“So…” the doctor smiled at me over rectangular glasses. “What brings you in today?”
Her first unofficial question.
I shifted in my seat slightly — the couch I was sitting on, a yellowed leather, was comfy, but sank down too much when you sat down onto it. I was trying to sit up straight, like a professional and proper patient, but the couch was making me look as awkward as I felt.
“Nothing major, really — I’ve just been experiencing higher-than-usual levels of anxiety and depression recently,” I answered.
“Please define recently?” I watched her right hand, with its slim fingers and clipped nails, grip a pen gently.
I gazed up at the ceiling; white popcorn stared back down at me, most unhelpfully.
“I guess two years. It’s been flaring up – like, REALLY flaring up – for about two years now.” I paused. “And I’m seriously fine… I mean, all of us have bad days, bad experiences… what I’m experiencing isn’t unusual. I think that, being an especially sensitive soul, I just feel it all a little too keenly. Possibly more deeply than other people do — I don’t know; does that sound pretentious?” I laughed uncomfortably.
She smiled warmly. “Not at all. Some people ARE more sensitive than others. So, to recap, you’re here today because you’re anxious and depressed.”
I bobbed my head, up and down, like a buoy. “Yes… and I’ve learned to manage it on my own. I do a really great job with it, actually. But people have been badgering me, ever since the age of 18 and ESPECIALLY lately, to visit a therapist, or a counselor, or a psychologist of some kind, and I’m just sick of hearing it.”
She nodded vigorously. “I imagine that would be frustrating for you.”
I bounced my head from the left to the right a few times. “Wellllllllll, yeah — I mean, it IS annoying. I know their concern is genuine, but it feels like they’re all babysitting me. And it has always seemed SO odd to me — the degree of faith and trust that people place in therapists.” Remembering my company, I blushed.
“NOT to say that they — and you — don’t help… it’s just, I’ve never really felt like I needed outside help to diagnose or treat my own issues. It’s not super scientific or anything… you just think about them; you know? Say an issue, or a problem, is a house. You think about the house,” I lowered my voice, “and then, you consider the foundation underneath the house… what it’s made of, and what condition it’s in; what’s happened to it, and whether or not it has (or needs) reinforcements or repairs. Once you’ve identified and grasped all of that, when you’re ready, you begin digging beneath everything until you reach the earth, and if you keep on digging, you will eventually find it, wayyyyyyy down there — the reason why you’re so insecure, or angry, or terrified, or devastated. It’s actually pretty easy to do. Now, it’s TIRING,” I emphasized, “it can be absolutely EXHAUSTING to face issues head on like that, but the relief always comes afterwards.”
The therapist listened intently while I spoke. “Sounds like we might need to trade places,” she teased.
I laughed a little.
“Okay,” she continued in the same quiet, controlled tone. “Well, it sounds like you ARE doing a remarkable job managing this on your own, but I am glad that you came to visit with me today. Do you mind if I ask you a few more questions?”
“Sure,” I nodded enthusiastically. “I’m mostly viewing this as a social experiment,” I confided in her, grinning.
She laughed good-naturedly. “That’s fine, Jace.”
And these are the “few” (aka 10) questions that she asked me.
#1: How are you sleeping these days, Jace?
I pursed my lips for about two seconds. “Good!” I nodded quickly. “I always sleep well. I go to bed around 8:30 every night and don’t wake up until, usually, 6:30.”
“Wow!” she breathed. “That sounds very nice.”
I smiled. “It is!” Then, the smile faded. “I mean, I have been waking up during the night in recent months…” I hesitated, but decided to go ahead and tell her; she was, after all, a therapist, and probably needed to know these things. “A neighbor, who lives across the street from me, shot and killed my dog, Bruster, at the end of March.”
Her eyes looked sad.
“He got out of the house while I was at work and — anyways, to make a really long story short, the man who did it is just awful. He didn’t need to do that. There were SO many other BETTER ways of handling the situation — a big, beautiful, barking dog running loose in a neighborhood. Bruster was my baby… he never hurt anyone, and he was LITERALLY my very best friend. I loved him more than I’ve ever loved… anyone. Our connection was on an absolute soul level.” I paused.
