When I go to my therapist’s office I’m usually the only person in the waiting room before my session. This is despite the fact that she shares her space with two other clinicians. My session is in the late morning, which isn’t “prime therapy time,” thus giving me full access to the waiting area to do what I please. Sometimes I’ll get there a bit early and scope out the periodicals. Other times I’ll people watch outside the window or, if I haven’t done any pre-therapy tailgating, I’ll think about what I want to talk about this upcoming session.
This week I was reading The New Yorker. Why the hell aren’t any of MY pieces in here? If Dr. Phil wrote something I’m sure it would be in here no matter how stupid it was. I swear, they will rue the day they didn’t find my website! While I was silently bitching a woman came into the waiting room, which actually startled me a bit given the rarity of the occasion. She was dressed in brown pants and a same-colored button-down shirt. She also had on work boots and a utility belt, which made her a cross between a construction worker and the UPS person. She looked around the waiting room a bit and ducked her head under some chairs, possibly looking for something electrical to fix. Then she plopped down on a chair right near me and let out a big sigh.
“So,” she said. “Here to have your ticker fixed?”
I didn’t look up from the magazine right away. In my own office I rarely see clients in the waiting room interact or even acknowledge each other, so I assumed that was standard pre-therapy behavior.
“You there, in the Gap clothes,” she said.
I then looked around, already knowing there was no one else in the room. “Me?”
“Yeah, you. What are you in for?”
“What am I in for?”
“Right: What. Is. Your. Problem?” she enunciated.
Writing about my neuroses on the web is one thing, but simply rattling off a list to a complete stranger is quite another. I immediately felt self-conscious and “crazy,” the very feelings I try to help people conquer, via this site and when they come to see me in person. What is my problem? Where do I even start?:
Emotional intimacy issues
Unresolved difficulties with my mother
Fears of public speaking
Lack of interest in the outdoors or anything involving direct sunlight
Fear of growing old
Possible Wii Addiction
“I have a very, very small number of psychological issues that I’m sorting through,” I finally said.
“What? Psychiatric issues? No, stupid. What’s wrong with your heart?”
“Yeah, dummy. Your ticker?”
I looked down at my chest, briefly considering that she might be noticing my aorta poking out of my polo shirt, which was purchased on Clearance the week prior.
“I…don’t think there’s anything wrong with it,” I said.
“Then why are you at the Cardiologist’s office, you moron?”
I actually looked around to make sure I was in the right place. Given that my therapist’s office is in a small, brownstone-type building with nothing medical located within many blocks I should have been pretty certain even without the extra reconnaissance.
“This isn’t that type of setting,” I said. “You’re in a therapist’s office.”
“What? Are you sure?”
AM I sure? “Yes, absolutely. See?” I held up a copy of Psychology Today.
“Damn,” she said, and stood up. “I gotta find Dr. Anderson. Well, good luck having your head shrunk. What you got can’t be worse than Congenital Heart Failure.”
She left and my therapist came out. She smiled her always warm smile, and said, “Rob, please do come in.” I sat down and got ready to talk about how much I hate Dr. Phil. And then it hit me:
The woman in the waiting room, the UPS/Construction Worker, the one who insulted me. Like three times at least. This woman had a very serious medical condition that she was coping with and shared it without batting an eyelash. I couldn’t even say I don’t sleep all that well and was pissed that I’m not in some pretentious magazine. These problems now seem…petty.
I chuckled at my epiphany. I need to do this more often, to remember that I’m highly skilled at giving myself mini-hissy fits over basically nothing. If my dentist gives me shit about grinding my teeth or I have to give a lecture to a group of interns – all of whom probably smarter than me – I have to keep in mind that my life is, overall, pretty manageable.