we, who are very badly hurt

I am grappling with things. I am grappling with getting better almost in spite of myself. I have been defined all of my life by pain. I am confused about a me who’s not defined by pain, loss, impossibility.

I am still clinging to pain of course. But my mind, this tough tough little thing, is edging away, thumbing its nose at me. My mind wakes up early in the morning eager to do things. My mind thinks thoughts that are foreign to me. My mind is boiling over with a strange enthusiasm for disclosure. My mind wants to proclaim itself to the world.

I am letting it. My mind and I have an excellent relationship. We leave each other be. My mind lets me continue to be sick in all sorts of ways, I let it open itself up to the world. Neither rushes the other. Occasionally we have a conversation, but those are hardly needed because my mind and I are in constant dialogue. We know how to talk to each other. We consult all the time. We are constantly checking in on each other. As I said, we have an excellent relationship.

My mind is bouncing off the wall, for instance, with desire to proclaim to the world that people like me can be healed. My mind is a fierce apologist and proselytizer on behalf of psychoanalysis. Left to itself, my mind would talk all day long about deep therapy.

We needed to strike a bargain on this one. For one, people have a justifiedly bad opinion of psychoanalysis. People in my circle, educated people who use psychoanalysis all the time as a tool for interpretation of texts and events, find it dated. Its sexism seems to them intolerable. They don’t believe anyone nowadays could possibly take psychoanalysis seriously.

Yet they use it, constantly, as an interpretive tool. They think it’s a fine interpretive tool; it just doesn’t cure anyone.

Other people, people in pain with a history of treatment, simply do not believe psychoanalysts still exist. Lately I had a conversation with someone who had read in a memoir that the author had gone to therapy multiple times a week for three years. He, my interlocutor, was flabbergasted. Multiple times a week?!? For three years?! I learned that when he was in therapy he would see his therapist once every two, sometimes even three weeks, depending on how scheduling worked. He was getting his therapy in an office organized in such a way that he couldn’t be sure which therapist he would see from one session to the next. Therapists didn’t last long in the outfit anyway and would move on quickly. This guy said jokingly, “If I had seen a therapist several times a week for three years when I was in my 30s I would have had a chance not to be permanently fucked up.”

How devastatingly sad. I said he didn’t need to be in his 30s to stop being fucked up. He was alive, right? Capable of forming thoughts, right? Then I said that there are people who see their therapists multiple times a week. They are not millionaires. I am one of them.

Finally, there are those who had a terrible experience with a psychoanalyst and decided that this experience speaks for the whole discipline and every single practitioner of it. Since seriously hurt people, people who are so traumatized their lives are living hells, have a propensity to think in black and white, I go easy on these people. They have had the crap beaten out of them by mental health professionals of all stripes. They have been medicated to their eyeballs, abused in psychiatric wards, and treated by incompetent therapists. They have earned the sacrosanct right to think in black and white. If they are still alive, they have found ways to keep themselves going and whatever I think of those ways, I owe it to my fellow sufferers on the path of trauma and recovery to respect them.

I have encountered a whole lot of really hurt people in my life. We tend to find each other. We recognize each other really fast. We cling to each other. We have been desperate for recognition all of our lives. My assessment of how really hurt people, people like me, are doing has changed parameters a few times in the last three years. Before starting analysis with my therapist, I, too, believed that therapy was perfectly useless and judged people’s success at dealing with the horrible pain that tore at them very liberally. Basically, if you were alive, making it through the day without knocking yourself out on a regular basis, able to keep a roof over your head, and doing at least some things that gave you joy, you were doing okay. This is how low my expectations of healing were. After all, this was the life I myself was leading.

After some time spent working with my therapist, like all neophytes, I became haughty and looked down upon lives lived in resignation.

Now, three years and counting in analysis, I realize that you do the best you can with the hand you’re dealt. Excellent therapists don’t hang out at street corners. Deep therapy when you are so hurt you can barely breathe requires something not everyone has. In the rubble of your life, there must be a solid rod that, for some reason, managed to stand tall. Maybe many among the badly hurt have such a rod (they are after all hanging in there), but for some the rod has taken a few beatings too many. There isn’t enough gentleness in the world to walk them through the agony deep therapy asks of them.

So I’ve come to respect the bandages and the patches, the flimsical tents by the side of the road, the makeshift cooking stoves, all the accoutrements of survival. some people are desperate to tell you that their tent — its make, its color, its structure — is the best possible tent. If you are fragile (I am fragile) this will get under your skin in all sorts of ways. When that happens, when other people’s despair and insistence that there is only one way to live gets under my skin, I think of that proud, brave rod. Most of all though, I think I’m not alone, and that tomorrow I’ll see my therapist, and she’ll tell me that I’m perfect and fabulous and the greatest thing that ever happened, and everything will be okay.

Picture by Puneet Arora