I got up from my seat in the waiting room upon hearing my name and followed Dr. Emerson through to his office. It was all I could do right now to stay awake, my ridiculously early morning having caught up to me despite the two hour nap I’d taken right after getting home. The renewed pain in my hands and fingers wasn’t helping matters any.
“Take a seat, Taylor,” Dr. Emerson said. He closed the door behind me and sat down at his desk. I carefully lowered myself into the chair that sat at the end, against the right-hand wall of the office, and pushed the hood of my jumper back over my head. “What can I do for you today?”
“I had a flare-up this morning,” I replied. “Worst one in…God, years at least. I can’t remember the last time it was that bad. Hurt like hell to be honest with you.”
“I can imagine,” Dr. Emerson said, sounding sympathetic. “You’ve been keeping up with the Endep, though?”
“Yeah, but…” I rubbed the back of my head with my right wrist, wincing as the heel of my hand brushed against my hair. “It’s been wearing off a lot earlier than it should lately. I’m not sure it’s working so well anymore.”
“You’ve been taking it for how long now?”
“Nearly eleven years.”
“I see. It’s not unusual for medications to lose their effectiveness over time, and it’s entirely possible that’s what’s happened here.” He gestured for me to hold my hands out, and once I’d done so he carefully examined them, running his fingers gently over my knuckles. The whole time I did my best not to snatch my hands away, even though it hurt like blazes, knowing that Dr. Emerson was only trying to help. “Are your hands hurting at the moment?”
“Yeah, but not as much as they were this morning. I took some of my painkillers at about five o’clock – I’m due for another dose in an hour or so.”
“All right.” He let go of my hands. “Eventually I’d like to start you on a medication called Neurontin, but I can’t do that until we exhaust all other avenues first. You’re also taking Zoloft, correct?”
I nodded. “Hundred milligrams a day for depression and social anxiety.”
“In that case, if you’re willing, here’s what I’d like to do. I’d like you to taper off the Zoloft over the next four weeks, with the goal of stopping both the Zoloft and the Endep on the same day. Once you’re off both of those medications, I’d like to start you on Andepra for the depression and the neuropathic pain.” He started scrolling through my medical records on his computer. “I’d also like you to start taking Aropax again.”
“You have got to be kidding me,” I groaned. There weren’t many medications that I considered to be as bad as the chemotherapy I’d been stuck on for almost three years, but Aropax was definitely one of them. “There isn’t another medication I could take instead?”
“There are,” Dr. Emerson allowed. “But they pose a high risk of addiction when taken long-term. I don’t feel particularly comfortable having you take, say, Valium for longer than four weeks, and you would need to be taking it for much longer than that.” He studied me for a little while. “I can understand your apprehension at going back on Aropax, Taylor. Truly, I can. But at the moment, I feel that other than keeping you on Zoloft, it’s the best option for treating your particular…let’s call it your ‘brand’ of social anxiety. Not to mention you won’t need such a high dose to alleviate the effects the anxiety has on you.”
I sighed and leaned back in my chair. “If I do this, I’d like to wait until after tour. I don’t think I’d be much good to anyone if I started winding down on my meds at the moment.”
“That shouldn’t be a problem.” Dr. Emerson started typing away on his computer’s keyboard. “Where are you going on tour?”
“Queensland. Was supposed to be flying up this morning, actually. Flare-up kind of put paid to that. My brother Zac and I are making the trek tomorrow instead.”
“Sounds exciting.” Dr. Emerson soon had three prescriptions printed off. “Don’t feel that you need to fill these straight away,” he said as he slipped them into an envelope. “It’s up to you when you start tapering off your current medication, but I do want you to start eventually.”
“How long should I give the new medication?”
“Let’s say…six months. Once you’ve been taking them for that long, come and see me – we’ll have a chat then, and if you’re willing to continue taking them I’ll renew your prescriptions. If you decide before then that you can’t handle them, as long as it’s been at least three months, we’ll look into trying something else. All right?”
“Yeah, all right,” I agreed, though not without a small amount of apprehension. The envelope with my new prescriptions went into my messenger bag, and I stood up. “Thanks, Dr. Emerson.”
