In the past few weeks, I was feeling really anxious and agitated, which is weird for me. I’m not usually like that. Just last Monday, I found myself telling poor old Mrs. Easton next door to ‘do things’ to herself when she asked me how my day was.
I felt terrible. Twenty-eight years I’ve been alive, and never had I said something so vile to another human being. I apologized to her, and later that day I even went out and got her a bouquet of her favourite flowers—purple anemones. Everything’s good between us now. But there was still the unmistakeable feeling that something was wrong with me. I was having similar kind of mood-swings more and more often. I didn’t feel like myself.
So I decided to get treatment. I was unfamiliar with the territory, so I did a bit of research first. The frustrating thing was that there are just about as many ways to treat mental illness as there are for the common cold. And similarly, there’s varying effectiveness. Everything from therapy to drugs. Even rituals, if you believe that. The most popular treatment I came across was medication, but I was pretty set on not doing that right away. I didn’t want to have to deal with side-effects. I thought something more natural might be better. Something called ‘psychotherapy’ looked like a good idea.
One doctor visit later, and I was recommended to a woman who just happened to be the best psychotherapist in Canada. And let me tell you, it wasn’t cheap. Thank goodness for health benefits.
She turned out to be a very nice woman. We even had a pleasant chat first, to get to know each other. But I was actually sort of ticked off when I found out she was Catholic. Now I’m not against spirituality, but it’s just not who I am. I don’t believe in ghosts, and I don’t believe in magic. And I sure don’t believe that chemical problems can be cured with mystical chants. And with everything going on in the world these days, I was worried that maybe the therapy might be used to push some sort of agenda.
Despite my worries, she came off like she sincerely wanted to help. After all, she did have an M.D. certificate on display. I told her all about what was going on, and she listened pretty good. She was professional about it. Then she taught me some mental exercises and breathing techniques. It actually did seem to help. By the end of the session, my worries were all but dissolved.
Just before I headed out the door, she handed me a small booklet. She said it was companion reading, and that it was very important I try reading it. The success of the program depended on it.
I took it and read the cover: *Removing Mental Afflictions*
Odd title, I thought. But if it meant getting better, I was all for it. It would finally be some kind of strategy to get going on fixing myself.
Then she handed me her card with a direct line to her office. She said in case of an emergency, she could make time to see me as soon as possible. She made a point that I should keep her updated in as much detail as possible. I thanked her and left.
As I drove back home, I found myself humming. I actually felt a lot better, even if it was only because I was taking some control. For the first time in weeks, I felt happy.
Later that day, however, my jubilation turned to despair in all of five minutes. It was the booklet.
It was just a bunch of hokey religious garbage. The first chapter was all about confessing sins, renouncing pride, and avoiding rebellion. There were mandatory prayers too. When I saw the title of the second chapter, ‘Breaking the Curse’, tears welled in my eyes. I felt used. I felt betrayed. I shut the book and then tossed it across the room.
But then I thought of Mrs. Easton. I still felt so guilty about what I said to her.
I owed it to her to try, I thought. I had to try. One of the prayers. For Mrs. Easton.
I got up, retrieved the book, and opened it to the first prayer, and took a deep breath. “Spirit of our God,” I said aloud, and a bit more sarcastically than I should have, “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Most Holy Trinity, Immaculate Virgin Mary, angels, archangels, and saints of heaven, descend upon me. Please purify me, Lord, mold me, fill me with yourself, use me.”
That’s when I heard a growl. A loud, low growl.
It scared me so bad I jumped and dropped the book. I immediately looked around for what could have made the noise, but couldn’t find anything. I even went around and investigated every room. There wasn’t anything that could have made a noise like that whatsoever.
I scratched my head. It was just a few seconds before I got into a full-fledged fit of coughing. Something came out of my mouth. And when I saw it I got really worried.
It was a solid-black, tar-like liquid. There was about a tablespoon of it splattered on the floor. I watched with wide eyes as it began to boil and bubble. Smoke rose off of it. Then, all at once, it burst into flame. It quickly shrunk, shrunk, shrunk, until it was the size of a pea. With a small puff of smoke it then disappeared out of existence, leaving only a spot of singed carpet behind.
