Doctor Delaney and I had a running appointment every Wednesday. I’d been visiting some therapist or other since I turned fourteen years old. There are a million misconceptions about talking to a professional. Most of them stem from idiotic pride which comes from a socially created concept that mental health is shameful.
The world is so fucked up it’s no wonder people wig out or suffer from crippling anxiety. Talking about our feelings is self-preservation. It’s noble, not cause for ridicule. The hypocrisy people indulged bothered me the most. Because much like talking to therapists was bad, there were feelings of ‘decency’ we were expected to follow.
Regardless if we believed the way they did or not.
“How are we different than those religious dictatorships?” I asked. “What makes us any different? Half our leaders talk about God so often you’d think that they were addressing a congregation instead of the American people. And how do they get away with being so exclusive? Are we really that divided?”
“Is that what’s bothering you this week?”
“Christ...” I had to laugh. “I guess it’s the one I picked right now. I saw some senator on Twitter praise the president with a statement of God’s got his back. What the hell? I mean, they don’t pretend to represent many of the people in the country. Why don’t they get honest about everything else?”
“The groups they hate,” I said. “You know. Minorities of all sorts. Black people, Asians, homosexuals. It’s obvious that these conservative religious nut jobs would prefer if we’d crawl off somewhere and die.” I snapped my fingers. “Do they want us to hide what they view as sins the way they hide their passionate sexual affairs with under aged people?”
“People who shout the loudest about something that bothers them tend to be projecting, that’s true.”
“And then they get caught and their hypocrisy doesn’t even phase their followers! Why? Why are these people so utterly charmed by their leaders? I honestly don’t get it! I don’t understand.”
“Maybe their own faith is fragile,” Delaney said. “Maybe they need to cling to the belief. A lot of people are terrified of stark reality. Truth itself can be scary. Lies comfort, truth exposes. When your senator throws out a comment about God, it’s not necessarily his belief. He’s playing the popularity contest.”
“So people have to die so they can market their fake religious ideals to keep their jobs?”
“I”m not quite as cynical as that, but it’s one interpretation, sure.”
“And we just let it keep going. Over and over, we let these ‘leaders’ make important decisions.”
“Do you worry about the corporations that pay them off too? Lobbyists and special interest groups?”
“Yes. I think they should all be banned. Everything is about money though. Because greed runs them all. No one wants to lead out of the kindness of their hearts. They do it because they don’t like being told what to do, they want the power, the prestige, and the cash. So they take legal bribes and lie to the average person.”
“That’s a sick way to sum it up.” I sighed.
“How does this effect you?”
“It keeps me up at night,” I said. “I think about how many people these assholes impact, all the men and women without health care or financial security and I get sick. I physically feel like I’m going to throw up because of the injustice. We’ve been bred to fear failing so many people don’t even take risks. They stagnate, always in fight or flight mode.”
“Have you used the tools we’ve talked about? Listened to the MP3s?”
“Yeah.” I nodded. “They help. I can let it go. You know, I think about a friend of mine. She worked for one of those big companies. Called Energex. They did all kinds of stuff from warehouse rental to factories to safety equipment. Kind of a...I dunno...commercial service provider. That’s how she described it.”
“They had to let a bunch of people go,” I explained. “Their shareholders weren’t happy with the growth of the stocks so they decided the best way to bolster the value was to eliminate headcount. Forty people let go one Friday afternoon. Two weeks pay, slap on the ass on the way out the door.”
“Your friend was one of them?”
“No, she survived that cut. But what drove me crazy is the corporate values these psychos make up. Things like Have Integrity or Positive Thinking. Whatever other catchy bunch of crap they can come up with. Basically, rules to govern the behavior of their staff that only the staff are held accountable for.
“In essence, these things are specifically designed to give them a reason to fire people. But the company itself acts without the burden of those things. Therefore, they can pull forty people in, some of which worked there for a decade or more, and just let them go. No integrity. No positivity. Just fuck you, thanks for a tenth of your life. Now piss off.”
“That kind of thing has been going on since the industrial revolution.”
“It was born then,” I said, “but it could’ve been smothered. Nope. Pocket lining. Then they had to placate people. Brainwash them like the politicians do. Make them feel like they’re part of something. This is something else I don’t get. How do employees of those places believe these lies?”
