I’m looking for an essay I wrote years (and years) ago. An essay about how, when men don’t call after amazing first dates, it’s only fair to assume they have died.
Oops. Sorry for giving away the ending, Jon.
Along the way to finding the essay, I found another billion essays.
One in particular caught my eye because of its commitment to a recurring (i.e., SO OLD) theme: what works and what just feels like it’s working. It’s kind of like that age old question of whether you should strive for an A or strive to write a paper that actually takes a risk and explores some facet of your talent and intellect that may not guarantee the A.
For years, I didn’t fix certain things because the high of starting to fix them seemed like enough. I was an A student who just needed to get the A to keep moving forward.
Now, of course, as with most things, the high of an A isn’t high – it’s just a way to forestall anxiety about not getting the A. So now, at the tender age of way-too-old-for-this, I’m trying hard to fix some of the fundamental conditions that invariably result in pain.
Enjoy the read, if you choose to read. This essay would have been written around 2010.
Observations of the information age, where everything evolves quickly. Except people
“What else should we talk about?” I asked the therapist.
We were only five minutes into our session when I ran out of material. I had already briefed him on the weeks of my life since our last visit. I reported my success in managing workplace stress and how I could now get through a day without a bottle of Tylenol. He, in turn, praised me on my follow through.
Good doctor. Good patient.
So now we were free to talk about anything. But nothing came to mind. I had sought out his guidance after experiencing one migraine too many and now the migraines were gone. I was running and meditating and breathing lots of fresh air, all quite conducive to relieving the pressures of a typical professional life. In my book, we had accomplished our goal.
“What would you like to talk about?” he asked. He was finished writing notes in my file and appeared ready for some good old neurotic entertainment.
The truth was I didn’t want to talk. It was a beautiful day and I had many other tasks that needed my attention. I wanted to be excused. But I didn’t want him to think I was using him only in times of crisis – even though that’s exactly what I was doing.
I decided to talk and to see where my innermost thoughts led.
“I was really mad at my mother last week,” I offered, trying a little to remember her offense.
“What happened that made you upset?”
“I don’t remember. But I was definitely mad,” I assured him.
“And did you confront your mother about your anger?” he queried with only the slightest hint of interest.
“Of course not!” I laughed. “I told her I was tired of hearing her talk. She said ‘fine, I won’t ever talk again.’ And then we went to CostCo.
“And now? How do you feel now?” he insisted.
“Feel about what?” I mumbled, completely confused about whether we had even chosen a topic with which to soak up the remaining time.
I should have explained to this very nice man that I didn’t care about any issue unless it was immediately disrupting my life. I grew up in a house where nothing was allowed to fester for long and any hint of misery was quickly nipped in the bud. At the earliest indication of upset, anger, confusion, frustration or anxiety, my mother would descend with a heavy bang and yell “What’s wrong? Something is wrong.”
After the required dysfunctional dance of “nothing’s wrong” and “I don’t want to talk about it,” my mother would reach deep inside of our throats and painfully pull out the problem by its roots.
A tearful and emotional intervention fit for reality television would ensue. And then, my mother would matter-of-factly say “Let’s talk to someone about this!” Emotional issues were nothing more complicated than leaky faucets or creaky doors. The key was to find a professional who owned the exact set of tools necessary for a quick and final fix.
My mother would race to the phone, conducting a full-on aggressive campaign to identify the best expert for the job. She was inspired and determined as she explained the urgency of the situation. Within hours we would be in the car on the way to a highly recommended specialist.
“Just tell us what to do,” my mother would beg, perched on the edge of her seat with her stenographer’s pad ready to capture every audible sound.
It was rare that we visited a professional more than once after that first consult. More often than not, we returned only to report on our prideful success in carrying out the expert’s strategy. Again and again, we heard that we were incredible and that we would do very well going forward given our outstanding performance in the current challenge.
Whatever the problem, we were always fixed in an hour or so. Low self-esteem? One hour. Trouble focusing in school? One hour. Confusion about whether to put off college for a year? Thinking of murdering a sibling? That would be one hour. I was completely spoiled, convinced that we could fix anything with one phone call and an office visit.
But I wasn’t as efficient once I left home. I remember my first visit to a university counselor. I divulged an enormous and disproportional anxiety about turning in papers that were less than excellent. Within five minutes, she had resolved my episodic perfectionism and was searching for more interesting fodder. Perhaps I was obsessive, she opined? Did I find myself testing the lock on the door more than twenty times before being convinced it was secure? I tried to thank her and get out before she discovered real problems, but she tricked me into staying. She said she could help find the real me. It turned out that the real me was a comedian who visited her regularly for a year, regaling her with funny stories of how I talked myself down on a daily basis.
I didn’t return to therapy for many years. I was busy working and loving and learning to get through the normal burdens of an independent life. But when I went back, so many years later, I was convinced that I finally had enough conflicts to fill up an hour.
I was at a critical point, personally and professionally. Should I stay or should I go? Should I fight or should I flee? Rent or own? Boxers or briefs?
“I am easily a once-a-week patient,” I commended myself.
But the fact is that I was worse than before. I had become expert at resolving my life issues. I could easily anticipate what a counselor would say and I just wanted to get busy on following through. With useful tools like acceptance, meditation, Diet Coke and Dr. Phil, I could fix myself. Counselors were quickly becoming the middle man with high rates for overhead.
“Why are you here?” a new therapist asked?
“I don’t remember,” I said. “I made the appointment last week when I was upset, but now life is good. I have nothing to say.”
And for the first time ever, a therapist earned my trust.
“Well, then…life is fine! You should be happy! That was your goal, right?”
I agreed. I was fine and I was happy.
And then I set up a meeting for the follow week. I may not have a problem, but I’m not stupid enough to dismiss a therapist who works that fast.