Out of Treatment, Episode Thrice

Man will not be saved until he realizes he is the most despicable creature ever created.

— Pedro Almodovar, Dark Habits.

It took Michael the Therapist and I about a year to warm up to one another; a couple of years to become jocular. At first I was chronically late (I am normally extremely punctual), or far too early. He would become annoyed that I sometimes pressed his buzzer a good 45 minutes early. “Starbucks down the street is too touristy. It’s better to wait here” or “I didn’t want to forget to buzz later on,” I would explain. Each session we would struggle over our different visions of where discussion should go. He wanted to discuss boring topics, such as how I was sleeping? Was the medication reducing my appetite? Was I taking it on a full stomach?

In addition to the ADHD meds for inattention, he decided that my impatience with people was a sign of nascent depression and subscribed anti-depressants. Being a natural pill-popper (I always like to have something in my mouth), I was curious about how they would affect me. A friend of mine in college had studied Medical Anthropology, and was deeply opposed to anti-depressants. I had read her thesis as well as some of the pro-medication memoirs she referenced and had become curious. Whenever there was a switch-over to a different pill, Michael the Therapist would walk to the office closet, open it up, and pull out boxes of samples. I always tried repress visible signs of excitement, though I felt like a kid in the candy store.

In the meantime, he also kept sending my Adderall prescription through the mail, which was technically illegal to do since it was a Class Something Or Other drug. This, he explained, was why he was so strict with my coming regularly to sessions, so that if the record were ever audited (this part was implied) it would be plausible that he was handing me the script in person. I did my best to loosen him up. “Don’t worry. I’m not going to sue you for malpractice.” This statement would cause his personality to observably tighten up, at first. Eventually, he began to crack a smile when I’d say it. His uptight demeanor turned me on. I was in his hands. I was Michael’s guinea pig.

The only truly disruptive side-effect was the low blood pressure. After rowing, I’d try to disembark the boat and nearly fall back in. My roommate yelled at me once to hurry up and tie my shoes. When I stood up, all I could see were spots. She later described me as clutching the bookshelves in attempt to stay upright, “like you were having a seizure. Your head kept bobbing.” Despite my efforts, I fell anyway along with several shelves and their contents. This symptom was occurring with frightening frequency, but I considered it a small price to pay for a newer, happier, more-efficient me. My guide through the world of neuro-chemistry didn’t seem to think it was a serious problem. He’d merely make note of it and move on through his list of questions.

In exchange for giving my chemical brain up to his care, Michael permitted me to indulge in ruminations during our sessions as discussing my physical reaction to meds never took longer than ten minutes. For the extra forty, I simply talked — or complained, mostly.

— So, while I was sitting there, this really ugly woman at the table behind me yammered some story about how “sexy” some guy was. She kept enunciating the word sexy really loudly, verbally underlining it, so that everybody could hear it. It really made me sick. Partly, it was the juxtaposition of a really ugly, obnoxious, person discussing sexiness.
— Don’t you think standards of beauty are culturally specific?
— When it comes to beauty I go with the Evolutionary Anthropologists over the Cultural ones.
— Which means?
— Which means I feel my assessment is objective.
— ‘Ugly people’ don’t have a right to find other people sexy?
— Yes, they do. But this lady, she was flaunting the concept of sexiness. I suppose the upsetting part was really that the guy she was talking to was also very ugly. I felt like she was being insensitive to him. I couldn’t take it anymore, so I left.
— You had been drinking caffeine with your Adderall?
— It was a latte, so it wasn’t too bad. That doesn’t matter. I truly think I have found the situation grotesque with or without caffeine.
— Uh huh. Espresso has a lot of caffeine.
— The guy at the counter had put the drink in a to-go cup. It bothers me when people assume my order is “to-go.” It makes me feel like they’re just trying to get rid of me. Even if they’re not! The assumption is possibly implicit, and they should be aware of that. Because they should be aware it’s a possible interpretation, I assume it is implicit. Baristas make me feel really paranoid.
— I see what you mean.
— Do you?
— Paranoia can be a side-effect of the medication. It’s also a symptom of depression.
— I’m not ‘paranoid’ about clerks. Go to a record store if you want to see what they really think of customers. Call me a skeptic, Michael, but that doesn’t prove I’m depressed.
— Yes, but why do you care?
— I don’t know? Why do you not care? Jeez!

— So, we were in the bookstore, C. and I. I recommended Smilla’s Sense of Snow, by Peter Høeg. It’s also translated as Ms. Smilla’s Sense of Snow, but that’s the snooty British translation. She told me, she wanted to take a look at it. She found the book, started reading the back cover and looked through it… Why do people do that? I already told her what the book is about. Either read it or don’t. But don’t stand in the bookstore in front of me pretending that you’re ‘evaluating’ it by flipping around! You know what I mean?
— Uh huh.

— I really like my desktop — it’s a Sony–, but I can’t stand my desk.

