She had been coming to see me for a about a month when we had our first real
conversation. Alicia was a college art student who had been referred to me by her advisor
. Her initial appointment at the counseling center
on campus had been a disaster because she overheard the receptionist tell another student that 'most of the students coming in for help were pretty normal
and not like that one over there' (quick glance in her direction). Alicia had her back turned with headphones on, but was in between songs and heard every word. She walked out without seeing the counselor at all.
Alicia was coming to see me because of a drug overdose during Christmas break, about three months before our first appointment. She mostly downplayed this:
It was more like a underdose, actually, since I am still here and not vegged out or whatever...
I didn't challenge her on this, because I could see either a long series of denials or an endless game of can you top this. I mostly let her just talk about why she was sent there, what people expected of her and what she did about the thoughts she had about the world around her.
Alicia had long brown hair, usually pulled back in a ponytail, with a few strands tied into a line held together with some beads she had made. She was medium height and stocky, not heavy; muscular-I work out, but I'm not gay which was her response to my observation on her biceps -on a day she chose a tank top over her usual oversize grey sweatshirt with the little white clouds of dried clay.
My response? "OK, so which one of us gets to leap to conclusions next week?"
On this particular week, the week of our first actual therapy session, I noticed her biting her nails. Which was not actually true, since 90% of her nails were gone. What she was biting was her fingertips where the nails had been. I told I had not noticed this before and asked her how long that had been a habit.
A while, I stop occasionally when I get sick from the clay I ingest when I do it. I just got back into the habit once in a while. I've been sorta worried lately.
I paused. