I can’t seem to write late in the day. My thoughts get scrambled by the images and words I’ve been consuming throughout the hours, leaving me in a state of fullness, the mental equivalent of eating an enormous meal that leaves you lethargic, logy. I want to push some of this stuff out, to take that brain shit, but although the desire is there, the energy is lacking — maybe, like my digestive system slowly moving food through various tubes before it can make a grand exit down south, my brain has to process the day’s events in a non-conscious way before I am able to make a final evacuation at the writing table.
I bring this up because I wanted to write last night, and I even had the time, which is unusual, because I usually spend evenings with my wife Jennie, but I tried to sit down and do it, wrote four words, and then stared at the page for five minutes in a haze. I couldn’t even remember what I wanted to write about.
This morning, it’s different. I put my hands on the keyboard and words appear.
I had a therapy session yesterday.
When I first started to see my therapist back in late July of last year, I thought I would talk about all of my head chatter but what I wind up talking about is the facts — the actual action in my life. It is the equivalent of summarizing a book for someone based purely on plot points, like saying The Bell Jar is about a woman who becomes depressed, goes to a mental hospital and gets electroshock treatment, survives a suicide attempt, gets better treatment at a different hospital, and appears to be on-track to slowly integrate back into society. Never-mind what was happening internally — her disillusionment with mainstream society, her ambitions to write poetry — her ambitions as a woman in a world that shunned female individuality (How dare a woman want to be anything other than a mother, a shopper, a high-society girl, or a home-maker?!?!) — her feelings of isolation even (or especially!) when surrounded by other people and so on. The plot isn’t the entire book. The actions in my life don’t necessarily reflect how I feel I’m doing. (Although, to be sure, they can illustrate a base-line functionality — I’m moving, I’m working, I’m paying bills, I’m listening to my mother bitch about my deadbeat brother and what the fuck we’re going to do about him.)
I went down lists of people I know and gave him updates on them. My mom is doing this, my brother is doing that, my wife Jennie came down with Covid, I went to physical therapy for my knee. I pretend he’s the town gossip, and all he wants is updates on various peoples’ comings and goings and health issues and relationship status. He nods and makes sympathetic looking faces over our zoom telehealth session screen. After thirty five minutes, I’m completely talked out and I tell him I don’t know what else to say.
He asks if I’m still journaling and what I talk about there.
I write about my head chatter a little more. Why I feel a certain way about this or that. I also reflect on the past a lot.
When you reflect on the past, what do you focus on?
It changes day by day. But a common theme is identity. And why I made certain choices. Like why I work in the computer industry. Or why I stayed with my main “ex” for so long — over a decade! — even though I knew she wasn’t a good match for me. Sometimes I’ll examine why I don’t do the things that I feel I want to do — why I don’t write more often, for example. Although, to be fair, I’m writing quite a lot the journal nowadays.
That’s good. What else?
Are we just killing time here? Are you really interested in this?
Yes, I’m trying to understand if the journaling is benefitting you. I feel you have trouble opening up your internal world here in our sessions.
Well, I do, that’s true. I don’t want to talk about how hopeless I often feel. I don’t want to talk about how much of a struggle everything is.
Why do you think that is?
The standard reasons. Men aren’t supposed to talk like this, it isn’t sexy. Men are strong and confident and when we do cry, which is once per year, tops, it is supposed to be because our favorite sports team lost a playoff game and was eliminated. I don’t even want to talk about why I can’t talk about it because it feels so boring and cliche’d to discuss it.
It’s not boring to me. Do you feel I’m bored in these sessions?
I don’t know, I assume that everyone in every profession has some base level of boredom after a certain number of years doing whatever it is that they’re doing.
That’s called projection. You feel bored in your profession so you assume everyone is bored with theirs as well.
I know what projection is.
Why do you think I know what the “standard reasons” are for you being unable to talk about your emotional state of being? Can you tell me what the standard reasons are?
