When to See a Therapist

November 26th, 2007.

I slump into my seat at exactly 3:55. I’m always 5 minutes early for everything. I can’t stand being late. I cannot tolerate the idea that someone out there wasted even a second of their precious time waiting for me.

She stares at me silently. For some strange reason, she always expects that I will be the first to talk. For an even stranger reason, I continually refuse her quiet request to take the lead. Instead, I stare at her graying hair, piled high on top of her head and secured in place with seashell combs. I stare at her pantsuit and the clever brooch she has pinned to her lapel. I glance around the room and take a mental inventory of its contents.

One watercolor picture of sailboats? Check.

One wicker basket full of fake lilies? Check.

One cluttered desk with slightly outdated computer? Check.

One faux blue leather chair with chipped wooden arms containing one stubborn patient? Check, baby. Check.

Finally, she speaks. “How was your weekend?”

“Good, good,” I nod.

“Anything relevant happen?” she prods.

I chew my lip thoughtfully for a moment before I launch into the story about My Weekend. It doesn’t take much to get me going and before I know it, she is smiling and nodding in all the right places. However, it isn’t until she is literally leaning over in her seat with anticipation before I finally relax. Once I am reassured that the subject matter I am discussing is interesting to her, I feel more comfortable mixing things up. I toss in some jokes and ask her a few questions in an attempt to engage her even further into the conversation.

Suddenly, she cuts me off. “Stop.”

“What?”

“You’re entertaining me again. I want you to stop that.”

“But you asked…” I’m embarrassed by the tone of my voice, so I refrain from finishing my sentence. For a second there, it sounded like I was whining.

All business, she replies, “I know. But we also agreed that you were here to work through your issues. You are not here to entertain me.”

Like a petulant child, I respond by sulking.

“Last week, you mentioned you had a fear of having your nose and mouth covered?”

I don’t answer her; I’m too busy sulking.

“Would you like to discuss that in greater detail?”

Grudgingly, I ask, “What’s to discuss? I don’t like it.”

“But it’s more than that, isn’t it? Didn’t you say before that when something covers your nose or mouth, you tend to have a panic attack?”

“Sometimes. It depends on how long they’re covered.”

“And you still feel panicked even if what’s covering your mouth isn’t actually making it difficult for you to breathe?”

“Yeah. Like…I can’t put a blanket over my head. Even if I can breathe just fine, it still makes me crazy. In the morning, that millisecond that my shirt covers my face as I’m putting it on? Gives me the shakes. I can’t swim underwater. I can’t hug tall people. Hell, I can’t even kiss for an extended period of time. It’s…kind of a pain in the ass.”

“Do you find yourself avoiding certain situations because you’re afraid your nose and mouth might inadvertently become covered?”

“Like Halloween?”

“Well, yes. I mean, this fear of yours is obviously interfering with your ability to give or receive physical affection.”

“Only if the type of affection might accidentally cover my nose and mouth at the same time. I guess…it is kind of weird. But, I try to play it off. You know, I’ll just say I’m not the hugging type.”

“What happens when your nose and mouth are covered?”

“Well, the panic attacks. It’s irrational, really, because I’ll sometimes have them even if my nose and mouth aren’t covered. Just close to it. Like, if I’m standing too close to a wall or something and I can’t turn away. Even though the wall isn’t actually covering my nose and mouth and I know it’s kind of impossible for it to happen, I’ll still panic. And if I can’t get what’s in front of my face…away…then I’ll end up throwing up. Or passing out.”

“Why do you suppose you have this fear?”

“I don’t know. You’re the shrink.” ‘

“Of course you know.”

“No. I don’t.”

She takes a deep breath. Then, “Are you avoiding telling me because you’re afraid I won’t believe you?”

I hate her right then. I hate her fucking guts and my first instinct is to snatch her watercolor sailboats off of her walls and hurl them across the room. But, instead, I describe to her the feeling of waking up in the middle of the night with the pressure of someone twice your size on your chest. I tell her what it’s like to choke on cotton. I tell her about this feather pillow I had and the way the feathers would work their way through the pillowcase and poke my cheeks. I tell her about the drunk, insidious voice whispering in my ear, “Hateful, hateful, hateful. I’m doing the world a favor.”

I’ve actually told this story about a million times. But, usually, when I tell it, my friends are laughing. They’re roaring, in fact. After all, it’s all funny, is it not? Why shouldn’t it be funny? Why shouldn’t I make it funny? I mean, everyone else has funny childhood stories, so what not me? The actual subject matter is rarely relevant anyway. Anyone can make anything hilarious if they put the right spin on it.

Unfortunately, I am not spinning the story hilariously this time. This time, I’m spitting it out like cheap whiskey. Oh well. She shouldn’t have pressed me.

When I’m finished, we sit in silence for a few moments. Then, she says, “That must have been really hard.”

I’m too exhausted to get angry over this dirty trick she has played on me, so I cry. I cry and say, “Yeah. It was hard.”

But, the thing is, it wasn’t hard. None of it was hard. It was normal and I adapted and I got through it. Relatively unscathed, I might add. Unless you count the panic attacks. But who counts those?

The thing I’ve learned about shrinks is they rarely actually help you with anything. Instead, they press your buttons in an attempt to make you cry. I guess someone taught them in shrink school that crying  = progress. But crying is not progress. Crying gets you nowhere.

I guess what I’m trying to say is this: If you want a quiet place to cry, see a shrink.

On the other hand, if you want to actually make changes in your life, start holding shit up in front of your face until you can finally learn to live with it.

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