“Can I trust you?” It was as if this person from my past was asking me this question in the present. I wasn’t thinking. I was remembering a moment from over twenty years ago, wasn’t I? I knew the moment had happened in reality. Or did I? I didn’t know what time it was. It didn’t matter how many times I glanced at the clock on the windowsill just beyond the couch. Ten or twenty seconds later I would forget when the session had started and when it would end. Disorientation became my state of mind during some sessions. The memory image of this former friend asking me whether or not he could trust me felt so real and immediate that for a moment I forgot what year it was. Then I remembered that he wasn’t the only one smoking in the image. We were at work. It was sometime between 1995 and 1998. Did that matter? I stopped smoking in 1996. So he asked me this question in 1995. Silence was the only voice I could hear in the room. Should I glance at the clock again? He wanted me to do something for him. I probably didn’t understand his question. I imagined now that he had wanted to know what I would be willing to do to help him when he needed it. These sentences remained in my head. I imagined sitting up on the couch and turning around to see if my psychoanalyst appeared impatient with me. I glanced at the clock again. A few minutes remained. Our friendship ended several years later. Neither of us trusted the other. I was speaking now. I wondered aloud whether or not I was asking myself if I could trust my psychoanalyst. She waited in silence for me to say more.
I was absorbed in a memory when I heard the voice of my psychoanalyst seated behind me. “What are you thinking?”
This was probably the first time in our two years of sessions that she’d asked me this. Her voice sounded inviting, which was a welcoming experience. Sometimes her voice sounded as if she disapproved of whatever I’d just said. I would be afraid, and if I was able to verbalize this fear, we would start to look at what this inner experience might have to say about my state of mind during that particular moment of the session. Her question might have felt like an interruption. I was on the second floor of Half Price Books in Seattle in 1994. It was April, wasn’t it? It was a sunny afternoon. I was twenty-eight. I left the store with two books. One of them was Jung’s Memories, Dreams, Reflections. I think the other book was on Freud, not one of his own books. These were the first two psychological books I’d ever bought. My conscious passion for psychology was born on that day. I know I said some of these things in my response to my psychoanalyst’s question. It might have occurred to me as I spoke that I couldn’t remember her ever having asked me this question before. I wasn’t afraid. There was no fear to verbalize. I became sad. I am a psychological thinker. It’s how my mind works. And I didn’t become aware of it until I was twenty-eight. I verbalized this inner experience probably a few minutes later when I said I was depressed. Several minutes remained. I didn’t know I would write any of this. New memories have been created. And the previous sentence helps me realize that writing is part of the process of remembering itself.
It’s as if the past twenty years hadn’t happened. It’s the spring or summer of 1998. I’m thirty-one years old. Being lost is a state of mind I’m so familiar with that I’m unaware that it has become me. I’m helping a woman in her early sixties from her wheelchair to the toilet. She wears a helmet in case she falls. Seizures make that possibility more likely. Intense anxiety fills this mind and body that I realize are mine. A thought comes to me that wouldn’t have two decades ago, in 1998: part of why I help the three wheelchair-bound women who live in this apartment is to motivate myself to learn more about what might have gone wrong in my brain when I was a child. I am in two places at once. I am who I was and who I have become, both in the same body, mind, and brain. Yet all three have changed during the intervening time. It takes more effort than I would have expected to help Mary from the wheelchair to the toilet. Above I wrote “intense anxiety.” Seconds later “useless anxiety” came to me. I leave the bathroom to give Mary privacy. I feel that useless anxiety describes me. It’s frightening to realize that I can’t focus on anything else. Anxiety and I are one. Someone is speaking to me. It’s not Mary. A co-worker has entered the apartment. I hear her words. I understand them. Yet I have no idea what she’s talking about. “You can go home,” she says. Finally I understand the meaning of one of her sentences. Mary calls for me from inside the bathroom. I help her back into her wheelchair. My work here today is almost done. I have to record some things on Mary’s daily chart. Twenty years have passed. For a moment I don’t know why I’m revisiting my past. Then I feel myself as the fifty-two year-old that I am. I’d forgotten what it was like to be me in 1998. This is one of the final sentences. I need some calmer moments in the present.
