At the Door in a Mental Second

How does one prepare oneself for the unknowable? This question seems pertinent to any moment of anyone’s life. I imagine this question came to me in the form of sudden anxiety minutes before I was supposed to sit across from another human being for a fifty-minute hour of psychotherapy. Perhaps she wouldn’t appear at my door. A memory came to me from my own experiences as a client in psychotherapy, when I’d unknowingly arrived at my therapist’s door several minutes early, which I’d always seen open before sessions, and this time it was closed. I felt somehow excluded from something. Then two things happened at once: I felt that this uncertainty was unwelcome, and what felt like an unwelcoming verb came to me: vanquish. Where did it come from? In a mental second, vanquish became vanquished. Did I somehow feel vanquished? I drank from my cup of coffee. I glanced at books on the shelves. Fear seemed to prevent me from feeling, imagining, or thinking. Before I could wonder what might be happening inside of me, a familiar face appeared at the door. She was on time. These last two words reminded me that I wasn’t mentally ready for the session. As she moved toward her chair, and I wondered if I would make it to mine, I heard her speak, which was unusual for her before she was seated, and she said: “I’m defeated today, and I don’t know why.” For some reason, these words of hers seemed connected to my own use of the word unknowingly, when I remembered arriving at my own therapist’s closed door. I imagined that some feeling part of me needed another part of me to unlock the door to the room where it was trapped. My client, who was now seated across from me, had said that she didn’t know why she felt defeated. Perhaps she felt trapped in her life like I imagined that part of me felt trapped in my own mind. Maybe she was both asking me to help her discover how she felt trapped in her own life and mind and telling me that our work together wasn’t helping her enough. These thoughts were somewhere between entering and leaving my mind when she spoke again: “Everything went so well last session that I felt when I arrived at your door today, everything would have to go badly.” Something changed inside of me. I was ready to listen, to both of us.

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