Last July, I was equally revolted and excited by the thought of becoming, or accepting the fact that I’ve always been, one of “those people”—someone so screwed up, really just bulldozed by the simple task of existing, that they need an unbiased stranger to talk at for $400 an hour only to come to their own conclusions. In the midst of one of New York’s annual heat waves, I was too exhausted to argue with my mom, who loves to remind me that therapy is helpful, not weird, and that it might be a good idea to get a handle on my panic attacks before I moved to Boston for college, and agreed to one session.
I blasted Sonic Youth on the way to my first session in the hopes that Dr. Morgan would see how cool I am, and ultimately decide that I was fine and didn’t have to spend the rest of my summer in her office. I cried within ten minutes of sitting down and went to at least seven more sessions.
That month was hazy—in retrospect, June and August are marked by trips to other states or other countries, but July feels to me like one long day spent roaming around New York. I woke up early—a strange but welcome phenomenon that has since disappeared from my life. I was withdrawn in a different way than I had been in the past, preferring not to stay in bed watching Netflix, but to be in public by myself, reading or watching those around me. I’d walk hundreds of sticky city blocks each day, listening to “Caroline Says II” on repeat. Home on the Upper East Side to Dr. M’s on the Upper West Side, Dr. M’s to downtown (Washington Square Park or Soho, usually), and sometimes then to Brooklyn. I downed gallons of water and iced coffee and roamed the West Side Highway, until I had something to do or felt like being inside.
I saw Dr. Morgan twice a week. After each session, I stood in the shower, talking out loud, trying to determine if I could’ve become slightly more mentally healthy on my own if I just started talking to myself. If I’d thought of this sooner, I thought, we could’ve saved a lot of money.
Still, I began to look forward to our meetings. Dr. M was cool—she had cute clothes, seemed to always take my side, and though I didn’t know anything about her personal life, I imagined she had a hot husband. She deserves one, I decided. A hot husband and an obedient dog.
In another life, I would be best friends with her. She would give me the pink shift dress she wore to our last session and we would sip the coffee she forbade me to drink because it’s not doing you any favors—caffeine can worsen anxiety, you know! I would play her Lou Reed and we would talk about books and what shows she likes and I would find her flaws (too easily can I picture her listening to Taylor Swift) but love her anyway.
Of course, that’ll never happen. She is at least fifteen years older than me and probably has her own friends. And I’ve already told her more than I would a friend, though it took some prodding—the path to a clearer mind does not look like a messy room in need of tidying, after all, but a tidy room that you have to rip apart and then reorganize.
Sometimes when I’m just about to fall asleep, I smell her office, hear the fan she kept on throughout the heat wave. I remember running out of places to look when the eye contact got to be too much. I have an issue with space, I told Dr. M. I’m claustrophobic, and it’s getting hard to stay on the subway past 14th Street. She thought there was more that I wasn’t telling her. She was right. You know, I think it might just be the heat.
At the end of the summer, it was time to stop seeing Dr. Morgan. She said she’d call me at school, and she did, but I was in class and never called her back. Feeling weird about having accidentally screened her call, I didn't schedule an appointment over Thanksgiving or winter break. My dad often asks me What? You think all of her other patients return her calls? You know she won’t be mad at you, right? And of course, I know she won’t be mad, but I can’t help but wishing she would be; she contributed so much to who I am, even months later, that it’s hard to remember that to her, I was just a time slot.
Over winter break, I tried to recreate last summer. I don’t miss the ever-looming panic attacks, but I do miss a certain feeling I had, one that felt more like a balloon floating inside my stomach than an anvil pushing me down, brought on by impending change, exacerbated by constant overthinking. I found that winter is much more work.
Instead of being able to wake up early, pull on whatever shorts were clean, and head out, I had a hard time getting up before noon. When I finally did regain consciousness, I was forced to layer and bundle to such a degree that I went from cozy to claustrophobic. It was too cold to walk as many blocks as I’d hoped and my hands were always too frozen to enjoy a coffee on the West Side Highway. In the summer, despite living in internal pandemonium, I was outwardly pretty easygoing. In the winter, almost everything exhausts or annoys me.
I didn't have as much alone time as I did last summer because my parents always wanted to do something fun, we miss you! and because all of my friends were home for the holidays. I liked seeing them, but mostly I felt overstimulated. Everything felt like a part of some dull routine; not like my summer schedule, where I was outside and around other people, free to go wherever I wanted. Winter break was stagnant and limiting and made me feel like an outsider.
I went to parties that weren’t fun and blamed therapy for breaking me, for making me feel like everything I once valued and admired is fake. I used to think this was fun, I thought, looking at my friends, drinking and laughing and talking loudly about nothing. Last year, I would’ve thought this was fun.
If therapy made me see the ways in which I could benefit from becoming a happiernicerstrongerbetter person, social situations are what made me realize how much I’ve changed in the past few months and how little my friends have. Since Dr. M shifted my perspective, it’s difficult to ignore whatever it is I might now want to see, and that tension is consuming. Others might say I’ve calmed down, that I’m quieter, maybe even more grown up. I’d say I’m more disillusioned.
I cannot recall a time in my life when I felt like a whole, unbroken person; there has always been something in me that feels like there’s a gear out of place, making it impossible to sit comfortably and forcing me to try over and over and over again—to no avail—to reconcile every aspect of who I am on an emotional level.
The best part of last summer was how transitional it was. Everything felt poetic and uncertain and fleeting and like it was the end. Floating in between high school and college felt like the best kind of purgatory; I was encouraged to do whatever I wanted since I was getting ready to move away, and was able to comfortably embrace routine, since I knew that it would end eventually.
I often felt that gear turning inside of me, reminding me with every awkward, clumsy revolution of where I came from, of who I truly am. Last summer, I was able to walk the discomfort off, or at least walk South until I forgot about it for a while, but that’s not always possible. There are a lot of bad things about being sad, but here’s the worst thing about being happy: that insidious feeling that you’re betraying your sadness, your anxiety.
I’m trying to find a life that doesn’t revolve around the negative; my new philosophy is to be grateful and complimentary instead of critical, in the hopes that it’ll make me appreciate myself more. It’s a nice sentiment, but, like most things, one that’s easier said than done.
I think Dr. Morgan would be proud of me; I’ve taken some important steps and accomplished a lot, she’d say. Or maybe it’d go something like this: Why are you writing about me? That’s super creepy.
ABOUT LUCY CAPPELLO
Lucy Cappello is a nineteen year old writer from Manhattan. She is currently pursuing a degree in creative writing from Emerson College in Boston while writing for Verge Campus and her own blog (lucyexists.blogspot.com). Lucy is passionate about coffee and bookstores and is afraid of birds and cartoons. You can find her on twitter @lucycappello