"Dear Prudence" by Amanda Grieme

Monday, September 20, 2010

Dear Dr. Freedman - Knots

4/5 - Knots
Dear Dr. Freedman –

I found the perfect description of what a bipolar mood swing feels like, and although I could probably do it justice in my own words, I feel that Kafka’s description in the introduction to “Metamorphoses,” although it was probably not meant to represent a mood swing, is in fact a fine parallel to my severe chemical changeability, or that of anyone else who suffers from this affliction:

“When Gregor Samsa woke up one morning from unsettling dreams, he found himself changed in his bed into a monstrous vermin. He was lying on his back as hard as armor plate, and when he lifted his head a little, he saw his vaulted brown belly, sectioned by arch-shaped ribs, to whose dome the cover, about to slide off compared with the size of the rest of him, were waving helplessly before his eyes. ‘What’s happened to me?’ he thought. It was no dream.”

What do you think? Perhaps this could be a new, innovative approach for you. You could sit your patient down in the comfortable leather chair in your office and ask her/him to close her/his eyes, and you could read that passage, aloud. Then, you ask how he/she can relate to Kafka’s description. I’m sure that the results would prove fascinating. Move over Freud...Jung, and all of your psychobabble cohorts. Make room for Freedman! I realize that it seems as if I am being facetious, but I think that there is some truth to all of this. Why can’t literature, art, and music be used as diagnostic tools (minus the ink blots)? They are all used as therapeutic tools. For instance, my gynecologist has a Monet print above her examination table, and I swear that gazing at it makes placing my feet in stirrups with pot holders just that much more bearable.

Having taught Salinger’s “The Catcher in the Rye,” student reactions that I witnessed to many scenes in the book were very telling about the individual’s state of mind. My favorite one in particular that I feel would be most useful to your profession is the scene in chapter thirteen where Holden Caulfield has just ordered a prostitute from the elevator man, and while he’s waiting in his hotel room he confesses out of nervousness that he is a virgin, while his mind is racing about his experiences with tricky bras, and back seats, and stopping when a girl asks you to stop. He half-heartedly figures that a prostitute will give him some practice at the art, or at least some relief from his floundering mental state:

“Anyway, I kept walking around the room, waiting for this prostitute to show up. I kept hoping she’d be good-looking. I didn’t care too much, though. I sort of just wanted to get it over with. Finally, somebody knocked on the door, and when I went to open it, I had my suitcase right in the way and I fell over it and damn near broke my knee. I always pick a gorgeous time to fall over a suitcase or something. When I opened the door, this prostitute was standing there. She had a polo coat on, and no hat. She was sort of blonde, but you could tell she dyed her hair. She wasn’t any old bag, though.
‘How do you do,’ I said. Suave as hell, boy.
‘You the guy Maurice said?’ She asked me. She didn’t seem too goddamn friendly.
‘Is he the elevator boy?’
‘Yeah,’ she said.
‘Yes, I am. Come in, won’t you?’ I said. I was getting more and more nonchalant as it went along. I really was.

She came in and took her coat off right away and sort of chucked it on the bed. She had on a green dress underneath. Then she sort of sat down sideways on the chair that went with the desk in the room and started jiggling her foot up and down. She crossed her legs and started jiggling this one foot up and down. She was very nervous, for a prostitute. She really was. I think it was because she was young as hell. She was around my age. I sat down in the big chair, next to her, and offered her a cigarette.

‘I don’t smoke,’ she said. She had a tiny little wheeny-whiny voice. You could hardly hear her. She never said thank you, either when you offered her something. She just didn’t know any better.

‘Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Jim Steele,’ I said.

‘Ya got a watch on ya?’ She said. She didn’t care what the hell my name was, naturally. ‘Hey, how old are you, anyways?’

‘Me? Twenty-two.’

‘Like fun you are.’ It was a funny thing to say. It sounded like a real kid. You’d think a prostitute and all would say ‘Like hell you are’ or ‘Cut the crap’ instead of ‘Like fun you are.’

‘How old are you?’ I asked her.

‘Old enough to know better,’ she said. She was really witty.

‘Ya got a watch on ya?’ She asked me again, and then she stood up and pulled her dress over her head. I certainly felt peculiar when she did that. I mean she did it so sudden and all. I know you’re supposed to feel pretty sexy when somebody gets up and pulls their dress over their head, but I didn’t. Sexy was about the last thing I was feeling. I felt much more depressed than sexy.

‘Ya got a watch on you, hey?’

‘No. No, I don’t,’ I said. Boy, was I feeling peculiar. ‘What’s your name?’ I asked her. All she had on was this pink slip. It was really quite embarrassing. It really was.

‘Sunny,’ she said. ‘Let’s go, hey.’

‘Don’t you feel like talking for a while?’ I asked her. It was a childish thing to say, but I was feeling so damn peculiar. ‘Are you in a very big hurry?’

She looked at me like I was a madman. ‘What the heck ya wanna talk about?’ she said.

‘I don’t know. Nothing special. I just thought perhaps you might care to chat for a while.’

She sat down in the chair next to the desk again. She didn’t like it though, you could tell. She started jiggling her foot again - boy, she was a nervous girl.

