Tuesday, March 29, 2011

It happened in a psychiatrist’s office.
“Can I ask you a question?” she asked. “Why are you even at _____?” and she named the place where I work.

I should stop here to add that I don’t know this woman, and have never been in her office. You see, I’m a fat guy; A fat guy who’s currently in the process of getting approval for bariatric surgery and one of those steps is to meet with a psychiatrist. I didn’t know anything about this woman other than what I've learned from sitting in her office:

• The waiting room had an unused feel to it. The shelves were dusted, and the magazines arranged neatly, but you got the impression the room was rarely used. Maybe it was the way the children’s toys in the corner were put away a little too nicely. Plus, it hadn’t been vacuumed recently, further adding to the forgotten vibe of the room.

• She had been a panelist on the Oprah Winfrey Show back in the mid-nineties. There was an autographed 8X10 glossy framed beside a signed form letter from Oprah thanking her for being part of the show.

• She was a force of nature. As I was sitting in the room, first filling out the initial paperwork and then beginning on the first of my three assigned personality tests, she came in through the door. Her voice was a cannon that blasted the stuffy air out of the room and hid the thin simper of her assistant’s soft rock radio. Wiping at her nose with a wad of tissues, she called me “Steve” and welcomed me to her office. “Come on back, come on back! You’ll finish those up after we talk.” Then to her assistant: “Sonya, he’ll finish up after, OK?” as if she hadn’t heard the booming instructions when they were shot at me.

We went back into one of the offices where between sniffles she explained that she didn’t see many patients these days and mostly worked with litigators serving as an expert witness. “I do maybe one or two of these bariatric cases per month lately” she explained. “I like to do them, of course. I’m just really busy.”

The conversation was fast and easy. I had never been to a psychiatrist before, but went into it with the thought that I would be completely open and as forthcoming as possible. We chatted about general addiction, my past, my daughter, and the back and forth came naturally. I felt like we were both enjoying the discussion. She was quick-witted and personable, sharing antidotes from her own past here and there when appropriate.

Interruped briefly for a nose blowing break, talk turned to work. She knows some people who have worked at the company I work, so was familiar somewhat with the environment. I explained that while not passionate about the work I do, I enjoy doing a good job and see myself as a constant that people can depend on. I could tell she didn’t like the answer.

“Look, it’s really none of my business. I don’t even know you and I’m not your therapist. Still though…Can I ask you a question? Why are you even at _____?”

She knew the answer before I did, but she waited for me to say it.

“Because I don’t know what I really want.”

We chatted some more about going back to school or changing careers before the rest of the answer came to me: “I think there’s something missing in me. There are people that I know who are creative and successful, not necessarily money-wise, but successful with what they do. They all seem to have this drive inside that pushes them to do what they love. I don’t seem to have that.”

This wasn’t groundbreaking. It was no epiphany. It was something I had considered previously before pushing the thought away. This was the first time I had really said it aloud though. It all boiled down to “I don’t know what to do” or, worse: “I don’t want to do anything”.

My newfound one-time-only therapist didn’t settle down on that topic though, and so we touched on childhood and moving around and she drew parallels between my father and I which while maybe not flattering, were again not groundbreaking material.  It was a really great conversation. At the end of the day, there are only a few people who don’t enjoy talking about themselves to someone who declares it all fascinating material.

We stood, shook hands, and as we stepped back out into the waiting area where I would have to finish my personality tests, she declared me a delight to her assistant who said “Oh, that’s wonderful!” before discussing the rest of her schedule. I sat back down in the chair I had left 55 minutes before, and started on my tests with something bothering me just slightly about the experience. It wasn’t until I was walking to the car that I realized what it was.

It’s a cliché now, a man sitting in a chair at a gentleman’s club getting a lap dance on a Tuesday afternoon, thinking that the girl rubbing against him has really come to like him over time. In the face of all that skin, it’s easy for some to forget that she’s working and that when you ask for one more dance she’s thinking how she’s one step closer to paying rent on time. I knew guys like this, especially in high school. They’d come back from the clubs they’d managed to get in with Polaroids of them paired with Destiny or Chablis, smiles wide on their faces. They’d talk about how she even stuck around for a few minutes after the dance was over and really seemed interested when they described the car they were going to buy next month. (“She told me to go back and I can give her a ride in it!”)

I realized, putting my key into my compact car (so normal it’s nearly invisible), that in my way, I was very similar to these guys. Here I was enjoying a talk with a bright woman who was being paid (well, I might add) to be interested. Whether or not she was actually pretending wasn’t the point. She was good enough at her job that I forgot she was making rent money while I was busy being engaging.

Don’t misread me; I’m not so cynical that I’m directly comparing the two professions. I’m just saying that when money is exchanged, intentions are clouded. Just because she gets you hard doesn’t mean she’s in love, and just because she helps you find insight doesn’t mean she finds you interesting. It’s a job.

Driving home, I decided it didn’t matter. I wasn’t less engaging if she made $250 out of the deal. I’m a charming motherfucker.

I also decided on that drive that I would write about my time with my single-use therapist who had her fifteen minutes of fame with Oprah.

See? I do want to do something.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I tried and failed at long-term therapy because it felt too much like paying for a friend.

Anti-depressants for the win.