“Come to my apartment. It’s getting harder to meet in the city and you obviously hate phoners.”
But I hated the idea of going to her apartment more. Fear. Crushing anxiety. I’d feel them each time my therapist suggested we meet at her apartment. Why? It’s just an apartment, right? Not really. To me it’s a symbol. It’s a symbol of one of the worst moments of my life. My second nervous breakdown and my therapist’s home intricately link in my brain to form a site of horror and embarrassment, of uncontrollable stuttering, gasping for breath, sweating, shaking, and tears. So many tears.
And the craziest thing is that my therapist moved a few years after my breakdown, but it doesn’t matter. It’s still HER apartment. It’s still the idea of where I was at my weakest. It’s still a frozen, miserable moment.
But last week I did it. I went back. And it was scary. It was so damn scary.
As I sat in traffic my skin prickled from the memories of sitting in the car with my mom. 35 years old. Slumped and crying. The outside darkness matching my inner gloom. We were early. We waited. I don’t remember if my mom said anything. It doesn’t matter. This is one of the few times when I can recall the feeling of utter loneliness, helplessness, shame. 35 years old and I’m sitting there parked at the curb, my mom in the driver’s seat, a desperate last-minute meeting with my therapist looming. They would determine if I needed hospitalization. I knew I was bawling, but couldn’t understand why. All I comprehended was the oppressive humiliation.
The clocked hummed along and soon it was time. I stumbled to my therapist’s apartment building. Once inside I broke down. Wailing. Hyperventilating. Arms locked around my torso as if already in a strait jacket. How long did I wait in the lobby? How many people passed by trying not to stare? How did I get from the lobby to my therapist’s apartment? I have no idea.
I don’t remember much from the emergency session. I was far away, buried deep inside this shivering body. There was a consultation with my psychiatrist, I think. Discussions about hospitalization. Me screaming against such a thing. Someone calling my father. My abashment at my dad learning about my state, but an underlying anger at him as well, anger at everyone. I can’t remember exact words, but I’m pretty sure he didn’t know what to say. I’m pretty sure he said everything wrong that night. My therapist coaching him on how to talk to me, explaining things, I think.
I’M 35 YEARS OLD!!! I’M A FAILURE!!! MY TIME’S UP!!!
What did her apartment look like? Where did I sit? Where are the details???
Gone. All that’s left are tendrils of guilt and self-disgust and the apartment as the embodiment of it all. And that’s why I wouldn’t go back for a long time even though she’d moved. That’s why I wouldn’t go back until last week.
But I did. I finally did even though all of those awful memories returned. I sat there clutching a pillow to my chest, my legs wrapped around each other. Twisted. Tight. Anxious. My therapist has a small dog and I watched (him? her?) gnaw on a bone thinking it’s so easy for dogs. It’s so easy. My therapist showed me pictures from her life trying to break me out of my head, trying to show me she was a person, trying to kill the connection between her apartment and my breakdown.
We spoke a little. Not much. I mostly stared at the dog. She knew my fears of coming to her home. She worked with them. She worked around them. I did my best which wasn’t good enough. Or was it? Was just going there enough? Slicing through the thick web of panic and symbolization? I have to try to think it was for how else will I grow?
And so I’ll go back. I’ll conquer this fear. And one day maybe my skin won’t prickle; my chest won’t tighten; my breath won’t catch.
Maybe one day it’ll just be an apartment again.