“I’m trying so hard to not hate that man. I don’t have any extra energy to waste, and I don’t want to poison myself with those feelings. I know he’s going to have to live with the guilt resulting from that terrible decision for the rest of his life, and I’m hoping that remorse will make him a better person… more compassionate, and less violent.”
“Anyways,” I continued, ready to wrap up the subject, “because of THAT, I’ve been waking up around 1, or 2, or 4 in the morning with my heart racing, and it’s hard to fall back asleep. I’m highly alert and absolutely convinced that, if I close my eyes, he’s going to hurt one of my other dogs or even kill me. I’d rather he kill me, to be honest,” I smiled at her weakly. “It’s something I think about doing to myself often, anyways, and my dogs are my life — sweet, precious, innocent souls. They are better than we are. I want them to be happy and safe for as long as possible.”
I watched her pen move across the page. “Okay. You mentioned killing yourself, so I have to ask — have you thought about how you would do it?”
“What kind of pills?”
“I don’t know — I haven’t googled that yet,” I answered her honestly, “which is a good sign.”
She nodded solemnly. “It is. Alright. We’ll talk about that more later. Back to our current subject: When you are sleeping, do you dream?”
“Oh yes — every night, I have multiple dreams.”
“Assuming you can recall them, are they good dreams, bad dreams…?”
I thought about it. “A combination of the two. I dream about Bobby occasionally — my brother who died about four years ago. I dream about Chris a lot — Chris is my ex-husband and, more importantly, ex-best friend. I also dream about my OLD best friend, Melissa — we knew and adored each other for 8 years and then she just up and ditched me. I’ve dreamt about Bruster once or twice since he passed.” I paused, calculating. “No — just once.”
She looked up at me, seeming lost in thought. “Lots of loved ones in your dreams,” she murmured. “Tell me about the one involving Bruster, your dog. What kind of dog was he, by the way?” she asked curiously.
“A German Shepherd,” I smiled. “The best dog I’ve ever known. He had an ear the stood upright AND a floppy ear, which made him look completely goofy,” I started laughing. Talking about him made me sad, so I got to the point quickly.
“Anyways, the dream… in it, I was, at first, downstairs, playing the piano in front of the great, big dining room window. I felt a presence, so I turned around, and a man was walking past the window. It was dark out. I was scared. I ran upstairs, to my room, and looked out the window to check on the dogs. Bruster, Silo (his brother) and Tycho (his sister, who he never got to meet) were all standing outside, and the man was leaning over the fence, dropping a horrible spider onto the ground. I knew what he was trying to do; indirectly kill the dogs by having a spider bite them. I started screaming, NO, because Bruster was running towards the spider. He looked back at me, and then lowered his head down to the ground; Bruster swallowed the spider, and I instantly knew, in my gut, that he was doing it on purpose.” I paused, feeling suddenly tired. “He knew that the spider was going to hurt all of them, so he chose to die to protect his brother and sister. I was so, so MAD at him,” I whispered, swallowing hard to hold back the tears.
“It sounds like what happened in that dream felt very real to you,” my therapist offered.
“Dreams are always real to me,” I answered.
#2. Are you happy with your diet?
“Uhhhhh… yeah. I think so. I mean, I eat pretty healthfully. I’m a strict vegetarian and somewhat of a vegan.”
“Interesting. What made you decide to become a vegetarian?” the therapist inquired.
“Well, I didn’t actually decide. My mother is extremely religious — I come from a super conservative family — so, growing up, I was not allowed to eat meat, wear pants, OR go to movie theaters, among a thousand other things.”
“Why are you still a vegetarian, then? I’m inferring, from your tone, that you’ve… abandoned that lifestyle and those beliefs?”
“You are correct, and I decided to remain vegetarian because I love animals. Like I told you earlier, my dogs are my life, and I love ALL animals; the cute and domesticated ones AS WELL AS the less cute and wild ones. When I’m driving in the country and pass by a field of cows, I can’t help but giggle and smile… seeing them out there, grazing peacefully, can turn my WHOLE day around. If I’m in a bad mood, seeing them simply zaps it. It’s wonderful. They’re such wonderful creatures. But a few seconds after seeing them, a horrible dread begins seeping into my gut, as I realize that NEARLY EVERY PERSON driving along the road with me wouldn’t hesitate to eat one of those fucking cows.”
