“What?” Mum sounds wrong-footed.
“Harry Potter. I rest my case.”
“Don’t you walk away from me, young man!”
Young man. That makes three. Poor Dad. He will so get an earful when he arrives home—
“Hi.” Linus’s voice takes me by surprise, and I jump round in shock. Like, I literally jump. I have pretty sharpened reflexes. Oversensitive. Like the rest of me.
He’s at the doorway. Atticus Finch shoots through my brain. A lanky, brown-haired teenager with wide cheekbones and floppy hair and one of those smiles like an orange segment. Not that his teeth are orange. But his mouth makes that segment shape when he smiles. Which he’s doing now. None of Frank’s other friends ever smile.
He comes into the den and instinctively my fists clench in fear. He must have wandered off while Mum and Frank were fighting. But no-one comes in this room. This is my space. Didn’t Frank tell him?
Didn’t Frank say?
My chest is starting to rise in panic. Tears have already started to my eyes. My throat feels frozen. I need to escape. I need—I can’t—
No-one comes in here. No-one is allowed to come in here.
I can hear Dr. Sarah’s voice in my head. Random snippets from our sessions.
Breathe in for four counts, out for seven.
Your body believes the threat is real, Audrey. But the threat isn’t real.
“Hi,” he tries again. “I’m Linus. You’re Audrey, right?”
The threat isn’t real. I try to press the words into my mind, but they’re drowned out by the panic. It’s engulfing. It’s like a nuclear cloud.
“Do you always wear those?” He nods at my dark glasses.
My chest is pumping with terror. Somehow I manage to edge past him.
“Sorry,” I gasp, and tear through the kitchen like a hunted fox. Up the stairs. Into my bedroom. Into the furthest corner. Crouched down behind the curtain. My breath is coming like a piston engine and tears are coursing down my face. I need a Clonazepam, but right now I can’t even leave the curtain to get it. I’m clinging to the fabric like it’s the only thing that will save me.
“Audrey?” Mum’s at the bedroom door, her voice high with alarm. “Sweetheart? What happened?”
“It’s just…you know.” I swallow. “That boy came in and I wasn’t expecting it…”
“It’s fine,” soothes Mum, coming over and stroking my head. “It’s OK. It’s totally understandable. Do you want to take a…”
Mum never says the words of medication out loud.
“I’ll get it.”
She heads out to the bathroom and I hear the sound of water running. And all I feel is stupid. Stupid.
So now you know.
Well, I suppose you don’t know—you’re guessing. To put you out of your misery, here’s the full diagnosis: Social Anxiety Disorder, General Anxiety Disorder, and Depressive Episodes.
Episodes. Like depression is a sitcom with a fun punch line each time. Or a TV box set loaded with cliffhangers. The only cliffhanger in my life is “Will I ever get rid of this shit?” and believe me, it gets pretty monotonous.
At my next session with Dr. Sarah I tell her about Linus and the whole anxiety attack thing, and she listens thoughtfully. Dr. Sarah does everything thoughtfully. She listens thoughtfully, she writes thoughtfully with beautiful loopy writing, and she even taps at her computer thoughtfully.
Her surname is McVeigh but we call her Dr. Sarah because they brainstormed about it in a big meeting and decided first names were approachable but Dr. gave authority and reassurance, so Dr. First Name was the perfect moniker for the children’s unit.
(When she said “moniker” I thought they were all going to be renamed Monica. Seriously, for about ten minutes, till she explained.)
The children’s unit is at a big private hospital called St. John’s, which Mum and Dad got the insurance for through Dad’s job. (The first question they ask when you arrive is not “How do you feel?” It’s “Do you have insurance?”) I lived here for six weeks, after Mum and Dad worked out that there was something really wrong with me. The trouble is, depression doesn’t come with handy symptoms like spots and a temperature, so you don’t realize at first. You keep saying “I’m fine” to people when you’re not fine. You think you should be fine. You keep saying to yourself: “Why aren’t I fine?”
Anyway. At last Mum and Dad took me to see our GP and I got referred and I came here. I was in a bit of a state. I don’t really remember those first few days very well, to be honest. Now I visit twice a week. I could come more often if I wanted—they keep telling me that. I could make cupcakes. But I’ve made them, like, fifty-five zillion times and it’s always the same recipe.