my chance to shine. “Here, let me give you an example… I was with my best friend, we went clubbing at Aura, and we left the club at 4am. We were blaring indie rock music with the windows down while screaming along with the lyrics at the top of our lungs, and I took the curve to pull onto The 28th of July Boulevard way too fast; I was showing all the symptoms of an Intoxicated Driver, so the cops pulled me over. The cop walked up to my window and asked if I had been drinking, and I answered “No” because I did not want to spend the rest of my life in jail, but the truth is, I did have one drink at the beginning of the night, but it was just one, you know what I mean? Anyway, he asked to see my license and registration, he said he was going to give me a breathalyzer test but then he changed his mind and sent me on my way. I went through the whole incident and I did not even cry! Isn’t that incredible, doctor? I didn’t shed a single tear!” I announced triumphantly, throwing my hands in the air.

I expected him to break into applause, or at least crack a smile, but to my unpleasant surprise Dr. Last Hope did not move. He blinked twice before asking, “You drank alcohol?”

“Yes… and?”  I lowered my hands from their invisible podium onto my lap.

Dr. Last Hope returned to flipping through his notes “You are in medical school, is that correct?”

“Yes”.

“Have you gotten to the part where they teach you the term ‘patient noncompliance’?”

Thursday

Had a fantastic conversation with Dr. Last Hope. Unlike my previous encounters with him, today he was in a surprisingly good mood. He laughed at all of my jokes. But I still cried at one point during the appointment, so he increased my SSRI dosage and told me that I was going to have to keep taking Xanax on a daily basis until I could prove to him personally that my clinical condition was improving. I watched him scribble my prescription for that month and I could not help but feel disappointment from within the abyss of my stomach. I was hoping to graduate from the Royal Academy of Alprazolam that day, but perhaps next time it shall be.

Came home and dedicated my existence to studying. Realized how much I did not know and felt even guiltier than before. I am in full recognition of the fact that I have turned into the laziest shit ever. Swore to myself I will not go out again until the end of the semester.

Friday

Midterm. Horrific questions. Went home and called my sister. We cried together over Skype. All my friends are out partying right now, but I am at home studying Pathology because I am scared to fail and then not be allowed to travel to Canada once term ends. How are the two related? I don’t actually know. Perhaps it is because if I fail my parents won’t trust me to live alone in Peru anymore, and that will be the end of The Adventures of Luz and Natalie (and other misbehaving medical students).

Saturday

Later that evening it seemed that Xanax had lowered the activity of my sympathetic nervous system enough to not panic over my studies, because I accepted an invitation over the phone to go out with Luz and some of her friends from Fourth Year.

“Come, Natalie! We’re going to Sergeant Pepper to celebrate the end of our Pediatrics midterm!”

“When was the midterm?”

“Oh, that thing? It was 3 weeks ago.”

I told Luz over the phone about how worried I was about the midterm I wrote the day before, and Luz insisted that the best course of action would be to join her for some ethylic therapy.

I’m sorry to have cheated on you, Xanax.

Half a bottle of whisky and two beers later, my final recollection of that evening’s events were dancing at Sergeant Pepper and being pulled away by the wrist from a conversation with a French tourist wearing an alpaca sweater from a tourist trap market in Cuzco.

Sunday

Woke up in my bed and had no idea how I got there. I wasn’t wearing any underwear. When I went to the bathroom and undid my belt an empty, scrunched up plastic cup fell out of my skirt. I received a text saying I had mixed up jackets with one of my friends. In the wise words of a friend of mine, it appears I had taken the beer train home.

But when I went to the kitchen to pour myself a glass of water, I saw all of Luz’s belongings piled by the door: She was still with me! She had put me to bed and then slept in my mother’s room. This has become routine enough that I have christened this room “Luz’s bedroom.” Once she woke up she made me breakfast, which went completely above and beyond her moral obligations since we had not had sex. After breakfast we wandered around my apartment in sweats and watched YouTube videos. It was absolutely lovely.

After she left, my apartment resumed its usual silence. I went to Luz’s bedroom, opened my mother’s underwear drawer since that is where I stash all my money, and saw 150 soles in there… just enough to go to the pharmacy to buy my prescription and perhaps an ice cream. I will continue to take one 0.5mg extended-release tablet of alprazolam once per day every night before I go to bed. Perhaps someday I will be strong enough to face the dark and scary world without the help of Zanny. Until then, I will let my limbic system do its thing.

The art is by Jade Hutchinson. For more of her art, please visit jadehutchinson.wordpress.com

Natalie is currently in her sixth year of medical school in Lima, Peru and is chasing her dream of becoming a psychiatrist. Natalie seeks to blur the line between the doctor-patient divide in her writing. Her goal in making her story public is to make others aware that conversations like these save lives.

 

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