I have always felt nervous when people make notes about me. What was so heinous that they could write on a permanent file, but couldn’t say to my face? When I was a child, I wanted the doctor and the dentist to make their notes on sheets of butcher’s paper spread out on the floor, using coloured textas. Maybe we could draw a Venn diagram or do some brain storming together. Then we could stick it on the fridge and I wouldn’t have to spend every night during the third grade sitting up in bed, fretting over what all these people were writing about me.
I didn’t feel that way with Dr Riley though. He was so smart and highly regarded in psychiatry that he didn’t have to cut his hair for work. He kept ugly artworks in his office and wore light pink pants and nobody gave a damn. He took the tough cases too – people who punched walls during sessions and went home to slit their wrists, then came back to the surgery covered in blood and babbling apologies. I had to wait 4 months just to get an appointment.
When Dr Riley made notes about me, I felt special. It was like being interviewed by a famous journalist. I wore distressed jeans and big sunglasses to my sessions. I put my feet on the lounge and made jokes about his other patients.
“I don’t think you’re taking your time here very seriously,” he said at my second appointment.
“I guess I’m just not a very serious kind of girl,” I replied, winking.
Dr Riley rolled his eyes and made some notes. Presumably something along the lines of, Well dressed, biting wit, fascinating and charismatic. I tossed my hair and turned my head so that the better side of my profile was facing him, in case he wanted to make a quick sketch of my features.
By my third appointment, however, Dr Riley was making so many notes that I began to feel nervous again. When I tried to look at his notepad, he gave me a stern look and tilted it away. “These notes are just for me,” he said, and resumed writing. I scanned the room anxiously, looking for something personal. Dr Riley knew so much about me, and I knew practically nothing of him. I needed to restore the balance. I had to get some reciprocal dirt to even things out. I spotted a bicycle in the corner of the room, leaning against one wall, helmet sitting on the seat. Aha! I thought, He’s a cyclist. Interested in fitness. Probably worried about his weight. Finding it harder to keep the pounds off as he gets older. Definitely projecting that onto his patients. Was probably sexually abused as a child. Is no doubt a latent homosexual. May be inclined to violent episodes. I should leave now, this guy’s more nuts than I am.
“You know what I think the problem is?” Dr Riley said, interrupting my diagnosis.
I liked the way he said “the problem” and not “your problem.” It made me feel like I had no responsibility in the matter. It caused me to visualise an obnoxious self-sustaining problem floating in the room; something we would tackle together. I found this comforting because I am inherently lazy.
“What’s the problem?” I asked, looking closely at my cuticles.
“You only have two conscious emotions or states of being. You’re either shit, or you’re okay. That’s it. That is the full spectrum of your feelings as an adult. Shit or okay, shit or okay. Shit… Okay…”
“Hmmmm.” I considered this for a moment.
“Well?” Dr Riley asked, “How does that make you feel?”
“Okay,” I replied.
“I thought so,” he said, and went back to making notes.