I shook my head at the beige, carpeted floor, feeling outraged. “I fucking HATE people. I love them, but also, I hate them, and when meat eaters come back — assuming there IS another life; I happen to believe in karma AND reincarnation — I hope they come back as animals that get eaten so they’ll understand the extreme wrongness of their actions.”
The therapist’s eyes widened, but she said nothing.
“So — you’re a vegetarian,” she stated quietly. “Are you getting enough protein, calcium, iron…?”
I screwed my face up a little. “Honestly? No. It’s easy enough to do — and I don’t do TOO bad with the protein and calcium; I eat lots of leafy greens and beans, stuff like that… but I’m POSITIVE that I’m anemic. Despite all of the sleep I get, I’m often plagued with inexplicable drowsiness. My boyfriend, Charlie, tries bringing home iron supplements — liquid ones as well as capsules — but I hate taking them, so I remember to forget taking them.”
“Very honest of you. Try to work on that, though,” she admonished me. “Imbalances and deficiencies in the body can cause (as well as increase) mental and emotional stress.”
“Got it,” I shook my head affirmatively. “Other than that, I do pretty well. I’m a sugar addict, so I try to be moderate with it, and – while I’ve struggled with my eating disorder since the age of 14, I’m doing a good job of keeping it in check. When I stepped onto the scale this morning and it registered that I now weigh 127 pounds, I was totally crushed. I was so mad at myself for ‘letting myself go.’ But then, after glancing into the mirror and realizing that I didn’t look morbidly obese in this short white dress, I convinced myself to just be okay with it… with the number. I feel healthy, so…” my voice trailed off.
“NOW, that’s not to say that I’m just going to accept these extra 7 pounds,” I clarified. “I’ll be skipping some meals to get rid of them, but I know to be careful with it.”
The therapist nodded. “Eating disorders are layered, like cakes — to identify just two of those layers, there’s the obvious factor of being concerned with your appearance, and then there’s the more subtle controlling factor.”
“Yep,” I nodded knowingly. “I think mine is 75% control-related and 25% appearance-related. And I know where — specifically, who — I got my eating disorder from. I’m working on it.”
Picking up on the fact that I was, for the moment, through with this subject, she nodded once and flipped to the next page in her notebook. “That’s a very cute dress, by the way,” she remarked kindly.
“Thanks!” I replied, looking down at it. “Wouldn’t have worn this last year,” I added to myself quietly, feeling proud of the progress.
#3. What involvement do you have with people around you?
“I mostly interact with people at work,” I answered succinctly.
“And where do you work?”
“(Insert name of local credit union). I’m the training specialist, which means that I get to orient and train all new hires, as well as existing employees who return to corporate for future classes. When I’m not in class, I spend time working with other departments on various projects — testing out new processes and trying to streamline current procedures, and I am always looking for ways to improve things. I absolutely LOVE it,” I concluded sincerely.
“That’s good to hear!” she responded cheerfully. “Many of the people I see do NOT enjoy their jobs. You’re one of few who do.”
“That’s understandable… I’ve worked jobs that I didn’t love before, and it’s a real drag. I just figure that you’re going to spend a lot of time on the clock, so you might as well pick a position or line of work that you have some passion for. I like working with people, have always wanted to teach, and love learning, so, for me, serving as the training specialist is a triple win.”
“That’s wonderful. And what about outside of work?” she prodded me along.
“I’m sorry — what do you mean?” I asked, confused.
“How do you interact with people outside of work?”
“Oh — sorry, I forgot the question! Uhhhh… I interact with people sometimes,” I answered awkwardly. “Honestly, on weeknights and weekends, I really just like being by myself. Work drains my social reserves, in a good way, and I need that quiet time post-work to regroup. I like riding my bike, whittling a few hours away inside of a cafe (either reading or writing), and cooking nice meals at the house. Also, I go to bed really early, which is when most people would like to hang out,” I smiled.
I watched her pen move.
#4. How often do you meet up with friends?
