Bill Bradney leaned on his elbow to shift his position on the comfy couch. His body felt heavy. He was on the proverbial psychiatrist’s couch, and it lived up to all his expectations. His breath came out in short, choppy spurts — all in an effort to ease his growing agitation…but to no avail.
“Tell me about your problem again, Mr. Bradney?” The doctor said across from him. She might as well have been miles away.
“I-I don’t know if I want to talk about it.” His words stammered out of his mouth like a runner tripping over hurdles in a decathlon.
“Well now, Mr. Bradney, talking is why we’re here.” The old psychiatrist leaned forward with a parental glint in her eye. She added, “Is this a sexual anxiety?”
“No…no! None of that penis-worry crap…” Bradney paused. “Why do you even ask that? I thought that was all passé nowadays.”
“Nothing is passé in the mind,” The old woman said across from him. “well, except maybe repression…”
Bill’s breathing became heavier as he continually shifted his weight, a noisy squeaking of the vinyl couch eked out with each turn.
Dr. Eliza’s credentials were plastered on the wall in a showy parade of placards and diplomas, as if education was naught but a pictorial march. Do patients often not believe in their doctor’s credentials? Bill wondered. Perhaps they don’t. He mused that he was so distrusting of doctors that he might actually trust them more if they were not certified.
“I’m nervous about this.”
“Mr. Bradney, I can assure you’re not alone in having anxiety about therapy itself.” She said. “It’s normal, but it’s something we can address. Let’s talk about our cycle of influence.”
“No. That’s not what I mean.” Bill seemed flustered and stared off into oblivion, which as it stood was a METS poster on the wall. He felt a pain as he bit his fingernails too close to the skin.
“Where does this fear come from?”
“I-I don’t know.” Bill stammered.
“Do you feel close to your father?”
“Is the fear due to your father?”
“Could it be your father?”
“No.” Bill said more emphatically.
“Yeah,” she said in a high-pitched squeal. “I suspect it was your father.” The old psychiatrist stretched out her arms.
“Tell me about him?”
“He died of a heart attack.”
“You have a history of heart disease in your family?”
The doctor made a sympathetic grimace. “I’m sorry it took him from us.”
“Oh no, the disease didn’t kill him. Knocked him down but didn’t kill him — he would have been fine.” Bill said. “It was the stress over his insurance that really did him in.”
The doctor’s nostrils whistled with a steady inhale. “I see.”
Bill moved to put the conversation back on track. “But that’s not why I’m here.” He pleaded. “Listen, please. I’m concerned over money.”
“Money concerns are very common, especially in today’s economic climate.” She said. “Why don’t you try articulating your worries specifically?”
“Ok, I’m very concerned about money problems.” He made a motion with his fingers that was reminiscent of a musical director signaling the downbeat of a song.
“Let’s talk it through.”
“But talking about it makes it worse.” His voice quivered. “Your solution makes it worse.”
“And we can discuss that. I’m an expert at obsessions. I…frankly can’t get enough of them. I — ”
“Yes, that’s all well and good,” interrupted a weary Bill. “But! It takes time.”
“In which we can talk about solutions.”
“But, you don’t understand me; it’s getting worse the more we talk about it.”
“So the more solutions I offer –”
“The more it all adds up.” Bill practically shouted.
The psychiatrist furrowed her brow. “The more time I talk, you mean?”
“Which is the more help you give.” By now Bill was gesticulating wildly.
“Which is also the more problems I give.”
The psychiatrist shifted in her tan chair yet again. The office seemed so cramped with books in that moment it gave her a slightly claustrophobic feeling. “Well, I don’t think we understand each other.”
Bill jumped up excitedly. “Ok, yes. So we’re finally on the same page!”
He began to pace the room excitedly. “Yes, that’s exactly what I’ve been saying. I can’t just write a wanted ad to pay for this: ‘wanted, money, no reasonable offer refused.’”
“And no offer would be reasonable.”
“Well, reasonably speaking.” Bill added with a flutter of his hand. He wiped his mouth heavily.
“These money concerns — ”
“No, no, no…it’s not just money concerns.” Bill said. “It’s the concern of paying you.”
“For what else?” He shouted throwing his arms wide open. For a moment, he froze there looking as if he wanted a hug.
“Doctor, this is only making it worse.”
Dr. Eliza began to bit her nails now as she processed this. “Let me recap for just a moment…you’re coming here to talk about your anxiety, correct?”
“Yes.” Bill nodded. They were both talking quit quickly at this time — Bill in particular seemed like he was running a race with his mouth. “My anxiety over money.”
“Which is your sole anxiety?”
“Which you feel — and I do say commonly enough…” The doctor said.
“Doctor, can we hustle this up?” Bill interjected quickly.
“…is causing you stress?”
“Yes.” He said loudly. “But I am only concerned with the cost of these sessions, nothing else is…is gouging me.”
