The session with Mrs D in detail

This stupid appointment with Mrs D still bugs me. I don´t know if picking it apart will or won´t help me, but since I´m going to do it anyway, what´s the point of asking myself that? So…

Every place has its specific smell, atmosphere, air. It´s similar with groups of places. If you go to the dentist, there´s certain kinds of noises and smells, even certain kinds of colors and materials. I think the same thing goes for therapists´offices. And even the waiting rooms.

The predominant sound here is silence. The chairs are very comfortable and it´s nearly impossible to sit upright in them. I was starting to feel ill the moment I sat down in the waiting room. I´d gone into the counseling area without showing hesitation, without looking away from the male student passing me by in the hall, because I´d wanted to be confident. Show confidence, prove to myself I was confident. In a difficult situation, yes, but confident. I´d gone into the secretary´s office, smiled, said I had an appointment. Again, I wanted to be confident. Act like I would if I was at work. Friendly, confident, without showing too much of myself. Not so much for their benefit, but for mine. Not everybody needs to know me by heart.

It´s funny (sorry, I digress), but this is a fairly new development. For most of my life I never tried to protect myself that way. I typically assumed I had to be 100% open about everything – or I went into complete shutdown. I think one reason for this new behavior is that right now I´m in a situation in which you need to be careful not to be disenfranchised. Failing college could make people doubt my ability to make decisions or to achieve something in life, and I´m trying to counter that by acting as if I was decisive and accomplished. I didn´t know anymore I had any useful instincts.

Anyway, the moment I sat down in the waiting room I started to shrink. Maybe it begins with the chairs, you cannot sit upright, so you kinda slump down. I grabbed a magazine in order to look busy, competent, like someone who isn´t waiting desparately because this counselor is the last straw to which he clutches. Because she wasn´t, really. As Natalie put it: “Go see them, and if it´s any use to you, great, if it isn´t, well, just put it behind you and don´t think about it anymore!” I really didn´t intend to develop particularly strong feelings about this.

I think I had to wait for about ten minutes. I had been very anxious to be there on time, and I think that´s no coincidence. It was the memory of Dr. Stoneface and that first cold, stern stare he´d had for me when I arrived at his door fifteen minutes late because I´d gotten lost. This, of course, was very much at odds with the confidence I was trying to radiate. Cognitive dissonance, once again, but I tried to be confident and not beat myself up over it. This happens, yeah. I´m scared of authority figures, yeah. I´m scared to be scolded like a little girl, alright. It doesn´t mean that my confidence is a mere facade and that I should drop it and signal that I expect to be victimized. It means that I should display even more friendly confidence. As I was sitting there in this grey, windowless waiting room, though, breathing in that weird, characteristic smell and listening to that silence, my deliberate confidence was starting to slip a bit. I sat there with time to think. I don´t believe in “time to think”. I think while I write. I´m active while I think. I either write, or I walk, or I pace my room listening to music, and that´s when the thoughts and the words come. When I´m sat down in a silent room void of stimuli I don´t think, I sink. I had some dark thoughts about how this was probably the purpose of making me wait, that I should have time to sink. What was supposed to sink in, in this dark vision, was the graveness of my situation. You aren´t supposed to be confident when you´re about to drop out of college. It easily looks like you´re being cocky. A person who´s just fucked up like that is really not entitled to contradict, right? Apparently she doesn´t know how to live her life!

Then Mrs D emerged from her office. She was sort of smiling, but something about her smile failed to draw me in. I remained cautious. She gave me a questionnaire, I filled it in and then I had to wait again until she finally asked me to her office. Her office was very small, just a desk, and then a small table with two chairs. I´d nearly sat down in hers. I should have realized it was hers because there was a notebook lying on her side of the table, but somehow my mind took that notebook as an invitation. Anyway, she told me where to sit before I could actually sit down in her place. I´m really glad about that, because that would probably have frightened me a lot more than being late. On the table, there was the traditional box of hankies. I had no intention of needing them.

The atmosphere in the room was depressing, if not oppressive. It was small, no pictures, very plain furniture. I was sitting with my back to the window, so there was really nothing redemptive in my line of sight. Another thing that might have escaped me in those first moments but which I became aware of later was that this woman didn´t have a computer. She still used a typewriter. I felt like I was back in the 70es. Everything about this room screamed 70es.

