Analysis is a scary place

1. Fear is a feeling among feelings, and like all feelings sometimes you just can’t tell where it comes from.

2. You live with it, as best you can.

3. Phobias and obsessions are fears attached to arbitrary or symbolic objects.

4. Maybe.

5 I don’t know anything.

6. The fear that has been gripping me is ebbing, but I so wish it gone.

7. I have to say, though: it is preferable to rage.

8. Maybe this fear is rage turned inward, so no one gets hurt but me.

9. I am infinitely disposable. I can take the pain and anguish of the world. Please let no one be hurt but me.

10. The omnipotent child is an absolutely, cosmically terrified child. Air hurts her body, her throat, the cavity of her chest. She is cold. She waits for death like a mercy and her just deserts.

11. Maybe fear is what happens when you trust your analyst with your baby self.

12. Maybe fear is what happens when you don’t trust her enough.

13. This is not to be solved by thinking. This is to be solved by living.

14. Analysis is a very scary place.

15. There are very few answers.

16. This is why it’s beautiful.

Painting by Elizabeth Lennie.

art psychoanalysis

All walls crumble

Photograph Matthew Grandanson

Let’s meet at the corner shop

1. Analyst A and I had an ongoing, entirely therapeutic (I mean this) conversation about the best song ever written.

2. At the time I was pretty solid on the idea that Stevie Nicks’ “Landslide” was the best song ever written.

3. Analyst A smiled and said, “That’s a damn fine song.”

4. Her pick was “Send in the Clowns” sung by Judy Collins.

5. I listened to it once.

6. Analyst A was older then me by maybe 10 years.

7. Analyst B is younger than me by 10 years and we have few cultural reference in common.

8. She is not a reader of novels (she claims she was and will be again) or poetry, nor a watcher of films or TV. She is American. She likes art but does not know a lot of it, I don’t think. And i don’t know her generation’s music (I wasn’t in the US during her music-taste-shaping years).

9. Analyst B is not a theoretician or a philosopher or if she is she keeps it to herself.

10. It’s hard for me that I have few cultural references in common with my analyst.

11. She’s been making a fine, fine mom these last few months though, and that has been beautiful.

Painting by Doortje Hannig.


miss rosie / lucille clifton

when i watch you

wrapped up like garbage

sitting, surrounded by the smell

of too old potato peels


when i watch you

in your old man’s shoes

with the little toe cut out

sitting, waiting for your mind

like next week’s grocery

i say

when i watch you

you wet brown bag of a woman

who used to be the best looking gal in georgia

used to be called the Georgia Rose

i stand up

through your destruction

i stand up

Excerpt from: “Good Woman: Poems and a Memoir 1969-1980” by Lucille Clifton. Scribd.
This material may be protected by copyright.



1. I thought I might start listing things that are absolutely incontrovertibly horrible yet for some reason my mind is not lighting up in full red alert terror that they might happen to me.

2. Also things that don’t cause me to feel empathy so disregulated that it’s as if they were happening to me.

3. And just to be clear, empathy, concern, and opprobrium are good responses. Abject terror, despair, and a sense that the world is ending, well, they don’t help anyone.

4. And now I feel ashamed to list them so they’ll stay forever in my mind.

5. But here’s an exercise: find the things that do not terrify you, then wonder if the things that do terrify you are not so dissimilar. And if they are not, why do similar things fall on different sides of the terror spectrum? What else is going on?

6. And maybe just maybe that other thing that is going on? Maybe that can heal.

Painting by Sanders Stein



1. You can talk of any bad thing that happened to you except

2. That first hospitalization

3. When your sense of what was safe and what wasn’t safe in the world

4. Was broken and

5. Never reassembled, so that

6. Now

7. Nothing is safe in the world

8. No one is looking out for you

9. You can’t escape

10. Danger



1. You are traumatized because when you were little no one looked after your well being and safety and you had to look after them yourself.

2. You are traumatized because you had to rely on capricious and sadistic adults who were unable or unwilling to connect with you as a child.

3. You are traumatized by every encounter you had with arbitrary, sadistic, petty authoritarianism.

4. You are traumatized by a country that is authoritarian, sadistic, and petty toward so many, systemically, and has been so since its inception.

5. You are traumatized by sadism.

6. Your body body and mind feel unsafe to you.

7. You don’t know what feels safe to you.

8. Precious little feels safe to you right now.

9. Elizabeth Warren felt safe to you and now she’s gone.

10. How much un-safety can you feel and continue living?

11. Death was built into your idea of safety.

12. Death is for you infinitely preferable to the experience of sadism.

13. Our current administration is terrifying to you.


Totalitarian fear

1. Talking about the terror with my analyst is like dissolving a large stone stuck at the top of my esophagus.

2. Terror put into words and heard by another is less terrifying.

3. Terror festers in the isolated mind.

4. We revisit early places.

5. We tread the same dark floors and now she is with me.

6. She tells me it’s okay to lose my shit with her. She tells me I don’t have to be stoic or brave.

7. She tells me the bodies of children.

8. She says “children.”

9. She says I see you.

10. I am scared of this country.

11. It took few months of me even being here for the mental health center of my university to take a restraining order against me.

