Snow

Roseanne’s office was always cold.

When I had first started going to her for counseling she would apologize and frequently rub her hands up and down her arms as if to make sure I was aware that she was suffering as well and to not blame her for the frigid climate. I had assured her that I didn’t mind the cold. This was, in fact, true. If the office was cold then I had a perfect excuse to keep my jacket on and enjoy the false sense of security it gave me to have it wrapped around my shoulders. My survivalist brain also registered that it would be easier to make a hasty retreat if I didn’t have to search for a jacket hung somewhere on an obscure hook. I allowed that a jacket could be sacrificed if a situation required it but I rather liked the jacket–a leather one with the Led Zeppelin Icarus painted on the back–and I decided that I would put it in as little sacrificial danger as possible.

After a year of seeing her for therapy, the temperature in Roseanne’s office continued to hover around “Arctic” though her performance had changed from apologies and arm-rubbing to complaints and eye-rolling.

“I don’t know how many times I have to tell the super to raise the heat in this building,” she snarled as she pulled a sweater from her closet.

I didn’t know either so I remained silent.

“With how much I pay them in rent it’s the least that they could do. And I’ve told them that I’ve had clients complain about how cold it is.”

I shrugged. “I don’t mind.”

Roseanne’s face convulsed between a series of dirty looks as she tried to decided if I was being obstinately contrary in expressing an opinion which disagreed with hers, or if I was being ridiculously polite and protecting the sensibilities of an inept superintendent.

“How can you not mind?” she finally challenged me.

I would have done some eye-rolling of my own except that this would have indicated what I was thinking and I had long since decided that I wasn’t going to let Roseanne know what was really going in my head. Mind you, this wasn’t a personal reflection of Roseanne, though her personality was in perfect harmony with the temperature of her office, but rather a rule in general when it came to counselors. I had seen several over the years and after a disastrous experience with my first counselor I realized that no amount of psychological training could prepare another creature to wade through the fucked up kettle of fish that swam in my head.

“I’m only in here for forty-five minutes,” I told her which was both a deliberate barb in regard to what was supposed to be an hour long session, and a satisfactory answer to her question which revealed nothing. I adjusted my jacket and leaned back into the couch.

Roseanne drew the line of unprofessional between dirty looks and talking about financials so she gave a dismissive sniff and opened up the folder which contained all of the secrets I had let her discover about my person.

“Let’s see, Kat, where did we leave off last week?” she murmured looking through her notes.

I cringed inwardly as I always did when she used my nickname. This was another common characteristic I had found in counselors in that they always ask what your friends and family called you and then used that name profusely. It helped them to create the illusion that they are friends listening to your problems because they care rather than uninterested third parties whose time you have bought. When it came down to it counseling is really just prostitution without the STDs.

“I don’t remember,” I told her.

“Well, then what happened this week?” she asked completely oblivious to my lack of enthusiasm.

“My former brother-in-law, Ronald, called my mother and said that he found some things of mine that my ex didn’t burn and was going to drop them off,” I offered.

“What was it he found?” Roseanne asked.

“I don’t know. I think it was a tote of some old toys that my grandmother made me get out of her basement when she was cleaning. They probably survived because my ex most likely thought that they were my niece’s old toys. When Ron heard that I was moving he also offered to bring up some of the kitchen and bathroom stuff that I had bought. But I’d rather he not bring that all,” I added.

“Why not? If you bought those things then they belong to you,” she told me.

“They don’t matter. I told you about the night that I left and all I cared about taking with me was Kira, and my old “Wonder Woman” comics if I could, and that’s how I still feel. The rest were things. Things don’t matter.”

Things are expensive though,” she insisted. “Those things can help you as you move into your own little nest.”

I wrinkled my nose before I could stop myself. If there was one thing that I was not building it was a “little nest”. Nests are for newlyweds and adorable birds just out of college. The least that you could accuse a feline such as me of building would be a den, though a dungeon would probably be closer to the mark in my particular case.

“I’ll either make do without them or I will buy them myself when I can afford them,” I replied as soon as my nose had returned to smoother state.

“That’s absurd. There’s no taint of your former marriage on your kitchen things,” Roseanne said.

