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Saturday, June 3rd

June 3, 2017

Yes, I’m back, for a day at least. Something about depression/mental health has got me thinking.

For the past week I’ve been (semi-binge) watching In Treatment, an HBO show I discovered was available on demand. The attraction was the shrink. Hours and hours of Gabriel Byrne? Heaven.

the usual suspects

When we went to see The Usual Suspects in 1995, Mike and I both loved it. As much as the film itself, I loved Gabriel Byrne. I was a fair bit ahead of Mike in figuring out who the bad guy was, but I couldn’t help feeling that I’d missed some clues. So, a week later I took my friend Rowan to see it for her birthday. Before the film started, I said something along the lines of “Brace yourself. Gabriel Byrne is fucking gorgeous.” After we’d watched the film (during which I discovered there were indeed other clues) I looked at her and said, “Well?” Much to my amazement, she shrugged and said she fancied Stephen Baldwin more. Seriously? Granted, she was a good few years younger than me, but how could she possibly prefer the simpering pretty boy?

Twenty years later I rest my case.


Anyway, anyway…

For the first couple of hours I did just spend my time ogling Gabriel Byrne. But after a while I started looking seriously at the “therapy” portrayed on the screen and comparing it to my own experience.

I can’t remember if I’ve written about this before. After my Mum died in 1988 I decided I should probably get some sort of treatment. I was, for all intents and purposes, alone in the world, the only close relative I’d ever had dead at far too early an age. I hadn’t cried. Couldn’t make myself cry. I knew I was bottling everything up and that this probably wasn’t healthy.

A friend of mine, Beth, had waxed lyrical about a therapist who had been an enormous help to first her husband and then to them both in couples counselling. I asked her for the guy’s number and made an appointment.

Here’s what I remember about the treatment room. There was a large foam mattress, covered in orange plastic, in a frame on the floor with a box of tissues sitting in the middle. Sheldon and I were supposed to both sit on the foam. I honestly don’t remember anything that was said in that room. All I remember was a growing sense that I wanted to punch him in the face. I couldn’t figure out how this was supposed to help me. After three or four frustrating sessions I left his downtown office and walked to the school where Beth worked. I asked in the office and was directed to her classroom. I knocked on the door. She opened it, looking understandably astonished. I apologised for tracking her down at work, said I had a quick question that I needed answered immediately. I asked her if this was how it was supposed to work. Was I supposed to keep seeing Sheldon wanting nothing more than to punch him in the fucking face until eventually I had some sort of epiphany, broke down completely and started putting the pieces back together? “Oh, my god, no,” she said. “It shouldn’t be like that at all!” Okay, that answered the important question: Sheldon definitely wasn’t the guy for me. I never went back. (Two months later I flew to England where I spent time with much loved – and trusted – family members and finally cried my eyes out.)

Flash forward eighteen years. My Welsh friend has talked me back from the edge of the cliff. I’m on anti-depressants and have completed the two therapy sessions covered by the NHS. I did like the woman with whom I had those sessions, but, even though I was far from done, time was up. I couldn’t really afford to start paying the full whack for private therapy. I was told that the Association for Psychotherapy in East London did offer subsidised treatment, so I applied for this. I ended up with Celia, the only choice I was given, a woman with whom I had almost no connection. Actually, that’s generous. There was positively (or perhaps negatively) no connection. On the plus side, I didn’t want to punch her in the face, but that’s about all I can say. This dragged on for at least a year, me feeling frustrated and that we were getting nowhere. No idea what she was feeling. (Although I suspect I wasn’t supposed to have any idea.)

More years pass. I’ve been back on the island for a while. Mike, with whom I’ve reunited, has died suddenly. It’s taken me a while to realise that I am not fine, that I need some help. When I finally go to the doctor I score 18 out of 20 on the depress-o-meter. More anti-depressants, a counsellor suggested. I like this woman. I really do. Unlike the dreaded Celia, I could imagine being friends with this woman. I can feel genuine empathy from this woman. For all the good it does me.

I remember saying at an early session that I wished hypnotism worked. I wished someone could hypnotise me and record the session so I could hear what my unguarded subconscious had to say. Because, of course, under normal circumstances, my subconscious is very heavily guarded. She thought this was very significant. No kidding.

I know this shit is supposed to be patient-driven, that therapists aren’t supposed to guide the process, but I do think some people (e.g. me) would find it more useful if the therapist and the patient could come to some sort of agreement: You ask me a question and I will answer it as honestly as I can. At least for the first few weeks.

And that was what I started noticing while I was watching In Treatment. Yes, it was in theory all supposed to be patient-driven. But this guy did ask helpful questions, did suggest topics to examine, did to some extent at least guide the process.

Do therapists like this really exist? If so, how do you find them? Not, of course, that I could afford it, if such a thing really was available. Nor, of course, would it do me much good if the therapist looked like Gabriel Byrne, because, well, seriously, do I need to explain?

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