Zac was waiting for me outside the medical centre when I walked out a few minutes later. He was sitting on the footpath near the medical centre’s front door, back against the windows, and looked up from his phone as I dropped down next to him. “So what’s the verdict?”
“I have to go back on fucking Aropax,” I said, spitting out the name of one of my most hated medications as if it were something distasteful. Which it really was. “Dr. Emerson wants me to stop taking Zoloft and Endep. I’m starting a new medication for depression and nerve pain once I get both meds out of my system, and I get to start Aropax again at the same time.” I pulled my legs up under my chin, wrapped my arms around them and rested my forehead on my knees. “I can’t fucking win, can I?”
“Maybe it won’t be so bad this time,” Zac said, sounding a bit tentative. “I mean, you were still having chemo when you started on it, weren’t you?”
“Still had to take it for a year after I finished,” I reminded him. “And it was hell even then.” I let out a sigh. “I really hope you’re right.”
“You and me both, mate.” I looked up just in time to see Zac giving me a smile. “Come on. I left Ruby back at Corrimal Court, she wanted to go poke around in Jay Jays for a bit.”
Over at Corrimal Court, we found Ruby sitting outside of Woolworths with a few bags on the seat next to her – one from Jay Jays, another from Crossroads, and a brown paper bag from Baker’s Delight. “How’d things go at the doctor’s?” she asked as I sat down next to her.
“Not as well as I might have liked,” I said. “I have to switch meds soon.”
“Really? What for?” she asked.
“Endep’s not working as well as it used to. So my doctor’s taking me off that and Zoloft, even though the Zoloft’s still working properly, and I get to start taking Andepra for both depression and nerve pain.” I glanced down at the toes of my sneakers. “And I have to start taking Aropax again for anxiety. I was on it for three and a half years before I went on Zoloft, hated every second of it.”
“Ugh, that’s no good,” Ruby said, sounding sympathetic. She held out the Baker’s Delight bag to me. “Do you like scones? I got a couple of blueberry and white chocolate ones just now – you can have one if you like. Might help you cheer up a bit.”
“I’d love one. Thanks.” I opened the bag up and took out one of Ruby’s scones. “What else did you find?” I asked.
“I got us both something. But you have to close your eyes first,” she said. I did so, and soon felt something being pulled down onto my head. “Okay, open,” she added a few moments later.
Upon seeing my reflection in the little mirror that Ruby was holding up in front of my face, I reached up to touch the slouchy dark grey beanie that now covered my hair. It felt warm under my fingers. “Thanks, Ruby,” I said, giving her a smile. “Hey, you got one too.”
Ruby returned my smile. “Not quite the same one,” she said. Her beanie was light blue, a little less slouchy than mine and looked almost like something my grandmother would have crocheted for one of my sisters. “I’m glad you like yours.”
“I love it. It’s perfect.” I drew Ruby close and planted a kiss on her forehead.
“Get a room, please,” Zac said, sounding a little disgusted.
“Oh, pull your head in,” I retorted.
“I’m pretty sure you’ve done worse, Zac,” Ruby said as she got to her feet, helping me up once she was upright. “Don’t you have kids?”
Zac’s only response to this was to give Ruby the finger back over his shoulder as he headed toward the shopping centre exit.
Late the next morning, the three of us caught our rescheduled flight up to the Gold Coast, with Isaac meeting us at the airport. “How are you feeling?” he asked me as we all left the terminal building.
“Better,” I replied. I held out my right hand and wiggled my fingers a little. “Hands don’t hurt so much anymore. Still aching a bit though – I’ll take some Panadeine later on, that should be enough to get me through tonight.”
“Are you sure you should be playing, though?”
I shrugged. “Dr. Emerson didn’t say I shouldn’t. I don’t think I’ll be up to the guitar for a few days, though. I’ll stick to keys for now.”
“Good idea. If you need Zac or I to take over though, let me know – don’t want you pushing yourself too hard.”
I nodded and climbed into the back of the van that waited for us in the short term carpark, one of our roadies at the wheel. “Will do.”
After a quick detour to our hotel so that Zac, Ruby and I could drop our gear off, we headed over to the venue for that night’s show, The Coolangatta Hotel. As the name implied it was a pub in Coolangatta, a few streets away from the border between New South Wales and Queensland, and literally a stone’s throw from Coolangatta Beach. Tonight would be our second time playing at this particular venue – it was one of my favourite Queensland venues, and I always looked forward to playing shows there.
