between the sane, between the fame Who: Simone & Isobel. What: Isobel gets her first psychologist session. Where: Simone's office. When: March 24, early morning. Notes: Placeholder for a gdoc!
She sat in the waiting room, feeling just as nervous as going to any other doctor's office. Isobel had no idea what to expect, despite numerous little pamphlets that claimed the psychologist was there to put her at ease, to listen, to help her get well. These, of course, were all the usual stumbling blocks for anyone who would find themselves in such a place -- that they were not at ease, unable to talk, and most certainly...
Well, sick wasn't a term she'd apply to herself, but then again, the fact that she was here at all said so much more than she cared to admit. She hadn't been sure of how to dress -- did one dress up for this sort of doctor? She didn't think she'd be taking her clothes off, so she'd gone with something comfortable but still professional: a white top, black slacks, flats. She couldn't stop her hand from rising to needlessly adjust her glasses.
Her fingers kneaded the small purse she'd brought along, and she wished deeply for a cigarette. There was a pack in the bag, but she was trying to be good and hold out. She was supposed to be quitting, after all, and the baby (it was difficult to think of it in those terms, a living entity growing inside of her, far more trapped than she actually was, though so far no larger than a thumb), if she chose to keep it, would not fare well with a pack-a-day mother.
Instead, she chewed on the interior of her lower lip, her eyes unfocused as she heard her name called. She glanced up, nodding with wide eyes as she realized she was being called into the doctor's office; she rose, and followed.
Simone met Isobel in the hallway, reaching out to offer her hand with a smile; Isobel took it with one of her own, her expression not quite mirroring the doctor's. "Hi, Isobel, I'm Simone, it's so nice to meet you in person. Right this way, you can have a seat..."
She led her into her office, which was airy and bright, its floor-to-ceiling windows softened by layers of sheer curtains. The required couch was soft and grey, topped with brightly-coloured cushions, and Simone's own chair was cheerfully ridiculous, upholstered in a hippyish mix of colourful patterns. A few small statues of Buddha were scattered around on the shelves by her desk.
"Can I get you anything?" she asked Isobel. "Water, tea, coffee? How are you today?"
"Tea, um, please. That would be great. Green, if you have it. Please." Despite her stunted speech, Isobel was almost at once set at ease by the office she was walking into; it certainly did not meet the stereotypical look of the few psychiatry offices she'd seen on TV. She'd slipped her purse strap over her shoulder, and she paused in the entryway before moving toward the couch. She put her purse on her lap as she sat, uncertain about undoing it and leaving it elsewhere despite the fact that there was no one else present to take it.
"Green tea's my favourite too," Simone said, going to the side table to prepare a couple of cups with the thermo-pot, adding a small spoonful of the spherical gunpowder green tea leaves to each cup. She always asked new patients if they wanted anything, and it always gave tiny clues: whether they refused or accepted, whether they glanced around the room while they waited or simply sat staring blankly into space, whether they were anxiously polite or superficially genial, whether they talked a lot to fill the silence or stayed quiet.
She brought the tea to one of the small end tables in front of the couch, on a little tray with a bowl of creamer and sugar packets. Sitting down herself, she picked up her legal pad and pen, although she didn't take the cap off. "So how are you doing today? What brings you here?"
Isobel eyed the small trail of steam for a moment, deciding to wait until it cooled more to pick it up but immediately wishing she had something more to do with her hands. She looked away from the cup to Simone's kind and attentive looking face, and tried not to feel like she was suddenly under a microscope.
"I'm well, thank you for asking." It felt only right to be polite. "I, uh... I was hoping to get some help with... I guess they're trust issues. My last relationship has made it difficult," the word was an understatement, but she was already finding it difficult to parcel out the right explanation and not feel like she was revealing too much. But wasn't that the point of being there? "And it's affecting my current relationship. I... Where should I start?"
"It's smart to get help with that kind of thing, that's really good. Figure stuff out before it turns into a big three-alarm fire. You can tell your story any way that makes sense to you, I'm a big believer in the idea that the way we tell our stories is just as important as what they're about. But why don't you start with your last relationship, since you mentioned it," Simone suggested. "If you need to jump around in the timeline that's okay, I'll just ask questions if you manage to confuse me." She smiled.
Isobel's tongue bubbled over her lips like gum, her head nodding as she tried to get more comfortable in the couch. Her eyes wandered back down to the floor, to the tea cup, then to the pad in Simone's hands.
"OK." Teeth dented her lower lip as she tried to think of the best point in which to enter that memory stream. "The last guy I was with... His name's Bryan." That small piece of information was not said without marked hesitation. "We were... I wouldn't even say it was together, necessarily. It was just on and off, since high school. So I guess we were together for a couple years. Even before that, we... There were some things in high school, though he was dating another girl. It was..." She breathed out a deep sigh, apparently choosing to force herself to talk about things she'd never discussed with anyone other than Bryan, up until that point in time.
