I tried going to a therapist once. It was in England. Let’s call her Dr. Bird. The minute I sat down she looked at me and waited for me to talk. She did not engage with my smiling niceties.
Eventually, under her relentless gaze, I surprised myself by crying senselessly. It was as though I was dissolving.
Partly because it terrified me to be listened to and looked at like that. To be intently, and dispassionately observed.
I’d become an internal wreck by that point in my little life. Or perhaps I was finally becoming balanced. I was tuning in to something I’d shut out for a long time, and I was questioning every system around me. I was also becoming paranoid. (Or was it just aware?)
Dr. Bird was technically part of those systems. If I didn’t know her, if she wouldn’t let me know her, if she wouldn’t engage, and share some of herself with me, how could I trust her? If I confided to her, for example, that I thought it was insane that the country we were in (her country), the country that had produced Orwell, and 1984, was now removing bathroom walls in public schools, and replacing them with security guards and cameras that watched every movement in the halls — and of the feet, in the toilet stalls — that it caused me intense anxiety for the children, and for the future of her country, and for the world at large — what then? Would she have me locked up?
What would she do if I told her what it was like to be forced to sit in a holding area at border patrol, with four kids, missing our train, while we waited for my husband’s Canadian (!) passport and Visa to be re-examined and approved? We, a tired family of six, were treated like we might be carrying a bomb. All the while, between calming the kids, thinking, if it’s this bad for us white colonial folks, what must it be like for the ones speaking Arabic, across the room? What must it be like for the kids in the refugee camp at Calais, the one the French authorities bulldozed periodically? Children were attaching themselves to the undersides of trucks and getting killed. My god. Dear gods! I was losing my mind. Or maybe it wasn’t me. Who was in charge here, to whom may I complain? The world has gone insane.
Dr. Bird remained stoic; shields up. The dark unmarked car, is it coming for me next? Whose side are you on, anyway? She wouldn’t say. And I was too afraid to ask.
She’d only reflect anything I said right back to me, peering at me, unblinking, through glass spectacles: “So, that makes you feel uncomfortable.”
Yes. Dr. Bird. That fucking makes me feel uncomfortable.
I was looking for a mentor, someone wiser, someone who was clued in and who knew what they were doing — someone with a Ph.D! (I’d been raised to respect certifications, alongside uniforms) to tell me that everything I was feeling made perfect sense. That I was, in fact, perfectly sane. These aspects of the world were insane, not me. And I wanted someone to tell me how I could navigate this crazy system and still, somehow, experience wild, unbridled joy.
Instead, it felt like I’d entered Clockwork Orange. (But “don’t be such a drama queen. You’re overreacting” — voices from my childhood.)
I’d studied psychology a little. I thought I knew what Dr. Bird was trying to do. She was trying to access my inner child. But it was not to hold hands with that child. It was something else. It felt as though she was gearing up, assessing the meatiness, the tenderness of my inner psyche as though testing it with the tines of a fork. But I did not want to be forked. I’d had enough of forking systems. I wanted celebration and amplification of divine connective powers, and the ability to channel those powers well and wisely. Didn’t she get that?
She’d tactfully pointed out the clock across from my chair, as I’d sat down. I’d loved her for that. Truly. It was a benign, wood-panelled little clock, designed to make things more comfortable for all concerned. I loved the idea of boundaries, and rules, and limitations. I just didn’t know how to make them for myself. That was precisely why I was here. I wanted her to pass on secrets from the inner circle, like the wise women did in red tents. Tell me how to shield myself as thou hast done. And tell me how to rise, and use my voice!
But all I felt from the moment I entered that room was the sorrow of “an hundred” years. (Even my colonial “haich” had grown silent.)
She offered me a chair by the fire-less fireplace. Her chair faced the Victorian bay window, the cherry trees outside; mine faced the plastered, wainscotted wall, with its vague, glass-shielded watercolours in thin brass frames. I felt I was suffocating.
