Fiction · 12/11/2013

Yes and No

When I am asked if I am getting better my reply should be “No” because my symptoms have not changed.  But when somebody asks me this question they often offer such a look of concern or hope that I am compelled to answer “Yes,” instead. After I say “Yes” the person perks up so quickly. She is able to continue on to the grocery store or the bar or the zoo without distress. So I think, even if I am not getting any better, at least I have helped someone else feel better. Making other people feel better often makes me feel better, in which case, by answering “Yes,” even though my illness has not actually changed, I do, in a sense, feel better.

If I answer “Yes” however, when the truth is “No,” I cannot help but wonder about all those times I may have been deceived by the responses of others when I have asked if they are feeling better.  If I learned, for instance, that Sally, who has for some time been suffering seizures and dizzy spells, had been telling me “Yes” when the truth was “No,” I would surely feel worse.

If Sally had told me she was not feeling better, perhaps I could have offered my assistance. I could have cooked her a chicken dinner or picked up her children from their after-school program. I could have mowed her lawn or bent down to fetch her keys when she dropped them. Then, Sally would have enjoyed some much-needed rest and I would have felt better for helping.

I have to wonder, might the people who ask me, “Are you getting better” prefer I say “No” so they can feel good?  If I answer “No,” and then you ask me how you can help, I may be inclined to say, “I would love for you to hug me right now, and allow me to burrow my nose in the shoulder of your warm black coat, at least until this street I have been walking for so long, so long, stops stretching and jiggling like an elastic band for miles and miles in either direction. As I walk, I hear a jingling. It feels as though someone is throwing change at my heels. I can almost feel this phantom’s breath in my back as he throws pennies at my feet, though I cannot see him, no I can’t.  Not as I see the groups of strange children huddling in the trees by my mother’s home, where I live in the basement. They are chanting round a fire, while I am so alone.  Oh, I would love for you to open your arm and embrace me tightly so we could both experience a yes-calm that accompanies human contact.

There is, of course, the possibility I am not feeling better, but alas I am not in any danger either.  At least I don’t think I am in any immediate danger. My illness is simply something I must learn to live with, and I may as well answer “Yes” even though the proper answer is “No.”

People tend to overreact, don’t they, when one tells them one is feeling worse.  “Oh, I’m so sorry? What can I do? I shall surely pace my bedroom through the night worrying and wondering how you are getting on! Oh, darling, is there a doctor I can call?” One becomes obliged to deal with, on top of one’s own illness, the burden of other people’s fear. Besides, in all honesty, how much can someone who knows nothing about schizophrenia actually really help? It is best to avoid causing fear in another, which may have us all feeling worse. Others are likely too busy worrying about helping their own selves out to deal with me. Helping or not helping themselves, as the case may likely be.

While getting worse may be a terrifying thought, so is returning to a healthy old ordinary. Oh, an ordinary, hum-drum life! How could I manage to live with that now that the roads have come alive just for me? And sometimes the morning sparrows speak me all their woes, so pleased they are that a more evolved life form has taken an interest in them. “And are you feeling better?” I ask the birds. “It is difficult,” they say, “to hoist one’s body to the air, with so few opportunities for worms nowadays.”

The birds sing and do not judge, not like a human being would. If I said, “Sally, I am worse, and here’s why,” do you think she would feel comfortable discussing her problems with me? “No way I want you to make me a chicken dinner,” she might say. “Not you, nutsy. You kook. I don’t want you anywhere near my kids.” And then, I would feel much worse.

Another possibility: I am not schizophrenic at all, but sociopathic, as the doctors say. I have been inventing my sickness to amuse myself at the expense of the likes of you. What do you think of that? Fooled you. But then, I fooled me too.

In the case I am a sociopath, I am likely not improving, but also not getting much worse, and perhaps I ought to be asked a different questions from the start. Or told, instead of asked at all.

Perhaps the reason I would not be told: there is something sociopathic about this business of answering a simple question of yes and no.

Still, it is better than being asked nothing at all. Yes, it is better than that.


Rebecca Fishow is a writer and visual artist living in Montreal. She holds an MFA from Syracuse University, where she was the Cornelia Carhart Ward fellow and the recipient of the Joyce Carol Oates Nonfiction Award. Her writing  has appeared in The Fiddleback, and her sketches have been published at the Believer Logger. She blogs erratically at