I’m sitting on my therapist’s couch waiting for him to come into his office and start our session. He’s always on time, but today he’s late. His assistant let me in anyway, but reluctantly, as if this weren’t my appointment time. But it is. It’s every Wednesday, ten a.m. sharp.
A toilet flushes from the next room. I know that flush. It’s my flush too, during our sessions. When I get nervous I have to pee. And so I use it. That toilet is a “constant” in my life – white, clean, lid up, and it never says, “Not now.” It’s comforting to know there are some places where you won’t be rejected.
The office door squeaks open, stopping half way through the swing as my shrink freezes mid-step. He’s staring at me.
“What’s the matter?” I ask him.
“I didn’t think … you’d … be back,” he mumbles. “I expected you to take my advice.”
“And kill myself?”
“Oh … Sorry. Did I let you down?”
He steps in, closes the door, reaches into his pocket and hands me what looks like a business card. “What’s this?” I ask.
“Buck’s Gun Shop,” he says walking to his chair. “Ruger LCP 380’s are on sale this week.”
My gaze lifts from the card to my doc. “Gee, thanks. You’re always thinking of me.”
“Too much. Irv, you’re depressing.”
“But I’m better.”
“Nope. Just delusional.”
“Really? You’ve helped me so much.”
“That’s what they all say.”
“My patients. You’re all pathological liars.”
“Not me. My father told me–”
“Never to lie to him. So I didn’t. Ever.”
“But he promised father-and-son trips that never happened. Correct?”
“So he lied.”
“Never thought of it that way. But how’d ya know?”
“I hate my father too.”
“I don’t hate my father.”
“You should. He royally fucked you up.”
“Ya think?” I sigh. “I thought you told me–”
“Not to blame your parents?”
“Yeah. And that I should own my life.”
“And look ahead, not backwards?” he adds.
“And be proactive,” I continue. “And form supportive friendships and write down all my accomplishments.”
“Total bullshit. All of it.”
“But I thought–”
“Nope. You are who you are, Irving. If you can’t deal with it, buy a gun.”
The room falls into a hush as I stare at the ceiling … thinking … thinking. He makes things so clear, so liberating. I love this guy.
“But you don’t deal, Irving! Every week you’re back on my couch – whining, whining, whining!”
My gaze shifts right. “Really? I whine?”
“You and my mother. I hate her guts.”
His eyes focus on mine. “What?”
“Why you looking at me that way?” he asks.
“The way you’re looking at me. Like you feel sorry for me.”
“I don’t feel sorry for you.”
“What! Where’s your compassion?”
“You never listen to me! You never take my advice,” he says.
“Yes I do.” Up I go, sitting up fast.
“No you don’t. You’re a complete failure. All of my patients are. Which means I’M a failure.” His eyes go moist. “No matter how hard I try, I’m just not good enough.”
“Obviously, but … Is anybody?” I ask.
“Of course! Somebody, somewhere, is good enough. But I’m worth less than dirt.”
Oh boy, a meltdown. What can I do … or say? I toss out what comes to mind. “But you ARE good enough! Honestly!”
“Coming from you, that’s no comfort.”
“Well, what if your mom–”
“My mother? In her terms I turned out totally wrong from day one. I was never, EVER good enough.”
“Not even as an ovary?”
“Not even then. I was just half a man.”
“But we all start out that way, waiting for our other half.”
“Another cop-out. I should have done it all on my own.”
“But everyone needs a friend, even if it’s a sperm! This not-good-enough thing … it’s really about not-finished-yet. We get that confused.”
My doc stands. “I have to pee.” He heads for the door, leaving me to ponder … not good enough … even more.
That feeling of failure can really suck your confidence. When that happens, it’s harder to do impressive things which will make people tell you how good you are. ‘Cause when people DO tell you how good you are, you feel even better and end up doing even greater things — which gets you more atta-boys.
But if you mess up and everybody knows you messed up, the atta-boys stop coming. If you’re waiting for affirmation, that can be bad.
But ya know, some people think falling down is no-big-deal. They get up and start over. But others get inside their mistakes and then think they’re total screw-ups.
So it seems to me, the world can be divided into two groups: The players who feel guilty about dropping the ball and the players who don’t.
I read someplace that we come into the world with our brains hard-wired; like there’s super confident sperms and scardy-cat ovaries, and the other way around too. I think I’m a scardy-cat combo.
But psychologists say Mommies and Daddies can build confidence. With enough atta-boys and atta-girls Mom and Dad can turn around your pre-packaged attitude from not-good-enough-unless-people-tell-me-I-am to … I’m-awesome-to-start-with-and-people-better-figure-that-out. But like, parents gotta start tellin’ you that when you’re still in Mommy’s tummy. And they have to really believe it.
MY parents? They were thoroughbred scardy-cats, ‘cause their parents were scardy-cats too. And Mom and Dad made me a bigger scardy-cat just by thinking that way. It was a lingering vibe in the house of not-enough: not enough money, not enough love and respect, not enough certainty. Never said, just felt.
I think my shrink had parents like that too, or maybe just his mom.
I hear a flush. Eight seconds later my shrink returns to his office, which means he didn’t take the time to wash his hands. Or, as I see now, zip up his fly.
I don’t care. I love him anyway, ‘cause he likes me.
Doc takes a seat, checks his watch and looks up to me, saying, “So where were we? Oh, I remember.” He jots down a note. “I’m depressed.”
My doc’s depressed? A thought zaps through my brain, something he told me three months ago. I’ll remind him.
“You’re depressed because the way you think about yourself is in conflict with who you really are. That sinking feeling, the draining of energy and enthusiasm; it’s like muscle pain when you’re pushing one arm hard against the other. All your spirit gets used up and your starving for more.”
“You remembered all that?”
“Yep. And you also told me I have to relax and stop thinking the negative thought of not good enough that’s fighting with my true nature which is: I’m okay just the way I am.”
“Good advice, but easier said then done.”
“And then you said that depression is when you lose hope, like thinking that a bad situation will never change. To drop depression, you gotta get your hope back.”
Doc slumps in his chair. “I can’t get my hope back.”
“But did you make changes in your life that are easy to do, where no one can tell you, ‘No’? Did you do something or make something that’s special for yourself or somebody else?”
“I try to help people in this office and no one’s getting well.”
“I am, little by little, ‘cause you haven’t given up on me. You always advise, ‘Never give up on yourself,’ but that’s what YOU did. You gave up. And someplace deep inside, you know that giving up is not who you are. Your Warrior self is banging heads with the Quitter, and your Soul is the football.”
“Maybe I should stop listening to other people’s struggles. I’m taking it all on.”
“Maybe you should look ahead and not backwards, spend more time with your friends and look at your accomplishments, start a creative personal project–”
“And exercise. I don’t do enough of that.”
“And look at ways you can change your career, find your hope by DOING stuff. Start with little things you’ve never done before.”
“Like finally telling Mom I’m gay?”
Whoa! Did he say that? I get off his couch. “I have to pee.”