The images behind the sentences I wrote overwhelmed me. So I wrote fewer words, fewer images arrived, or the ones that did troubled me less, and they didn’t seem to interfere with the words that appeared on the screen. These words I’m writing now constitute a fresh start. It might be time for the overwhelming images to return. I’m lying on a couch, the same one I do in reality, in the same therapeutic space where I entered and left several hours ago, and I start to scream. The last four words appeared without my permission, and I wonder whether I give too much or too little importance to the “I” who gave permission. In reality, I’ve never screamed in a psychotherapist’s office. I’ve been speaking on a psychoanalytic couch for nearly a year, and I believe my voice has never made me as uncomfortable as it would if I were to scream. I’m not a screamer, or am I? As I reread the last two sentences, I found myself rewriting the clause, I’ve been speaking on a psychoanalytic couch, in my mind: I’ve been screaming on a couch. The overwhelming images I mentioned in the opening sentence have become all too real in my imagination. I’ve been a stutterer since birth (I’m trying to allow free association more say in what appears), and what I know of the human mind from personal experience seems inseparable from the difficulties I have in listening to my own voice. Stuttering can be a sort of scream for help. One’s voice, or one’s voices, need experience to be heard as they really are. The images of a screaming me are about pain, pain I experience as a human being, and I imagine these images saying to me: scream, scream, scream, scream, and learn from your screaming voice.
I was so anxious about setting foot in a psychoanalyst’s office for the first time that I didn’t imagine what might happen while I was there. I’m not thinking clearly, which means that I’m not writing clearly. This wouldn’t be the first time I’d set foot in a psychoanalyst’s office. It would be the first time I would speak with an analyst about the possibility of me becoming a patient or analysand on the analytic couch. Perhaps the confusion I’ve experienced while writing these one, two, five sentences reflects the confused state of mind I was in both before and during my first face-to-face conversation with a psychoanalyst about transforming a dream into reality. This last word, reality, makes me pause. In rereading the notes I took last summer while searching for a potential psychoanalyst in Seattle, I didn’t sound confused about reality. When I’m in a dream that is happening to me, reality remains far away, no? These last few sentences remind me of what I discovered later on, when the dream had become reality, and I spoke on the couch a few times a week, with only windows in front of me, my analyst seated out of sight, behind me. Speaking, or writing, without conscious control can disorientate me. I’m disorientated right now. Last August, a psychoanalyst and I spoke on the phone on a Friday, and we met face-to-face for the first time the following Tuesday. There seemed to be no hurry for me to lie on the couch. Yet I was in a hurry to set foot in her office. Before I appeared unannounced at her open door, she’d known only my anxious voice. In this way, our first session started a minute or two early. I shouldn’t have let the waiting room. I blamed my confusion on anxiety. I couldn’t remember whether I was supposed to wait for her in the waiting room or appear at her door at the designated hour. Thought was far away. The part of me that demanded certainty won, and I appeared at her door, which was when thought returned, and I realized I should have waited in my seat in the waiting room. She wasn’t ready for me. She let me enter. I was safely inside what had long been a dream space to me. Where was reality in this image?
I heard his voice. I heard his words. Several minutes passed in this way. It was Monday. Twenty-four hours earlier, I’d been reading a book by one of my favorite psychotherapists on an airplane. I felt my body telling me that not all of me was back in the office. For months this client had been sitting across from me once a week. The psychotherapist I’d read the day before wrote as if he were a novelist. I often felt as if I were in the room with him and his clients as an invisible observer, which was how I felt now, during this fifty-minute hour: invisible. This word felt unwelcome. I felt unwelcome in my own office. My client was speaking about an email he’d written yesterday. I imagined reading his sentences, as if I would be a welcomed reader. I was welcomed in his mind sometimes, and I wondered whether fatigue was preventing me from discovering if I was welcomed there now. He was asking me what I thought about the email he’d sent. I wished I’d felt more welcomed at the workshop I’d attended and returned home from last night. My client was silent. Maybe he didn’t feel welcomed, either in his own mind or by me, and he was searching for a way to connect with me, right now. The psychotherapist who wrote as if he were a novelist came to mind again. In his books he was honest about his struggles as he listened to clients. I was struggling, right now. And this wasn’t the first time, and it wouldn’t be the last time. This was not the time for me to be invisible to myself. We were seated across from each other. What was happening between us, in silence? The silence in the room seemed to invite me to listen.