“Yes…” She said. “Well, so you already wrote us a thing or two!” She said that as if I had been more talkative than others. It surprised me a little. I had thought a while about how much I wanted to reveal in an e-mail to the secretary, and eventually I had given them the basic information. What do I study, what situation am I in, I´m looking for re-orientation but I´m having trouble making a definite decision. It had been four lines, but the way she talked she sounded as if she already knew everything there was to know. If so, though, what did she want from me? I mean – what did she expect me to tell her now? Did she have any questions, did she see to the bottom of my problem already, was she going to say anything about it?

Nothing.

I tried to talk about the career I´d considered and found myself sounding unenthusiastic if not pathetic. When I´d told Natalie the same she´d told me she sensed a certain energy taking hold of me when I mentioned this option. After two minutes in this dreary 1970es room with Mrs D, that energy had evaporated. I thought that I´d never convince her I really wanted to pursue that career, and at the same time I thought that I was acting like a child by seeking for random peoples´ approval. If I really wanted to do this I didn´t need anybody´s approval, and if I needed anybody´s approval, I didn´t want to do it – or at least I wasn´t nearly sure enough yet.

I´d expected our conversation to continue similar to the way my talk with Natalie had gone. I expected an in-depth discussion of my feelings about the various options I had. Or maybe the mere question how I was feeling now. I could have told her some things. Like the frequent anxiety attacks, my lack of sleeping rhythm, the nausea, the physical pain and exhaustion. She didn´t, though. She asked me what made me doubt the career option I´d just laid out in front of her. I told her I feared it would leave me no time for my partner and also that I wasn´t sure I was going to be able to do such a stressful job.

“Yeah, you´d have to learn a lot when you study for that career!” she said. “I don´t really have a problem with learning…” I stuttered. “At least I used to be quite good at that when I was at school! It´s more…” But I wasn´t able to explain it. That I was scared of what would happen to me if I had such long work hours. Hours in which I´d have to be a professional all the time. Wouldn´t that alienate me from myself? Would I still know who I was when I came home after this?

I also told her that a career counselor had advised me to go after this career and that the alternative had been writing. I said that I liked writing but that I couldn´t control my creativity and that I´d need a day job anyway and that I was no longer sure this model suited me. She then asked me if I was sure I didn´t want to write my thesis. She smiled, saying “because you say you enjoy writing!” At that point she sounded to me like a grandma who tries to be nice but is totally out of touch with the topic at hand. Writing novels is not quite the same as writing a thesis, even in philosophy.

I explained to her that I didn´t really identify with the topic and that I didn´t have enough time left anyway. “Well, you´ll have to ask for more time!” she said in a somewhat harsh tone, as if I was merely being lazy. “You can get three more months!” As I learned the same day, you only get three more months if you have a medical certificate detailing why you couldn´t deliver your paper on time.

I explained to her that another problem was that I never really read much throughout my college years. “Well, of course that shows now!” she said. I was wondering if I should interpret this as some kind of “serves you right” response and decided I didn´t have enough evidence to be righteously pissed off at her. Confident people are careful to feel attacked. Feeling attacked makes you vulnerable.

“So you never managed to identify with your subject, you could never own it?” she said. “No, not really.” I replied. Later, when I was out there, I struggled with the way she´d said this. Managed.  Would it have been an achievement to identify with something that isn´t really me? Should I have made it my own just because at some point I decided to study it – and for the most irrelevant reasons? Had I failed at something that would have been my task in life – identifying with the choice I´d made? That would have implied, though, the choice was a given, something irreversible, something that couldn´t be corrected. On the inside, I angrily refused to see it this way, and when I came home from the store later that day I was on the verge of tears thinking back to this conversation.

We started talking about my family, she asked about my relationship towards my parents, my sister – and felt like I was supposed to press the information and insights gathered in years all within one hour. I felt like I needed to say something definite, something conclusive that made it clear to her I had dealt with these subjects or at least kept them in mind when making my decisions. I felt nagging worry as to what she might be thinking, what she was writing down in her notebook. I stopped myself from asking, though. I knew that being defensive would make everything worse. It would lead to one of those truly torturous conflicts with psychotherapists I´m so bloody good at. If I wanted to radiate at least a little bit of confidence, despite my stuttering and looking away and not knowing how to respond, I sure shouldn´t act paranoid. I had to act as if I didn´t fear her judgment.

