I used to see this therapist whose presence alone was calming - in an irritating way. He always seemed at ease, peaceful even, despite the chaotic energy I brought into the room, or the frenzy of emotions that sucked the air out of his office every time I was in it. No matter what kind of stories I had to tell, he remained unaffected, his tone monotonous (if he spoke at all,) his face always lacking expression. I was sometimes tempted to throw damp, tattered tissue balls at him to evoke some kind of reaction. I even considered tripping him on his way to his chair, just to see if he ever got pissed off.
After our first session, one of many sessions when 98% of the words uttered were mine, it became obvious to me that he operated on a completely different wavelength than I did. I was the storm and he was the calm. Although he was young, he seemed to have been born wise enough to know which battles were worth fighting and which were not; I had made a habit of going to war with myself at every opportunity. He was the type of person that always went to bed when he was tired; I pushed past exhaustion to get to even the most inconsequential chores on my never-ending to-do list. I doubt he ever woke up at 5 in the morning to squeeze in a workout class before a 12 hour day at the office – he never had enough bags under his eyes to complete a luggage set like I did. And he was certainly no slave to fashion– his Bert-like attire, Ernie-esque hair and floppy Muppet shoes suggested he was not overly concerned with matters of vanity.
We were so obviously polar opposites; I questioned if he could ever understand me well enough to be of much help. On top of our tremendous differences, he seldom offered advice, rarely gave any of the insight you would hope to get in therapy. I often wondered if he was even if in the room with me or if he might have been meditating while I spoke. But I kept going back because he had clearly found what I was after. He was a peaceful person, despite the storms that raged around him, and I was intrigued by that and admired him for it. I hoped if I stuck around long enough, he might show me where to get some of that peace he had found.
Then one afternoon, I suddenly realized I was looking in the wrong place. He looked at me with a combination of confusion and pity behind his round, wire-rimmed glasses and asked, “Why can’t you just be carefree? What are you so afraid of?”
I stood up, slapped that condescending look off his face and walked out of the office.
Ok, I didn’t do that. But I wanted to. Instead, I looked back at him and said, “Doctor. ‘Carefree’ is a maxi pad to me. It is not a lifestyle choice.”
He laughed hysterically - it was the first genuine, raw expression of emotion I saw in over a year of chasing after this man’s peace. To his laughter I responded, jaw clenched tight, “It’s not funny. Why do you think I’m here? I do want to be more carefree. I want desperately to find some peace. You don’t think I know how futile it is to try to control every variable in my life? How useless it is to worry about things I don’t even have the power to change? But I’m afraid if I loosen my grip…”
He raised his eyebrows and jumped at the opportunity to fill the rare silence created by my pause. “Well? What are you afraid of?”
Now I really wanted to slap him. He didn’t get it and he never would. I gathered my things, threw my ragged ball of tissues in the garbage, (as much as I wanted to throw it at him,) and replied, “You want to know what I’m afraid of? I’m afraid I’ll never stop worrying, because I can’t remember a time after the age of 4 when I didn’t worry. I’m afraid of being poor again – I never want to have to pick between paying for groceries, making rent on time or going to the doctors again. I’m afraid of being overweight for the rest of my life and not ever knowing what its like to feel comfortable in my own skin. I’m afraid of being unsuccessful because I can’t bear to let anyone down. I’m afraid to be blinded by love and make foolish decisions that I might regret later in life. I’m afraid I’ll never be emotionally consistent or even-tempered enough to create a stable environment for children. I’m afraid I’m being self-indulgent by even coming to therapy in the first place. I’m afraid of being someone for whom nothing is ever enough. I’m afraid I’ll never learn to leave myself alone. I’m afraid I will never find peace, because I can’t even figure out where to start looking.”
He watched me silently as I moved towards the door. There was now a look of shock where there had been pity before. I thanked him for his services and asked, “You didn’t expect that answer, eh?”
He chuckled and shook his head gently, his cheeks slightly flushed. He appeared to feel bad, as if he had done something wrong. “See you next month? Will you call to schedule an appointment?”
I turned the knob and opened the door to leave. I looked back at him and said, “Doctor? I’m a woman. We take care of everyone else first and then ourselves. We manage careers and households and family affairs simultaneously. We give birth to children and still try to stay young and sexy. On top of all that, we have to deal with 1-2 weeks of feeling incredibly uncomfortable and completely insane every single month for about 35 years. We know everything about maxi-pads and nothing about being carefree.”