It was then that I became fully aware of the burning sensation in my esophagus. The pain made my eyes water.
I ran to the washroom and thoroughly rinsed my mouth out with ice-cold water. I gargled too. That helped the pain a little. Mostly, though, it helped confirm that none of that slime was still there.
After I wiped my face up, I had time to think about what I just saw. I could barely believe it. I seriously thought about calling the hospital. You bet I went.
I waited for six hours, for a doctor who wasn’t entirely sure if I was faking the story or not to run a few scans and blood-tests.
“Mucus,” he said, pointing to an image of what was apparently the inside of my skull. There were large black blotches under the eye-sockets and in the nasal cavity. “You’ve got a pretty high fever too. That’s why you’re seeing and hearing things.”
I asked him, “Are you positive? Are you sure?”
He shook his head. “I’ve had patients come to me saying they saw all kinds of things—bright colours, couches bubbling, tables smoking. Nothing new.” He scribbled something on a paper and then handed it to me. “Flu season.”
I took the paper. It was a prescription for some antivirals.
“What about the burns?” I asked him.
He looked at me impatiently. “First degree,” he said. “It’ll heal. Just be more careful with hot beverages.”
That urge came back. That urge I experienced when I hurled those vulgarities at Mrs. Easton. I bit my tongue so hard it bled.
Over the next week, I took the antivirals as prescribed and hoped for the best. In the meantime, I practiced the techniques I was taught by my therapist to deal with those urges and mood-swings I’d been experiencing.
Neither of those things worked.
I sputtered up flecks of that burning black stuff almost every day, and each time it would mysteriously disappear in a poof of smoke. Eating became difficult due to the burning. I was getting very confused and very frustrated. Angry, actually. And, sure enough, that negative urge filled me once again. I wanted to lash out. I started throwing things around. A lamp, a few mugs. I started shouting out ugly profanities too.
Just in the midst of all that, I suddenly stopped. There was a sweltering hot pain in my abdomen. I gagged. I coughed. The black liquid oozed out. More than before. I could feel it coming. I charged to the bathroom.
I heaved and hacked over the toilet. It poured out of my mouth in great globs, spilling all over the bowl. The water hissed and steamed up from the hot sludge. If it burned before, then it absolutely seared the inside of my mouth this time. My screaming, however, was more so from pure dread. I thought I was going to die.
I think I was just about to pass out when it ceased. Immediately I went to the sink and again started a cold rinse. It felt like I was there for maybe an hour, moaning and wheezing in a teary-eyed half-daze.
Eventually, I managed to collect myself. The pain was mind-numbing, but bearable. The skin just around my lips was burned bright red and I could barely wipe my face up without wincing. I triple-checked to make sure none of the substance wasn’t anywhere on my body, and then went over to flush the toilet. What I saw horrified me.
All the slime was gone. Just like all the other times. I knew I wasn’t imagining this. I knew I was in big trouble.
That’s when I remembered my therapist. And I remembered what she said about an emergency. I still had her card.
“You should have come to me right away,” she told me after I had struggled to explain what happened. It hurt to talk, and I had a newly acquired lisp. From then on I pretty much only communicated through facial expressions.
She handed me a glass of water with ice and a cold wet cloth.
“Please sit,” she said. “Drink slowly and try to stay calm. I have some very bad news for you.”
I looked at her curiously.
“I have to recommend you to a priest.”
She raised her hand dismissively. “Listen to me, she said. Your life depends on this. Put aside your opinions. Put aside your scepticism. You need to start believing in things that maybe you thought were impossible. You’ve seen it yourself. You’ve felt it yourself.”
“This industry I work in is largely funded by the church. Why do you think that is?”
I closed my eyes and sighed. I took a sip of the water. Then I leaned forward. I wanted to say something. After a moment or two of only squeaks coming out, I asked, “Wh-what—What is that black ooze?”
She was looking straight into me, her eyes full of conviction. Her shoulders slowly rose as she breathed in. What she said there was only the beginning of what would be very in-depth treatment.
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