Monday, October 21, 2013

A Calm, Safe Room

I've never been so nervous while sitting on such a comfortable couch.

The whole room is designed to make you comfortable. The soft, beige couch, the light nut brown of the coffee table with a box of kleenex on it, dim lamp lighting, and paintings of desert mountains and cranes dipping their beaks into the marsh. If you just focus on those things you can forget where you are. But when you see the framed degrees on the wall, you know you're not just visiting. Someone has gone to school for a long time to learn how to call you out on your shit. 

If I took those frames off the wall, I thought, and stacked them like plates, I'd have a monolith of the years of training that has brought the well-dressed woman sitting across from me into this room. And if I took the years of my life, the ones that have also brought me into this room, and stacked them next to all of that training, would they be the same height? Would they be two plateaus, like the ones in the desert painting, and if I ran across the surface of one could I easily jump to the other? Or would one tower over the other? 

I felt like I was sitting in the shadow of something while I was perched on the edge of the couch the other night. It's not that I've never been to a therapist before, but I've never been to one to talk about the old, buried stuff and how it's affecting my life now. I didn't want a woman therapist at first. I thought it might be too much, that all of those memories of women would rise up in me and I'd shut down. Or worse - snap and go crazy and never come back. But her voice was soft, and she assured me that her job was to make me feel safe, and she wouldn't push me to talk about anything that might break me.

"I can't have a breakdown," I said. "I can't afford to."

I explained about having to go to work every day and the kids, how they needed me not to breakdown, and I thought about how funny it was that I'd worded it the way I had. I couldn't "afford" to have a breakdown, like it's a ski trip. A vacation where someone else could take care of me while I spent the day dealing with memories and feelings. But I've known enough people who've had breakdowns and gone into mental institutions to know that it's not a vacation, and no one enjoys it. So I'm just going to have to remember and feel things while my life goes on.

Unless, of course, I'm already crazy.

"I don't think you're crazy," the counselor told me. It was the end of our first hour and I wondered if she was just trying to get me out the door. But she was being so nice about it.

"Do you think you'd be able to tell that in just one hour of talking to me?" I asked.

"Oh yeah," she said. "I know crazy when it's sitting across from me. I don't think you're crazy."

If I didn't look crazy, I'm not sure what crazy looked like to her. I kept looking around the room, not returning her gaze, scratching my arms because the soft light and the cleanliness of everything made me itchy. I'm too old, I thought, to feel like a dirty child, but that's how I felt in that room. A dirty child that will never be clean, never be ok.

"What if I'm never ok?" I asked her.

I don't remember her answer. I don't think I was looking for one. I think I needed to scratch and twitch and go a little crazy in a calm, safe room. 

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