My understanding of therapy is that it is supposed to be fairly one sided. I assume there must be different approaches or techniques, but for the most part, my 10 years sitting in offices have been the same. I babble on about my neuroses and fears while my modestly dressed therapist nods her head. Historically, I’ve been a goldie locks of sorts when it comes to therapists. This one makes too many puns about my weight (“the weight of the situation is…”, “i’m hungry for more details, I use that word intentionally…”). This one offers too little rational thought (If you find yourself hungry after school, you should padlock every cabinet so you cannot get in for snacks. Dinner is the appropriate time to refuel.). The therapist I have now is just right. Amy is kind of earthy and a little urban, if that can be a combination. She bites her acrylic nails while thinking and paradoxically follows it with a sip of Kombucha. When I started seeing her, she would stare at me while I rambled on in excess. It really upsets the balance of a conversation when your partner doesn’t believe in exchange. I would occasionally feel uncomfortable and stop my chatter long enough to allow her to say something. She never did. I took that as my cue to continue.
One day, she told me, “I am sick of seeing hurting people not finding healing. I was trained to sit here in a quiet state while my patients do all of the expression. I don’t think it’s working for me as a therapist.” I was shocked, and a little annoyed, because I didn’t want this to end our rapport. I was made for catharsis. I chose to keep seeing her anyway. It vaguely occurred to me that I, myself, hadn’t been healed through this technique either which is what brought me to her in the first place. I might as well try something new.
She opened up quite a bit in those subsequent sessions. The irony of this new equity was not lost on me. She talked about her life and her views. Amy is reviled by children and her uterus has never so much as twinged at the thought of them. She views spouses in a similar way. Food that has been treated with hormones makes her break out immediately so she can’t even drink faucet water (“Brita doesn’t clear that shit”). She lived in upstate New York while growing up. Her friends were the trees. She did mention having a sister, but it’s the trees that are repeatedly brought up (I lived in the middle of fucking nowhere. The trees, they were beautiful.). She has given me no details of her home, but I imagine it to be an elegant, antique farmhouse. I can see her, as a child, running with her sister through her beloved trees and playing until they were called for dinner. She often spoke about this period of her life, and so it was that we came to discuss the cat.
Actually, she had four cats. All of them happily living indoors as she was growing up, lazing on the furniture and chasing the occasional mouse that would dart across the living room floor. One cat in particular was not as content as the rest. He desperately wanted to get outdoors. The sporadic appearance of a house mouse just wasn’t enough for him. He stalked the front door, crept behind people as they donned their coats and hats. He would immediately stuffed himself between the door and its frame, his last obstacle to freedom, as people made their exit.
And yet, as Amy recounted, once he obtained that freedom, he had no idea what to do with it. He would stand there, among the greenery, eyes wild with choices. As it would appear to her, it could have been choices, or deep regret, as she saw the cat arch with fear at the first ruffle of leaves. He looked back with what seemed like longing eyes to the front door. She imagined him really weighing those choices. He was declawed, had no hunting skills, and may be afraid to poop without litter. Where did that really leave him? A pet among possible predators. He couldn’t scale the trees to get away.She opened the door and called him in. She can’t remember if he came or not. She reminds me; “Cats aren’t like dogs, you know, they don’t really know their names.”
I’m immersed in this feline caper. This poor cat. It’s so terrifying to find yourself in a place you feel you don’t belong. Anxiety is, after all, one of my treating diagnoses. I understand the stomach turning, breathtaking, dizziness of a situation so much bigger than yourself that you know you will crumble under the weight of it should you go any further. In fact, you can feel your edges breaking off just from the inch or two you’ve already gone. It’s with that thought that I suddenly understand- the cat is me. “The cat is me?” I said. “The cat is you.” She confirmed.
I start to connect the dots. I’m sitting on her couch an hour after I’ve left my full time job. I’ve spent countless sessions describing why I’m done with working for not only my company, but with my colleagues, clients, boss, the IT department, maintenance people, snow shovelers and any other person to associate themselves with the place. It was my house. It was comfortable. It was familiar. It kind of felt like I was trapped. To say my coworkers were satisfied with a house mouse would be an understatement. And so it was that I stalked and crept until I spotted a way out. But here I am now- panicking. I want someone to let me back in the house. I find it convenient that she can’t remember whether the cat returned. I find it unsettling that the cat couldn’t remember its identity a mere 30 seconds after removing itself from its environment. I’ve always felt one of the ways panic claims you is by stripping you of your most basic truths.
“This cat,” she says, rather calmly, “is faced with any number of options. It’s just that not many of them actually seem viable. Are your options viable? Probably. Are you allowing for viability? It seems not.” She tersely finished. For once, I was pretty quiet. I’m sure she was just as shocked, if not pleased, at my uncharacteristic response. I never stopped to realize that viability could be within my control.
Amy tells me that I don’t have to be the cat. I’m forcing it on myself. I have claws that I didn’t even know about and they may be just perfect for the limitless number of trees in front of me. In fact, she tells me a lot of things these days. I try to surprise her more often with my listening skills. It seems to me that she tries to surprise me more often with her wisdom.