Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Shrinking Heads - Part One

My parents would almost certainly prefer that I not share this, and I won't repeat anything they said in confidentiality, but I will tell a bit about the experience from my perspective while trying hard not to invade my parents' privacy.

My mom, my dad, and I went to family counseling this weekend. My brother was spared juat this once, as the issues belong mostly to me and to my parents, but, as another piece of the puzzle, he gets to come next time. He is not pleased. As such an unwilling participant, I'm not sure how much good his presence will accomplish, but the therapist will see with his own eyes and view objectively the hostitly with which I deal on a daily basis, unless he successfully pulls off his Eddie Haskell impersonation.

The whole idea of visiting a therapist was terrifying to me. I didn't know what would be dredged up. I didn't know if tings would be said that would make me cry, as I do jnot like crying in front of others and have only done so twice in at least the past five years. I didn't know if the therapist and my parents would all gang up on my simultaneously. The thought of it all was rather daunting.

I had no choice, though, so off I went. I took my laptop so I would have something to do, and managed to complete one blog and start another in the times I was not directly involved with the therapist. The therapist spoke to my parenta individually, to my parents together, to me, and then spoke to all of us together. I hate to think what it all cost. As much as I dreaded the experience, I would have preferred being the first to talk to him, because then I would have had the opportunity to tell my side of whatever story he wanted to hear before he was prejudiced by whatever either of my parents said about me.

Instead, the therapist spoke first to my father, then to my mother, then to my father and mother. I will be honest: I considered sneaking out when my parents were together in the therapist's inner office, but I knew that would have ultimately created a worse situation for myself, and would have allowed my parents to more easily build up whatever case they were building against me.

After my parents spoke together, it was my turn. By then my arms and my one good leg were shaking so much that I could barely make it into the shrink's private room. My dad walked with me, presumably because I looked as though I might fall, and helped me get seated into a chair.

The therapist at first tried to establish rapport. I tried to give more than one-word answers so that I would not present as a sullen, uncooperative teenager, but since I didn't really know where he was going with anything, I had to be at least a little bit guarded. He tried to get me to say bad things about my parents, but I wouldn't take his bait. I could tell he was frustrateed and thought I was being oppositional. I finally told him that if someone would just tell me exactly why I was there, I might be able to be of more assistance to him.

He explained that my parents were concerned about what I had been through recently and how I was handling it, and that I wasn't sharing my emotions openly, but they knew I was bothered by things that had happened and afraid of what would happen in the future. I asked him how he knew these things, or rather, how my parents knew them, snce he knew at that point what my parents had told him. He mentioned bad dreams and my shouting out or screaming in my sleep. I wasn't aware I had been doing that. I knew there were times in the night when one of my parents would be in my room patting my back and telling me to go to sleep, but I had no idea I had been yelling or screaming. It seems odd that they never said anything to me the next day, but maybe they thought I already knew and my not bringing it up myself meant that I wouldn't discuss it when they brought it up.

The therapist asked about the prom date situation. It isn't something I like to talk about. I must have turned red, because he told me I had no reason to be embarrassed; the only person who should be embarrassed, he said, was the inconsiderate boy who broke off the date in the way he did. That's one of those things that is easy to say, but not so easy for someone else to totally accept or be at ease because it was said. I told him that it was mostly just embarrassing to me, especially knowing that I have to go back to school and that even though it had mostly been forgotten by now, my reappearance at school may cause it to resurface as a topic for discussion and gossip.

He asked if that was the only reason I was nervous about returneing to school. I told him that I was worried about getting from one class to another in the halls without being knocked down and that I was worried that once I was walking, the kids would make fun of my limp. He asked if that was all, so I talked about how bad my leg would look and how I could hide it temporarily, but eventually, especially if I was able to dive competitively again, or even hurdle, how I would have to wear clothes that showed it. I told him how my diving coach talked last year about physical appearance psychologicall impacting judges and negatively affecting scores. The coach was tallking mostly about weight, but I'm sure the same would apply with a crooked leg that had so many scars from surgeries and infection lesions that I practically looked like a burn victim. He told me he thought there were laws guarding against such discrimination, but I explained to him that the judging was so entirely subjective that no one what get anywhere challenging a low diving scored based on the Americans with Disabilities Act because it would be next to impossible to prove that the low score was as a rsult of the way my leg looked.. The therapist asked about my accepting a date for the prom, or other dates in general. I told him that I would never ask a boy for one of those girl-asks-boy dance things, and that it would make me nervous to accept a date, especially for a major dance where one had to go to the trouble of getting a special dress and all the stuff thaat goes along with it.

The shrink said that a life with no risks at all was rarely one worth living. I half-expected him to break into his own rendition of Bette Midler's "The Rose." I told him I found what he said interesting in light of my parents' views regarding risks. He asked what I meant. I told him that at times I had taken physical risks that my parents had opposed very strongly and had imposed consequences for my having taken those risks. Yet I assumed he wouldn't be asking me about emotional risks and my reluctance to take them if my parents hadn't said something about it. So basically they didn't even want me to cross busy streets at the age of sixteen, but they wanted me to risk humiliation that I wasn't ready to face just so that they could feel that I was over everything and 100% OK about everything that ever happened.

The therapist said nothing for a long time. I would have liked to have asked the therapist what his hourly rate was so I could mentally calculate the price my parents were paying for his dead silence, but making shrinks think one is a smart aleck rarely works in one's favor. Eventually he said, "I sense cognitive dissonance." Shrinks, like a lot of other people. when they can't think of anything else to say, spout large words or psychobabble. It doesn't work as well in terms of bullshitting me as it would for many people my age.

"Yes, I suppose there is an element of that, " I responded to him. He seemed surprised. "They want to coddle me physically, yet force me to take emotional risks before I'm ready. I don't want to be coddled by anyone, but I would like the option to use my own judgment in both the physical and emotional risks I take. And as far as the emotional risks I take, I won't say it's none of their concern, because as parents they're going to be concerned, but in the end, it has to be my choice whether to accept or reject any offer of any kind."

"Okay, we're getting somewhere," he countered, "And it's you I'm concerned about right now, so this is just something I'm throwing out for you to consider. Has it occurred to you that anyone who asks you out is also taking an emotional risk?"

"Since no one has asked me out since my original prom date, no I hadn't considered that, but it is worth thinking about, " I answered. "I suppose I'd have to be really diplomatic about rejecting anyone's offer. But I still reserve the right to say no. I'm not saying you're old, (he half-smiled) but it's been awhile since you were a high school student. High school students can be mean. That was probably true in your day, but I think it's even more true now. It's not beyond possibility that a guy would ask a girl out just on a dare. I was probably always at risk for that sort of thing, but I am even more so now. I don't intend to be the butt of a big joke for any group of athletes and cheerleaders."

"I don't think that sort of thing happens all that often," he answered, looking at his watch. "I think it's time to bring your parents in."

"Whatever," I answered, immediately wishing I hadn't said that.


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