"His girlfriend hated me. I don't know why, some stupid teenage grudge. She... they manipulated me into thinking he liked me. So I slept with him; he was my first. The next day, they spread it around the school that I was a slut. Painted my locker, the whole nine yards. It was...ridiculous." Her cheeks were flaming red, her eyes concentrated on the carpet fibers beneath her feet. Isobel felt that she was making a lot out of a silly, teenage experience, but Simone had said to pick a starting point. "After that, I was lectured for my failing in the whole thing, and I trashed Bryan's car with his girlfriend inside. Got banned from graduation. Just from the ceremony, not from actually graduating," she quickly corrected.
"The next day, Bryan showed up at my house and apologized, and he offered me a way out of our small town. He was going to school here in L.A. And I stupidly accepted, because I did not want to spend the rest of my life in that tiny town."
Simone listened, just murmuring oh my god with sympathy a couple of times. "God, what a mess. That sounds awful." It was obviously a memory that still stung Isobel in retrospect. Ludicrous that anyone had lectured her for it when she was the one who'd been publicly humiliated, but sadly it was the norm for teenagers to be treated with that kind of disrespect by adults. "So you were receptive, since he was apologetic and offering to help you out. Makes sense to me. How did that go, what happened?"
Isobel took a deep drink of air, nodding. She reached out and took the teacup in both hands, enjoying the simple warmth against her palms.
"Pretty well, all things considered," she said, watching the liquid ripple from the cup's edges from her movements. She finally looked up, meeting Simone's gaze. "We were living together because it was less expensive. He was in school, I was working as a waitress. Things just kind of clicked between us, but we never... we never talked about what we wanted out of a relationship. I decided to go to school to get a business degree, and open up my shop. Then I got pregnant." More details she hadn't told Obed. Somehow it was easier, talking to a complete stranger, especially a woman, than it was talking to her own fiance. She wasn't entirely sure how to feel about that. Isobel's eyes narrowed, worried.
"I haven't... You won't say anything about any of this to him, right? To Obed, I mean? He doesn't... I haven't told him about this, any of this. Not yet." I haven't found the right time was a lame, ill-fitting excuse; more, she'd been putting it off, hoping she never would have to explain. She was content to leave the past in the past, but it was evident the past was not done with her.
"I would never repeat stuff that you tell me in a session, to Obed or anyone else," Simone said firmly. "That's a huge breach of professional ethics, I take that really seriously. There are a couple of exceptions to the rule—that stuff is listed in the paperwork our assistant gave you out front—but that only applies if you're a danger to yourself or somebody else. Which isn't the case here. So you were living with Bryan, the relationship was going okay but you hadn't talked about future plans. How did you feel about the pregnancy, what happened there?"
Reassured, Isobel took a careful sip of her tea. "I didn't want it. I made an appointment with a local clinic, I had an abortion, and I thought that was it. I didn't tell Bryan about any of it; I thought I could forget about it and just move on with my life." She skipped over the memory of going to the clinic, getting the pill, the whole routine of taking it in an apartment she'd never really felt was hers. Making sure Bryan was out; the bleeding, the nausea; covering it all up before he came home. How she'd slept for a couple of days, claiming to be sick. "He found out. I'd gotten some paperwork from the clinic in the mail, and he'd opened it. He... was not happy."
Her gaze had fallen back to the floor, though this time it wasn't out of shame; her mind raced through the memories, reliving each one. "I'd been sleeping, and he barged into the room, screaming at me, saying how I'd killed his baby. He never hit me, but... I think he wanted to. He had me up against a wall, and he punched it, made a hole." She sipped the tea again, feeling strangely calm. "I moved out. I focused on my degree, finished at this community college I was going to. Transferred to UCLA. He came back after a couple months, apologizing, saying he wanted to get back together. I told him no, repeatedly, but he wasn't hearing it. After awhile, I broke down and believed he was actually sorry."
"A lot of people have that experience," Simone said quietly. "They know that they need to get out, but part of them still wants to give the guy the benefit of the doubt, to make things work. To be kind. It's a good impulse, people just take advantage of it. Or they just wear you down, or both. It's completely exhausting to deal with somebody who won't hear 'no.' So the two of you got back together, then? How did things go after that?"
Isobel shrugged. "They were good, for a little while. I thought things were pretty normal. A couple months in, he started getting mad if I missed a phone call, or didn't immediately respond to a text. Eventually I caught him going through my mail. I ended it, for good, that time. I thought he'd deal, and move on. Or go back to Elgin. He wasn't doing well in school. I think he blamed me. I changed addresses, started working on my company. Just when the construction was getting started, tools started going missing. Equipment was being damaged. I reported it to the police, and they caught him. Three times. After the third time a judge finally saw fit to put him in jail." She stopped, taking a long sip of her tea. "I thought that was the end of it. A year went by; my business was doing well. I met Obed, and we started dating. Everything was going so well." She sounded nostalgic, wistful for days gone by that weren't even that long gone. The cup in her hands floated down to settle gently against her knees.
"And then I started getting texts from him again, close to our six month anniversary. He sent me a picture of my apartment complex. Up until then I hadn't told Obed anything about Bryan. I didn't think it was important. I never thought he'd get out so quickly. Or that he'd pick right back up. I ended up breaking down on our anniversary date, and... Obed was so good about it. He let me stay with him, helped me file a restraining order. I couldn't believe it. Then, a few weeks later... Bryan texted me a picture of the exterior of Obed's apartment. I completely lost my mind, that he'd figured out who Obed was and where he lived. I didn't know what he would do, so I thought the best thing for me to do was to move, so Bryan wouldn't connect me with Obed.
