My neurosis brought me to the most renowned therapist in town. I knew that I would have to “strip down”, but I wasn’t prepared to let go of my clothes too.
It started with a pinch in my abdomen that I could not make sense of. Going to the toilet all of a sudden did not feel right or natural anymore. The pinch would team up with a pressure, which made me go to the toilet at least once every hour.
I went to my GP, who gave me an antibiotic against urinary tract infections, but the feeling would linger after the treatment. With the pinch and the pressure becoming a new part of my life, I entered a constant state of panic:
What if it doesn’t go away? What if it’s meant to stay?
Giving in to my fear I became a regular — not just at one doctor’s practice, but at various clinics across town. I went from GP to urologist to hospital and back to my GP. I did not always tell them about each other. I got set up with a different antibiotic every time I went to see a different doctor. Some days, I would not leave the house and take one home urine test after another, then go back to bed and put a heat cushion on my groin. I started to drink at least two litres of water every day to “wash it out”. Then I would go to see a doctor and when my results started to come back negative, I would tell myself that my urine was too diluted to show any sign of bacteria on a plain pee strip.
I took STI tests, which all came back negative, and then I took them again.
After several months of persistent symptoms, I find myself looking at a picture of a middle-aged man, confidently leaning his chin on his fist. A full score of five orange stars right underneath the Google preview suggests that Dr. Sandberg must be the go-to therapist in town. I decide that I am definitely unhappy enough to see him and schedule an appoint for the next day.
Sandberg’s office is on the ground floor of a historic apartment building from the late 19th century. The buzzer lets me enter his high-ceilinged workspace and when I call for him, I can almost hear my echo disappearing behind the impeccably restored antique doors. No answer.
Ten minutes later, I hear a clicking on the parquet floor and in comes Dr. Sandberg, his grey beard well-groomed and his checked shirt tucked into his jeans neatly.
“You are early,” he says, pointing out my first pathological personality trait, it seems.
“I did not want to be late”, I say apologetically and follow him into his consulting room, a spacious area with hardly any furniture in it.
He asks me to take a seat in one of the small black leather armchairs and to tell him what had brought me here.
“I have been suffering from what appears to be a bladder infection for the past three months,” I begin insecurely,
“And because the doctors have ruled out an organic cause so far, I have come to think that it might be psychosomatic,” I admit reluctantly.
It’s only now after finishing the sentence, that I realize how my hands had been squashing and squeezing each other nervously as if they were having a mind of their own.
“I feel a terrible pressure in my bladder all the time and need to go to the toilet at least once an hour,” I try to come to a close.
“I’m also taking these at the moment,” I say and hand him over a pack of pills.
Dr Sandberg takes a moment to read the label, then tends to me.
“This is a very strong antibiotic. Did you know that? Has it been helping you with your symptoms?” he asks.
I admit that I haven’t felt any relief since being on the antibiotic and Sandberg gives me a nod as if to say “interesting”. I feel intimidated, yet hopeful at the same time. Something about his piercing expression tells me that I must be a subject worth to have its mind dissected. It’s impossible to read him. The next forty minutes I am struggling to keep my guard up. Everything about him is unpredictable, sudden and possibly threatening.
Sandberg asks me about my first sexual encounter and my feelings toward sexuality in general. Then he jumps up to leave the room and motions me to stay where I am. Still unsure what to make of him, I take a look around the room with its minimalistic, Le Corbusier inspired furniture.
I lean forward, so I can peep through the door gap. I cannot see much, but I hear Sandberg rustling through the pages of what sounds like a large scholarly book with very thin paper. Then, the rustling stops and is replaced by a pencil scribbling noise. I lean back with anxious anticipation waiting for him to march back in and read the verdict.
When he comes back, Sandberg holds a giant book in one hand and a tiny handwritten note in the other. He sits down with a meaningful expression and places the note in the middle of the small Bauhaus side table between us, then slides it over to me. I wonder if it was really necessary to fold a piece of paper this small in half. Nevertheless, I am bursting with excitement.
As I unfold the note, I read the words “neurosis of the bladder”. I look up at Sandberg, who looks at me expectantly.
“I wrote down your diagnosis,” he says and then pauses for effect.
I wonder if he wants me to give him a pat on the back and say “well done”, but instead I only chuckle nervously and say “I see”.
“Stand up for me, please,” Sandberg changes the subject and asks me to face the window.
“Now, bend over until you reach your toes.”
I can feel him touching my hip.