‘Would you care for a cigarette now?’ I said. I forgot she didn’t smoke.‘I don’t smoke. Listen, if you’re gonna talk, do it. I got things to do.’

I couldn’t think of anything to talk about, though. I thought of asking her how she got to be a prostitute and all, but I was scared to ask her. She probably wouldn’t’ve
told me anyway. ‘You don’t come from New York, do you?’ I said finally. That’s all I could think of.

‘Hollywood,’ she said. The she got up and went over to where she’d put her dress down, on the bed. ‘Ya got a hanger? I don’t want to get my dress all wrinkly. It’s brand-clean.’

‘Sure,’ I said right away. I was only too glad to get up and do something. I took her dress over to the closet and hung it up for her. It was funny. It made feel sort of sad when I hung it up. I thought of her going in a store and buying it, and nobody in the store knowing she was a prostitute and all. The salesman probably just thought she was a regular girl when she bought it. It made me feel sad as hell - I don’t know why exactly.

I sat down again and tried to keep the old conversation going. She was a lousy conversationalist. ‘Do you work every night?’ I asked her– it sounded sort of awful, after I’d said it.

‘Yeah.’ She was walking all around the room. She picked up the menu off the desk and read it. ‘What do you do during the day?’

She sort of shrugged her shoulders. She was pretty skinny. ‘Sleep. Go to the show.’ She put down the menu and looked at me. “Let’s go, hey. I haven’t got all -‘

’Look,’ I said. ‘I don’t feel very much like myself tonight. I’ve had a rough night. Honest to God. I’ll pay you and all, but do you mind very much if we don’t do it? Do you mind very much?’ The trouble was, I just didn’t want to do it. I felt more depressed than sexy, if you want to know the truth. She was depressing. Her green dress hanging in the closet and all. And besides, I don’t think I could ever do it with somebody that sits in a stupid movie all day long. I really don’t think I could.

She came over to me, with this funny look on her face, like as if she didn’t believe me. ‘What’sa matter?’ she said.
‘Nothing’s the matter.’ Boy, was I getting nervous. ‘The thing is, I had an operation very recently.’

‘Yeah? Where?’

‘On my wuddayacallit – my clavichord.’

‘Yeah? Where the hell’s that?’

‘The clavichord?’ I said. ‘Well, actually, it’s in the spinal canal. I mean it’s quite a ways down in the spinal canal.’ ‘Yeah?’ she said. ‘That’s tough.’ Then she sat down on my goddamn lap. ‘You’re cute.’

She made me so nervous, I just kept lying my head off. ‘I’m still recuperating,’ I told her.

‘You look like a guy in the movies. You know. Whosis. You know who I mean. What the heck’s his name?’

‘I don’t know,’ I said. She wouldn’t get off my goddamn lap.

‘Sure you know. He was in that pitcher with Mel-vine Douglas? The one that was Mel-vine Douglas’s kid brother? That falls off this boat? You know who I mean.’

‘No, I don’t. I go to the movies as seldom as I can.’ Then she started getting funny. Crude and all. ‘Do you mind cutting it out?’ I said. ‘I’m not in the mood, I just told you. I just had an operation.’
She didn’t get up from my lap or anything, but she gave me this terrifically dirty look.

‘Listen,’ she said. ‘I was sleepin’ when that crazy Maurice woke me up. If you think I’m –‘

‘I said I’d pay you for coming and all. I really will. I have plenty of dough. It’s just that I’m practically just recovering from a very serious-‘

‘What the heck did you tell that crazy Maurice you wanted a girl for, then? If you just had a goddamn operation on your goddamn wuddayacallit. Huh’

‘I thought I’d be feeling a lot better than I do. I was a little premature in my calculations. No kidding. I’m sorry. If you’ll just get up a second, I’ll get my wallet. I mean it.’”– J.D. Salinger

Do you see what I mean? If a patient could empathize with that passage, and could feel the sadness in the green dress hanging in the closet, rather than simply seeing a missed opportunity for a roll in the hay, it could be a tell-tale sign that he/she has a heightened sensitivity and is prone to recognizing sadness in the inanimate details of life.

For example, I remember when I was living in Hoboken, NJ, and working in NYC, what someone else may have found as excitement in the fast-paced sidewalk traffic, and countless expressionless faces moving quickly to a destination, I found to be the loneliest that I had ever felt. I never understood how so many souls could pass each other without acknowledging one another. The people on the subway and the PATH rarely made eye contact with one another, and that made me desperately depressed. I couldn’t just ignore it.

I remember sitting and watching reflections of faces in the windows behind them change from shadow to blanch with the passing light in the train car. If I stared long enough, I would sometimes see a grin or the color of a person’s eyes hidden in shadow, or a book. Each move was calculated, and designed not to disturb, come in contact with, or include any person in her/his vicinity. Granted, I was suffering from an untreated mental illness, and perhaps I wouldn’t have been so sensitive to these seemingly mundane things if I had been properly medicated at the time, but all I know is that when I would exit the train, and would make my way up the tunnel, tinged with the scent of city, distant hot pretzels, and urine, I understood why Toulouse Lautrec painted prostitutes pulling up their stockings instead of beautiful landscapes or still life; he, too, must have seen depth in sadness. Perhaps it was overwhelming to him, too.

Regards, Ana

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