Here’s the background real quick.
In October-November I got hit by a real hard bout of depression. It took me by surprise. It wasn’t the usual sort of bad day gloom. It was thick and black and wrapped itself around me so tight sometimes I’d just stand still and cry. It was the way I used to feel when I was 18 in New York City or 20 and 21 in L.A. when thoughts of suicide were constant companions. Back then I had flicked the switch by hurling myself into yoga and then yoga groups, involvements that took me away from the icy dark sheets of turmoil.
And then this past autumn they were back. Only two things felt good during this time and both I discovered by accident. One was scribbling mad paintings with bright creamy pastels, clashing the colors, blurring them together. It was something I could do without thinking.
The other was reading books by Alice Miller. I’d come across her before but never found a footing. She’s a world-renowned psychiatrist who writes about how widespread and unacknowledged is violence against children – sexual and otherwise. I read her, feeling like I’d found a wise intelligent friend. I felt like someone was on my side in a way I had never ever felt before. It was profound. Perhaps, I thought, I should pay attention. Perhaps there is something way back in my earliest years that led to decades of undiagnosed unhappiness.
Alice Miller wrote that the best way to get to the bottom of your own experiences of violence – subtle and otherwise – is to find a shrink who can really be your ally. It’s not easy, she says. So many shrinks claim to be on your side, but when it comes down to really upsetting the apple cart, questioning the goodness and best intentions of, say, parents – most shrinks will urge their clients to wrap it up quickly, forgive and move on. In the end, the shrinks will usually protect the authorities. It’s so ingrained. Honor thy father and thy mother.
So I set out to find me a shrink. “Ask a lot of questions,” Alice advises. I had never asked a shrink questions before. I tried a local one and quit after three sessions. It’s not easy to quit a shrink, especially a nice cuddly one with an office perched on a mountain, who’d been highly recommended by a wise, experienced and dear friend.
I found another one. but he’s in Manhattan and he had no time on Thursday to see me, the one day I am in the city. But I went through quite a process to find him – filling out a long questionnaire from an institute that another friend told me about. I reviewed the institute’s web site and they really did seem unusually non-conventional. I was impressed and applied and it took a few weeks for everything to filter down to this one referral. I had to check him out, even if it meant going into New York on a Wednesday.
I’ve seen him three times now. I think I might really like him. He expects you to commit to one year, once a week. The only time he has is Wednesday. I can’t do this, I think. There’s no money for two trips to the city each week. I don’t want to give up almost a whole day to spend forty-five minutes with this guy. I am ready to quit after the second visit.
“I think it’s really important that you do this,” says Fred, and something in me flies up, something that had been invisible and silent while I figured out how I could not see this shrink, this silent invisible part of me flies up to the surface and says Yes, that’s true. So what if I can’t afford it -- all those things – if it’s there and I have found it I shouldn’t discard it, but hold onto it.
So I go see the guy a third time. I got into New York City by myself, paying $30 for a roundtrip ticket with coins salvaged from a jar – two hours there, two hours back – for this forty-five minute session.
I get right into it. I don’t have much time. I’d told him in the first session that I wanted to explore the possibility of sexual abuse, but we get into specifics this time.
I tell him the story of the visit I made when I was eleven, traveling to Switzerland by myself from England, meeting my dad in Geneva – the fancy hotel we stayed in, the bidet in the bathroom – I’d never seen one before and asked, “What’s that?” “It’s where ladies wash their wee-wee’s,” my father said and I was embarrassed – and the next day traveling out to the Alps where we meet a friend of my father’s – a pretty blond woman he says to call Aunt Helga, but she doesn’t look like an aunt to me, there’s nothing cuddly or familiar about her and I know she’s my dad’s girlfriend or at least that he wishes she was – and then in the taxi on the way home how I hear myself talking to my father in a way I have never done before. It’s as if I’ve suddenly learned a new language, like I’m talking in tongues. I’m talking fluently, like a grown-up, entertaining my father, teasing him, being witty and flirty, and he is responding to me, enjoying the game, being witty back. Then I take it one step further. I call him “Mickey,” the way Helga called him Mickey – and then I stop. It’s too scary what I am doing.
The shrink listens. I feel like a fucking idiot saying all this stuff to him, but I have to say it. “That’s profound,” he says. I feel like my crazy words have been taken in, received. It is an unfamiliar feeling. It is like receiving water after years in a desert. We talk back and forth a little more. He doesn’t think I am crazy.
The next day I say to Fred, “I think I am feeling lighter.” I am feeling something new enter. It feels childlike, that feeling of having fun, of being able to enjoy something. I can taste it on my tongue. “Maybe it’s the shrink,” I say.
I fall asleep on the bus the next day, going in again this time with Fred for our evening workshop on East 32nd St. When I wake up Fred says, “I’ve never seen you look so peaceful.”
This thing about going to the city on Wednesdays. My initial sense of how no, I couldn’t do it. It didn’t fit with the pattern of my week. But I feel a bulldozer plowing through my pattern, digging up fresh earth.