For anyone out there interested (and I’m not entirely sure that even I am interested) I visited my therapist for the second time on Monday. (Although I don’t know why I’m calling her ‘my’ therapist; she certainly doesn’t belong to me.)
I didn’t learn very much this time (does one go to therapists to learn stuff?) except for one small, very minor thing: I’m really not very good at going to therapists.
Being someone who is pathologically early (she said we’d address this issue at some point in the future if we had time) I was early. She was late. And all of this set my mind off, not necessarily into a panic, but it got me thinking as I sat there in a grubby NHS waiting room next to real sick people. Why was she late? Was it my fault or was it hers? Previously she had told me to wait in a particular place at 10:00 am and she would come to meet me. Had she not shown up because I hadn’t announced my arrival at reception? Yes that was probably it.
I waited until 10:05 and with still no sign of her I decided to be proactive. I would go and look for her.
I’d only been there once before but somehow my radar managed to find her office among the dozens of identical looking others. But as I went to tentatively knock on her door it suddenly sprang open, leaving us standing face to face. If I hadn’t been paying attention and been able to stop myself it’s highly likely that I could have ended up punching her on the nose three times. I don’t know what Freud says about hitting therapists. He probably wouldn’t encourage it.
There was a shocked silence. It was as if by coming to look for my tardy therapist (she’s not mine, by the way, really she isn’t!) I had broken some kind of monumental head-case rule. She looked at me for several long moments, like a granny staring at a mugger, and then she sort of said something like: ‘oh’. I couldn’t be sure. She’s got a very strong Chinese accent.
I broke the awkward silence by apologising for being early and for her being late. I told her that there was nothing suspicious about me coming to look for her. Really there wasn’t. I was quite normal actually and I could prove it. Then she asked me to go away and sit back in the waiting room which I said I would but didn’t because – let’s face it – who likes waiting in waiting rooms? Instead I loitered on the stairs outside her office. If I was still smoking I would have had a fag.
All of this meant a few minutes later when she came to collect me from the waiting room I wasn’t there, I was standing on the stairs. And once again there was an awkward silence as she blundered into me, almost falling over in the process. She gave me another shocked look and another ‘oh’.
It wasn’t going well.
We went into her office and I politely asked if I could take a seat. She gave me a shrug, which I quickly translated as meaning ‘why are you asking me if you can sit down? What a stupid question…’ Or perhaps she thought I was actually going to take the seat, pick it up and exit the building with it under my arm. I apologised for being polite and her silence indicated that there was obviously something uniquely strange about somebody being polite. I told her I was always polite on account of being well brought up. And as the words left my lips I couldn’t help but wonder that if I was so well brought up why am I seeing a therapist about my nasty and abusive father? Then I apologised for apologising.
There was a silence. Then another silence. And then, finally, the silence was broken by another long silence.
We stared into each others eyes. It was very intimate. One of those occasions when you know that if you break the stare the other person has won.
She won. I looked down at my feet and then gathered my senses for another bout of protracted staring. I’d get the bitch this time, I thought. Then she finally spoke: ‘What would you like to talk about?’ she asked.
What would I like to talk about? ‘Nothing,’ I replied.
Of course I don’t want to talk about anything, I explained. Why would I? I’ve only met you once before and you’re expecting me to launch into ‘when-I-was-a-kid-my-dad-was-horrid-to-me’ mode. When I talk intimately, I explained, it is usually with someone whom I know intimately. Or when there was alcohol involved. Perhaps, I suggested, we could both retire to the nearest boozer and after three or four pints of Guinness I’d talk about anything she wanted. Liberally. Honestly. Word-tumblingly. And in comfort.
She demurred. Then it was back to the silence. And the staring match.
I talked about Chinese people. It seemed somehow appropriate. Of how I’ve known very few of them in my life. And of how their seemingly innate placidity always made me feel clumsy and unsophisticated around them. She didn’t offer any reaction to my observations but simply continued staring deep into my eyes. Didn’t the woman ever blink?
I talked about my illness. About being an undiagnosed hyperthyroid for several decades and how it fucked up my life. I spoke about this at great length. I even managed to bore myself. And finally she showed a reaction. She frowned and in so many words told me to stop ‘telling stories’ about myself and articulate my real feelings. She said that my illness was undoubtably a direct result of my childhood.
Now it was my turn to frown: such a comment seemed like an overwhelmingly childlike simplistic cliché. But I didn’t get time to tell her this because instead I was launching into a description of Phatic Communion – a form of communication in which words were used not to communicate but to fill empty spaces. She said she’d never heard of it but that I was doing it now. Of course I was, I told her. Naturally I was.
I told her a few jokes, which she didn’t find funny. I told her the same jokes, slower this time, having decided that I was talking too fast for her the first time. They still weren’t funny. Fortunately, I was not paying for any of this. David Cameron was.
When she wasn’t staring at me she was staring at the clock, whose fingers stubbornly refused to move and then decided to move at x10 speed. And all of a sudden, just as I was beginning to tell her how my father never allowed me to have friends as a child, it was all over before it had begun. An object lesson in how to waste an hour of your life in the most unenjoyable, awkward way imaginable.
I got to my feet and held out my hand. Once again she looked appalled. In therapist land shaking hands was obviously another monumental faux pas. I apologised for attempting to shake her hand, telling her it was because I was well brought up.
Then out of habit I apologised for apologising one more time. Better luck next time, I thought, as I headed for the pub and the pint of cold, frothy Guinness that awaited my arrival.
Three hours later another therapist was listening patiently to my life story, gently pouring me placative pints and offering me the occasional packet of crisps.