by LJ Frank
The doctor’s office-study was rendered habitable in a renovated industrial building in the downtown a few blocks from the university, across the street from a seafood restaurant, assorted boutiques, and an urban brew pub that served as a student hangout.
Floor to ceiling shelves overflowing with books covered the brick walls save one in which a large rectangular window overlooked a narrow walk-through brick alley decorated with ornamental plantings. The doctor was a voracious reader who irregularly attended all book sales within a hundred-mile radius. No subject was too strange for him to explore. Pendant lights hung from a skeletal ceiling and creaky hard wood floors added to the ambience. He didn’t have a traditional desk but rather a couple brown leather couches situated across from each other with a coffee table between and atop a large Persian rug. The texture was indicative of his personality. He also stopped pipe smoking as he found little evidence that it helped his thought process.
The outer office contained a large rectangular walnut desk, with a desk top computer, four low back brown leather chairs situated on a sizeable Persian area rug that laid on top of hardwood floors. His secretary wore a gray pinstripe jacket and matching short skirt, dark nylons, and high heels. Her name was Millie and her highlighted brown hair was combed back looking as if she had yet to towel dry it. Her face was partially covered by large black horned rimmed glasses.
Pacing the room at first then sitting down, the doctor lightly scratched his trimmed salt and pepper goatee and adjusted his wire rims on his ill-defined nose. He was reading an autobiographical sketch of his next patient who wanted to give him a heads up about who she was…the woman, a professor, was organized to the point of obsessive-compulsive behavior he thought to himself.
OCD or Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder was widespread in the early 21stcentury especially among the educated and professional class. Half his patients were burdened with OCD characteristics. It was a common disorder from college age to seniors to those selecting how to die, cremation or casket, assuming one had the choice and a belief affected afterlife. Most of his patients were agnostic or atheists with a small percentage having some religious or alternative philosophical affiliation. Whatever philosophy comforts a person was essential to understanding that individual.
His patient whom we shall call Josephine, grew up in a religious family as did her husband, both eventually falling into a generalized agnosticism. After 30 years of rationalizing her current marriage, Josephine who having had an affair or two had also arrived at another stage in her life. Like many patients she had been to marriage counselors and was weary of psychologists. She needed an RX fix. That is, she wanted a drug prescription by a medical doctor, a psychiatrist. Divorces were too psychologically jolting, especially in terms of financial cost. One needs to be pragmatic. Her female attorney suggested having an affair or a lover on the side might be considered to help balance things, as that is how she solved her “marital daybed issues” as she called them with her second husband.
Her attorney added, “Life is complicated enough and when you add marriage, things can go awry”.
The attorney had convinced her first husband that as he could perform fellatio on himself, he didn’t need a wife. Her second and current husband was a comfortable companion but she still needed someone on the side.
Josephine knew years ago she married into the wrong family. In fact, she thought she was born into the wrong family. Not that she had a choice in parents but lower middle class sucks particularly when your parents are bright and depressed by their financial and social constraints. She wrote that her mother, if she really was her real mother, was bitter, and periodically observed all men are stupid…there was something else not being stated, but Josephine kept it to herself. She thought everyone is at one time foolish. Her mother was from Las Vegas via Florida and her father from Seattle, a US Navy family whose life centered around fishing for Pink Salmon in Puget Sound.
Josephine wrote: “I’m having spells in which I have a hard time breathing”. She was hyperventilating more each week. She needed a prescription and a way out. Things were closing in on her. Her diary account read like something the psychiatrist Irvin Yalom once wrote of his patient – likening the person’s marriage “to being pinned to the wall…being fixed, forever, the way formaldehyde fixes a biological specimen.” *
It was at point in his reading that his secretary peeked into his office and simply noted, “She’s here”.
“Ask her to come in, Millie”.
Josephine entered his office. He smiled, a becoming smile, and invited her to sit on the couch opposite him.
“Thank you for sharing your autobiographical sketch. It’s much appreciated”.
“You’re welcome. Well, given that we only have an hour I wanted to brief you on my concern to facilitate our conversation in an expeditious manner”.
“Of course…would you like some tea, coffee or soda”?
“Thanks. But no.”
“What would you like to talk about today”?
“As you probably guessed I’m OCD, but to be totally honest doctor, I’m at this moment relaxed all things considered. I was experiencing some self-defeating behavior and I wrote that sketch three weeks ago. I like to think of myself as a caring and responsible adult. But things happen in a person’s life that fall on the other side of the fence so to speak that…well opens one’s eyes”.
The doctor nodded and asked her to continue about what she meant about the other side of the fence”.
“Well, I think I’m gay”.
“Well, maybe, bi-sexual”.
“Okay”. He nodded as if to ask what’s new?
“I needed a change. I have these dreams at night and really no interest in making love to my husband. I want sex on my own terms…not his”.
“I see. And”?
“When I listen to my students, and colleagues I feel depressed. My husband and I’ve been to marriage counseling. I’ve taken up yoga, classes in holistic health, jogging, group meditation and so forth…though I should say I don’t like cooking, but he does. Still, it’s not enough. Neither of us care for each other’s families or friends. I sound selfish but I’m older now…I don’t know…and” …
“What would you like to see happen”?
“Well, a few months ago I spoke to a person I met while jogging, about the issue. We literally bumped into each other and started a conversation. We then jogged together a few times”.
“A pastor at a local church. There was an immediate attraction. We decided to have a coffee and that eventually turned into a dinner one night and an affair at a hotel”.
“You and your pastor had an affair”?
“Yeah. She was experiencing the same things with her partner and one thing quickly led to another”.
“Are either of your partner’s aware”?
“No. We’ve been discreet. She arrived months ago and up until our affair I never really attended church but now, I’m there every Sunday and I help out on Saturdays”.
“Is she married to her partner”?
“Does it matter”?
“Does it to you”?
“I feel more spiritual and closer to God”.
“I see. And…”
“Well…I feel my relationship will improve with my husband now that I have…well…this new relationship with the church…I had to tell someone… and I thought of you…my lover was a patient of yours at one time and she suggested…that…I speak with you. Interestingly, she mentioned something about your Freudian shoe fetish. As a matter of fact, I do too…have that same fetish”.
“What? A patient of mine? I…”
“Sorry to be so abrupt…but I bought your book on the future of relationships…want to thank you again…I’m so glad to have met you and gotten this off my chest…until next time”?
“I guess I might assume I was in part the prescription”?
“Yeah”! Josephine grinned. “Sorry, this appears so very brief”.
The doctor paused, “But you need to see your pastor”.
Josephine nodded and then exited the office and Millie entered.
“Do you know who her pastor is”? The doctor asked.
“Yeah, a former patient of yours who graduated from seminary several months ago”.
“My first wife”?
*Existential Psychotherapy. Irvin Yalom, MD. p 48