— I dropped German.
— Why?
— Too much time. But I realized when I was in that class that I keep learning and then forgetting something about myself. Basically, I never absorbed any idiomatic expressions as a kid.
— What do you mean?
— I’m just no good at platitudes or clichés. Like ‘a chicken in hand is better than two in a bushel….’
— You mean ‘a bird in hand is better than two in the bush.’
— See. I can’t say it right as an example but it flowed off your lips. The are the things normal people say. Southerners have tons of these expressions. Their dialect is rich in abstract phrases, like… “a stick in the mud!” I love that expression. In college, I went out for a while with a grad student, Ben, a Canadian, who studied Philosophy of Language. Actually, come to think of it, that phrase is one of the reasons why we broke up.
— Why is that?
— He wouldn’t admit that “stick in the mud” could be polysemic. It can mean more than one thing… We mostly broke up because he was boring — and not just at the philosophical level. He really was a stick in the mud. Anyway, I would never casually start talking metaphorically about mud, or if I did, I’d use it in the wrong way, mix it up so that when I spoke it I wouldn’t make sense.
— How come this bothers you?
— Well, I feel like the way I speak is very unnatural because I’m no good at throwing around abstractions like that and only half-heartedly use metaphors to describe the abstract. My speech is not grounded in the ‘everyday.’ Sometimes, I compensate by being really literal. Obsessively literal. I turn double entendres into single entrendres.
— Give me an example of what you mean.
— In [redacted]’s class, I once pissed everyone off when I insisted the the phrase, “And then the fog came…,” in Dickens’ “The Christmas Carol” only meant that the fog was cum.
— The class was hostile to a sexual reading?
— Maybe. I think the real problem was that I wouldn’t admit that the fog could even be fog; only ejaculate. There was something else about doorknobs, also. Why do I do this? I wonder if I was just deprived growing up in the cultural wasteland of Southern California, or because English isn’t my mom’s first language. [Speaking with increasing rapidity] I think I must have only heard Arabic in the chora. Do you think it might be because I grew up without a dad? I always had the impression that fathers are the ones who pass down clichés in language. The women in my family are very sullen and reject the oral tradition. My mother would give out meaningless yells.
— Yells?
— She would be on the other side of the house, and she would yell out some sound. The sound was unclear, but it could mean that I should “come here” or that my brother should “come here.” Our names sound very different, and the noise they make shouldn’t be easily mixed up. But she made one, non-complex, sound and neither of us could ever tell the differences in meaning. We’d both have to come running before she lost her shit. There was a real linguistic poverty in our upbringing. Or it all could be a symptom of my ADHD [By that point, I had come to accept the myth of my Attention Deficit Disorder]?
— It’s probably not related to a physiological condition.
— hmmm… Maybe. I was wondering if I maybe had Asperberger’s Syndrome. Would not knowing idiomatic expressions be a sign of mild autism?
— No.
— But…
No. It’s not. Stop self-diagnosing.

I had been told by someone ‘in the know’ that if I was being medicated (even in bad faith), I should also be psychoanalyzed. For a long time, conversations between doctor and patient followed a pattern:

— I feel like I’m boring you.
— You aren’t boring me. I wish you wouldn’t interpret for me. You don’t bore me.
— Goo goo ga ga, to you too. You shouldn’t worry about giving me a narcissistic injury if I am being boring. I bore myself a lot of the time. I want to see a psychotherapist. Why won’t you give me a referral? I can see you both.
— It wouldn’t be productive.
— Why not?
— Because you’re too smart for one. You would manipulate him.
— Please do not infantilize my potential psychotherapist. You can be so condescending, Michael.
— [My name], do you, honestly, believe digging up your ‘Buried Child’ will help you become a more patient person? Or are you actually trying to… Forget that. Answer the first question.
God… No. You obviously feel antipathy towards psychoanalysis. Personally, I don’t have the patience for the petty feuds going on between you Psychology people. I know you were indoctrinated in school to hate Freud. It’s not like I never had a conversation with a Psych major before. I want to embrace my contradictions. I’m not naive enough to believe I can cure myself with some digging. There’s nothing to cure anyway. There’s nothing wrong with me.
— Go on.
— Have you read R.D. Laing’s The Politics of Experience?
— No.
— A professor thought it would be useful for my project. It’s not, but I read it. There is something interesting in it. Laing wrote [pulling the book from my bag and finding the clipped page, I read it to him very quickly while pointing my finger to emphasize ‘thoughts’ or to make finger quotes when I got to jargon I found kitschy]

Psychotherapists are specialists in human relations. But the Dreadful has already happened. It has happened to us all. The therapists, too, are in a world in which the inner is already split from the outer. The inner does not become outer, and the outer become inner, just by the rediscovery of the “inner” world. That is only the beginning. As a whole, we are a generation of men so estranged from the inner world that many are arguing that it does not exist; and that even if it does exist, it does not matter. Even it if it has some significance — HERE IS THE PART THAT PERTAINS TO YOU, MICHAEL — it is not the hard stuff of science, and if it is not, then let’s make it hard. Let it be measured and counted.

— What would you like me to learn from that?
— That not everything can be counted and divided into milligram dosages.
— I’ll look into finding you someone appropriate.
— You keep saying that.
— I’ll do it.
— Ok. Before I forget, I’ll need a refill.

Coming Soon in Out of Treatment!

Michael sends darknessatnoon to a Psychoanalyst. They make fun of him together!

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