“Good to see you’re feeling better,” Caroline said once I’d made it backstage, giving me a smile that I quickly returned. “Ready for tonight’s show?”
“Ready as I’ll ever be. I just have to hope these don’t act up on me again.” I held up my hands. “Starting new meds in a little while so hopefully it won’t be as much of an issue soon.”
“Yeah. Not until after tour though. I won’t be much good to anyone if I start tapering off my meds right now.”
“Very smart of you,” Caroline said, her tone approving. “Love the beanie by the way.”
“Thanks. Ruby got it for me.” I gave Caroline another smile and headed over to where Zac and Isaac waited for me, the two of them bent over Isaac’s laptop. “Sorting the set list out?”
“Yep,” Zac replied without looking up from scrolling through our master playlist of covers. “Just working out the covers then it’ll be done.” He glanced at me. “No guitar, right?”
“Just for tonight and Tuesday,” I replied. “I should be right once we hit Caloundra.”
“Okay then…” He went back to scrolling through the playlist. “How do you feel about doing Valerie?”
“Works for me,” I said. “I’d rather not kick things off though.”
“Yeah, no worries.” I watched as Zac made a note of this in his notebook. “Oh, I almost forgot – Mum wants you to call her.”
“When was this?”
Zac hitched one shoulder up in a half-shrug. “An hour or so ago, maybe? She texted me while we were on the way up here, didn’t get the message until I turned my phone back on and took it out of flight mode.”
“Yeah, all right. I’ll call her after sound check.”
I was as good as my word. As soon as sound check was over, I went out to the deck at the front of the pub with my phone. From my vantage point I could watch the sunset, the sky turning shades of orange and pink as the sun dipped below the horizon.
“Hello Taylor,” Mum said to answer my phone call, and I let my eyes drop closed for a few moments. Mum’s voice always made me miss home a little, as much as I sometimes didn’t want to admit it.
“Hey Mum.” I scuffed the toe of my left sneaker across the floor. “Zac said you wanted me to call you.”
“I did, yes. How are you feeling after yesterday?”
I propped my left elbow up on the railing that ran around the seating area and rested my forehead on the palm of my hand. “Better, but not totally a hundred percent yet. I’m taking it easy for the next few days, I promise. Well, as easy as I can anyway.”
“Good. I’m glad to hear that.” I smiled at this. “Now, I want you to be honest with me here, and keep in mind that I’m your mother and I know when you’re lying to me. Do you feel up to performing tonight?”
I didn’t answer straight away. Part of me wanted to just hide out in my hotel room and watch really bad movies on Austar in an effort to distract myself, but there was a bigger part that was almost desperate to be out there onstage. I needed to be out there – I needed to feel the buzz of excitement from the gathered crowd, the hum of the strings of my guitar and the keys of my piano beneath my fingertips, my blood singing through my veins. To ignore that would be to deny an integral part of who I was.
“Yeah, I do,” I answered. “My hands still hurt but I’m going to take some painkillers before we go onstage.”
“I hope you don’t plan on doing that before every show,” Mum said. Her tone was a little disapproving. “That’s not the way to deal with it.”
“I know it’s not, Mum. My…” I let out a sigh. “The Endep’s not working properly anymore. Keeps wearing off too early – I’m pretty sure that’s why I had my flare-up.”
“Oh Tay,” Mum said softly. “I’m sorry, sweetheart.”
“Yeah, thanks.” I let my eyes drop closed again for a few seconds. “Dr. Emerson’s starting me on new medication after tour. Have to go back on bloody Aropax as well, seeing as I won’t be taking Zoloft anymore. New meds will help with the depression and the nerve pain but not the anxiety.” I forced out a laugh. “Lucky me.”
Out of the corner of my eye I saw Ruby coming up beside me. She gave me a smile as she sat down. “Who’re you talking to?” she whispered.
“My mum,” I whispered back.
“When does tonight’s show start?” Mum asked.
“Off the top of my head…” I trailed off and squinted a bit. “Doors are at half past seven, opener goes on at a quarter past eight, and we start our set at half past nine.”
“Oi Taylor, what do you want on your pizza?” I heard Zac yell out to me.
