Prepare For Pain

I went to the dentist recently for my six-month checkup. I was anxious days before my appointment. My teeth are healthy, which is great, and I don’t go back until December. The visit reminded me of something I told the members of my Coping with Anxiety therapy group last year: suffering from an anxiety disorder feels like every day is a trip to the dentist.

One woman said she never thought of her anxiety this way. I was spot on, she said, and she wanted to share my analogy with all the non-anxious people in her life. I was happy to help her see her struggles in a new way. Group therapy has given me opportunities to share my experiences and offer advice. My therapist told me that other group members looked to me for wisdom and guidance. I appreciated his kind words.

Two weeks ago, I spent an hour at the dentist, paid my bill, made my next appointment, and drove home. When I’m super anxious, there is no home. I have no peace. Every day it’s the same drill: prepare for pain.

So To Speak

I can’t write anymore. I hire an editor. She recommends a therapist.

I arrive at the front desk. I share a recent dream in which I tell a stranger nobody understands what I’m trying to say. The stranger agrees but this resolves nothing.

The receptionist says she’s not a therapist. She will be with me in a moment. I give her my name. She looks thirsty. I’m talking about the receptionist. I am told in no uncertain terms to keep my voice down.

I author a book from front to back in a waiting room. I quit dreaming.

I tell a stranger I’m vulnerable. I don’t recommend announcing this in a dark alley after midnight. Or on a first date if you’re into meeting people. A blog is fine. I’m done with books.

I am vulnerable. I write books nobody reads. Books nobody bothered to write but me. Nobody understands what I’m trying to write. Books aren’t blogs aren’t dreams. I fire my editor. This resolves nothing.

I enter a stranger’s dream and say nobody understands what it’s like to tell people on the internet you’re vulnerable. He’s angry with me. I bite my tongue. He throws his voice.

Books are for dummies. I buy mine on Amazon. Books are finished.

A stranger tells his therapist in my dream I don’t understand what I’m trying to say. I agree and this resolves everything. I decide to write cryptic blogs to throw off people on the internet.

I fuck my editor in a dark alley. She says I’m a bad writer. Repeat after me. I’m a bad rider.

I take back my book. Every word.

I write what I know. I quit therapy because I’m too smart for this shit.

I am dumber than a blog post. Someone buys my book and it arrives by drone.

I am thirsty. An author waiting for my therapist tells me he can’t write any more. I ask him to elaborate. This adds words to the universe. Words aren’t people aren’t drones. I see right through the universe. My book drops. Nobody picks it up.

A stranger will see me now. My therapist asks me to elaborate at the same time I ask her to elaborate. She doesn’t get paid to analyze dreams.

I ask my therapist for water. She gives me a voice. So to speak.

She says I am valuable. Repeat after me. I am vulnerable.

Core Beliefs

Core Beliefs

my therapist says overthinking
can be a defense mechanism

overthinking can be
a defense mechanism

overthinking can be
an unfenced metaphorical prison

it’s not my fault
my therapist says

confessional poems
can be used against me

my therapist runs a mom & pop
Oedipal arrangements shop

with thirty-one flavors
of oral fixation lollipops

overthinking can be
a dense intellectual prism

a defense mechanism
defense mechanism

anxiety is a preexisting
human condition

paid for by a
state institution

my therapist ties
Freudian slip knots

to agoraphobics flying
kites in parking lots

it’s not my fault
it’s not my fault

I don’t believe
it’s not my fault

my therapist is the reason
I’m in touch with my feelings

c b snoad
2-13-17

Voice Recognition

A young psychoanalyst named Fliess once asked Freud how a therapist knows when a patient has been cured. “When the patient realizes therapy never ends,” Freud said.

I’ve been thinking about taking a break from therapy in the near future. After at least one monthly session for the last decade and a half, I’m ready to move on.

We all tell ourselves stories about ourselves, each of us simultaneously a personal expert and unreliable narrator of our lives. We awake each day in the same body we went to bed with, but our worries and neuroses, played out in dreams or nightmares, don’t disappear overnight. Our core conflicts persist but manifest in different ways according to our moods or external stressors. Yet every morning we begin again in the middle of things, psyching ourselves up for the inevitable challenges of facing the world in front of our mirrors.