Okay, one, men aren’t supposed to have emotions, we went over that. Two, admitting weakness makes you look like a pussy, this is a total fact. I don’t mind admitting weakness to myself, internally, but when I am put in front of other people, I won’t do it. The entirety of society tells men that we cannot do this. Three, and I know this, is because when I was younger my Dad saw that I was sensitive and he cuffed me around the ears every time I got weepy about anything until I stopped and learned to shove it down, push those emotions somewhere deep whenever they started to come up. So when I feel that way — sad — my instinct as an adult is to go off somewhere by myself and deal with it in private. I learned that men are punished for displaying ‘weak’ emotions and rewarded for displaying anger, ambition, aggression, and cynicism.
I assume at least 80% of men behave this way. And you know what, I’m glad I’ve learned to not show it — it’s helped me to function more effectively.
Yet you are the one who is depressed and needs therapy. You are the one who was fantasizing about hurting yourself last summer.
His statement stuns me — I find myself surprised that he remembered things I told him during our beginning sessions, specifically my desire to claw at my face, to push my nails into the skin right below my eyes and pull down as hard as I can, to leave trails of shredded flesh. I thought it would feel good somehow — at the time, it was a recurring animal want.
Has it occurred to you that it isn’t healthy to push it down all the time?
Yes of course. But I can’t seem to help it.
I don’t say this next part, but my brain briefly goes down this little tangential lane where I am reminded of how desperately I want to be liked by people — and then I remember one of the recurring themes in David Foster Wallace’s books was the need to be liked — he specifically wanted so badly to be perceived well by other people that he would try to figure out what it was that they wanted to hear and see and then he would present this to them, or he would use certain phrases and words, and then he’d realize what it was that he was doing — pandering to some extent — and this would further depress him, or whatever proxy character he was using to illuminate his own internal workings there on the page. And then I wonder if my therapy sessions have become what they have become because I am trying to get my therapist to like me the same way that I try to get everyone else to like me, and then I wonder if my entries on Open Diary are less then honest because other people are reading them and I’m aware that other people are reading them so I become less likely to share things that I really feel because I want anonymous strangers to not disapprove of my thoughts and feelings and actions, and I’m also aware that people avoid depressed people — we’re unpleasant! — and at this point I’m about to spiral into this vortex of thinking about how all of society tries to avoid depression like it’s a communicable disease and so I can never ever talk about things that might be taken in such a way as to indicate that I am anything less than 100% well at all times, living my very best life with my amazing partner in my amazing house with an amazing future for both of us to look forward to together on our magical journey through life — and this thinking becomes tinged, as it always does, with a stain of self-loathing that I recognize as originating somewhere in my early teenage years, and that feeling, the self-hate, leads to needing exercise to purge the negativity, because exercise is, I’ve found, the only thing that helps when I start going down these neural pathways that lead to nowhere. All of this happens in a matter of a second or two — it’s amazing how quickly you can flip through associations in your brain sometimes — I’ve made the decision to go work out immediately after the session and then my therapist knocks me out of my headspace and asks a question — Do I ever feel better after journaling, or our sessions?
Yes to both sometimes.
Do you ever still think about hurting yourself?
Not seriously no, not the same way I did last summer.
Not the same way? Well how do you think about it?
It’s simpler. I think about the relief of nonexistence. Having it all go away — that idea sometimes feels like a welcome release of pressure.
That’s pretty normal, most people have that kind of idle thought. It is often a sign that you are often tired and stressed, that you have a lot of obligations and responsibility. So. Nothing concrete, no plans to do anything about it?
I know what you are getting at, I know what suicidal ideation is and no, I don’t think I am actively doing that mentally. I’m not fantasizing about it on a regular basis, or making any plans whatsoever to hurt myself, you don’t have to worry about me. I have a good life with Jennie and things will get better when her parents pass away or go to convalescent homes or whatever — by the way why do they call them convalescent homes when convalescent literally means healing and we send old people there not to heal, but to die?
I think you know the answer to that question and are avoiding trying to talk about this.
Lucky for you it’s the end of our session.
By the way I have been thinking about not journaling anymore. It takes a lot of time and doesn’t seem to do anything for me.
I disagree. Something about it seems to be helping you. Plus you just admitted a minute ago that sometimes you feel better afterward. Please keep doing it as often as you are able.
(sigh) You and that fucking memory of yours. (I smile a little as I say this so he knows I am kind of kidding.) OK. See you next week.