‘I get to her office. I ring the bell. She’s got a buzzer system. What am I supposed to do if she doesn’t release the door straight away? Should I ring the bell again? If I ring again, will she think I’m annoying? Then she releases the door. Her office is on the fourth floor. I have to take the lift. I’d like to take the stairs, but if I walk up, I’ll be sweaty. So I take the lift.
‘But the lift is a bit of a problem. I wouldn’t want anyone to see that I’m going to a psychoanalyst – I’m antsy about that. So I get to the fourth floor and make it to her door. On the door she has one of those push-button combination locks, so that patients can let themselves into the waiting room. Sometimes I fumble with the lock and I get the combination wrong. Is she listening? Is she thinking, “What a klutz?”
‘I’m in the waiting room five minutes early. Should I start reading something? She once told me that it was interesting that I had started to read something despite the fact that I had only a couple
of minutes before the start of my session. Maybe I shouldn’t read. What do I do if someone else comes into the waiting room? Do I smile? What do I do if I see her colleague – do I say hello to him?
Is there a rule about this stuff?
‘She’s one minute late coming to the waiting room to get me. Now it’s two minutes. Has she forgotten me? She comes into the waiting room. Do I look at her, or not look at her? As I follow her into her consulting room, do I look around the room, or not look around the room? What do I want to see? Am I trying to avoid seeing something?
‘Now I’m at the couch. Do I really lie down and put my wet, dirty shoes on her nice clean couch, or do I take them off? Do patients normally take off their shoes or not? I don’t know. If I do take my shoes off and most people don’t, I look peculiar. But if I don’t take my shoes off and most people do – then I’m dirty. I decide that I’d rather be peculiar than dirty. So off come the shoes.
‘By the time I finally lie down on the couch, I’ve been through all of that. This entire discussion – my sense of being reproached and my sense of self-reproach, this whole saga of doubt and trouble – all of it has been conducted before either of us says a word.’
Tom downed his espresso.
‘It took a long, long time – probably a couple of years – to really divulge all that toing and froing clearly because, frankly, who wants to let someone else know just how absolutely small your own preoccupations are? But Dr A. kept returning to this sort of stuff, kept encouraging me to talk about it. We spent weeks on that shoe thing, for God’s sake. I wasn’t expecting that.’
This feels like something I'd talk to my therapist about, if I had a therapist. This story touched me because of how real it sounded.