In one moment, he went from an annoying but tolerable shrink to a freakin’ monster.
I think the change happened because I said the word, “anxiety.” I told him I felt so anxious all the time about so many things, and he leaned in. “Oh, I have just the thing for that!” he said. His eyelids stretched open until there was a lot more white than pupil. I watched as a few blood vessels burst from the pressure, giving him the I-am-so-brilliant-and-neurotic-I-don’t-have-time-to-sleep-or-eat look. I leaned back and I swear he leaned further in. So I gave up and decided this would be the longest 50 minutes of my life. If only his breath didn’t smell like the rotten sardines he must have eaten for his 3am breakfast.
He then told me he had discovered the should-be award winning cure for generalized anxiety. “It’s called exposure therapy,” he explained. I opened my mouth to say I know what exposure therapy is, and that I prefer the kind where you are gradually exposed to your phobia of insects rather than the all-or-nothing version where you are thrown into a pit of scorpions for a week. (With your only source of nourishment being the scorpions inside your daily regiment of lollipops, of course.) But then I realized that this guy was beyond me.
He started with a question: “What is your greatest fear?” I don’t need to subject myself to this, I thought. But for some reason, the words came out anyway. “Going to hell,” I said.
“Can’t help you there,” he said, as if I’d asked for some gum. “But what is your hell on earth? What do you fear most?”
The litany began: “I fear…losing control of my life. I fear that I will end up so anxious and depressed that I’ll be hospitalized in a…pych ward or whatever those places are called these days.”
He was scribbling furiously. “And what kinds of things – that could actually happen to you – do you fear most?”
I thought for a moment. “Well, I guess being killed or raped would be pretty close to the top,” I said. “Or physically assaulted, or losing my mind altogether, losing my ability to take care of myself. You know, like being paralyzed or something.” This conversation wasn’t doing much for my mood yet.
He looked like a hungry, domesticated animal. Hungry to hear my fears, to write them down. “At what age would these terrible things happen to you?”
“You mean, if I could go back in time and create this…nightmare?” He nodded impatiently.
“I don’t know…I guess four or five years. When I’d be old enough to remember what had happened, but still really little and vulnerable and unable to defend myself.”
“And who would the perpetrator be?” He began making dramatic swipes and punctuated marks with his pencil at this point. I could see he was connecting the different things I was saying. His page began looking very much like a web to me, for me. We didn’t stop until he had worked out all kinds of brutal details of what I dreaded most, until we had practically constructed a horror film together. He even got me to work out how people would respond to me, the victim of my constructed horrors. (He reminded me twice that I was the one who had come up with this stuff – that he put no words in my mouth.)
Finally the questions stopped. I stared at his notepad, then at my hands, while he turned to his shrink bible to decide my fate (aka my mental health diagnosis). He flipped to one section, muttered, and flipped again, his eyes two inches from the pages. Then he reached for his prescription pad, made a few quick movements across the page, and shoved his handiwork into my lap. I looked down with a sick feeling in my stomach. It read, “Prescription: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, delayed onset. To treat generalized anxiety and various phobias.”
I glanced up. Somehow, the shrink was already holding the door open. “Come back in, say in two years, and we will reassess!” His voice sounded cheery and hopeful, so I walked out with a nod of appreciation.
It wasn’t until I got home and sat down that it hit me. He hadn’t diagnosed me with PTSD, he had prescribed PTSD for my anxiety! I re-read the note. It was plainly a prescription for PTSD, so I started desperate google-searching. Searches like, “Does PTSD cure anxiety?” And, “What does delayed onset mean?” Even, “Can you be prescribed a mental illness?” Finally, I shut my laptop after searching “how to get PTSD.” It’s been a weird day. Those were my last thoughts. Not because I died, but because I developed severe PTSD that night at like, 3am. While the shrink was eating his rotting sardine breakfast in the dark, I guess.
That was two years ago. And today I walked into that freakin’ monster-shrink’s office for the promised follow-up. It was like no time had passed at all. He simply looked at me and asked, “So? Still have generalized anxiety? Still got those phobias?”
“No, I’m fine now,” I reported. “My PTSD still pops up and bothers me sometimes, and it kinda affects…”
He cut me off with a wave of his hand. “That will go away with time if you’ve made it this far,” he said. “But the anxiety about this and that…the every day stuff? And your fears, your hell on earth stuff?”
“Yeah, I am fine on that end. Life actually isn’t too bad. I feel happy and hopeful most of the time. There’s not much I fear.” I said it because it was true.
“BINGO!” He clapped his hands together. “I told you! It’s simple, really. I don’t know why I’m the only one doing psychiatry this way. Honestly! So effective. All the research, money, time wasted creating thousands of medications. A shame, no doubt! Have a happy life then, dear.”
I had a sudden urge to grab him by the throat and do a couple other things, too. One of which was to scream in his face, “The last two years HAVE BEEN hell on earth, you blankety-blank blank!” Instead, I walked out to enjoy my anxiety-free life.
***Please note: This piece is a fictional, somewhat satirical account of how my PTSD actually has cured my generalized anxiety. This story is not how I got PTSD, however.***