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Madness, muggles and professional help

Running away from myself is how I spend my days. Running back only happens after my daily exercise at the Hotel Atlantica gym.

With the exhaustion comes a moment of lucidity, like an Alzheimer’s patient who remembers everything they forget. The excess adrenaline that torments me has been spent. I can see how ridiculous the rest of my day has been. I know that I’ll forget this feeling but it all seems like a dream I can wake up from. I take my shower, try to avoid looking at the old men that enjoy having philosophical conversations with their cocks out and try to keep this feeling for a few more minutes.

I make my way outside of the hotel, past the hookers and senior citizens that line the lobby.

Into the rain.

Clutching my copy of “Harry Potter: Order of the Phoenix” to my chest.

And then it happens.

“Snape kills Dumbledore,” says an acne-covered teenager, near choking on the five pieces of gum he has stuffed into his mouth. He has greasy hair, angry eyes and a face that needs to be punched.

I stop walking. Turn to the boy and his equally homely teenage friend and think of a proper response.  It’s raining outside, the droplets slam into the ground sounding like an audience giving a standing ovation. The book is getting wet. I consider using it as a bludgeon.

Instead I say the first mean thing I can think of. Which isn’t totally appropriate.

“Your mother was a lousy fuck,” I reply.

There is an awkward moment as we both contemplate how far we are willing to take this.

“What did you just say?” asks the acne-covered teenager, bunching up his fists like a miniature Dudley. Which I guess makes me Harry Potter. Who apparently I look like. “Say that to my face.”

“Sure. As long as I don’t have to look too closely at it. Let me say it slow.  I fucked your mother,” I say. “She wasn’t any good.  Just layed there moaning.  Terrible lay. But then that’s not surprising when her son is a stupid fuck.”

“Ron marries Hermione,” says the kid, before spitting out an octopus of bubblegum from his acne laden cheeks.  “Oh and quidditch is for faggots.”

This has gone too far. I can kill him and get off as a result of temporary insanity. My fists hunch. I take a few steps towards him. His friend moves into ninja stance, ready to show me what his childhood karate lessons have taught him regarding self defense.

“Homophobia usually reflects a person’s deep seeded insecurities about their own sexuality,” I say. Though I’m not sure I believe that every homophobic person is secretly gay. Some are probably just ignorant bigots with nothing better to do. “Your mother must be so disappointed in you. I mean when she is not on coke and fucking everyone in the neighborhood.”

You probably think I’m over-reacting. Especially since I knew this particular tidbit about Snape anyway. But it’s the principle of the thing. He saw me deeply engrossed in the books and he tried to ruin it for me. Just to be a dick.

“By the by, do you eat too many chocolate bars?” I ask.

He might be too young to get the cultural reference. "People Say I Eat Too Many Chocolate Bars"

His friend decides to put in his own two cents.

“Those books are for fucking kids, man,” he says, his voice cracking mid sentence.

“How old are you? 30?” asks my original enemy, glaring at me, eyes lit with the confidence. He expects the two of them could kick my scrawny ass.  “Faggot reading Harry Potter when he’s thirty. “

I’m getting into a shouting match with children over Harry Potter. My fists unclench. I understand how ridiculous I’m being.

“Good point,” I say. “Tell your mother I said hi.”

I walk away and let the little bastards live to fuck up someone else’s day.


“Why are you here?” asks the bearded man who henceforth will be called Mel. Mainly because he reminds me of Brenda’s father from Six Feet Under.  “Not just talking to me. But talking to someone.”

“I get advice from everyone,” I reply. “Whether I’m asking for it or not. I thought I should go see someone qualified. Plus it’s not my money so I am not worried about how fucking expensive this is.”

$150 bucks.  Quality help is not just hard to find, it’s also hard to pay for. Thankfully my parents are willing to pick up the bill and I don’t have to depend on the system for help.

He laughs and I feel a little bit better about myself.

I look like a fucking mess. My belt broke so my pants are showing a lot more boxer than they should be. My eyes are blood shot and my forehead has wrinkles that weren’t there before. I look like an old man despite my baby face. Macauly Culkin after a serious coke binge.

“Are you comfortable?” he asks.

“It’s a nice chair. No sofa but whatever.”

“I mean with me.”

“I’m willing to try anything.”

“Seeking out help is a good first step,” he says.

Silence.  I don’t know what to say to that.

“Well, let’s see if we can find out what the problem is.”

This has become routine to me. A story I have told so many times that I can hit the highlights without pauses or breaks. Highlights are insomnia, depression and anxiety. Pause to drop typical insights. Wait to see the impact. He seems sympathetic. I’m waiting for him to ask if I have issues with my mother. Freud is my main reference point for what I expect psychiatry will offer.

“What triggered all this?” he asks.

I tell him about the anxiety and my fear of it. Quitting weed.  I talk to him of my fears concerning my girlfriend living with my roommate and the guilt I felt for my concern over it.

“Guilt?” he asks. “Why do you feel guilty?”

“Because I know that nothing would ever happen. They don’t even interact like that,” I say. “My best friend from childhood became involved with the last girl that I was in love with. I mean I had no claim on her and he didn’t do it to hurt me but it didn’t change the way I felt. I mean I understand it. Everyone is just doing what they think is going to make them happy and I loved the wrong person. A lot of wrong persons.   I love my girlfriend so I guess I worry that I’m going to lose her the same way. I’m not usually the guy that gets the girl.”

He nods and makes a few notes.

