“… and this is cliché, but it’s kind of like clouds,” I said.
“In what way?”
“Sometimes the sky will be dark and full of them, you know, and those are the really bad times, the days when I’m in a really bad place and, and … that’s when I can’t stop thinking about it—dying. But then there’s times when the sky clears and there’s hardly any clouds at all, and those are the good days.”
Doctor K nodded.
“But the point is there’s always clouds. The sky’s never clear.”
I was trying to explain to Doctor K how I’d been feeling lately, since at the beginning of our session he again asked how my week had went. For a while now there’s been this feeling with me all the time, from when I finally slump out of bed in the mornings to when I doze off at night—a sadness I can’t shake. And sometimes it’s just minor and doesn’t really bother me and I even forget—and those are the good days. Like Tuesday when it was hot and swampy and I was out in the yard all day mowing, trimming, sweeping the walks and the drive clean of those yellow spinning seeds we all called helicopters, as kids growing up. My place looked good, really good and well-kept, and that made me feel good. Like a responsible home-owner. Someone who cares when it’s easier not to.
The sun was a blazing white-hot spot and there weren’t many clouds in the sky that day. But maybe I’m wrong about that—maybe there were lots of clouds in the sky that day. Maybe I just didn’t notice them because I wasn’t looking. And maybe that’s the whole point here.
Then there are other days when the clouds have rolled in so thick it looks like day turned to night in less than an hour’s time. The air starts to smell strange, heavy—starts to smell like it’s going to rain soon, a hard, raking rain where the streets bubble and flood and become rivers and where the houses across the street grey out and threaten to disappear. On those days I can’t find it in me to smile about anything. Sometimes the weather outside will be truly wonderful, temperate and golden—the stuff of post-cards—but it won’t matter. In my head storms will be raging, winds lifting houses and whole neighborhoods into matchsticks. Every part of myself, self-esteem, self-concept, self-everything, reduced to rubble. Everything so easily scattered that it’s hard to even think.
“I have this spare bedroom in my house that I’ve converted to like a den, a personal study. All my bookcases full of books are in there. The computer, too. There’s no internet on that computer—it’s just for writing. That’s my place—that room’s my place where I do all my writing.
“Every morning I make breakfast for myself and I’ll go in there and sit there at the computer, even though it’s turned off. Just a habit, I guess. From back when I used to eat and write in the mornings—back,” I say, with a chuckle, “when I was still really disciplined about writing every day.
“Well, I got this huge desk calendar there and every day that’s where I log my word counts—”
“You say workouts?”
“Ah. Word counts. Sorry, thought you said workouts. I was like, ‘Wow, guy’s disciplined.’”
“No. But, I mean I used to do that, too, actually. Like last year before I got really sick I used to mark the days, you know—legs Tuesday, chest Wednesday, back Friday, and so on. Was really good about it, real determined. But no, each day I record how many words I wrote. So I can see, at a glance, what I’ve done over the weeks, how much I’ve accomplished. How productive I’ve been.”
Doctor K pursed his lips, nodded in agreement. “Sounds like a good idea.”
“Yeah,” I muttered, smirking. “Except these days it’s different. These days it’s a weapon I use against myself because—”
“All those blank days—”
“All those—right, all those empty boxes where I didn’t write anything for the whole day.”
“What kind of emotions do you feel then, looking at the calendar at all those empty days?”
During our session this time, Doctor K and I had finally got around to discussing the very intricate, very messy diagram markered on a dry-erase board and hanging proudly on the wall by the door. It was a simple drawing, reminiscent of the suns that often smiled down on the stick-figure families and verdant, tree-dotted landscapes of children’s drawings—just a fat empty circle and the occasional line outside, shooting out like a ray, together with certain key words around the perimeter. Words like BELIEFS and THOUGHTS and EMOTIONS and CONSEQUENCES. After it had been explained to me, we explored several real-world instances in which the diagram could have been applied in the hope that it would help me in future situations—if not to cope with a stressful event, then at least to understand my response to it. In some ways, listening to Doctor K’s explanation felt like I was learning all over again how to ride a bicycle. As if I had been given a slick new Huffy and we were practicing how to ride, the good doctor leaned in close, one hand on the seat, the other on the handlebar smoothed over mine, the wobbly diagram the circle we made, around and around, in the street.
When he asked me the emotions I felt whenever I looked over my desk calendar at the two kinds of days, the ones inked with numbers—384, 885, 1000, 2200—and the ones paper-white—just breaths within boxed lines—I had to pause a minute. To think, briefly. But mostly to get myself under control, to chew my bottom lip, grind my teeth, to swallow and force down again the cry I’d been wanting to have for the last two sessions.
“I guess the heart of it is … I feel like a worthless, worthless person,” I said, trembly, “if I’m not writing.”
Those words, worthless, worthless, came out slowly, boldened with all the self-hatred I could muster. I don’t remember what Doctor K said in response, only that he said something, and the something he said sounded as if he’d known all along what I meant to say and was just waiting for me to say it on my own. But what I do remember is being unable to hold back anymore, as if things were finally cresting, and for several minutes afterward sobbing and crushing my eyes shut and hiding my face behind my hands and the warm wetness all down my cheeks.