“There is if my ex has peed in them.”

“What?” To Roseanne’s credit she processed this declaration with little more than a slight cocking of the head.

“I’m pretty sure that my ex has peed in my Kitchen-Aid by now,” I said.

Actually, for all for all of his flaws, my ex appreciated fine mixing equipment almost as much as I did and I was confident that my Kitchen-Aid had not been molested, however Roseanne had called me “absurd” so I felt the need to live up to that accusation.

And she had also come dangerously close to uncovering a truth so it was serendipitous that my conventional method of diversion was to say something inane. I’ve become so excellent at this skill that it’s a reflex rather than a reaction now. In much the way that a leg kicks up when it encounters a strike to the knee, my inanity kicks up when it encounters a strike to my brain.

I sat waiting for Roseanne’s response. I hoped that it would be another dirty look since I was creating a mental catalog of all of her annoyed facial tics. She would be a brilliant curmudgeon in a future novel.

Roseanne gave me a deadpan expression. “Then wash it before you use it,” she said.

I was so delighted by this spontaneous drollery that I almost considered taking off my jacket for the rest of the session.

Instead I told her about the time that my ex left me at a rest stop as punishment for telling him to get off at the wrong exit, because sharing a horrible experience with a counselor is akin to leaving an extra five bucks on the motel nightstand.

As was the case whenever I told her a tale of my recent former life, Roseanne listened raptly making up for my monotonous intonation with her own grimaces and colorful commentary.

“He is a horrible!” “What a jerk!” “Are you sure that he did not have some sort of mental deficiency? Because no adult male should behave like that!”

She was never so pleased with herself as when she implied that my ex suffered some sort of malignant mental malady and she, through her astute listening and brilliant deduction had diagnosed him without even a personal consultation. I let her enjoy the moment because I was still amused by her remark about washing the Kitchen-Aid, but I found myself experiencing the empty feeling that comes when a hilarious joke is no longer funny.

Despite my glaringly obvious contempt for counseling, I had entered therapy with genuine intentions of talking about my problems and attempting “to get better”–if there even existed such a state for someone like me–only had I planned on doing this is the most clinical and sterile manner possible, without the messy display of emotion that usually erupts from one’s eyes and nose during a counseling session. I expected this to be a challenge, after all I had been through some very traumatic experience, however I as shared each of the mauvais quart d’heure which were to blame for my sorry state I realized that it was quite simple to keep my emotions in check, namely because I was not feeling any. Initially I thought that it was because I was so loathe to reveal emotion in front of other people that my brain wouldn’t even attempt to access them knowing that I wouldn’t indulge the feelings anyway, but I found that even in the lone safety of my bedroom I could not feel anything. I replayed my most painful memories over and over and I could not even muster a sniffle. I squished up my face and hyperventilated and rapidly blinked my eyes but I could not convince myself to cry. To be honest I didn’t truly want to cry but I felt like I should want to cry, and furthermore I would like the option to be able to cry if the notion should strike me, but it was impossible. All of my tears were gone, or washed away, or dried up leaving behind less salty residue than it would take to thaw an icy patch of sidewalk.

If my lack of emotion wasn’t puzzling enough already I was surprised to find that their absence did not seem to bother Roseanne in the least. Even my rudimentary knowledge of psychology told me that this was likely a problem, and I anticipated a lecture from her about dealing with my feelings, but much like my tears, castigation remained absent. I wondered about her lack of concern regarding my phlegmatic state but I finally decided that she was simply grateful for a client who wasn’t constantly plucking at the requisite box of tissues which all counselors keep within arm’s length. I would have cancelled any further appointments with her at that point but by then she was comfortable enough with me to drop her professional manners and so thoroughly verbally thrashing my ex-husband that I decided to continue therapy for the entertainment alone.

