A scene from my unpublished novel, Brother Man.
Amy looked up when the shrink walked in. Dr. Willikins was far from young, but her eyes held what appeared to be compassion as she looked down at poor stupid Amy.
“I’m Dr. Willikins,” she said, extending a hand. “I’m a psychiatrist.”
“Hello, Dr. Willikins. I’m Amy Bain. I’m a nut job.”
The TV was already muted, but Amy touched a button on her console to turn it off. Dr. Willikins brought a visitors’ chair up to the bed so they could see each other easily. The doctor looked like she was over seventy, but her small frame was apparently not frail, as she lifted the substantial chair rather than sliding it. She set her chart down on the laundry hamper by the wall and sat down, empty-handed.
“Why do you call yourself a nut job, Amy?”
“I tried to kill myself. Isn’t that enough?”
“I don’t know,” said the psychiatrist. “What were your other options at the time?”
That wasn’t the question Amy was expecting. Most shrinks — and she’d met a few by now — would ask her why she did it.
“Options? Well, I guess I could of just went on to bed and hoped tomorrow would be better.”
“Yesterday was bad, I take it.”
“All my yesterdays been bad for, for a while.”
Dr. Willikins nodded. “And was there some reason to think that was going to change?”
Amy shook her head. “No. Not for the better, anyway.”
“Then I’ll need more evidence than that before I can agree with your assessment. After all, nut jobs are my area of expertise.”
Amy stared at the old shrink. “Are you saying suicide is a rational thing to do?”
“Of course it is. It may not be a good choice, but life doesn’t always offer good choices. Sometimes every option one can think of is a bad one, and the best that you can do is find the one that’s not as bad as all the others.”
Amy pondered that. Yeah, that really was the way it was. She hadn’t been particularly eager to die, but going on had seemed like more than she could face.
The doctor said, “But let’s wait a bit to talk about suicide. You brought up being a nut job, and I’ve seen enough of those to doubt you are one, but I suspect you’ve got some reason to describe yourself that way.”
“Oh, yeah. I had a job I loved, and I threw it away so I could spend my days drinking. Was that a rational decision?”
Dr. Willikins cocked her head to one side and looked up, as if mentally reviewing what Amy had just said, then answered, “I think I missed the part involving a decision. If you decided to throw your job away, I may be forced to agree with you.”
“I did it. No one made me do it. So it must of been my own decision, right?”
“Not at all. Decision making is a difficult and stressful process, since it takes time and effort to consider all your options. Most of us do it as little as possible.”
Amy was confused. “I thought everything we did was a decision.”
“Did you decide to breathe just now?”
“So how did you do it?”
“I guess just force of habit.”
The psychiatrist said, “I call it the autopilot. We do what we’re used to doing, following the path of least resistance, reading from the most familiar scripts. It isn’t hard to find an excuse for drinking when you should be working, and if your brain is wired for alcohol addiction, those excuses get fast-tracked to the surface of your consciousness. I’ll bet, though, whenever you remembered to make a decision regarding working versus drinking, you did it correctly, either by opting to work now and drink later, or by making sure your responsibilities were covered before you opened the bottle.”
Amy said, “I never thought of it like that.”
The doctor waited.
Amy said, “Still not crazy, huh? I’ll have to try a little harder.”
But when she tried a little harder, the tears began. She accepted a tissue from Dr. Willikins, wiped her eyes and blew her nose, and tried again, with the same results.
“Take your time, dear. It looks like you’re on the right track.”
Amy nodded, took her time, and finally said, “I cheated on my husband. He was perfect, and I loved him, but I screwed around with other men until he caught me. If that’s not crazy, nothing is.”
The older woman smiled sadly. “I don’t know if it’s crazy or it isn’t. But I do know what that kind of guilt can do to a good person’s mind.”
“A good person? Good people don’t cheat.”
“Apparently, they do. If you were bad, guilt wouldn’t make you want to suffer to the point of giving up on life.”
Amy laid her head back against the pillow, thoroughly confused but almost too miserable to care. “So that’s what you meant about options. Live with the guilt or die. I guess you’re right, I’m not crazy, just too stupid to figure how to kill myself.”
“Or too depressed to see a third option.”
“To learn from your mistakes. To get curious about why you did things that didn’t make good sense, find the parts of you that haven’t finished growing up, and get back to the work and play of living in the world.”
“That easy, huh?”
“Good heavens, did I say there was anything about it that was easy? Parts of it might be described as simple, but that’s not at all the same. That’s why there is a need for good psychiatrists, and why I haven’t yet retired, because someone needs to do the things that can’t be done with a prescription pad.”
She rose and moved the chair back to its place against the wall. “Think about your options, Amy, and what you really need to do to get your life back on track. And don’t get stressed if all of them look hard. You can do hard things, right?”
Amy smiled a little. “Yeah. If all it takes is hard work, I’m okay with that.”
“I thought you would be. Well, it looks like you’re all right now medically, so I’m going to move you to the psychiatric floor. I’ll see you there tomorrow.”