I’m speaking about something when I imagine a thirteen or fifteen year-old me opening the door to this office and entering as if he were supposed to be here. It’s strange referring to myself – even to a me who exists only in my imagination – in the third person. I utter a few more sentences and then stop. Do I want to admit that I’m hallucinating? Is that what I’m doing? I’ve been trying to allow myself to free-associate, which is what one is supposed to do in psychoanalysis, and images of a much younger me have come to mind. More of these images have come to me since I became silent on the couch seconds or minutes ago: the thirteen or fifteen year-old me sits down in the chair across from where my psychoanalyst is seated and appears unwilling to look at me. He stares at the woman who’s listening to my silence. This younger me doesn’t know that I exist. I want to speak about these images, but where do I start? As if he were reading my mind, the imaginary younger me seated alongside the couch says: Don’t be afraid of these images. Play with them. I hear myself starting to speak about this inner experience I’ve been having that seems to demand something from me. Some of my own words surprise me. “I wish I was in psychotherapy when I was thirteen or fifteen. I might have learned how not to be afraid of everything.” I’m no longer imagining the younger me in this office. For a long moment I feel as if I’m thirteen or fifteen. I’m disorientated. I realize, as if for the first time, that I didn’t know how to be creative at that age. I start to wonder aloud about the possible significance of the ages thirteen and fifteen when my psychoanalyst says our time is up for today.
What I’d forgotten to say remained with me as I left her office, walked down the stairs to the main floor, entered the waiting area, and prepared to leave the building. Then I saw a familiar face. He was seated, typing on his laptop. Who was he here to see? No, that couldn’t be possible. His name had come to me during my fifty minutes on the couch. Now I saw him outside of my mind. Words felt miles away.
My psychoanalyst had been away on vacation. The person before me in the waiting area belonged in a dream. He was sitting a few feet from me. I was moving. If his eyes remained focused on the screen (he was typing as if he were a journalist trying to meet a deadline), I could leave this space without the two of us having to experience an uncomfortable moment. Maybe he wouldn’t become disorientated if his eyes left the screen and he encountered someone from his professional past. I wasn’t used to experiencing such inner turbulence after a session. I’d wanted everything to be the same when I returned here for the first time in two weeks, which wasn’t the case. A cabinet had been moved from a second floor hallway to the first floor. A coffee table had been added to the waiting area. When I entered my psychoanalyst’s office, she looked refreshed. For minutes at a time, I felt I spoke slower and paused more. It felt good not to be in a hurry to attempt to say everything at once. If only I could have had this experience in the waiting area, seeing a psychotherapist from my past as if he were in a film I was watching, before lying down on the couch, I might have been able to think about the fear that was overwhelming me. He didn’t look up from the screen. I kept moving until I was outside on the sidewalk. I was safe. A question came to me: why should I worry about not having said anything about my psychoanalyst’s vacation? I wasn’t undergoing this intensive treatment to have normal conversations with her. I imagined reentering the building and saying hello to my former therapist. My body reminded me I was walking. The building was behind me. I had imagined my former psychotherapist typing in the waiting area. Write about it when you get home, I thought, which is what I’ve done.
There’s no room for me in here. I don’t spend time at construction sites. Or maybe I do, if I consider my mind under construction.
I’m inside a room that appears to be a bedroom. My clothes are scattered around the room. A room can be a personal space, like the one where I’m writing these sentences. I must pick up all of my clothes NOW. Disorder must become order. How can I create order in a space that is under construction? Perhaps I unconsciously ask myself this question about my own mind. Maybe I’m unable to imagine my mind as an organized space. I’ve been reading about the brain during the last few days. Stuttering is related to the brain. I haven’t stuttered much in years, yet I will probably always be a stutterer. Am I associating my inner life with my brain? I picture myself walking around this room picking up socks, shirts, jeans, underwear, shorts, and then, in a moment of panic, I realize that there are no drawers here. I will have to create some. Build seems the more appropriate verb, but who is in charge here? I’m listening to the images and words that come to me. In other words, “I” don’t create them. Is it too easy to say that everything in my mind originates in the unconscious? Brain comes to mind again. I had severe cognitive deficits as a child. I can’t remember if “cognitive deficits” was the phrase used back then. I couldn’t think abstractly. Teachers said that my concrete thinking was extreme. My brain and my mind must have been sites where construction had yet to begin. I have changed over time. Both my brain and my mind are probably different structures today than they were forty, thirty, twenty, and ten years ago. Maybe this room that is my mind will always be under construction.
(I imagine that I can remain invisible long enough to return to my psychoanalyst’s office after I’ve left. What does she do in her own silence? Or does she call someone before her next patient? Perhaps a patient calls to cancel a session.)
We have finished for today. I have left her professional space. I’m about to walk down the stairs to the lobby when my body stops me and my imagination creates an experience that reality seems unable to offer as a possibility. I turn around, return to my psychoanalyst’s door, open it, and when I see her, seated at her desk, I become frightened, because for a moment I forget that she can’t see me. She starts writing on her laptop. She better be writing about our session! My invisible intensity frightens me. Why am I so frightened during an imaginative experience? She’s wearing glasses, which she doesn’t when I enter and leave her office. I move closer to the desk. I want to see her sentences. I don’t. This is her private experience. I’ve invaded her privacy, even as an invisible presence. It’s time for me to go. I’ll be back soon enough in reality. This experience has been real where I imagine reality originates: in my imagination.