A couple of years ago when I was at my worst with my health, I finally stumbled across a fabulous GP who diagnosed Chronic Fatigue. The relief of discovering you’re not crazy, depressed or a world class hypochondriac is priceless. This GP’s wife had fallen plight to the same mysterious illness, and he had made it his priority to know everything about CFS. Not just to help his wife, but also the countless others who would stumble through his door with no answers and even less hope.
One of the things I loved about this GP was that he was pretty clued on to the psychological impact of CFS – the fact that people who have it are angry, frustrated, misunderstood, depressed and grieving for the quality of life they once had. For a time there, ten minutes of walking would see me in bed for the rest of the day with my joints and muscles on fire. I could only read one page of a book at a time, which left me so exhausted of mind that I would need a sleep afterward. By the end of the day, I’d be lucky to be able to string one single sentence together. And then I’d crawl into bed with a tiredness I’d never known, and lie awake all night with insomnia. It is a cruel and relentless hell on earth that you never believe you are going to escape from.
Anyway, this GP made all his patients do a compulsory six sessions with a psychologist to work through all that emotional stuff. I figured it couldn’t do me any harm, and Lord knows I’d be a psychologist’s dream, so I went ahead and made the appointments.
First appointment was all very perfunctory, the usual meet and greet experience. Then she asked me to go home, write out my life story, post it to her, and we would discuss it at my next appointment. Well this should be swell, I thought to myself. The next week, thirty-two hand written pages were sent to her office. Thirty-two pages of my gut-wrenching, tear-jerking, woe-is-me bleeding heart. Because if you’re going to bleed anywhere it might as well be to a shrink. Or so I thought.
I walked into the next appointment, feeling much trepidation, and took a deep breath. She begins the session by telling me what a great writer I am and how much she appreciated the honesty in my story. I begin to relax. And then, she goes on to tell me that whilst I seem to have quite a gift with writing, I also seem to have quite a gift with exaggeration. Not that she didn’t believe the events that occurred in my life, of course. But that there was simply no need to be so dramatic. “For instance, my dear, you say here that you were overwhelmed and felt out of control. Now, was that really the case? Or were you just feeling a bit anxious that day? And here, you say you were utterly exhausted. Again, I’m sure you felt tired, but utterly exhausted is perhaps taking it a little too far, don’t you think?”
I sat through the rest of the session with a clenched jaw. I nodded politely in the right places and tried to make it look as though I was hearing what she was saying. In reality, all I was hearing was the deepest fear of my heart being confirmed. That I am just too much. That who I am is more than most people know how to deal with, and that I need to take it down a few notches, water my character down, tame my personality a bit more, make myself more palatable to those around me. That session felt soul destroying (or perhaps I should just say that it felt a little upsetting or something equally as non-dramatic). I felt small and ashamed of who I was. The hour finally ended, and I flung myself into the cold August night, thankful for the slight drizzle of rain to cool me down. I ran from the far end of Grote Street back to Victoria Square, caught the tram to South Terrace and ran through the parklands back to the motel I was staying at. In high heeled knee length boots. The run, and the knowledge of the mini-bar that awaited me, worked well for me, and I was calmer by the time I reached my room. But I was still unsettled for the rest of the night as I toyed over the things she had said. She was the psychologist with all the degrees on the wall to prove it, so who was I to question her?
Annoyed as I was, I went back a month later for my next appointment. I always try to give everyone a second chance to pull their head out of their arse and redeem themselves. We’re all human, after all. However, some people obviously don’t have the capacity to be redeemed, and this was another shocker of an appointment whereby her conclusion of me was that I was simply a bored housewife who was far too intelligent to bake cakes all day and the solution to my life’s problems was a university degree and a career. And I’m looking at her incredulously thinking, I have sent you thirty-two pages of my life story and you think my problems are a result of being a bored housewife? And then you want me to get a university degree when at the moment I am incapable of reading a chapter book to my five-year old daughter?
She spent the rest of that session career counselling me. I spent the rest of that session adding up how much time and money I had wasted. Because at $160/hour, I had kind of hoped for more than just someone to tell me I would be a better person with less letters in my writing and more letters after my name. I walked out of there and have never gone back. I’m gracious with second chances. Beyond that, I have learnt to walk away. ‘I don’t trust words. I even question actions. But I never doubt patterns.’ No truer words have been spoken.
In my state of mind at that time, this whole incident rocked me. It was about at this point my carefully constructed world cracked open and I unraveled. And while it was one of the worst times in my life, it was also my great awakening, and I have spent the last couple of years rebuilding. Slowly, painfully, stone by stone.
A few days ago this shrink incident came back to mind – after years of it being blocked out – and I’ve realised she was wrong.
I could have followed her advice. I could have shrunk down in my chair and become a lesser version of myself. A less real, less honest, less feeling, less bleeding version of myself. One that chose to only write about shallow things that made people happy. God forbid I write things that make people think or feel or love or hate or cry or laugh. But if I had done that, I would’ve taken the essence of who I am and traded it for a cheap imitation. And in doing so, would have missed out on the calling in my life to embrace humanity in all it’s extremes… to live, observe, be part of, explore… and write.
I’ve been reading a lot about the lives of other authors. I’m yet to find an author whose life hasn’t been full of trauma, hardship, struggle, challenges. Who hasn’t had to face their demons. Who hasn’t been broken and had to find the strength to overcome. They all write from deep within their war wounds, their scars, and their bleeding hearts. That is what makes them a good writer. And I know I’m in good company. Maybe that’s just the legacy writers must carry. But maybe through our brokenness we see beauty and bring it to a world that would otherwise overlook it.
“She wasn’t made-up and pretence. She was blood, bones and broken promises enclosed in beauty. She was real, and that’s what people despised”
If everything in life is an experience of which to learn from, I know the time I spent with that psychologist wasn’t wasted time. Because if nothing else, I am more passionate than ever about being the person I was created to be.
So grab hold of everything you are, embrace it, and let it radiate from the core of your being. There is a french phrase – “raison de’^etre” – which translated, literally means your reason for existence. It is your soul’s essence, an intangible force which dictates your being. It is the reason you commit yourself to survival and endure life. Find it. And live it.