THERAPIST DIARIES # 1 -the not- so- perfect girl
It had been a long drive to my clinic. But she did not care. Did not care about the awful traffic, the heat, the screaming hawkers leaning across the windscreen and pushing into windows, random opportunistic people crossing the road in a blink of an eye. She came with hollow eyes in a pale face and she said,
‘ I can’t deal with it.’
‘I can’t deal with this pain, my father died and I don’t care any more. He was everything to me. It’s been three months and not a night has gone by when I have not wept. I can’t deal with it..this constant pain, there is nothing to look forward to. I want to die.’
I looked at her crumpled shirt, her mismatched trousers, the pale sunlight glinting through her washed out hennaed hair. I felt her pain, the raw burning sensations of scalded skin...And I feel the inadequacy of my own abilities. I know that kind of loss, it never really heals.
But I am a therapist and I am supposed to make her feel better…. hollow words string out of my mouth like a set of decorative beads……., ‘ dead people never really die,’ I said in my softest voice , ‘ they hover are all around you, in a vaporous etheric world … guarding you, loving you. They feel your pain. And every time you suffer, they feel your pain… they suffer with you.’
I talked of stories I had heard, experiences that I had had …. about how the dead watch over us, communicate through visions, dreams and children. And though every word that that I spoke was the truth as I knew it, I knew how inadequate they sounded in an all pervasive physical reality of existence.
But she was listening. With an attention so rapt that it made me self conscious. And when I ran out of stories to soothe, she asked , ‘If he is still there, why is he not communicating with me. Can’t he see how broken I am?’
Indeed , why not ?
The answers are so predictable. And I go on sharing till I can’t any more. The unerring clock finishes the dialogue between us. She is better but nothing has really changed. The dead will still haunt, the wounds will still bleed. And though I can lecture very well on the five stages of grief Elizabeth Kubler Ross talks about… how can I , or anyone, circumvent the agony of loss. I said goodbye praying that she doesn’t return. I felt I had nothing to give her.
But next week she was back again.
She was still in pain. And the rhythm of her questioning was the same. ‘ My life feels worthless. I am a doctor and I don’t want to practice anymore. He felt so proud of me. And now that he is gone, there is no reason to practice anymore.’
A dead- end once again. Amongst all the therapies I know, even the feel -good neuro-linguistic techniques - feel shallow. I find myself on an emotional edge of despair and irritation. Everyone knows that everybody dies. Leave people to wallow in their grief and they eventually get over it. Didn’t we all? But again I couldn’t tell her that…
As she struggled through her tears trying to re-word her sorrow , something happened. I couldn’t put on a finger on it, but I knew that something was happening within her right in front of my eyes. Her eyes glazed. Her slumped posture straightened. She wiped her tears and looked comical with the kaajal smeared on her cheeks in black streaks.
When she spoke, her voice was dry and raspy like an instrument which had not been used for a long time.
‘its almost as if I don’t exist anymore …’she said.
Where did that come from, I wondered.
She had said the same thing several times before, but this time it was different. Something had turned…shifted. Something broke free. Something breathed to life after a very long time I knew that this ‘something’ was a turning point of sorts
The angry , rasping voice continued as time stood still and reality started eking out of the corners, telling tales of a lifetime gone by.
I saw her as a little girl sitting on her father’s shoulders, giggling wildly with tiny hands clutching at rainbows and starry nights. Ice cream dripping from the lips, adoring eyes on her as she studied.
I saw her watch him drinking in a glazed glass and yelling at her mother. She hated the smell of the brown liquid which spilled when he waved his hands about in anger. And she did not understand…why was he angry…and at whom? When her mother cried and looked at her with baleful eyes, she could have sworn she would hear the words,’ if it wasn’t for you, I would have gone.’
And he would respond to the unspoken blame with a loving caress on his baby daughters hair and say,’ don’t listen to her, I am here for you …‘You are my princess, my perfect little girl.’
And though he never said it , she head the words,‘ never be like your mother …. argumentative and stupid.’
Through her shuddering fear, she nodded and she promised , that she would be good. Whatever that meant. And perfect. Whatever that meant.
She chose not to be like her mother . Argumentative and stupid. She gave up her art without a whisper — the music, the sketching, guitar……And when he said, be a doctor, she nodded yes. Without an argument she became perfect. The perfect daughter with the perfect job. But forever is really not for ever. And when forever suddenly turned the page, perfection had become the empty promise of songs never sung.
It was, as if, I was seeing her for the first. It was , as if, she was seeing herself for the first time…as an endless vacuum of being who she claimed to be and what she was not. A lost child looking for acceptance who got in the way of angry adults. listening to loud voices permeating her soul to numb her identity. Like a weak sapling, she had gravitated towards a false sun, her father, leaning on his dreams, his beliefs, till she forgot to strengthen her own.
When adoration becomes a matter of survival, it becomes an existentialist crisis.
At some level, she was grieving for her father. At another, for herself, the little child who never really grew up.
As the raspy voice settled into a comfortable emotionless monologue, I could see little chinks of sunlight coming through. There was a warm glow of hope finding its way into my heart. She had been to hell, this not- so- perfect barbie doll . And was finally going home…..to herself.
It is never easy to unravel from the past . To take rebirth, you have to die, sometimes all at once, before you learn to breathe again.