She paused. “Then why do attend these sessions?”
“Because I’m stressed!” Again, he was stumbling around the room at a maniacal pace.
“…About paying for these sessions?”
“That’s what I just said.”
She was talking a mile a minute now as well. “Then don’t come.”
“But I need to come to air out my anxiety.”
“But your anxiety is over coming.”
“It is!” Bill shouted. “As is the solution.”
“As is the solution, what?”
“Oh, good.” The doctor said with a chipper tone for the first time during their entire meeting.
“No.” Bill said shaking his head in defeat. “Bad.”
“Anxiety or the solution?”
“Huh?” To this the doctor paused. Their conversation was as rapid-fire as a machine gun, flinging the twentieth bullet before the first reached its mark. Bill wound his eye about the room, spotting a bobble-head Freud doll…which was distinctly Un-Freudian when he thought about it.
“Is this all a game?” Eliza spoke with caution but directness.
Bill stared at the ceiling as he mused deeply. “I suppose people have called life a game before, sure. It’s all a bit cliché, but …never mind that. Focus doctor.”
“I must admit I’m having a little trouble here.” She seemed to pull back into her chair, a sight Bill noticed with a start.
“You’ll do fine.” He said reassuringly.
“I’m not sure I’m following you.” She cocked her head as her voice took on a peculiar upswing.
With his hands on his hips, Bill asked softly. “Do you want to talk about it?”
She only shook her head.
He almost knelt down before her as he put on his everything-will-be-alright voice. “I can guide you through it.”
“No.” She said with a heavy breath. “It’s fine.”
Bill nodded his head then spoke with severity. “But I’m not doing fine with these payments.”
“Ok, ok, ok,” The doctor stifled the conversation with an upturned hand. “Let me clarify this.” She inhaled. “You’re stressed about money?”
“Only the money that you spend coming to these sessions?”
“So hypothetically…if you didn’t come to these sessions, you would have no cost to be worried about?”
She paused and looked the man deep into his brown eyes, which seemed to shimmer in the overhead light. “So don’t come to these sessions!”
“But if I didn’t come to these sessions, how would I deal with my stress?” He said.
“But this is your stress,” she said.
“Yes,” he said.
“Then…leave.” She threw her hands up into the air.
“But I’m stressed.” he said, particularly stressing the word stress, which was either fitting or ironic or something (he didn’t have time to think it through).
Dr. Eliza seemed to be losing her patience. “But what is your stress in the first place, huh?” She said. “Where does this stress originate from?”
“These sessions.” He said. “That is, their cost.”
“THEN DON’T COME!” she shouted at the absolute top of her voice, forgetting herself completely in that moment.
“And find no reprieve through coming?” He said with an open mouth and a hurt voice. “What would…what would Freud say about that?”
She sighed. “We’re talking in circles.” She said. “Saying the same thing over and over unendingly. It…it would be like reading a story with ‘he said’ and ‘she said’ plastered halfway down a page.”
“That may be so. He said.
“Ok.” She said.
“Then why, Mr. Bradney, please tell me — pay a psychiatrist to talk about the stress of paying a psychiatrist?”
He scoffed. “Who else would I talk to it about?”
“But you can eliminate this stress.”
“By talking to a psychiatrist!”
“Which feeds this stress.”
“By talking to a psychiatrist!”
She smacked her hands down on her table in frustration. “And you feel you need to talk about this.”
“But you can’t talk about this.”
Again, she cleared her throat. “But what I’m saying is simple: without a bill you would have nothing to talk about, no charge, no stress, no, no, no…,” the doctor was at a loss of words, except for the ones she spoke, which unfortunately were not doing the trick. “…no reason to worry in the first place.”
“But I’m already stressed, doctor.”
She looked up at him in a different light as the desk lamp flickered off. But she also saw his problem differently as well.
Bill was explaining further. “I’m already here. I already have the problem. I’m not beginning it. It’s not the new psychological fad of the decade I wrapped inside of my head and…and wham, bam, poof, viola! ‘tis done my fair nut. It’s not ‘don’t go to a psychiatrist’ as if we could time travel. You miss the point. It’s…it is. Here I am. I’m here…at a psychiatrist already pre-stressed from having gone to a psychiatrist. Thus, making me further stressed — already paying, i.e. now and needing now to talk about that stress of having paid and currently paying to talk about the pre-existing stress of having paid. I need to talk about getting away from a psychiatrist!”
“Then go see a psychiatrist!” With that the timer dinged in the corner of the room. Both adults turned their heads and looked at it as if they had never seen such an object or heard such a sound in their life.
Eventually, Bill mumbled out softly. “How can I pay for this?”
“In money, please.” The doctor said just as quietly. She then snapped shut a notebook with several doodles in it. “Well, until next week then…”