But as I sat on Roseanne’s couch that day, idly twisting the chenille tassel of a of the chintz pillow between my trembling fingers and recounting the details of the trip that will forever make me averse to visiting Florida, I decided that I had had enough of this game. It had been gratifying to hear someone regard my ex with the venom that I could no longer muster, but this mock therapy was not helping me to feel any better about myself, in fact I felt worse than I had a year before. While the pain and anger I’d felt then had been unpleasant at least there had been something inside me, some kind of fire in my belly to make me live if for no other reason than to spite the ex who had assured me that he had been too instrumental in making me who I was to live without him. Now I felt nothing. I felt nothing, and I wanted nothing and I was, indeed, nothing. If I’d had any emotions I probably would have been terrified at that moment but instead there was only the tiniest of twinges like a candle being snuffed out with a pinch.

If Roseanne had asked what I was thinking at that moment I would have answered her from my broken soul for once. Instead she made an errant scribble in the folder containing my married name written in black Sharpie marker and looked up. “Well I guess that will do for today.”

I looked at the clock.

4:40.

“Same time next week?” she asked brightly.

“Yeah, that’s fine.” I gave her the check for my $20 copay and left the office.

On the day of my appointment the following week it began to snow. There was a healthy two inches on the ground by the afternoon–a veritable blizzard by southern New Jersey standards, so I wasn’t surprised when Roseanne called me cancel my appointment.

“What day do you want to come in instead?” she asked.

“I don’t know. I don’t have my calender with me so I’ll call you back and reschedule,” I replied.

Of course I never did.

snow, woman

Photo by Mike Wood

20 thoughts on “Snow

  1. Sis, I don’t know how you managed to sit through a year of therapy sessions with her. I was in therapy on and off for most of my 20s, so I feel qualified in saying that Roseanne should’ve been in another line of work.

    • I mostly went because it was an outlet to just talk, and like I’d mentioned, she was so snarly about my ex that it was rather cathartic. In truth though she was a bully and I didn’t give myself enough credit at that time but I was stronger than I thought or I would have done the things that I didn’t agree with, like accepting things from my marriage, which she had tried to insist that I do.

  2. I’m probably someone who needs therapy/counseling, but if it’s anything like this, I must say an emphatic “fuck that.” Between the arctic climate, the way she acted/responded to you, and the prostitute-like overtone, I couldn’t bear to sit through that for as long as you did. Good for you for bailing on her.

    FWIW, I’d never accept back anything from an ex. I can buy another kitchen aid. That’s not a problem. And if anything, the cost of a new one is more than worth it if it means getting rid of a few extra bad memories.

    Also, “the fucked up kettle of fish that swam in my head” may be one of the most awesomely unique, vivid descriptions I’ve ever heard. Bravo.

    • This is a personal hangup, and I certainly don’t want to dissuade someone from seeking counseling since they might actually find one of the good ones, but I could never not think of counseling as some sort of legal prostitution. When you think about it, it exactly is like prostitution because you are paying for something that people with healthy relationships already have: someone to talk to and is mentally strong enough to handle your shit. No I guess I shouldn’t make such a broad generalization because you can have many healthy relationships and still need an unbiased third party to listen to you. I don’t know. I’ll shut up because I’m obviously biased about those unbiased counselors.

    • And that’s one of the reasons that I kept going to her: because her vehement snarling was too entertaining. But then I realized that for the cost of my copay I could eat dinner and rent a movie and that sounded like more fun.

  3. I would love to jump in here and defend my colleagues (I retired from a career in which I specialised in working with individuals recovering from abuse, and families struggling with serious mental illnesses), but I just sighed reading this, because unfortunately, like many professions, the waters of therapy are afloat with quacks. Your particular quack though seems completely inadequate to her job, as her attitude, line of questioning, and responses are un-skillful, unhelpful, and inattentive to your actual needs in the context. I am glad you are robust and have a sense of humour about it, because bad therapy can be damaging, once a client has trusted a therapist and opened up to her. I suppose she never stopped to ask you how the therapy was going for you, so as to review the process of your work together and assess her usefulness to you? I think you are better off spending that twenty dollars on coffee with a friend, frankly.
    td Whittle recently posted…Book Review: House of Leaves, by Mark Z. DanielewskiMy Profile

    • TD, thank you so very much for chiming in as a professional, and for understanding where I came from when I wrote this piece. I’m honestly waiting for someone to scold me for painting therapy in such a dreadful picture and accuse me of creating a story which might prevent someone somewhere who needs therapy from seeking it. I do know that there are qualified and genuinely caring counselors who have entered the profession to help people–which is why I tried to find one several times–but the difficult thing with finding a good counselor is that you are already so broken in your brain that if the professional doesn’t seem right then you assume that YOU are the problem. It’s… It’s just a wretched thing to have your mind not working.

