“If you begin and it is not the beginning, begin again,” the story said. I pored over it, tried to figure out how all the pieces fit together. I found myself returning to this line. It had power. I wanted power. I wanted control. I underlined it. Circled it. If I looked at it enough, read it enough, thought about it enough, wrote it enough, I would eventually understand it. I thought that if I understood it, I could use it. I had been off my antidepressants for four months.
I read the story “Things You Should Know” for the first time two weeks after I stopped taking my antidepressants. My fiction professor assigned it to us at the beginning of the semester. I was determined to hate it. I didn’t have or want the intuition to write flash fiction. The fiction I liked was bombastic—stories that contained, rather than suggested, action. I thought about skipping the reading, but fiction made me feel whole, and I wanted the approval of my professor, the closest I’d ever had to a mentor.
“Things You Should Know” is a frantic search for answers, a tightly braided excavation of absurdist humor and neurotic fear. I didn’t understand this then, but I was determined to. The final lines of the story rumbled around in my mind for days. I may not have understood the actions they suggested, but I knew they were powerful.
Two weeks after I stopped taking my antidepressants, I stopped falling asleep in the middle of the day. I wanted to eat, constantly. Sex was more than a ritual. I cried at music that wasn’t sad. I felt my heart burst in the middle of even the most superficial movies. Lost love, found love, grocery shopping, conversations with strangers, kid’s shows—they all broke my heart.
In “Things You Should Know,” we follow an unnamed narrator’s quest to track down a handout they missed while absent from school, a handout that contained, “Not things to know, not things you will learn, but things you already should know, but maybe are a little dumb, so you don’t.” They ask their teacher, their classmates, their parents, even random strangers, but nobody has heard of it. The narrator’s persistence is so troubling, so unrelenting, they are sent to a psychiatrist, who doesn’t understand the point of the narrator’s search, that of course the narrator doesn’t know what’s on the handout—that’s the whole point!
Two weeks before reading “Things You Should Know,” I left my psychiatrist’s office and never went back. I was still on the first medication, and I took it daily. He asked why I had not been paying my appointment bills, and chastised me for acting like a child when I said my parents covered my medical expenses, that they must have forgot. This, from the man who treated me like a child, who wouldn’t listen to my worries: that I felt the depression creeping up my throat, that I was concerned that the side effects had still not gone away, that I wanted a new pill, and soon.
I read “Things You Should Know,” and felt the narrator’s frustration. Like them, I found psychiatrists to be unbearable. Like them, I found myself asking the same questions (Why am I not happy? How do I feel happy? Am I happy?) to anyone I thought could help me. Like them, I felt impossibly exhausted and angry and alone. I imagined myself to be living the story, and hoped that one day I, too, would eventually find the things I should know.
The story rumbled around my head for the next week, and then we moved on. I had been off my anti-depressants for three weeks. When I first met the psychiatrist, he warned me not to mess with the dosage, that any change must be made incrementally. I knew this, and yet: The couch became my bed. I skipped classes and even more homework assignments. I tried drinking my problems away. I woke up in strange places and slept, alone, in stranger ones.
Existential crises. Lack of interest in having interest. Paranoia. Perseverations. Insomnia. Inability to communicate. The perpetual desire to be held. The continuous gnawing feeling that I would never be good enough, never be loved enough, never be enough.
After abandoning their psychiatrist, the narrator in “Things You Should Know” continues searching for the pamphlet. The longer they search, the less they suspect there is to know, but they continue. After decades of searching, they find the list, or at least, an understanding of the list. This discovery is sudden and unexpected, and I think they were finally content.
Four months after abandoning my medication, I began to read the story again and hoped I could figure out what I was supposed to learn. I called a new psychiatrist.
Even after going back on meds, a new pill from a new doctor, I continued to study the story. Couldn’t go a day without thinking about the narrator and their list. I began to focus on the end: “There is a list,” I said, nearing the end. “It is a list you make yourself. And at the top of the page you write, ‘Things You Should Know.’”
I began to understand.
Things you should know: I think a lot about happiness and if I am capable of feeling it, even with medication.
Things you should know: I am not okay and probably never will be. I will continue to search for the right medications, the correct dosages, and the most compatible doctors in the pursuit of happiness.
(Things you should know: If you begin and it is not the beginning, begin again.)
Things you should know: I don’t know how to be happy, but I will try.