“Hang on Mum,” I said, and lowered my phone from my ear as I turned around to face my brother. “Where are you getting it from?” I called back.
“Crust Pizza, it’s just down the street.” Zac pointed off to his right. “What do you want?”
“Hawaiian’ll do me.”
“Yeah, me too,” Ruby added. Zac gave the two of us a quick salute and headed back inside.
“I’d better go, Mum,” I said. “Nearly dinner time, and I still need to have a shower and get changed before the show.”
“All right. You have a good show tonight, and don’t push yourself too hard. Let Zac or Isaac take over if you need them to.”
“I will. I’ll call you after the show.”
Almost as soon as I’d finished my phone call, Ruby was getting back to her feet. “I’m heading back to the hotel,” she said when I raised an eyebrow at her. “I need to have a shower before the show as well. Come with me?”
“Nah, I reckon I’ll sit here all evening and freeze my backside off,” I snarked. “Yeah, I’m coming. Just let me tell that lot where we’re going.”
It didn’t take me long to track Isaac, Joel and Caroline down in turn and tell them where Ruby and I were going, and soon the two of us were walking hand in hand down Marine Parade. “Looking forward to tonight?” I asked as we crossed Warner Street.
“Yep,” Ruby replied. “First time going to a show in Queensland so that’ll be fun. Plus I like the opening band a lot – I looked them up on YouTube last night. Had Hold My Tongue stuck in my head ever since.”
Our hotel, the Mantra Twin Towns, was just a few streets away from The Coolangatta Hotel, so it didn’t take Ruby and I long at all to walk there. “You can have the first shower if you like,” I said as we stepped out of the lift onto the seventh floor and headed down the corridor to our room.
“You sure?” Ruby asked, sounding a little unsure.
“Totally sure,” I assured her as I dropped my copy of our room key into our room’s lock. “Just don’t use up all the hot water, okay?” I teased. Ruby stuck her tongue out at me, and slipped into the room past me once I had the door open.
While Ruby was having her shower, I took my iPad and my mobile broadband modem out of my backpack so I could check my email. Right at the top of my inbox was an email from Isaac with the final version of that night’s set list – a set list that, somewhat to my dismay, started with the cover I would be performing.
I know you said you didn’t want to kick the show off, Isaac’s email said, but the set list didn’t really work otherwise. We’ll make it up to you when we get to Rockhampton next week.
“You’d better,” I mumbled as I studied the set list, committing it to memory.
I had just finished memorising the set list when I heard the bathroom door open, and I looked up just as Ruby stepped out of the bathroom. She was towelling her hair dry as she walked over to where I sat on the lounge. “Bathroom’s free,” she said as she sat down next to me. “What’re you doing?”
“Just finished memorising tonight’s set list,” I replied. I set my iPad aside and gave Ruby a smile, one that she echoed from beneath her towel, and I got back to my feet. “You can have a look while I’m in the shower if you like.”
“You sure?” Ruby asked.
“Totally sure,” I replied, not looking up from digging through my suitcase in search of something to wear tonight. It didn’t take me long to decide what I was going to wear, and I headed off to the bathroom to have my own shower.
One thing I had learned over the last sixteen years was that no matter how much I might have wanted to, I could never predict when I was going to have a panic attack. I could feel them coming on, usually only around thirty seconds before one hit me, but that was it – and even worse was that nothing could stop them once they hit. I just had to ride them out and hope they didn’t last too long. The sole saving grace this time was that my latest attack decided to wait until I was out of the shower and fully dressed before it hit me.
“Oh fucking hell,” I groaned as the chill that always preceded one of my panic attacks settled over me. They were far less severe these days, but my medication couldn’t stop them completely. There wasn’t a lot that could, short of increasing the already high dosage of Zoloft I was already taking – something I was completely unwilling to do. I braced myself against the vanity, put my head down, closed my eyes and gritted my teeth, and waited for the shaking to stop.
“Tay?” The bathroom door opened, and I risked opening one eye just in time to see Ruby sticking her head in. “You okay?”
I shook my head. “Panic attack,” I managed to get out.