"I went back to my apartment complex and started packing, and... of course, that's exactly what Bryan was waiting for. He was there, and he started arguing with me. Blaming me for everything -- his failure, his jail time, dating someone else. I started to call the police, and he slapped the phone out of my hand. I punched him, I think I broke his nose. He slammed my head into my car door. I woke up in the hospital." Her fingers tightened around her cup. "Obed was my emergency contact, and he was there when I woke up. He told me he was going to take care of me, if I wanted him to, and that I could stay with him, or that I should at least let him help me find somewhere safer, somewhere Bryan couldn't find me. I... I said I'd move in with him if he married me." Her face turned slightly pink. "Six months of dating, and we barely know each other, but he just felt so good."
She glanced back at Simone. "I guess... that's one of the things I'm worried about. Do you think I rushed into this, with him? With Obed? Trying to get away from Bryan?"
That was a lot to go through, and a lot to take in. Simone had started taking notes during the story so that she could remember the details; some patients didn't like to see the therapist writing things down, but sometimes they also got upset if they had to repeat themselves, so it was no-win and the sanest thing was to take notes. "I'm so glad you had support through that, what an ordeal. Unbelievable. As for Obed, I don't know. You sure sound like you're happy with the way it's going, right? But maybe you're worried that things with Obed might follow a similar pattern as they did with Bryan, where things are good for awhile and then suddenly he's doing scary things. That maybe there’s something lurking in the future, that he’ll change in some way that you can’t foresee. Something along those lines?"
Isobel nodded. "Yeah. There was this reporter, she published the most awful things about Obed online, but... the worst of it was that I don't know him well enough to know they were complete lies. He told me they were, and I believe him. I do." She sounded more like she was trying to convince herself rather than Simone. "I just... that, and..." Isobel sucked in a deep breath, wetting her lips. "I'm pregnant. Again. I haven't told him, and I...I ... I have no idea what he might do." Her eyes started to fill with unbidden tears, her voice rushing forward, edging on a full-blown panic attack. "We haven't talked about kids, at all, and I don't know if he wants them, and I know I don't, at least, not yet, we're not even married and my business is barely making ends meet..."
Simone quietly moved the box of Kleenex closer to Isobel; her last patient had been sitting at the other end of the couch and left the tissues on the other end table. "Keep breathing, you're doing really well," she said softly. "I know it's tough to start unearthing this stuff if you've been shoving it down for awhile. And things went so sideways the last time that of course you're worried about disclosing a pregnancy now. So we're going to talk it all out piece by piece so that you can get clear in your own head about what you want, okay? It won't all get done in this session, but we'll do what we can. So what you're feeling right now is that you're not ready for a child. Not financially secure enough, not completely sure that a marriage to Obed is a good idea yet. Maybe you'd be open to it later, you're saying, but not now. Have I got that right?"
Isobel grabbed one of the proffered tissues, dabbing at her eyes. She nodded, then halfway stopped, then nodded again. "Yes. I think. I guess. I don't know. I just feel like I'm going to turn around and it's all going to fall apart, and I don't want it to. I feel like I need it to stay together, and..." She stopped herself, taking a deep breath, trying to calm down as Simone had instructed. "I don't need it to stay together, I want it to. But I don't know if...it's healthy. Or good, or right, or whatever it should be. I feel like I'm talking in circles." One hand passed over her forehead, then wiped a knuckle under her right eye. "I'm sorry, I think it's hormones. I'm not usually this emotional."
"It's therapy, everybody cries," Simone said; the words made Isobel laugh a little, tension smoothing away from her shoulders. "Sometimes you gotta, right? So you don't have to apologise. Even if it's hormones—I was absolutely a wreck while I was pregnant, I cried all the time. Big things, little things. And nobody goes around in a new-ish relationship thinking, 'oh boy, I sure hope this one falls apart, I hope it's messy and I get my heart broken.' People want things to work, even if they're not necessarily sure they're with the right person. And I can't promise to reveal for you whether Obed is the right guy for you to marry, okay? I can probably help you figure out what you want, and we can work on relationship skills and think about whether things are healthy. It's probably also a good idea to work through some of those traumas with Bryan, if you're willing to do that, so that they don't cast such a long shadow over your current relationships. These are all things we can work out together. But the choices you make are always going to be up to you. Which is good news, right?" she said with a smile. "Does that sound like an okay plan, any other stuff you definitely want to put on the list?"
Isobel found herself nodding halfway through Simone's explanation. "All of that, that sounds great, really," she replied, sniffling. She grabbed a handful of tissues. "I'm sure you hear this a lot, but that sounds really, really relieving. I... I know I'm paying for this, but thank you." She sniffled again, wiping her nose. "God, I really hope this doesn't happen every time, but it's good to know it's not just me." She pulled her glasses off, wiping at her eyes, feeling for the first time in a few months like she would be able to start putting pieces back together.