In the hot seat (Short story)
‘Tell me… how you are feeling?’
I always wonder if I am the only one who can explain the details of pains or symptoms, complain about them at length, but when it comes to being seated with a professional – all blank. I was lying back on the white reclined sofa in the same manner I’d only ever seen in films of patients being ‘treated’ as they spill their hearts out to certified strangers – but that wasn’t going to be me. I wasn’t even sure what brought me here; this was the sort of thing that only happened to other people. I scoffed at it initially, perhaps out of embarrassment more than anything, before eventually caving in to attend just to prove to my melodramatic circle that sent me here that I don’t need help.
‘Fine, thanks, and yourself?’
She started writing some notes while she was observing me – like I was the reduced to an experiment. It bothered me, but I feigned indifference. I was going to make this as quick and painless as possible, so I thought. I figured – If she was paid based on my small talk, the simpler I kept it, the faster they could see there was nothing wrong with me, at least that was how it made sense in my mind. Time was passing and I was just engaging with my thoughts – she wasn’t saying much. Half the reason people ramble on in these situations and go for more sessions is because the awkward silence almost compels one to. We hate silence, but between that and ‘opening up’, I know which choice I would have resented myself more for.
I’ll have to be honest though. From recent events over the last couple of weeks, it is unsurprising my nagging family and friends pushed me towards these counselling-type sessions. My recent actions did seem out of character. Locking my keys in the car, missing appointments, errors in work, forgetting to turn the iron off. I know how it seemed, given that it was so unlike me usually – I have high standards for myself and am held to them. I know why my family and friends kept pestering me, I know too how it may be perceived, but this is me, regardless of some isolated events. I know myself – I am still in control. No life event or testing time will change that, but that isn’t something I wanted to go into. Not with her, not now.
They suggested it might be drink, that I may have a problem – that my increased drinking and smoking was making me spiral out of control. I could stop now if I wanted to, I just choose not to. When I’m stressed or going through a lot, I tend to drink more because it relaxes me more. The idea that I can’t handle my drink is ridiculous. What worth is a life if I am stopped from the things I enjoy? Some people like to do exercise, or write, or listen to music. I happen to like the occasional glasses of wine. I would know if I had a problem.
No matter what training or techniques this lady had, I could already sense the judgement from her expressions. No hiding behind a clipboard or blanket stares could mask that she thought I had a problem. They all did – and when people have already confined you to their box – ‘to treat’ or ‘untreated’, ‘alcoholic’ or ‘sober’ – or whatever else – your behaviour then becomes second to their diagnosis. I felt that, in me talking, my words would be like little characters in a video game, trying to escape from the impossible final level of condemnation. Words would amplify their preconceived notions, bring things out of context, she would only listen for sentences that would reinforce her beliefs. At least, in my silence, it was more difficult for them to affirm their suspicions. I could see in her, her patience being drawn out, but only a more experienced eye as my own could see this. She’d clearly been through ‘patients’ like me before, probably the type she would complain about after a long shift as being the ones that were wasting both our time.
I didn’t need the degradation, or unwarranted sympathy. Reserve your feelings for those that are pitiful – I’m not one to blurt out my emotions and thoughts to anyone who asks. Maybe other people do, but I’ve never been like that and that wasn’t going to change. Perhaps – if people didn’t act like I had an orbit of hot coal connected to my feet, to feel compelled to tiptoe around me, to exchange a glance and a sentimental half-smile like I was a cute lost infant, and to keep asking me how I am, or if I was okay – then they would realise the main changes were going through them. It’s their added pressures, their assertions of my guilt, of my not looking after my wellbeing that brought me to this chair. They should be the ones sat here for their deluded projections!
Yet there is one thing, at the core of all this, that frustrates me and nibbles through my insides like a rat that gnawed its way in through lethargic defences –there was someone who I knew too well who would have understood my locus of control. We may have laughed at the oddities of those gestures from the well meaning, then proceeded with arranging the formalities and things that needed to get done, and talk until the transitional ship levelled out again. It bothered me, because this commotion wouldn’t be here if she was, but it has been a month since her funeral…
and nothing has been the same since.