Then, she asked me since when I knew I was a lesbian. I said that when I´d been 19 I´d fallen in love with a girl and I´d decided to just go for it and see where we ended up. Actually I´m still waiting for that moment when I wake up and know by divine revelation what my sexual orientation is. I can fancy guys but I probably wouldn´t have sex with them – what does that make me? Bicurious? 😉

At any rate, this topic seemed to be of some importance to her as she asked me if I´d had any male friends at uni. I said, well yeah, I had some…uh…pals. It felt weird to even use the word “pals” around her, it was such a stiff atmosphere. I´ll never know what she did with that piece of information. She might have asked if I´d ever had boyfriends and I said, yeah, when I was a teen, but my longest relationship then was six months, it just never was right for me. I don´t even know why I answered. A truly confident person might actually have asked her how this was relevant to my career issues. I mean – here´s the point: Even if she´d have wanted to find out if I had an underlying psychic illness that caused my inability to make a decision asking questions about my sexual orientation shouldn´t have been part of a diagnostic assessment because – lo and behold! – even the DSM has caught up with the fact that homosexuality is not a disease! So what was that about? Personal curiosity? Or old-fashioned psychoanalytical bigotry?

At some point, anyways, she reached the conclusion that I was unable to make a decision on the spot. I needed time  to get to know my needs, myself. And I even thought that´s what I´d spent the last six years on. If I need much more time I can move on straight to retirement. Her idea, of course, was that psychotherapy might help me get to know myself. I told her I´d undergone more or less extensive therapy already. She wanted to know more. I told her about my first therapy attempt, when I was 16. She asked me why I´d been in therapy. I told her that the diagnosis had been depressive episode, then I went on to tell her that my depression had been caused by an external event. I actually managed to put the whole Lola drama into four or five sentences, talk about integration of burdening events that somehow tear your identity apart! It annoys me now, though, that it was so important to me to assure this woman that actually I was sane, I had just been faced with some burdening events which had caused my low. What was behind this was my fear that I´d be seen as inherently pathological, as someone whose perception can´t be trusted. I think the reason I´m angry at myself is that I failed at that. Eventually she did doubt my perception, however subtly.

Then I talked about my third therapy attempt, Dr. Stoneface. I skipped the second because that would have made things too complicated. Besides, I didn´t want to look even more ill. I wanted to look sane, especially for the sake of that career option I was toying with. I explained that this therapy attempt had turned into a power struggle and that at some point I´d have liked to switch to normal and ask him, amongst adults, if this really made sense anymore, but that he didn´t let that happen. She asked me if I´d taken nothing positive from my therapy. I sensed a trap in that question. If I answered it with no, I´d compromise myself because I´d basically say I hadn´t made any progress in all those years. I´d sound like a sulky kid or a disgruntled, paranoid griper. So I told her that I´d learned some important things when reflecting on my time with Dr. Stoneface a couple of years later. It was both true and false. I did dare say, though, that the therapy itself had been a rather negative experience. Understatement of the century.

She next asked me why I´d been in therapy then. And I tried to tell her about Athena.

I can explain what happened between me and Lola in four or five sentences. Same with Dr. Stoneface, mostly thanks to this blog. With Athena, though? No. Not by a long shot. If I tried I´d sound delusional. You cannot really capture the subtelties of tone, mimic and meanings and her words alone might not be understandable in their impact on me. I stammered something about how it was hard to explain what had happened in that relationship, and that there had been a lot of accusations which I felt couldn´t defend myself against. I guess that´s fairly okay for a spontaneous, preliminary explanation.

Next she asked me if the career option I was toying with might appeal to me because I hoped to understand myself better with the help of it. I thought it was pointless to deny it completely, so I said that I wanted to compare the insights I´d gain there to my own insights. She said: “So you want to confirm your view?” Well, ideally yes, but I do trust myself to work scientifically even if I don´t like the results! Besides, everyone is biased to some extent!

I said: “I think the idea of man predominant in this subject could prove to be very humane. It´s like…you see, I´ve experienced a lot of judgment in life, and accusations, some of it very cruel. There were times when I felt like I was inherently toxic and now I´m looking for an alternate view. Both on me and on human beings in general.”