      Thank you again for you comment, TD. I can tell that the profession definitely lost a good one when you retired. (Though I’m sure retirement is deserved and hope you are enjoying it. ;) )

  4. I’ve had worthless counselors and ones worth their weight in gold. The worst was the couples counselor that let my partner verbally abuse and bully me for entire sessions. The best was the one that called us both out on bullshit. She’s the one that’s helping us rediscover why we fell in love in the first place.

    • I do believe that there are good counselors out there, and I’m very happy that you found one and that she helping you and your husband so much, Juli. :)

  5. I think one of the reasons that I got my degree in psychology, like a lot of people who go into psychology is to self diagnosis and treat. I was never in therapy. And, blessedly, I’ve never had enough horridness happen to me to warrant therapy, Somebody to talk to, now that I could have used. I was always the ear, never the listened to. With time and great friends I found what I needed and never had to worry about getting therapy.

    I’ve gone with friends, and while I know there are great therapists out there (or I wouldn’t have gone into that field) but I haven’t run into any. I always found that they coddled, skirted dealing with the big issues, and otherwise enabled to keep people in therapy. That’s just me being jaded though.

    Huge hugs and you know I’m always here if you need an ear…one that won’t hurumph you and make awful faces.
    Julie recently posted…November Ipsy ReviewMy Profile

  6. Cool beans. Like the writing. Gave me a great idea for a book! Anyway, at least your therapist didn’t nod off halfway through the afternoon appointment…lol, like mine…but then it was fun saying cool things like, “then i carved them up and fed them to the hogs” …

  7. Sadly, finding a therapist is a lot like finding someone to date. You gotta keep looking until you find your perfect match. But the frustrating part is that it takes a whole lot of energy to keep trying to find the right fit.

    I’ve been seeing my therapist for almost two years, and sadly I often think she still doens’t really know who I am or what my real issues are. Yet, I still go, because I like having someone who isn’t invested in me emotionally to listen to what I have to say.

    I completely get you continuing to go because she was so angry at your ex. But it sounds like her anger was more about her own issues rather than yours! Glad you dumped her, she was awful!
    Kianwi recently posted…This is Bad. Very, Very Bad.My Profile

  8. Kat, you’re such a good writer man. Love this piece. Such a beautiful mood flows through it, a kind of resigned but easy contentment. Does that make any sense at all?! Bad counsel can cause more damage than no counsel, it has to be said. And you very beautifully highlighted some good ol’ bad counselling. Love how you took from it what you needed, and then moved on :)
    WeezaFish recently posted…Time to Leave South Africa?: For This Family, The Answer’s a Mixed YES!!My Profile

  9. She sounds like my first ever shrink–the one who wanted to put me (a suicidal 13-year-old) into a hospital and have me start taking lithium. ….he was sued for malpractise a few years ago.

    Maybe it’s time to ditch her and her ice cave for a better therapist!

    xo
    Mich recently posted…Love is a burning thing.My Profile

  10. Thank you for sharing this, it is so well documented. It reminded me of the years I spent in counselling. I think I had 4 in total, only one was long term. I could totally relate to the coat thing as a “safety blanket”. I do think when she was complaining about it being cold she may have been just breaking the ice and getting the conversation going, as awkward as it can be sometimes. From what I read I think Roseanne spent too much time being opinionated rather than asking the right questions.

    The counselor I ended up staying with for 2 years asked the right questions at the right time and I think that is a vital element to a good therapy session. Especially when the first few weeks I was so withdrawn that I hardly spoke at all. Before I met her I went to a counselor who told me after the first session that she would have to put me back on the waiting list as my problems were too complex to deal with. That is a terrible thing to say to a lonely teenage girl who feels she has had enough of this world.

    *hugs*

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