“There are multiple reasons for accepting what you’ve been told,” Delaney replied. “One, they need that falsehood to get through the day. If they don’t, they live in a constant state of fear of losing their job. Two, they want it to be true enough that they cling to it. Three, sometimes those companies are very convincing. And not everyone pays attention.”
“But how, after a bunch of people are screwed, can anyone be like ‘nah, they’re still cool to me’? It’s like...being in a death camp and the person next to you gets shot in the face. You just placidly wait your turn? Or do you get suspicious that maybe they’re out for their own special interests?”
“Sometimes people are willing to see what happens. To just take a chance that it won’t happen to them. Others have positive experiences in those places. They thrive in that environment. The challenge of staying pushes them on. The people on the top weren’t always there after all.”
“No, those heartless shits are the ones who fire the long term folks. The pat on the ass before they leave. I can’t imagine having the nerve to sit someone down who gave the company twenty years...thirty years...and just letting them go with practically nothing. Even if it’s a severance of six months. What is that to a generation?”
“Corporate work isn’t compulsory.”
“No...I guess you’re right. You choose the devil, in that case.”
“And not every corporation makes up false values to pursue. Some of them are genuine.”
“I can’t believe that.”
“Be careful about blanket belief,” Delaney warned.
“You know, I had some hope for a while when it came to the media.”
“Yeah? What happened?”
“They went on and on about how much of a pile of shit our president was. I mean, went after him. Then, he lashed back. And his childish rants made it plausible to believe the journalists. I mean, they seemed like the sensible people. Because they weren’t insulting the pig. Not the same way at least.
“But then the Coronavirus happened. And the stories were like...completely insane. They reminded us that you have to be super careful about listening to them. Suddenly, every person had to become an investigative journalist just to survive reading the reports each morning. To prove what was right, what was wrong.
“At one point, I read a post from a journalist who said his editor told them all to watch the use of the word deadly. Because they abused the shit out of it. All the credibility they bought during their fight with the president crashed down around them as they basically went off the chain with the crazy.”
“They were scared too,” Delaney said. “And their catharsis involved writing these stories, informing people of what they discovered.”
“And spicing it up like they were rewriting Fight Club.” I shook my head. “Don’t get me wrong, I found plenty of good information but so many articles were click bait psychosis. I believe they caused the shortage of things like TP and paper towels. They caused people to rush to the stores and break social distancing. Totally irresponsible.”
“Don’t forget, the media has been irresponsible before. You need to find the ones with integrity and stick with them. Once you find trustworthy ones, don’t go looking for the others. Because right now, we’ve got bloggers with no degree, no point of ethics, no real qualifications to write an unbiased news article.”
“And all these things, those are what you’ve been struggling with lately? The anxiety’s been bad because of them?”
“Actually, and surprisingly, no. I guess not.”
“What is it then?”
“I...met someone.” I hesitated to talk about my romantic life. Not because I didn’t trust Delaney. I knew for a fact she didn’t judge me or anything. I just didn’t like it. Somehow, discussing affairs or relationships always felt wrong. Like how the hell could I complain about it?
I dated a girl for six months before we broke up. During the relationship, I complained to Delaney about all kinds of things. Stupid small stuff that annoyed me. My girlfriend’s lack of drive. Her lack of curiosity. Basically, had I listened to myself, I made the case to break up with her but I didn’t want to. I hated being alone.
When we finally did part ways, I complained about that. I felt like an idiot. Like a child who lost a toy. Bitching about someone’s decisions made no sense. Everyone is going to be themselves at some point after the courtship period. And if you don’t like who that is, you have to get out. Sticking around just starts a downward spiral of frustration.
It spoils anything positive that brought you together in the first place.
“So has that helped your anxiety or made it worse?”
“Probably both leaning toward the former?” I shrugged. “I don’t know. She’s awesome, I really like her. And she’s different than the usual people I find attractive. Which is probably a good thing in all honesty.”
“I’ve talked about my relationships before…they’re worse than train wrecks. They’re collateral damage from a superhero movie. I figured out my problem though. I can’t see through the courting period. Maybe I’m an idiot or something. After all the sweet bullshit that happens when we first met, I can’t settle into a comfortable groove.”
“Because the person changes?”
“We both do. I know it for a fact. I can feel myself acting on my best behavior. And I figured out the catalyst for that to end. When one or the other person gets tired, that’s when the courtship is over and voila, reality settles. Then you know if it was meant to be or if it should’ve been a one night stand.”
