My Spare Time

Caving into the relentless pressure of several friends, I decided to see a therapist.

religionsHowever, my ultimate decision to go was more of a lark than anything else and to a lesser degree calculated to get the whiners off my back. I am not a big fan of “interventions.”

I decided to go on-line and see if I could find out what the “therapy” would be all about. As one can imagine, I discovered there was no shortage of information about “fixing oneself.” It appears to be an epidemic! On one site, I found a “Psychological Evaluation Questionnaire” that was supposedly designed to help a person figure out if they needed therapy or not. Deep down, I knew I was OK–but I thought it might be interesting to fill it out nonetheless, in preparation for meeting with a therapist. Who could know—perhaps I might be surprised by something—or better yet, perhaps the therapist might be surprised by something.

The questionnaire was simple enough, and I had very little problem with any of the questions on it. I arranged an appointment with one of the most respected therapists in my area. As it turns out, he was one of the preeminent psychotherapists in the world who had been published numerous times. Given my own reputation, I felt a bit put out he would not be able to see me for a few weeks. It never even occurred to me, because he was the “best,” he would also be very busy. It just so happens, I am a pretty busy guy myself, damn it!

When I arrived at the Doctor’s office, he greeted me at the door and shook my hand. He apologized for not being able to get me in sooner but really appreciated that I considered him when there were others therapists to choose from. I was impressed he did not have a waiting room with a secretary to tell me where to sit, where to go, or offer me tea & coffee. We simply walked into his office. The office was a pleasant enough place, not brightly lit and there were lots of bookcases full of books and memorabilia.

On one shelf there was a ship in a large bottle with a broken mast. On another shelf there was a basketball and a model airplane–a blue bi-plane to be precise. There was a giant ornate framed mirror, which someone might walk into and disappear. There were several paintings that did not relate to each other in any obvious way to me. A large Dracaena strangled a corner near the window. I strolled slowly around the room looking at the various things.

Next to the entrance there was a bi-plane blue water cooler with a stack of cups where one could get either hot or cold water for tea. There was no sign of coffee, which seemed odd.

The doctor interrupted my exploration and said, “These are some of the props I use in therapy. In some cases they take people where they have been, in some cases to where they are going, and in some cases they take them to where they wish they had never been or to where they wish they could go. Please take a seat,” he added, motioning to the heavily padded chair near his desk.

I laughed and said, “I figured you would want me to lie on the couch.”

“Not this time,” he laughed back, as if to make me feel more comfortable.

The apparent goal of the first session was to merely go through a questionnaire, one question at a time.

He said it was often a good way to establish rapport; and he had always found it useful to get a sense of a direction for any subsequent actual sessions.

I told him about the questionnaire I had seen on-line. He seemed pleased I had tried to prepare myself. He added he knew the questionnaire I spoke of and told me his questionnaire would be only slightly different. Nonetheless I felt I was well prepared for his questions—there would likely be no surprises.

The first question was easy enough, as the therapist started down the list:

“Do you have any physical problems you are concerned about or are taking any medications for?” he asked.

“Most certainly not–healthy as a horse—considering my age,” I answered.

“Do you sometimes feel depressed, sad, or burned out?” he continued.

He was now writing something on his note pad.

“Of course, who doesn’t—at least the burned out part,” I answered as if the question was a bit rhetorical.

“Have you ever had any feelings of wanting to hurt yourself?”

This time the psychiatrist was looking at me intently over the top of his glasses as if to see if anything could be discerned in my manner, as well as in what I might answer.

“Not myself–but certainly others,” I chuckled.

The therapist looked at me blankly, and wrote something in his notebook. He did not give any clue in either his words or demeanor how much this statement was a red-flag of the problems we were going to have to work through over the coming weeks, if not months.

“Do you ever get angry or show your temper?” he asked next.

“Sure—who doesn’t,” I barked back sarcastically.

“Does your anger get worse when you have been drinking?”

This is the problem with lists like this—it “assumes” things not yet in play. But I decided to play along even though drinking was not big on my list of ways to get blathered.

“Is this a serious question? Of course I get angrier,” I answered, just to give an answer.

We could sort out, the drinking bit later.

After writing for what seemed like a couple of minutes on his pad, the doctor asked, “How do you feel when someone gives you advice?”

I was lost in the painting behind him, a painting of a woman with black hair and a yellow rose. She was not nude but was dressed in a way that made you want her to be. The doctor looked directly at me and waited for my answer.

“NOBODY gives me advice,” I answered. “Sometimes I think people try to or wish they could,” I added.

He gave me a look I am sure he did not intend to give, and scribbled loudly on his pad.

After seeing my involvement with the painting, it almost seemed like he wanted to change the subject.

“What do you like to do for fun?” he continued?

For some reason this just made me smile—beam actually.

“Can we come back to this question later?” I asked.

The question had a “complicated” answer, and I did not feel like getting into it right from the get-go, because I did not want to risk being misunderstood. I had spent my entire life being misunderstood, misinterpreted, and misrepresented; he would have to wait until I got a better sense of how well he could understand where I was coming from, before I felt comfortable answering this question.
He nodded it would be OK to come back to it and then he asked another question.

“Do you think people take advantage of you when they can?”

“Absolutely–isn’t that obvious?” I asked, raising my voice beyond what was necessary.

This question wasn’t on the other questionnaire and he was pissing me off now.

“Are you sensitive to what other people think?”

After my outburst at the last question I would not have thought it was even necessary to ask this question.

“Certainly,” I said,” What gives them the right to say the things they do?”

