‘The Good Doctor’
PANCH had two psychiatrists in their outpatient rooms, both in their mid-forties: Dr Menlow was short, bald, and spoke in clipped tones that made him seem very proper, like he’d come from some distinct (and condescending) upper class; and Dr Victor, in his late forties, was tall and had probably been a beanpole when he was young, but had now rounded out around the waist, with a narrow face, framed with neat, curly hair and a greying beard that made him look distinguished – the way you’d expect an English professor to look.
Dr Victor was going to be my doctor. He was going to be my cure-all.
My entire knowledge of psychiatrists came from movies and television, so what I expected was a plush office with a couch which I lay on as I recounted all my problems, leading to some breakthrough that meant I could heal and move forward. What I got was a small, cluttered, window-less room, where I sat on a chair while Dr Victor listened coolly to my story.
There were no insights. No assurances. No real opinions. Just this passivity, as if he was monitoring where I sat on the crazy scale, and while I was on the right side of the scale, then that was it, it was check in, then check out until the next appointment. My preconceptions shattered. The gloriousness of Hollywood archetypes this was not.
Over the next month, I saw Dr Victor twice more, although little changed. Sometimes I’d feel okay; other times there was anxiety. When it got worse, I assured myself to hold on until I saw Dr Victor – not that he’d do anything other than listen, but that was coming to be enough. His presence became assuring – or perhaps it was his calmness. While he was calm, I was calm, as that meant there was no emergency, and no emergency meant there was no cause for alarm.
After my third appointment, I got the occasional disturbing, intrusive thoughts and impulses, sometimes worried – obsessed – I’d hurt somebody. The thought would leap into my head whenever I was around sharp objects – especially knives. It wasn’t like I visualised plunging the knife into somebody, but there was a fear I could lose control. It would leap out at me. You’re going to lose it lose it lose it! Not that I would, but it kept prodding me, like a childish taunt, a dare to suck me in.
One night after everybody had gone to bed I was grabbing a drink out of the kitchen when I saw a knife in the sink. The thought exploded fresh into my mind. I grabbed the knife, pushed the point against my belly until it pricked the skin, and held it there, challenging myself that if I was going to hurt anybody, I should hurt myself.
Although I knew I wouldn’t do it, I wouldn’t hurt anybody – just like I wouldn’t say those unconscionable things that sometimes popped into my head – I was still worried that somewhere along the line it’d be too much and I’d snap. Now, I threw defiance back in the thought’s face. Take that! When I was finally sure I wasn’t going to hurt myself, I put the knife away, satisfied I’d won.
But the thought always returned.
I also worried I’d lose touch with reality. I would look at something – at a wall, or a couch – and worry it wasn’t real. I knew these things were real, but I just couldn’t get it out of my head to question their reality. An extension of this fear was I’d lose touch with reality and become delusional, think perhaps (in in an extension of my desires to write) I was rich and famous. Thus my mantra returned, and I’d repeat it endlessly.
Whenever I tried to contend with these thoughts, they grew stronger. I did better when I could let them drift away. Then they’d grow dim and I could relax. But it was hard to let go like that. You don’t want to let go when the only thing offering to cushion the fall are the fears themselves. It’d be like diving into a vat of snakes.
The morning before my fourth appointment with Dr Victor, I woke on a beautiful sunny morning feeling good, my mind at peace. The night before Stan had come around and we’d had a few beers. Now, I went checked the mail, then went back into the house, sure it was going to be an okay day.
I had lots of days like that.
They never lasted.