“Oh no,” she said softly. She slipped into the bathroom and up beside me. “Is it okay if I touch you?” she asked, and I nodded. I tensed out of sheer reflex as one of her hands landed on my back, and she started rubbing in small circles between my shoulder blades. Her other hand gently uncurled my fingers from around the lip of the sink. “That’s it, come on…”
Soon enough, Ruby had led me out of the bathroom and back over to the lounge. I sat down hard and bent forward over my knees with my head down, closing my eyes so I could focus solely on my breathing. The whole time Ruby kept on rubbing my back, not saying a word – the only thing keeping me completely grounded.
The panic attack finally eased off after what felt like an eternity. I drew in a shaky breath and let it out slowly as I straightened up. “Thank you,” I said quietly.
“You’re welcome,” Ruby replied, giving me a smile that I tried to return. “D’you want me to call your brothers and let them know what’s happened?” she asked, and I nodded.
“I’m going to go and have another shower while you’re doing that,” I said, and eased myself to my feet.
It was nearly six-thirty by the time Ruby and I finally made it back to The Coolangatta Hotel. Zac was waiting for the two of us at the stage door, looking a lot more worried than I’d seen him in a while.
“Are you all right?” he asked me, and I nodded. “You sure?”
“Yes Zac, I’m sure,” I replied. I was sorely tempted to be sarcastic, but I knew that it wasn’t the right moment for that. It would just end up in both Zac and Isaac yelling at me, and that was really the last thing I needed right now. “Please tell me there’s still some pizza left.”
“Yeah, there’s still some left. Don’t worry, we didn’t eat it all.” Zac gave me a smile as he opened the door so that we could all go inside. “Isaac wants to get in one last rehearsal once you’ve eaten, all right?”
“Yeah, all right.”
Just as Zac had said, an entire box of Hawaiian pizza was waiting for Ruby and I when we finally made it backstage. “I think it might need to be heated up,” Ruby said once she’d opened the box. “How many do you want?” she asked, looking over her shoulder at me, and I held up three fingers.
I didn’t say very much until I’d almost finished my dinner. “Ruby?”
I picked a piece of pineapple off my last slice of pizza and popped it into my mouth. “Thank you. For yesterday and today, I mean. It…it means a lot.”
Ruby gave me a smile. “You’re welcome, Tay. Thanks for trusting me with it.”
I returned Ruby’s smile. “Don’t mention it.”
Almost before I realised it, our opening band was completing their set – which meant that there was just half an hour until Isaac, Zac and I were due to go onstage. It also meant that I had just twenty minutes to settle my nerves and stave off the anxiety that I could feel slowly creeping up on me all over again. It had been a long time since I’d felt this anxious so close to a show, and it wasn’t a feeling I liked.
“We can delay the start of the show a little while,” Caroline said to me. The two of us were outside near the stage door, the anxiety finally having got the better of me barely fifteen minutes before the show was due to start. I was on my knees on the cold, hard concrete, fingers twisted up in my hair as I tried desperately to calm down. “If that’s what you need us to do right now, then we’ll do it.”
I shook my head. “I’m fine,” I said. “I just need a few minutes.”
“Right. And I’m Nefertiti.” She crouched down so that she was at my eye level. “Taylor, nobody is going to think less of you if we have to delay or even cancel tonight’s show. You’re dealing with quite a lot right now – I’m not surprised in the least that you’re feeling this way. It happens, and anyone who has a problem with that will just have to get over themselves.”
I didn’t say anything for a little while. “Ten minutes,” I said finally.
“All right. I’ll let your brothers know. Come back inside whenever you’re ready.” She gave me a smile and straightened up.
I finally managed to pull myself together five minutes after the show had originally been due to start, and headed back inside with my hands shoved into my pockets and my head down. “All right there?” Gina asked me as she met me halfway between the stage door and where my brothers waited for me, my set of ear monitors and their receiver in one of her hands, and I nodded mutely. “Just gotta get you fitted up and you can go, all right?”
Gina had me fitted out with my ear monitors in almost no time at all, leaving me free to join Isaac and Zac at the side of the stage. “We’re going to talk about this tomorrow, all right?” Isaac said, and I nodded. “Ready?”
“As I’ll ever be,” I replied. I squared my shoulders, took a deep breath and pushed aside the curtain that separated backstage from the front of house. “On three, yeah?”
“One, two, three,” Zac counted off, and I stepped out into the light.