My personal narrative includes memories of individual therapy sessions spent crafting and revising an inconclusive autobiography, therapy itself a series of stories-within-stories, a self-reflexive automatic writing of the soul.

There’s no cure for the trauma I’ve suffered, but I’ve learned to recognize the sound of my own voice again, which speaks to the kindness of my therapists. A kindness I’m now showing myself.

Analyze This

If you enter therapy assuming it will cure all your worries or rid you of inner demons, you’re bound for disappointment. We need a little “crazy” in our lives, if only to ensure we don’t go completely mad. But what happens when therapy itself goes bonkers, when the healing process generates new maladies?

Therapy encourages introspection and self-correction. If I can identify cognitive distortions and challenge negative thoughts, my behaviors will change. If I behave rationally, I’ll feel better about myself—and then think clearer, act more rationally and feel better, on and on ad infinitum.

But therapy has unwittingly taught me to question my motives in even the most banal, nonthreatening situations. I’ve internalized the voices of my therapists—their inflections, cadences, turns of phrase—such that I can’t hear myself think anymore. I’m willingly suspended in disbelief of me.

Then again this fear of psychological takeover might be a manifestation of my illness. I’m afraid of losing myself in the piercing gaze of rational-thought enforcers. At the mercy of an overactive superego, I follow the program to avoid reprimand.

Perhaps my self-critical nature, solidified long before my first session, finds comfort in a soul-searching, hyper-analytical exercise. Isn’t this post—and my entire blog—an example of over-thinking?

Maybe I should share this concern with my therapist, to process how I think it makes me feel.

A Radical Metamorphosis Of Identity

In her groundbreaking 2012 book The New Wounded: From Neurosis to Brain Damage, Catherine Malabou assumes different roles. She’s part psychoanalyst, part neurobiologist, part philosopher.

Malabou writes extensively about the plastic nature of the human brain. By “plastic” Malabou means the brain’s capacity to develop itself as we use it—as we create ourselves and live out our individual histories. Genes set the tone but humans are not genetically predetermined; plasticity ensures that we can actively change how our brains work, which in turn affects who we are, and how we see ourselves.

This is all well and good, but in The New Wounded Malabou alerts us to the brain’s capacity for destructive plasticity. Here the threat of the accident appears.

The accident is a material event. It emerges out of nowhere. Its effects are devastating. An obvious example is a blow to the head that causes brain lesions, but a host of tragic events can activate destructive plasticity.

Malabou cites “the globalized form of trauma,” such as those occurring “in the aftermath of wars, terrorist attacks, sexual abuse, and all types of oppression or slavery” (213). These events are often understood in the context of posttraumatic stress disorder, but Malabou goes beyond PTSD.

What happens after the accident is frightening in itself. The brains of the new wounded undergo dramatic changes—to the point where many victims become someone else entirely. They are no longer themselves; a shattered, post-accident self takes hold.

All of us are susceptible to this terrifying reality. As Malabou describes it:

The destructive event that—whether it is of biological or sociopolitical origin—causes irreversible transformations of the emotional brain, and thus of a radical metamorphosis of identity, emerges as a constant existential possibility that threatens each of us at every moment. (213)

Malabou is no pessimist, however. She aims to develop therapeutic models that venture beyond psychoanalysis or neurobiology, into political and philosophical realms: “Our inquiry revolves around the identification of evil. Defining the characteristics of today’s traumas—characteristics that turn out to be geopolitical—is indeed the prolegomenon [starting point] to any therapeutic enterprise” (213).

In dealing with a new wounded patient’s “deserted, emotionally disaffected, indifferent psyche,” the therapist must “become subject to the other’s suffering, especially when this other is unable to feel anything” (214).

Malabou, in arguing for the power of compassion, speaks not just to therapists but all mankind. She transcends psychoanalysis, neurobiology and even philosophy. For a thinker concerned with material events, Malabou reveals a spiritual calling: she’s interested in building a foundation for the soul.