I looked at her. “Well — going back to what I just said, I don’t really meet up with friends often. I had a friend I was hanging out with for a while, but she got a boyfriend, and now she seems busy… I had another friend, a co-worker actually, who I used to talk to a good bit and see on occasion, but I set her up with my ex-husband, so now THAT’S awkward…”
My therapist’s eyebrows shot up. “That IS awkward. Do you want to talk about that?”
I sighed deeply. “Not really. I keep things professional at work — she’s a great person AND a great employee. But when she brings him up, it makes me sad, and I don’t know how to address it, so I just act like it’s no big deal and then cry when I get home,” I teased, anxious to relieve the tension in the air. “So, outside of work, we don’t really hang out or talk anymore… it was just a natural parting of the ways.”
“Alright. Any other friends?” she asked. She looked sad, and it embarrassed me.
“I mean, of course — I have my boyfriend, Charlie, who is my best friend, and then a guy named Reed, who is my second best friend… my manager and I are really close; she motivates and challenges me and I feel like we’re really good friends. I have a few other friends who live far away from me; we don’t see each other often, but I love them wholeheartedly, and I know they’re going to be there if and when I need them. Same with them.”
“Alright,” she murmured, adjusting her glasses.
#5. Is there anyone who you feel really understands you and is close to you?
“This one’s kinda tricky to answer,” I began, gazing up at the popcorn again. I had admitted to the therapist, moments ago, that sitting on the couch felt uncomfortable, so when she offered for me to lie down, I gratefully accepted. I now had my ankles crossed and my arms folded neatly across my chest.
“Melissa knew me really well, as a child and teenager… I felt like, more than anyone, she got me. But since we’ve lost touch — gosh, it’s been seven years — she wouldn’t know me at all anymore. She’d hardly RECOGNIZE me!” I exclaimed. “I was a conservative, long-haired, Jesus-loving bestie to her back then… now, I’m an alternative, bi-sexual agnostic. Somebody she’d be ashamed to know.”
The therapist nodded, waiting for me to continue.
“And Chris — the ex-husband — I felt like he knew me really well. We went through a LOT together; his dad died, my brother died… we started AND finished community college together… rented our first apartment, bought our first car, our first HOUSE…” my voice trailed off. “And now, that dumbass acts like we were never close at all. He regards me as indifferently as a stranger you’d sit next to in a cafe. I’ve never been so in love with and mad at somebody before.”
“Do you still love him?” the therapist asked openly.
Rather bold of her to ask, I thought to myself. I turned my head to look at her. “As a person — a friend? Of course! I don’t GET people who can date or marry somebody and then break up and say, ‘Oh, I’m so much better off without them…’ how the FUCK do you spend FIVE YEARS with someone and then just ditch them? ‘Oh, btw, since we aren’t having sex anymore, you are no longer important to me, so I’ll maybe catch ya in the next life’ — REALLY?” My pitch had risen, so I brought it back down.
“Sorry… it’s just, he broke my heart. I feel used. Small. Dispensable. I would never treat somebody the way he, or Melissa, treated me, and I can’t figure out why they did… it’s like, what’s wrong with me, you know? I’m not mean! I loved those fuckers unconditionally, and STILL DO. That’s what I hate about myself: I can’t let them go. I don’t know if I ever will be able to, and it’s torture, REAL torture, missing people who are still alive. It hurts worse than Bobby being dead and gone. I can’t talk to him, or see him, or hug him, because he isn’t here… but they are; one’s a short drive away, and the other is carrying a phone in their back pocket somewhere in Connecticut. And yet they’re completely unreachable. What assholes.”
The therapist sighed. “That would make me sad, too. Why do you think they don’t speak with you anymore?”
I shrugged. “Who knows. Melissa knows I’m a deserter of davidia, and when I broke up with her brother, she took it really personally. Chris has a bad habit of fixating on the person he’s in a romantic relationship with, so that new person has, once again, become his wholeeeeeee world.” I shook my head in annoyance. “As far as anyone else who really knows me… Charlie does. He is the most sweet-hearted person I’ve ever known; so gentle, so patient, so reassuring… it’s unusual, having someone like him in my life. I’ve had to get used to it. He’s like a breath of fresh air. And I’m just waiting for us to fall apart,” I admitted.
“Why are you waiting for that to happen?”