I was beginning to get a sense the questionnaire was designed to provoke a response—to break down defenses or at least see where the weaknesses in the defenses were.

“Are you anxious or nervous or worry a lot?” he asked.

“Probably, but no more than anyone else—I would call it more ‘annoyed’,” I answered truthfully.

“Do you feel isolated as though everyone is against you?” he asked.

Once again he had that intense stare, and the poker face was back.

“Certainly,” I said without any hesitation.

I think this question with the easiest to answer so far. Once again there was a long pause while he wrote some notes, and the girl with the rose beckoned me back.

“Do you get bored easily, or always feel like you have to being doing something?” he continued.

“Sure—there is so much to do,” I answered excitedly.

I would love to have elaborated on all my big plans, but he moved right on to the next question.

“Are you uncomfortable in social situations?”

“Depends on who is there—there are some groups of people I could do without!”

Again I would love to have elaborated on this as well, because it was quite a lot more complicated than my answer made it sound. Given my short answer it could be interpreted my not wanting to be in the same room with people was somehow my fault.

“Do you feel guilty about drinking?

“Not really—why—should I?” I asked, being a bit snarky.

What is with all the drinking questions anyway—apparently this must be a big issue for lots of people for it to be so front and center on a simple questionnaire like this! I was surprised when the therapist actually answered my question.

“The questions are generic, so don’t worry about them. I am just taking notes for now,” he said, “We will get back to each of these questions in more depth later on, as warranted—in future sessions if you like.”

He continued on to the next question.

“Are you aware of being afraid or fearful of anything?” he asked.

“Nope,” I answered.

Finally he asked a question with an answer even shorter than the one about how everyone is picking on me. I had the feeling he would like for me to have responded differently, but for me it was the truth.

“Do you have any family members who are alcoholics or drug addicts?”

This question almost made me burst out laughing and I certainly was not able to hide my feelings from him.

“Most certainly,” I exclaimed, “I can honestly say, it seems almost all of them are addicted to something.”

I so much wanted to rattle off the endless list of things like: sex, love, drugs, coffee, rock-n-roll, gambling, the Internet, video games, shopping, negativity, body image, exercise, food, bungee jumping, work, reading religion etc, but he just continued on with the questions; and anyway, my answer proved to be an interesting segue.

“Do you see ‘hope’ for the future?” he asked next.

“Not much,” I answered very directly.

I surprised myself by how easy the answer came and how much the answer did not bother me. I know I was prepared ahead of time for the question—but nonetheless my lack of reaction still surprised me.

The doctor was scribbling away as fast as he could now.

“Why do you feel this way?” he asked, looking up from his pad.

“Isn’t it obvious?” I replied sarcastically.

Some of these questions seemed so stupid. Anyone with eyes in their head and access to the Internet could see how things are falling apart! That anyone could seriously think there is any “hope,” or that hope is even part of the equation, seemed patently ludicrous to me. At this point it just seemed too simplistic to be continuing though this silly list of unimportant questions just to get to some mysterious “starting point!” I was ready to get into the meat of the matter.

“Why do you use drugs?” he asked, seemingly out of left field.

“Who said I do drugs? Are you counting alcohol? Chocolate? I like to have a glass of wine now and then—that is normal isn’t it?” I pleaded.

I was not being defensive—simply realistic. I never held much stock in “normal” anyway—but it was a useful word at the moment.

I got the feeling we were coming to the end of the list.

“Do you have any family or friends who could come to group counseling with you?” he asked.

“I seriously doubt you would ever get very many of us in the same room together! Most of the time, they would just as soon forget we are, were, or ever will be, family or friends. The rest of the time they are just in denial about it,” I answered.

Has anyone ever “abused” you?” he asked, as if the list was about to heat up again in another direction.

“Almost every day as long as I can remember,” I answered matter-of-factly.

The doctor took off his glasses and set them on the note pad on his desk and looked intensely at me.
In what seemed at first like a departure from the list, he asked, “Can you discuss this abuse further?”

“It is just the way it has always been is all—no big deal really—I typically just abuse them right back.”

The psychiatrist gave me an odd look after my answer, the poker face was gone and a look of concern was obvious. I am not sure why—but perhaps he was wondering how I could have accomplished the abuse back when I was little. It also occurred to me he might be wondering what form the current abuse took—given a lack of visible physical evidence. After all, I did tell him I was in good health.

“Revenge has just always been easy for me,” I added, as if the answer would be any kind of acceptable explanation.

To me it just showed how little he really knew about me, and probably reflected something about me he felt needed fixing. He put his glasses back on and sat back in his chair—like he was about to shift gears, and steer away from this topic for now.

“Can we come back to the question about what you do for fun—how you spend your spare time?” he asked, scribbling away again.

“I am the creative type Doc. Among other things, I enjoy making tsunamis, religious wars and holocausts,” I said excitedly.

I certainly had the doctor’s attention now. He put down his pen and pad again and was looking at me intently without a bit of poker face. I could have added: making lighting, plagues, mud slides, tornadoes, volcanoes, earthquakes, beheadings, sex slaves, birth defects, Alzheimer’s and endless other things to my list, but he seemed to get the point well enough.

“But by far, I have the most fun watching people think I care, or thinking I somehow take sides, or thinking there is any real difference between all the different versions of me people come up with. I love feeding these illusions. There is nothing quite like making these things happen–to get the old juices flowing,” I exclaimed!

I could feel the excitement start to make my heart race, just talking about it.

“How about you Doc, what do you like to do in your spare time?”

A Story by Charles Buell

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