I almost didn’t write this sentence. Perhaps something meaningful will come of it. I’ve started to remember a phone conversation that happened eleven months ago, and I’m frustrated, which is a good reason to write a sentence about something else. It was probably the most important phone call I’ve had in years, and part of me wishes to forget it. I decided to give psychotherapy one last chance. I was about to embark on the most intensive of psychotherapeutic experiences, and I might not have been aware of what I was doing. The page that I wrote in my journal last July is alongside me here at my desk. How I could not have been aware that I was about to make a considerable commitment of time, effort, and money to a process, four times-a-week psychoanalysis, whose outcome would be unknown? There was fear in many of the sentences on that page of journal writing. I was afraid that I’d asked my potential psychoanalyst too many questions, and I feared that she would reject me. I’m uncomfortable as another sentence struggles to form itself in my mind. It’s difficult for me to admit that I’ve enjoyed studying a paragraph of my own personal writing from last summer. I might be afraid of rejection by you, the reader. The psychoanalysis started four days later. That’s not true. We had our initial interview four days later. The final several sentences of that journal entry were perhaps the hardest for me to read. In those sentences, I tried to convince myself that the phone call had ended well. Maybe part of me still wishes that I didn’t write the opening sentence.
I was in a hurry in my mind. I wanted to be anywhere instead of where I was in my own head. There was something dangerous and unknown about where I seemed to be inside of myself. Danger and unknowns seemed connected in a threatening way. I wasn’t alone in my mind. Something awaited me in mental darkness. Don’t forget about me, I felt my body saying as I fidgeted on the couch. I imagined myself saying in a defiant tone: there’s no room in me for sadness. Then I heard myself speak, and I felt the person seated behind me listening: Darkness, sadness, body, and mind are all together, in me. But it’s a crime for me to think these things. More words left my mouth, as if arriving out of nowhere: I don’t want to witness what’s sad and dark in me. Seated behind me, Mary said something about me being a witness to my own mind. I associated the word witness with a crime or an accident, as if I were breaking the law by thinking creatively. I stared out the window at the dark sky. I glanced up at the ceiling, at bookshelves across the room, and I imagined turning around and looking at my psychoanalyst, which I knew I shouldn’t do. Should I speak or should I be silent? As if the realization had been waiting for this particular moment to reveal itself to me, I realized I was no longer in a hurry in my mind. I was remaining in what had felt like a threatening mental and bodily space, and I was sad. I said this aloud. Something important was happening inside of me. I imagined a cross, thought of sacrifice, and I was sad. And it wasn’t a crime.
All of me wanted to speak. Come on, speak! I imagined my body saying these words as I lay silent on the couch, as if I were uncertain what to say. I couldn’t tell her what was passing through my mind. I couldn’t. The last two sentences sounded definitive, as if I were eager to decide something. I wanted to know the immediate future, even if it were the future of only a few minutes. What was passing through my mind? Mary stood up in my imagination and walked past the couch to a chair nearby where clients in face to face psychotherapy sat. Maybe I was anxious to see the expression on her face. I almost wrote know instead of see, as if someone could know what a look on someone else’s face meant. In reality, I saw clouds outside, and I heard silence from Mary seated behind me. The images in my head didn’t stop with Mary walking to the other chair. A red hardcover appeared in her right hand, she opened it as she sat down, and from the couch I glimpsed images on a page. I imagined that the images were the ones passing through her mind as she listened to the silence in the room. Or maybe the images in the red book were what she imagined was happening inside of me. In reality, this might have been when Mary started to hear my voice again, while I imagined her studying a heavy red hardcover filled with spontaneous images that were appearing and disappearing in my mind. As I spoke and listened to myself speak, I wondered whether voices in plural was a more accurate way of describing my moment to moment imaginative work. As if my body were listening to everything, I somehow knew that silence was ready to return.
I imagined that three things were happening at once in two different minds. A dream with a key in it was alive in both of us, in my psychoanalyst and I, after the session, while each of us wrote about what had happened during our fifty minutes together. I’d dreamed of a key that unlocked what to me felt like a forbidden door. Somehow I knew what was behind the door: shelves of books that had been waiting for me for two decades. Once I was inside and had opened a few of the texts, I discovered that they were written in a foreign language. Could I learn it? Did I want to? Yes, I wanted to. That was the end of the dream. I imagined that the symbol of the key appeared to my analyst and I at the same moment, in our two different physical spaces, while each of us tried to remember the feeling of the session. Perhaps both of us wondered whether there were locked doors in those fifty minutes and what might be discovered if the key to open them appeared in one or both of our hands. Maybe the hour was about the fear and mystery involved in having an experience. My analyst and I would wonder about these things alone, each in his own work space, each in his own mind, each in his own imagination.