“Because it seems like it always does, doesn’t it? Nothing lasts, and nobody stays. And as far as all of these people knowing and understanding me (and me them)… no one really gets you, you know? Not entirely. As close as they get, it’s an imperfect realization; a slightly fuzzy connection. Melissa knew me, who I was, way back then; Chris has a five-year snapshot of who I was when I was with him; and Charlie knows me now. But nobody has seen the comprehensive, long-running film of Jace and how she’s evolved over time… what she likes and loves and hates and fears and wishes and wants…” I paused. “Well, I guess I know,” I offered with a smile. “And I think that’s what I’m realizing and re-realizing all of the time; I can love myself and know myself better than anyone else can, so I’ve gotta stop expecting other people to do what only I can do.”
“So,” the therapist consulted her notes, tapping her pen lightly on the edge of a page, “the person who knows and understands you best is you?”
“Yep,” I nodded. “Who the fuck else, you know?”
#6. Do you feel excited by stuff in your life?
“Absolutely! I like this question,” I smiled. “I get excited by the little things — caramel lattes, gusts of wind, chunky guacamole, the sound the bell on my bike makes when I ring it, a perfectly written passage in a book…” my voice trailed off. “All of that stuff is exciting and wonderful.”
“That’s good! It sounds like you’re able to find things that delight you daily, and that’s important.”
“I agree,” I nodded earnestly. “AND I have big stuff to look forward to, too; my next tattoo appointment is scheduled for this Friday, AND I have two gigs scheduled for this week… I’m playing a charity event Thursday night, and then strumming and singing a bunch of old covers for a group of seniors at Whole Foods on Friday afternoon.”
“Wow! It sounds like you have an exciting hobby with music.”
“Oh yeah. Music is… therapy. Like this — talking with you right now? Working shit out with words? Music does that for me, too. Always has. Helps me feel things, dream about things, forget about things… it’s perfect.”
#7. What choice do you have about what happens in your life?
“I feel like the choice is entirely mine,” I answered confidently. “When I was a kid, I hated being controlled and bossed around… I think that’s why I rearranged my room so often and I also think that’s partially why I developed an eating disorder. But now that I’m an adult, and I’m no longer married to someone (Chris was a bit controlling — to be fair, I was, too), I make decisions based on what I think is best. I appreciate the input and wisdom of others, of course, but their recommendations aren’t… commands. Nothing is arbitrary. I finally feel like I can trust myself. It’s a good feeling.”
#8. Who are you? Answer in one sentence.
I squinted at the therapist. “This one’s kind of weird… give me a minute to think about it.”
Seventy seconds passed.
“Okay; who am I… I am a sometimes sad and often happy human being who loves words and music, animals and people, sunshine and storms, burritos and coffee shops, and all different kinds of adventures.”
The therapist smiled warmly. “I think that’s the longest run-on sentence answer anyone’s ever given me.”
“Thank you for the compliment,” I beamed at her.
#9. If you could wave a magic wand, what positive changes would you make happen in your life?
“Damn,” I whistled. “Soooooooo many! But I wish you would have said ‘the world’ instead of ‘your life’,” I remarked honestly. “It’s kinda limiting.”
“Okay,” she replied. “Then what positive changes would you make happen in the world and your life?”
“SO MANY!” I cried happily. “First of all, people would leave animals the hell alone. All of them… ‘tasty’ ones included. People would love them, protect and nurture them, and play with them… but NOBODY would HUNT, KILL, OR EAT THEM!” I fumed.
“Okay. Anything else?”
“Yes. Secondly, I’d like to implement some kind of socialist, one world government thing.”
The therapist eyed me quizzically.
“I’m NOT very well-versed in politics,” I admitted, “BUT I read a lot of Edward Bellamy’s writings in the 11th grade and he made a HUGE impact on my worldview. I think that people should contribute to society in whatever way feels most natural and rewarding slash fulfilling to them… that there shouldn’t be such a stupendous discrepancy between the pay and “standard of living” of a doctor and a janitor… and that no one should live in excess wealth OR extreme poverty. But I knowwwwwww; not everyone would put forth the same amount of effort… some people are helpless lazy asses and why should they get a free ticket? Yeah… it’s a perfect idea, but people suck, so it would never work. So nevermind. I don’t know how to fix that,” I grumbled.