“So it’s not about losing interest?”
“Not really. Probably not. Maybe. Wow…I sound ridiculous.” I rubbed my eyes, trying to put these thoughts together. I tended to have my opinions well thought out. Relationships felt like Kryptonite. “Depending on where you meet a person, they’re trying to be cool. They’re doing everything to sell themselves, the package deal that is them.
“All their best traits are on display. Sometimes, you can tell by the way they dress that they don’t think highly of their personality. Whether they’re awesome or not, they’re distracting with a revealing piece of clothing or extra crazy makeup. But all of it, everything a person does when they go looking for a relationship is theatrics. It’s a stage costume.”
“So I’m guessing this was different?”
“We didn’t meet in the usual places,” I said. “You know, I think people are severely disadvantaged if they meet in a situation where they were cruising for…whatever. But if it happens organically, like they’re friends first? There’s a better chance things won’t fall apart after that courtship period.”
“You can’t really pretend to be something else when they already know who you are, right?”
“Exactly! Then, the only real mystery is the intimacy stuff. What do they look like vulnerable? How do they react to…well, all that. It’s kind of intimidating too because while I’m totally down with not having to play some stupid game, I also don’t necessarily know how to stop myself. And she’s feisty so she calls me out.”
“How’s that work for you?”
“At first, I got annoyed but we were friends first, you know? And I had no idea she was into me. I had a crush but…You know how that can go. Oh God. I am in a John Hughes movie! Well…Thankfully, I haven’t known her since we were kids or something. That would be awkward as shit.”
“How long have you been seeing each other?”
“Almost three weeks.”
“So how are you guys doing?”
“Great! Which…” I knocked on the wooden table to the left. “I am suspicious of.”
“What’re you worried about?”
I had to think about my answer for a moment. What was I concerned about? “Probably…the fact…that something will happen. That she won’t be the person I’ve always thought she was. I guess I’m worried that she’ll end up being some kind of nut job. Or, that I’ll sabotage us somehow.”
“But that sounds like the anxiety talking.”
“It absolutely is. Because something’s going good, something’s okay, my brain’s screwing with me.”
“Have affirmations helped? Meditations?”
“Yes. I mean, we’re still together. But what I’m most worried about is that the longer we go on with things being good, the greater the chance of me screwing up.”
“Have you talked to her about all this?”
“I complain to my friends enough that she knew about my struggles before we started seeing each other.”
“So what’s her take?”
“She’s promised to be patient.”
“But some part of you doesn’t believe her.”
“Some part of me thinks that the world is going to blow up too.” I smiled. “I’m not normal.”
“It’s not abnormal to have irrational fears. The world’s uncertain. I talk to a lot of people who have the same concerns you do. Some of them have been married for years. Others are just starting out. What we want to work toward is the belief that you won’t hurt your chances. That being yourself is okay.”
“Sometimes, I don’t know who that is. I like to think I do, but…how much of that is nonsense? How much am I just making stuff up to feel better?”
“Seeking that answer is kind of the whole point. You don’t just know. How are you doing with work? Are things going okay there?”
“Yeah, they’re fine.” I shrugged. “I’ve been going out more often. I’ve been less reclusive. Less trolling news sites and stuff. I think that’s helped a lot.”
“Good! That’s a great start. What’re you most looking forward to in the next six months?”
“Um…probably the state fair? I don’t know. Random little things. I want to share inspirational stuff with Kate. I want to see what she cares about. Sort of like watching a movie you’ve seen a thousand times with someone who’s never seen it. You get to vicariously remember the first time.
“I think that’s why people move around in relationships so much. They’re always seeking the original high of experiences. Movies, music, kissing, sex, all of it brand new. Familiar is nice, but new is exciting. And no matter what people say, long term relationships have different benefits. Few of those ever equate to thrilling.”
“Mindset is everything.”
“So we keep talking about. I’m trying. It’s hard.”
“It won’t always be. I think you’re doing extremely well.”
“Thanks. Let’s hope I can keep up the momentum.”
“We’ll do it together.” A glimmer of positivity kept me going from day to day, week to week. Even if I just talked to the wall while Delaney sat in a chair, vocalizing my thoughts made them easier to live with. And maybe that was all I needed to do. But it would’ve been nice to go a full week without several hours of misery mucking up the waters.