12. Never been violent a day in my life.

13. Never thought of myself as anything but kind.

14. It took them a year to lock me up in a psych unit for the sin of being in pain.

15. I expected help.

16. They promised me help.

17. At my intake interview the nurse was icy. I knew, then.

18. At my second interview I smiled and the person said, icily, it’s not funny.

19. My third interview was at 3 AM. The psychiatrist banged hard on my door and said Let’s go.

20. That was the last time I slept.

21. Can you survive five days of absolute terror and no food or sleep?

22. They told me they would help me.

23. My friends said, Trust the doctor.

24. I had never been so misjudged, so disbelieved, so humiliated and summarily abused before.

25. By everyone.

26. I counted for nothing.

27. I was a nuisance.

28. No one helps anyone here.

29. They violate you they tie you up they punish you and your sin is you were in pain.

30. I hurt no one.

31. I did nothing bad I swear.

32. A poet calls her time in the psych hospital “totalitarian fear.”

33. I didn’t grow up here. I know this is not normal. I know this happens nowhere else. I know there are places where those with power are humans like you. I know it’s the majority of places.

34. This country is founded in blood and the tying up of brown, black, occasionally white bodies.

35. Lynchings and picnics.

36. Lynchings and families.

37. Nowhere else my friend.


Yet here we are

1. I write silly words to comfort myself.

2. Once someone said to me she lives with terror all the time so she understood me and my terror entirely and I said well the kind of terror I feel could not be lived with all the time because it is literally unendurable.

3. She became angry that I was invalidating her terror.

4. When we endure the unendurable we die and the person who keeps living is a dead person.

5. My therapist has started seeing the dead little girl and she has started taking to her so maybe there is rescue yet.

6. I wonder how much terror I gobbled up as a kid. Must have been a lot.


How therapy helps with fear

Naomi Shalev Detail.

1. Many of my friends are scared. I am scared. We have a terrible, cruel president who portends more and more pain, insecurity, and death for all of us.

2. And then we have COVID-19, and a government that will make it all but impossible for an epidemic to be managed anywhere near decently in our country.

3. Already people are charged ridiculous sums of money for COVID-19-related hospitalizations. Already, we know, people won’t come forward for fear of enormous bills, lost wages, lost jobs, deportation.

4. And then there are all the captive populations, mostly poor, mostly minorities, mostly abandoned (we still have concentration camps; we have bigger concentration camps; they are places of genocide and torment).

5. In the early 2000s I felt great despair over Guantánamo. Guantánamo is still there. Its population will die out, unfreed. Guantánamo is now all over the US. Children are in it. We are too exhausted and too frightened to do anything.

6. Analyst A gave me a mug once for my birthday. I have loved this mug. Last night the mug broke. I have put the broken mug, its two broken pieces, one inside the other on the shelf in front of me.

7. Life breaks irreparably but then we all — all of us find ways to be happy, at least sometimes, after the wreck. We find ways to be happy. We may not always be happy, but sometimes we are happy.

8. Maybe if we count all the moments we are actively miserable and all the moments we are actively happy, they even out.

9. How can therapy help when the world is so horrible?

10. First, you ask yourself how much of your pain is pain you are actually feeling your own self in this moment and how much is pain you feel because of uncertainty about the future, empathy toward others, or fear of what might happen.

11. Fear has deep roots. The capacity to feel the pain of others also has deep roots.

12. I go back to a time when I was afraid and no one helped me. My parents had no capacity to reassure me in any way. My parents could not even see me. My fear was annoying, negligible, or funny.

13. You learn to keep your fear to yourself. You learn to be tough. You never learn to modulate it. One day, tough is no longer enough and fear spills over the confines of your body and inks the entire universe. You float in terror.

14. No one ever helped me develop a containment system. I don’t have a decent one. My therapist and I have to start from scratch.

15. When your emotionally remote parents experience pain or distress, these feelings become yours.

16. Except you are little and your parents’ troubles are too big and scary and everyone is going to die. Pain evades the confines of your body and inks the sky.

17. You try to help your mom and dad.

18. You cannot help them.

19. You become a child of sorrow.

20. Therapy takes me back to when these injuries happened. My therapist looks with me into the wounds and the chasm. Then we have a do-over, the two of us.

21. Scary things are realistically scary when the confines of your body hold.

22. The pain of others, just like yours, is marbled with good days, resilience, even joy. It is not yours to carry. They are not carrying your pain.

23. You talk and talk and the past loosens its grip on you. Your body grows stronger confines. You hold the pain and worry in small places you can leave and distract yourself from.

24. You allow yourself joy. You allow yourself life.