“Alright… I’ve crossed it out. Do you have a third item?”
“Yeah. The third thing would definitely be people. I’d want Chris to magically give a shit about our friendship and me as a person again. We’d hang out, play music, talk, laugh… be close again. Same with Melissa; she’d call me, out of the blue, and the very next day, I’d hop onto a plane and fly out to see her. We could be – if not best – good friends again. I’d visit the jerk in prison this very minute,” I whispered, “but she can’t condescend to give me a call? Heartless… and lastly, I’d bring Bruster back.” I took a deep breath. “I don’t know if this wand-waving business encompasses resurrecting the dead, but I’d love to have my sweet boy back again. I miss him every single day. It’s so awful — the cruel and evil things that people do.”
The therapist nodded. “Anything else?” she offered.
I turned my head to look at her, causing my right cheek to brush against the leather seat of the couch. “I mean, I could go on all day,” I warned her, smiling. “But… if I could wave a wand and anything could happen… I’d like to pry Davidianism out of my family’s minds. I think it’s a bunch of bullshit, to be entirely frank with you; Christianity, I don’t have a problem with, and same with Buddhism and Atheism and whatever-ism… but Davidianism is just ridiculous.” I rolled my eyes.
“It’s an elitist religion of nit-picking legalists who base their beliefs on a convoluted set of prophetic interpretation. I mean, hypothetically speaking, what kind of god, or creator, would bury ‘the truth’ so deeply that it takes YEARS of intense study to uncover any bit of it? The answer is none. Because that’s ludicrous. The ‘one truth,’ if it did exist, would be so simple to understand that a child, or a special person, could get it. The ‘truth’ in their brains… it’s just fucking their whole lives up. My mom, as sweet and beautiful as she is, is one of the most depressed and unhealthy people I’ve ever known, and I truly believe that one of the biggest reasons why is this oppressive religious group she belongs to. She has to worry, every single day, that making one false step on the righteous path — like imbibing APPLE CIDER VINEGAR or watching fifteen minutes of a fictitious television show — is going to exclude her from heaven and, simultaneously, expel her to a fiery, torturous, and endless hell. No wonder she’s depressed.”
I sucked in a big breath and then blew it out slowly. “So, in short, I want my family to be happy. Honestly happy. And to further that end, I’d uproot davidianism from their minds and then let them figure the rest of it — life — out from there. And lastly, with a million billion other things in-between, I’d want to become a full-time touring musician and a traveling writer. Talk about a dream life.”
The therapist looked over at me with amusement. “Do you think that would make you happy — being paid to write stories and play songs?”
I shook my head no. “No one, and nothing, can make me happy. It’s not an external type of deal; it’s an intrinsic thing. I have to choose to be happy every single day, and I find reasons to be. Writing stories, and posts, and novels and playing music all of the time would just make life extra cool, exciting, and fun.”
#10. Jace… to conclude today’s session, I’d like to ask: What’s the question you’re most afraid to be asked?
I looked up at her. “I… don’t know what you mean…”
She shook her head at me, smiling. “I’m not going to give this any kind of context. Just tell me what question you DO NOT want me to ask you.”
I blinked a few times. “Uh… ‘When is our next visit?'”
We both laughed.
As I was leaving the room, I turned to face the therapist, who was walking along directly beside me. Speaking more seriously, I asked her: “Doctor Yarbrough, truly — do you think I need to come back for another session? I mean… I’m depressed, anxious, and still working through this myriad of sadness and insecurity, but… will coming back really achieve anything?”
Doctor Yarbrough paused in the doorway, considering me, and the question, carefully.
“Honestly, Jace? For a depressed, anxiety-ridden individual, you are doing very well. You just asked and then answered 10 heavy questions, and I think that, if you keep the communication line with yourself open, with the journaling and the blogging and the songwriting, you will continue processing, and healing, and growing. Just keep at it, okay? Don’t get lost inside of a busy life; all of us are vulnerable, and many of us do. Come back and see me if you want to, whenever you want to… but I won’t be worrying about you,” she added with a wink.
“Sounds good,” I smiled back at her, and then, when I moved away from the mirror, she disappeared also.