Monday, May 26, 2014

Mike's Story Part 32 - Therapy

By Jenna Orkin   

   Yesterday's post prompted an unusual crop of expansive and informed comments, among them, that people would either love the post or hate it.  This was surprising because I had thought it more of a holding pattern, filling in details of Mike's daily life and preoccupations but providing no revelations.  Perhaps that particular commenter thought that some people would be offended by the description of Mike's first foray into a mental institution.  But there was no secret about that; he had written of it himself in 2007. 
   Anyway, today we have to backtrack because I came upon a cache of notes from a time leading up to his admission to Bellevue; my notes are not so organized as one might wish.  In fact, I've found other omitted details which, if this account developes into a book, will be tucked in at the appropriate moments, more or less.  But today's find was too large to overlook.

   "It would help you to see what role you played in this mess, but without passing judgment," I told Mike during one of his many bouts of angst.  "You're agonizing, 'It's all my fault,' then reminding yourself it was also other people's fault and transferring your rage to them.  You did play a role getting yourself into this mess and it would be enlightening for you to figure out what it was. It doesn't matter if it was 60/40 in your favor or theirs. But try to see it objectively without the cringeing guilt."
   My best friend, a clinical psychologist, had taught me the salutary effect of taking responsibility, though without censure; it provides a greater sense of power over one's own actions and by extension, one's emotions.
   I also wanted to head off a possible reaction Mike could have as he embarked on therapy so I said, "You have been suicidal and right now you are ambivalent about being alive. I talked you out of killing yourself in Venezuela and here. In the course of your therapy, as you go over the 'trainwreck' of your life, [his words] you may find yourself resenting me."
   "You mean for saving my life?" Mike asked.  
   "Yes. If this happens, let it happen. Don't necessarily tell me about it but tell your shrink and explore it."
   We changed the subject to Jamey Hecht, the editor of FTW and Crossing the Rubicon, wondering if he would call over the Christmas vacation when he came to town to see his parents and more pointedly, to bring his daughter to see them.
   "I wonder where he stands these days," Mike said. "After [a close friend who now resented him,] nothing would surprise me."
   "I don't think she turned as far as you think she did. She back-pedaled in an email to me, about how she wasn't 'accusing' you.
   'There's something about email that makes people seem angrier than they are. All you read is what's in the email itself. There's a whole lot of ambivalence they don't bother to express.
   'Also it may take them five seconds to dash off the equivalent of 'fuck you.' They forget about it but when you open it, it's like an explosion and you're left with the debris."
   Dr. X. recommended a therapist who would be cheaper than a psychiatrist. ("This is New York. We can find one for you right in your neighborhood.") Mike would check with his psychiatrist once a month so she could monitor his medication.
   "I'd recommend you ask for the most intelligent therapist rather than the most convenient," I advised Mike, having learned that lesson myself the hard way. "It's not like looking for a dry cleaner."
   "How do you go about finding a good therapist?"
   "Clumsily. I once went through seven before rejecting all of them. One was sweet until the end of the session when she screamed that she didn't take checks.  Later she called to apologize, saying she'd been 'picking up on all the anxiety in there.'  That's a lousy excuse for a therapist.
   'Another one explained why she thought my behavior was 'angry' by saying, 'Let's just say I've been in this business longer than you have."
   'A third, who was a full-fledged psychiatrist, wanted to hear about my mother's career in show business.
   'I gave up.  But nine years later, I was sitting on the park bench talking to another mother who described being suicidal after her son was born. She seemed enviably stable so I asked her how she did it. She told me the name of her psychiatrist and I called her.  She was wonderful."
   At least, as far as therapy went, Mike had landed in the right city.
December 27, 2006  Another bill collector called.  Mike's house phone in Ashland was never turned off.
   Sometimes when he tired of talking about himself, Mike asked about me.  Like most people in a relationship, he wanted to know about his predecessors.  He was particularly interested in one who had threatened abuse.
   "The one article I wrote for the LA Times," he said, "was about battered women. I didn't have much respect for them because they kept choosing the same sort of men.  But I recognize that those qualities that I looked down on are the ones that are saving me now, with you."
   Another loaded statement, betraying his evolution from, "Blame the victim" to a more reflective response; not to mention what it revealed about his perception of our relationship.    
   "Will I ever get everything under control? Perfect? Will I ever be comfortable?"
   "Honey chil', you can be comfortable loooong before you're perfect."
   "I can be comfortable without being perfect," he marveled, incredulous.  “I can be comfortable.  Without being perfect.” 
   [On one of his colleagues:] "There's a saying in AA: What do you have when you take a drunken horse-thief and stop him from drinking?"
   "A sober horse thief.
   '[The colleague] is an ex-heroin addict.  But she still thinks like a heroin addict."
   'One of my thoughts when I left for Venezuela was: 'You trashed my company; now you deal with it.' They wouldn't have extradited me for debts amounting to a few hundred dollars."
   "I think your moves have been a form of panic attack," I answered.  "'Gotta get outta here.' First LA, then Ashland, then Venezuela, then Canada, now New York."
   "I never had panic attacks before I got here." 
   I ignored the implication that I or my apartment or New York or all three were to blame.  "You always had some other emergency, your business or your health. You always had a goal. Nature and you abhor a vacuum. When you don't have something concrete and immediate to do, the panic rushes into the void. I think that's why you kept yourself lurching from one emergency to the next when FTW was going full throttle. And when you took a break, you smoked."
   "Don't take smoking away from me," he warned defensively, his voice rising.  "You're not going to stop me from smoking, are you?"
   I thought, "I don't have that power." But I did. I could have given him an ultimatum about staying in my apartment. However, that seemed far-fetched.  Did he really think I'd do that?
   He asked why no one had tried harder to dissuade him from running to Venezuela.
   "You knew a helluva lot more about all this stuff than we did," I explained.  "When you said the CIA were after you, what were we supposed to say? 'No, they're not?'"

   He spoke of his broken relationships, the people he'd overlooked or actively kicked out of the way. 
   "Maybe you felt that your main relationship was not with an individual but with the world," I said.
   "Wow. That's something to think about."
   I'd come to that conclusion because it was a thought I'd entertained about myself years before. But he never asked how I arrived at my analyses.

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