I wonder if he is writing loser.

“Judging from what you are saying, it is a reasonable thing to feel,” he says. “Not that it’s justified. But the past trains us to have certain fears and responses.”

“She’s been too good for me to feel this shit,” I say.

“You don’t have a choice in your thoughts,” he says. “The more you try to not have a thought the more likely you are to have them. You have no control over your thoughts. You just have control over how you react to them.”

“It makes me so angry,” I say.

“At who?” he asks.

“Me,” I say. “Why the fuck am I doing this to myself?”

“It’s being human,” he says. “Being jealous is an unconscious reaction. Everyone feels it sometimes. I see my wife talking to some Spanish weightlifter I feel a twinge. That’s natural.  What matters is how you deal with it. By trying to suppress these feelings you give them weight. Subconsciously you reinforce the message that these thoughts should scare you. Once you learn to accept them they won’t affect you as much. It’s not your feelings that matter. It’s your feelings about your feelings that fuel the cycle that keeps you anxious and sleepless. Being hard on yourself only makes it worse.”

“So what do I do?” I ask.

“Identify those automatic thoughts,” he says.  “The ones that get you scared and learn to talk back to them. As you said the two situations aren’t the same. Next time you feel anxious about your feelings of jealousy refer to that. Build on it. ”

Mel specializes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a form of psychotherapy based around the concept that depression and anxiety are caused by distortions in your thinking. CBT is a practical step-by-step program that teaches you how think rationally. This doesn’t mean it teaches you to think positively.

Positive thinking is a nonstop diet of motivational speaker bullshit designed to sell books and provide those easy answer solutions the mentally ill are so desperately craving.  It’s the easy answer your friends who have no fucking clue what you are going through will offer. Asking a depressed person to think positively is like asking a cripple to walk.

CBT is akin to the physiotherapy that gradually develops the muscles that make walking possible. See your brain needs to believe what you are telling it for it to mean anything. So if you tell yourself a lie you aren’t going to believe it. Thinking positive involves dismissing the negative. CBT teaches you balanced thinking where you weigh the evidence for your belief about given situations and to weigh the evidence both for and against it and then suggest alternative explanations. And while compiling these lists you recognize the distortions in your thoughts.  And once you realize your own preconceptions you can move past them.

For example my girlfriend is in a bad mood. I collect the evidence that says it’s my fault. She was short tempered with me and seemed in a bad mood. I spilled water on her floor.  Evidence against: it’s her time of the month, I often spill glasses of water, in fact it is my idiot trademark and she doesn’t give a shit. She often has been pissed off for reasons that have nothing to do with me. Most likely she doesn’t hate me.

Self absorption is a side effect of mental illness. People’s lives do not revolve around you and your humiliation. That’s the disease talking. By practicing CBT on your own you can teach yourself how to be a rational human.   Unfortunately telling yourself the truth isn’t easy when you are depressed. Our brains aren’t hardwired for quick change. It took a lot of time before anything said in this room made any difference at all.

“What makes you feel like you don’t deserve her?” he asks.

“What?” I may have missed something as I’m half asleep.

“You say that you aren’t the guy who gets the girl,” he says. “What is it about you?”

“I’m not going anywhere,” I say. “I have spent my entire life investing in my dreams and I don’t know how to do anything practical. I’m useless in the kitchen. I can make breakfast and I don’t.  I work for my dad and I fuck it up.  My room is messy.  I guess I am mentally unstable. And I have never been good with girls.”

“These are the things you need to work on,” he says. “You’re insecure because you haven’t done them. There is nothing keeping you from doing them. You say you aren’t good with girls. How come you are dating this girl?  From your description she sounds like one of the best girls in the world.”

There are a bunch of answers to that question.  Might be because several of our friends said we would be perfect together.  Or the fact that we are both writers and we woke up most mornings to fight over the crossword and the nine letter puzzles in the paper. How we knew how to kiss each other right off and we had great sex.

Or the million different romantic gestures I arranged, stuck in the terminal amazement that I could meet someone who could make my whole life slip away.

I found out that as a kid she wanted to grow up to be a unicorn. On our two month anniversary I convinced a mutual friend of ours to do a gigantic painting of my girlfriend as a Unicorn. With me dangling from her horn with the question, “Do I make you horny?”  On our three-month anniversary I got another friend to make her a piece of Unicorn jewelry. Her room is now filled with Unicorn related collectables. And yes I know monthly anniversaries are fucking stupid.

Realistically the answer involves none of those things. The addition, subtraction and division of qualities, kind gestures and beautiful intentions to find a mathematical formula for why people fall in love is the worst of bullshit.

We fell in love because we did. Without choice or proper logic. The broken arrows that pointed us towards each other had nothing to do with logic. I had never loved, been with someone that loved me, and previous love affairs made her feel as though she would never love again. Yet it happened.

Mathematics re-entered the game with insecurities. When you start asking the question how could someone love me if I’m like this, you pay attention to the imaginary score board, where you earn love.

Staring face to face with this mystery a lot of us take comfort in the mathematics. That if we just do this and this we could stop time, as it stops when we fall in love, we could find the answer to the question of why people love us and then we would never have to lose them. Anxiety is based around a belief in this type of thinking.

“She is amazing and I know what I’m thinking is bullshit,” I say.

“Then change it,” he replies. “It’s within your power. It just takes a lot of practice and hard work. There isn’t an easy solution, Michael. You have to stop looking for it. The search for a cure is your disease.”