“Your pelvis is twisted,” he concludes.
Before I can say anything, he interrupts my train of thoughts and motions me to follow him. He closes the door of his consulting room and points at a wall chart with an image of the human spine that says “Dorn method”.
“This is a technique that I learned during a retreat in Austria,” he explains.
I have no idea what he is getting at, but given my current state of despair, I am glad that he seems to know what he is doing.
“You can get changed here, while I’m getting the massage table,” Sandberg says without any further explanation.
I am standing in the middle of a sparsely furnished room semi-nakedly and there is a draft. Hugging myself, I look down on my feet on the cold floor and retract my toes. It is more out of awkwardness that I ask Sandberg to give him a hand with the bulky item that he is carrying in now. Of course, he dismisses me.
The massage table all up and ready, Sandberg asks me to lay down. “This is going to hurt now,” he adds and I can feel his fingers pressed against the bottom part of my spine. This way, he explains, he is going to correct my spinal cord misalignments. I have no idea how this is related to my musings on sexuality earlier, but frankly, I don’t care. As long as I can hear the odd cracking noise, followed by Sandberg’s triumphant “Aha”, I know I’m on a good way.
“You are completely misaligned,” he informs me, and despite facing the wooden floor through the porthole, I can picture his smug smile.
“The next one is going to hurt,” Sandberg announces yet again, sounding both out of breath and exhilarated.
He climbs up on the table to kneel on my legs. He crosses my arms behind my back and pushes my spine down.
“Does it hurt?” he asks me, clearly struggling in this unorthodox position.
“No. It’s actually quite relaxing,” I reply.
“Really?” He sounds disappointed, “Usually, clients find this one to be extremely painful.”
“Well, it doesn’t hurt,” I say slightly amused at the fact that I’m finding cracks in his self-satisfied facade.
“Something else now. Get up, please.”
Sandberg picks up the big scholarly book and flicks through the pages impatiently. He calls me over and points at a medical illustration showing a muscle that he believes to be tense and therefore causing my symptoms.
“Let’s see if I’m right!” He proclaims enthusiastically.
“I will have to apply pressure on the area just above your pubic bone. Is that okay with you?”
The first time he pushes, I only feel a slight discomfort.
“Now, make sure you stand as straight as possible. I will apply counter-pressure from your back, so I can get through to that muscle.”
I let him proceed. Once. Twice.
“Now I can definitely feel pain,” I say to Dr Sandberg.
“So, we are getting there,” he concludes and repeats the painful procedure three or four more times before he dismisses me.
Fully dressed, yet without any dignity left, I sit down on the leather armchair.
“What I was trying to show you is that your tense muscle is causing all of the symptoms that you perceive as urinary tract infections.”
I look at Sandberg blank-facedly, unable to process the information.
“How do we proceed?” is everything I feel capable to ask after my very strange and very intense first session of psychotherapy.
“First of all, I suggest you see a physiotherapist about your tense muscles. I will write a referral for you.”
“That’s very nice of you. Thank you.”
“And I also want you to stop taking these antibiotics. You don’t need them.”
The faint smile my lips were forming at the prospect of therapeutic massages surrenders to my narrowed eyebrows. I don’t feel hopeful anymore. I feel panicked.
“Stop taking the antibiotics?” I ask worriedly.
“But what if the infection manifests?”
I can see the triumph slipping away from Sandberg’s face. He is looking at me stone-facedly now.
“Listen. You don’t have a UTI. You never had. This is what I was just trying to demonstrate here. If we are going to work together, you must understand your symptoms as an expression of your disturbed relationship with your sexuality.”
My mind is blank. All I know is that I should choose my words carefully. But instead, I stammer, “I definitely must have had an infection at some point. The urologist said so.”
In this moment, Sandberg jumps up angrily to rip open the window. He rubs his face in his palms. Half scoffing, half smiling while shaking his head at his exquisite floor, demon Sandberg strolls back to the seating area, where he tends to his distressed and utterly dimwitted patient. Me.
“It’s no use,” he begins,
“I cannot work with you. It would take too long to get you to a point, where therapy starts to make sense.”
I know this is final. You don’t fool around with the likes of Sandberg. After having revealed so much already, I am feeling desperate.
“Please,” I beg, “I am sorry I said that. Can’t you just give me a chance? I mean, we’ve only just started. This is the very first session.”
“No,” he replies firmly and I know he means it.
“Well,” I say in a state of surrender,
“Can I still get the referral to the physiotherapist?”