It might have been right away or some time later, but then, in attempt to sum up my situation, she said: “….and, you were invalidated – felt invalidated a lot in your life…” If she´d said “felt” right away I might have let it slip. But the fact that she corrected herself was too much somehow. Like she had to specifically remind herself that she couldn´t take my word for what it was. Or remind me. There´s always this implicit question hanging in the air: “Are you sure it was quite like that?”  I get this on some level – she cannot know what exactly happened, and human relationships are so difficult to judge as an outsider (for some reason you aren´t deemed competent to judge them from the inside as well, though) yada yada. But considering that I spent a remarkable part of my late teens feeling like I should kill myself because of those perceived invalidations and given that sentences like “you must be the most deranged person there is” don´t leave much room for interpretation it might also be understandable that I´m growing sick and tired of this kind of wariness.

Again, I didn´t say anything while I was sitting in that room, but later that day I felt shaken and sick with anger. While I was sitting there, protesting just didn´t seem worth the effort. Why argue with her, why go through the pain of looking like an emotional wreck while still not reaching her, why even try to convince someone who has already decided I´m not a reliable witness anyway? Why, given that I won´t see her again after I leave this room? I can keep my thoughts to myself. I won´t let her matter that much. I´ll keep her out of my head. Let her think whatever she wants, it doesn´t matter. Behavior-wise, this is some kind of progress, but the motivation behind it is not that I´m more mature, it´s just that I´m more cautious. I know when I´ll get hurt and I shy away from it. I find it hard to judge when I´m being politic in order to protect myself and when I´m starting to act like a coward. What if it hadn´t been my own perception that had been invalidated? What if it had happened to someone else? Would I have protested then, or would I still have tried to protect myself? Where´s the line between self-protection and self-betrayal?

Next came the same old fun. She told me she´d recommend I seek psychotherapy (maybe analytic group therapy) or go to a mental hospital. To her great credit, she said that she didn´t want to exclude I could do it on my own, she merely told me what she´d recommend if I wanted to do psychotherapy. I thought about it quickly, the thought of being at one of these hospitals (they actually aren´t that bad, in some ways they´re more like hotels), talking to different therapists, being in different kinds of therapies, meeting all kinds of people with similar and different problems. Having to take care of nothing and no one but myself. It sounded good on some level. And on yet another level I knew it wouldn´t stabilize me. Au contraire. It would be another hole in my narrative. Quick and sudden fixes don´t work on me. They make me panic. A sudden change of environment, a sudden change of daytime activities and sleep rhythm, never being alone? That kind of stuff makes me go into overload. It puts me under stress, I´m not myself in such situations. There´s been so much drama and radical steps and false dawns in my last ten years, I´d seriously be content to try something that works slowly. Going to a hospital would only bring back the illusion that I need a sudden and radical change. How would I still fit into my everyday life after such a stay? I don´t know. The worst thing is that I´m scared of authoritarianism and you find that a lot in those kinds of hospitals. I´d probably just anxiously submit and later be very angry about it. Maybe angry enough to become stronger and less of a pushover, but if things go awry it might take me another eight years to recover and I´d rather not take that risk.

Again, I merely nodded and let her give me the address for that hospital, thanked her and left. As I went out of the building I tried to mobilize my confidence, my slightly amused anger, whatever I had. I tried to go out there laughing incredulously. I didn´t want it to get into my head, those things she´d said. At first I thought I´d succeeded, but the breakdown came later that day.

I´m dead tired and I guess this post is really long enough, so goodnight for now!

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2 Responses to “The session with Mrs D in detail”

  1. This really struck me, “There were times when I felt like I was inherently toxic and now I´m looking for an alternate view. Both on me and on human beings in general.” I too am look for a kinder view of both myself and of human beings in general.

    Take care and good luck with this process.

  2. Something I observed while reading your blog is that I didn´t get those massive bouts of inner tension (rage, helplessness, shame?). There was merely a slight anxiety. When I read material about psychotherapy I´m always prepared for something that will evoke this tension (hence the anxiety) and usually there will be something that triggers it, but on your blog there wasn´t.

    I had the feeling that the view on human beings as it is reflected in your writings is already very humane. Despite the dark subjects it was somehow uplifting to read.

    Take care, and thanks for commenting!

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