At the suggestion of several well-meaning people, I decided to give the counseling thing another try. Apparently between dad dying, regular life stress, and the anxiety of dealing with an unwanted sexual invasion, one should have an urge to spew their anxieties and feelings onto a professional who will regurgitate these said feelings, spit them back out at the “patient” and some sort of wild clarity will be gained. At least that’s what I was hoping or have heard.
I’m not sure why anyone would ever want that job. The job of listening to people whine and complain all day. Delving into things that happened in the past and that may or may not have any relevance in the present or future. I can’t imagine taking in all that stress and compiling with my own. I don’t know, in a lesser way nurses do the same thing. And the old, wounded stressed out nurses suffer just as much as the patients. They call it vicarious trauma or compassion fatigue, but I digress.
I have a long, but remote psychiatric history. Diagnoses loom in my medical record from teenage and young adulthood that seem to follow me wherever I go. I have been stamped, branded–a scarlet letter to mark my shame. So when I begin to spout my long history of psychotic mental illness at this baffled woman, somehow she hones in on the psychosis, the disordered me in the distant past and seems to forget the me in the present. The “me” that is not delusional or psychotic. The “me” who is just anxious and a little bit stressed just like a normal person would be if they were to have gone through the last year or two like I had.
But here I sit, like a piñata of delicious, DSM V candies waiting to be cracked open and gluttonously devoured. She seems excited, ferocious even to dismantle my every day emotions and turn them into something pathologic, something disordered. She seems to want to take my feelings and assign them all as symptoms rather than as a normal human response. Of course I feel anxious in her chair, because I can see what she is doing. If anyone else were to walk through that door and sit in this seat, they would have the freedom to be anxious, to be afraid, to be down, to be sleepless and that would be okay. But not someone like me.
Maybe that’s why I hardly ever tell my story anymore. Not because I ashamed of it, more because I don’t want to be viewed through a lens of “other,” something outside the ordinary. And here she goes. She first compliments me. She tells me I am amazing. So awe inspiring. Like maybe I should be in a museum. Look but don’t touch. Somehow, against all odds I have left schizophrenia behind and am functioning like an adult being. Wow, do I get a piece of that candy now? She just can’t believe how inspiring I am. But what she means is I am lesser. I am other. She will now view me as someone once disabled, who may now appear normal but could morph back into a psychotic mess when the sun goes down like a werewolf or shapeshifter.
How could I possibly be handing this so well? She seems to question herself. Certainly I must be on the brink of breaking. I want to tell her I am strong. I am so strong, that I am powerful. That it wasn’t magic that overcame this disease, it was pure grit, and will power and perseverance and a lot of support from people I love. I hold my tongue. For if I proclaim I am powerful, it may be viewed as a delusion of grandeur. And I spy over her notes as she writes, “Pressured speech, inappropriate affect” and I politely explain when I am anxious I talk faster and I giggle a lot. I giggle because I am light hearted, because I like to smile. Giggling is not pathologic. But her black pen scrawled across the yellow lined legal pad tells another story.
Halfway through this supposed counseling session, I knew I had lost. No longer was her focus on helping deal with the stressors I had come in to talk about, it was about a detective doing her work. Honing in on what she believes are symptoms of a larger problem, but are in fact just a part of who I am. I tell her I am happy. I tell her I enjoy exercising and running because it helps my mood. Those sound like perfectly sane, healthy ways to deal with stress to me. But her response, Are you too happy? Are you exercising too much? Five days a week is too much she says. Despite the fact that the American Heart Association and numerous other well-recognized organizations recommend getting thirty minutes of exercise a day, five days a week. Apparently, that applies to everyone except for me. Five days is too much for my feeble mind to handle. I might explode just like old Violet after eating too many blueberries in Charlie and the Chocolate factory.
She scribbles down in her notebook, pleasurable activities to excess. She has turned my morning workout into another symptom. I should ask everyone else in my boot camp class if they are similarly afflicted by this pathologic desire to exercise. It’s not even that pleasurable for me. I like it. I don’t look forward to it. I would much rather be eating a bowl of chocolate ice cream. God forbid I did that. I am sure pleasurable eating is not on the list of acceptable sane activity choices.
My one hour session was over. I am quite sure the counselor got more out of the session than I did. When she proclaimed her findings, an old diagnosis rediscovered, she seemed excited. Like she had conquered the mystery that is me. In 55 minutes. Perhaps, she herself is suffering from the delusions of grandeur. As she brought up points to support her hypothesis I countered with rationale arguments. She told me that my excuses, my denying symptoms were part of my illness. That arguing with her only strengthened her position. Never mind the fact that this “disorder” she has given me does nothing to impact my daily activities. I am working. I am a mom. I am not distressed. I am not detached. I am just a normal person trying to work out some things after having something traumatic happen.
Only not today. Today I am back in my cage. She shoved me neatly back into my box. Today, I am not strong or powerful or fearless. Today I am put in my place. Today I am weak. I am submissive. I am other. I left in worse shape than I arrived. Feeling more like Alice than myself…
“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.
“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad”
Indeed, we are all mad here.