I suddenly realized that I was sitting in the same chair that perhaps hundreds of other sad and anxious people had sat in before me, at the brink of undefined despair. Come to get a hand out of darkness, searching for light, for definition, some reassurance that we were all right. I sat reeling from the perceived consciousnesses of those who’d exposed their innermost selves here, who’d left with their souls writhing like worms, pink and raw and spineless. I felt them as real, not imagined, but real, in this moment. That wood-panelled clock, it was from another era — yet it too was real; existed here, now.
Tears were streaming down my face. I felt terrible shame for being so weak. I wished I could disappear.
“What are you feeling right now?”
A blind chasm around me, a silent wail of emptiness filled with yearning. How to explain, while you are still falling, what it feels like to be tumbling in a void? And why should I have to explain it? It simply was. Could she not feel it? Could she not understand why? Was she not the certified expert, here, now? I thought I’d come to a guide, someone further down the path of consciousness. Why the fuck should I teach her, when she was too busy trying to pick apart my brain to understand?
The sky had fallen. But I could not see it. Only Dr. Bird had a view to the window and its falling sky.
By the time the hour was up, I was a broken thing, useless.
That year, at our rented house on Stourbridge Common, there was a nest of baby blackbirds in the gutter of our garage. But there came a time when we’d find start finding them on the ground. Each day, I’d carefully pick the live ones up and tip them back in, protecting them from the scent of my fingers with gloves or broad leaves. But each day, they were on the ground again. Each day, another one dead. What was causing it?
Dr. Bird asked me if I’d like to book a second session.
Not on my life.
I’m terrible at saying no. “Compassion for all beings.” “Be responsible.” “Always give second chances.” My “rational” mind told me that she was a trained professional, so I must be in the wrong. And what if I hurt her feelings?
I kept my commitment to attend the second session, though I agonized over it for each day in between. I was on my bike, right jean leg tucked into my zippered boot, wheels spinning quietly through the concrete trails of the leaf-strewn commons, toward the city centre. Feeling the cold wind steal the water from my eyes, making salt trails towards my ears, I steeled myself internally. “We can do hard things.” “Keep calm and carry on.” “Stiff upper lip.”
At the start of that second session, I asked if I might sit on the side-sofa, or the settee, as it likely wanted to be called. It faced the window, like her own chair did, though at an angle. I thought if I could just keep my view toward the outside light, I’d be all right.
“Would that make you feel more comfortable?”
For fork’s sakes. Are you shitting me? Can’t you just be real already, Dr. Bird?
“Yes, thank you, I believe it would.”
“My vest is just there, on the backrest, behind you. Would you like me to move it?”
I looked at it. It was to the side, not touching me. I hadn’t noticed it till now. It was a fine-knit cardigan, cashmere perhaps, neatly laid across the back corner of the settee. I was in the middle of the wide seat.
“It doesn’t bother me, thanks.”
“It doesn’t bother you?”
“No. It doesn’t bother me.”
She gazed at me with her lapis-blue eyes — eyes I could see were just like mine, in some way — and I felt like crying. Then I got hold of myself and I suddenly wanted to laugh. It was so awkward, from my perspective, that it was also funny. But she didn’t seem to get the joke. Then I began to feel sad, and then bad, under Dr. Bird’s waiting watchfulness. And suddenly I felt very mad. And then, suddenly, I felt nothing. Only emptiness. And I knew what to do.
I quietly stood, and said I was done.
“You’re done?” said Dr. Bird.
“Yes, I’m done. Thank you.”
I gladly paid for the full hour, though only 20 minutes had elapsed. I’d more than gotten my money’s worth.
Dr. Bird let me out the front door of the little Victorian building. I unlocked my bike, which was parked near a climbing rose, and I rode further into the city. I kept my eyes on the trees, one by one, appearing ahead of me between the traffic lights.
The sky was back where it was supposed to be. A(n) hundred voices cheered.
At home, I looked for baby birds, but none had fallen, that day.
Image: Blackbirds by Alois_Wonaschuetz via Pixabay
Nadine inhales & exhales words & images from current vantage point in Zone of Emptiness, France. If you wish to contribute and/or show appreciation, please recommend/like and/or comment — or send a quick email via the contact page. Thank you for reading. 🖤