You can rattle on for awhile but eventually you run out of steam. You’ve got nothing to work with. It’s like hitting fungos, it wears you out. If you’ve got someone pitching to you, well no problem you can whack it all over the place. But you’ve got to supply your own power and that can be brutal after a half an hour of horror stories about your childhood or recounting crippling panic or detailing how just god awful depression feels. Fun.
I refer of course to the hours spent — and I had weeks, months worth of them — sitting in a psychiatrist’s office. I saw my first when I was 16, maybe 15. I kept going and going and going and going. I would sit and talk, sit and talk, sit and talk, sit and talk. They would nod and frown, nod and frown, nod and frown. In later years they were forever trying to push meds. One offered me a prescription for my leg bouncing a bit just before dozing off. No kidding. The same quack offered me meds for my hypervigilance. Oh great, more numbing. I’m sure these “doctors” were getting a cut from the pharmaceutical companies. Hey you got kids in private school and your staring down the road toward paying college tuition, why not try to scam your patients into taking some harmless pills? Win/win.
Several of the shrinks I saw wore beards. One had a bust of Freud in his office. Come on, you’re just playing to a stereotype buddy. I had two women although one of them was a counselor. She was maybe my age at the time which was mid 20s and very cute and actually knew so little about what she was doing that she offered sympathy and spoke to me and even made suggestions that went beyond the usual: don’t put a bullet in your head. At the end of my last visit she gave me a hug. If all my doctors were like her I would unequivocally tout the benefits of psychiatry. Course she wasn’t a shrink. She was too good for that. I do also have to admit that I sometimes wish I’d asked her out. But that’s a horse of a different color.
I do not mean to imply that all the time I spent in analysis was a waste. Just the overwhelming majority of it. Okay so that’s a little harsh. Certainly I needed to do something and visits to a shrink at the very least made me feel like I was taking control in my life. I was able to explore some of the things going on in my brain and come to some self discovery. But I imagine the same type of process with more feedback and more interaction and think that it would have been so much more beneficial. And when I refer to interaction I’m not talking about the constant attempts by my last psychiatrist to try to discuss sports with me. Also some of the meds that they peddled saved me from hysterical lunacy. I was very close to raving in subways and over turning trash cans and screaming about imminent alien invasion.
Psychiatry did nothing to get me off drugs and booze. Indeed one shrink tried to convince me that AA was a sham and that it was possible for me to drink again. I should have shoved a bust of Freud down his throat for that one.
I am a passionate advocate of 12 step programs. So much so that I pity those people with no addictions. Of course 12 step is not a cure all but for anyone who wants to amend their behavior and wants to do it for themselves, it offers a method that is so flexible in application that it is suitable for religious fanatics, atheists, conservatives, liberals, the old, the young, intellectuals and teamsters. You take what you want out of it. Everything is suggested.
Of course most people who are addicts don’t recover whether they try 12 steps or not. Well, that’s life. But a lot of people — a lot of people, a helluva lot of people — have their figurative asses saved by regular attendance at meetings.
But I digressed. As I am want to do.
Once when I was about 27 and in a particularly bleak period of my life I was seeing this young shrink who I’m pretty sure had just started out in the biz. After I blew his mind with the story of my mother’s brand of crazy and how through most of my childhood she kept in reserve for me, he got this idea. A wonderful, horrible, simply crazzzzzzy idea. It stemmed from the fact that my “case” was unusual and he was a young up and comer who’d never heard such nonsense. What he did was to arrange to start one of my sessions by bringing me into a room full of his older, wiser colleagues where I would tell my story. So he opens the door to this room and there’s this long oval table with about five or six shrinks sitting around it. Weird. I’m supposed to sit down at the, let us say, head of the table. I look at all these stern faces who are studying me like I’m some sort of lab rat and I can’t think of anything to do but to say, and I quote, “hi.” None of them so much as nod at me. They instead maintain their stern gazes. So I sit. I’m asked to tell about my childhood. I do. One of the doctors is a woman and I note that she’s the only one betrays the slightest bit of reaction to my story. She seems pained by my recollections which given their nature seems only natural. The others just continue with the blank stares. When I’m done a few of them question me about my tale of a mother who for so many years only had angry profanity laced arguments with imaginary people when I was around and reverted to normal when others came home. They were clearly calling the entire story into question. I wanted to slap them. Anyway I was soon ushered out of the room. My young doctor assured me that he would consult with the old bastards in order to better help me.
Let me tell you something, that help consisted of the usual sitting there saying nothing bullshit that I had already experienced and was for many more years to come. But with junior I wasn’t having it. I had to spill my guts in a room full of doubting thomases so I wanted results. I had the insane notion that help was coming. Not more goddamned sullen nods.
So I ended up getting ticked off and telling the guy I was taking a hike. He practically begged me to continue my sessions. He was adamant that we were getting somewhere (I can’t fucking imagine where he thought we were ever going to get). I told him that I was fed up with all the silence and that I could get the same in a library but at least there I could read. The poor bugger was devastated when I walked out mid session never to return.
It was the second and final time I up and left in the middle of an appointment. Why I never did again is beyond me. When I eventually returned and saw another guy I sat there and accepted the silence. By this time I was on meds and I guess I knew that staging a walk out would cut off my supplies and perhaps leave me eventually sobbing in the fetal position on the sidewalk at midnight. So I stuck it out. Now I'm on milder gentler barely their meds and my medical doctor does the honor of writing my prescriptions. But like I said it wasn't all a waste. Not by a long shot. A few times someone said something that was useful and they did manage to steer my meandering monologues into directions that proved fruitful. One even referred me for a time to a hypnotherapist and that was -- as they say -- a trip. I got to explore memories almost as if I was in a time machine. This I can recommend.
As for most of the time I spent with shrinks, well it was like I was trying to ride an elevator to nirvana, and could only get as far as Chicago.