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The Tomorrow After That | 2010 | Hey Jealousy

11.09.10 1:00 p.m.

I do not have a psychiatrist and I do not want one, for the simple reason that if he listened to me long enough, he might become disturbed.  

-James Thurber


Boy, Uninterrupted

I just need some emotional coherence...

I knew something had gone off course in my life when the woman on the crisis hotline remembered me from my calling a month prior, could cite vague details of my prior complaints. This isn't who I am, who I am supposed to be (and it had not yet occurred to me that St. John's wort was a contributing agent to my unease rather than a means for resolution). This time, I accept the referral to a local clinic.

I wait in the office above the DMV. I try not to look at the people in the waiting room and refuse to make eye contact. They are, to a one, wearing sweat suits over morbidly obese frames. I am not judging them, just stating what I witnessed. Blue chairs with fabric seats, secretaries behind Plexi-Glass, faded multi-colored notices, and them. I know some psychiatric medications lead to profound weight gain and that clothing is not generally made for people of their girth, but one passes me smelling of French fries and I wince at how judgmental I'm being.

I do not feel as though I should be here, though. I had been having a hard time lately, especially owing to the pills exacerbating my issues, but I am not as bad as this, am I? I am wearing tan slacks, a black turtleneck, and a suede jacket, because I have a job to get to after this. I am not like them. Now that I am off of St. John's wort, I feel myself again. And I realize I am just trying to find excuses to leave in the fifteen minutes between when I finish the paperwork (when my appointment is supposed to begin) and when the therapist finally comes out to find me. I ponder more than once getting up and leaving. But I have given the secretaries my contact information - one of whom is a woman with whom I went to school since kindergarten - and they would likely find my leaving pathological enough to call me.

I wait it out. I read the Patient's Bill of Rights in English and in Spanish, then compare the versions for discrepancies. I look anywhere but at the people in the room with me, who come here either because they are on Medicare or don't have insurance, as I don't. This is a place for people who have slipped through society's cracks, it seems, not for those who can afford more professional therapy.

I don't know whether I ought to call the therapist "doctor". The initials after her name must mean something. She fills out green paperwork while she talks to me in an office that can accommodate a desk, bookcase, three chairs, and two people but nothing more. It seems this is less an office than a large closet. She doesn't want to focus on the issues I want to give her, things I have written on a sheet of paper so I don't forget to mention them out of anxiety. She seems, if anything, dismissive of what I want addressed. Those things are not important, are trivial. At one point, she tells me I ought not call the crisis hotline anymore, as I am likely just bothering them and distracting from people who have more potentially terminal problems. While I don't disagree, this tactic just makes me feel a bit guilty.

When the paperwork is mostly finished, she wants to talk about my family life. This interests her a great deal more than what I wanted to discuss. I try to steer her away from it, not because it isn't interesting but because it is. I don't want her seizing upon these tasty morsels and ignoring what is going on with me. She assures me that she isn't a Freudian, but admits she is most interested in primal dramas in childhood and won't let go of my mother. While I understand that my family is a potential causal agent, I think I raised myself too much to shift the weight of my issues onto their shoulders. They didn't beat me or abuse me. I was never touched inappropriately by an older relative. I always knew that I was loved and cared for, they indulged by adolescent whims for skull shirts and blue hair. Aside from being a bit neurotic at present, I think I turned out exceptionally well. I am intelligent, well-rounded, open-minded, and social. I dated as a teenager, always had close friends, and grew up into a functional man, albeit one who panics a bit. (Okay, maybe I am a bit emotionally exhibitionistic...) I do not live with my family, nor do I intend to ever again, so their impact on my life is reduced to holidays and Monday dinner. I don't care if I am limping slightly right now because I bumped my knee one day in April of 1983, I would much rather she focus on helping me walk without a crutch now. If she wishes to analyze my family's issues, she would be well advised to make appointments with them instead, since I am not their proxy.

I don't joke with her too much, like I did with the last therapist years ago, as that made him decide I used my humor to build walls (which I did, but, as I explained to him, it also meant that I could reveal this pain to him without falling to pieces). There is one slip, where I talk about a previous relationship flippantly, and she labels me egotistical, so I have to backpedal and explain to her that I was summing up a subconscious process and didn't consciously think like that at the time. I am startled that she felt it appropriate to call me egotistical.

I mention work a little, as it is a source of some insecurity, but also reference the fact that I am a soon-to-be legitimately-published author.

"Is that your primary identification?"

I glance up at her. "Oh, writer? ...Yes, I guess it is." She means for my employment, but I feel I am a Writer a great deal more than I am most other more obvious designations. I'm not sure she understands this.

The session goes on for about an hour. At the end, she asks what I want now, if I want to come back. I tell her that I would partly like her to tell me that she sees no reason for me to. I say I really don't know either way. The compromise is that she gives me an appointment in three weeks and, if I don't want to keep it (and I think that the encouragement here is that I not keep it), I just have to call and cancel. I have made it clear that I am not suicidal and am unlikely to change that ever, which seems to make my presence in her office less crucial in her eyes. It's only in penciling in my appointment that she notices my name. I think, up to this point, it was just about filling out the forms and hitting her statutory requirement of Oedipal references in an hour.

I don't think I need to go back unless anything more occurs to upset my equilibrium. I think I can handle life and I think the therapist believes this too. I'm not sure what happens now. I am fine just talking to someone and she says that is all therapy should be, talking to someone who is not directly involved. She does say I should get a psych evaluation if I am going to continue with therapy, which does sound a lot more pejorative. She is covering her bases, I understand, but I have no reason to believe I am classifiable in the latest DSM. The forms I filled out prior to entering asked me when I recovered from my drug and alcohol use (I wrote a large "NA" over these forms, as I do not drink or use drugs), how often I attempt suicide (never), and when last I heard voices when I was not on a substance (never). Perhaps I would feel differently if the office had a comfy couch, trickling waterfall, phrenology bust, or any of the trappings I have come to associate with psychotherapy. I am not denigrating the purpose behind this clinic (and certainly, given my relationships and history, I am not minimizing other's need for therapy). I merely don't know that this is a place for me. I need a guru, not a slightly abrasive woman in a cramped room.

But her question about my "primary identification" rings through my head. Aside from when Melanie is cozied up to me, I never feel saner, more balanced, as when I post one of these entries. Though I have heard the cliche that writers ought to be in therapy to remove blocks, I don't buy this. Up to this point in my life, I have largely used the internet as my sounding board. When Todd killed himself, when Emily's father died of cancer, when Emily left me, my immediate reaction was to start typing until I had pressed keys enough that the blocks eroded. The buildup of anxiety, the attempt for alleviation via some herb, came at a point where I felt I could not write what was bothering me without hurting someone I love. Most of what I told the therapist, I had written at some point, which made the phrasing come too easily. I have evolved to process metaphysical spirituality and confessional writing, both of which derive from within me, not from a stranger who does not seem to want me in her office. It is less time consuming and allows me to feel less burdened by my thoughts than building up a kvetch list to be shared every three weeks. I would rather be intimate with the faceless many than one who interrupts me because I am not sick enough for her diagnosing.

Soon in Xenology: Maybe a job, families.

last watched: Brazil
reading: The Mothman Prophesies
listening: Yann Tiersen

The Tomorrow After That | 2010 | Hey Jealousy

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.

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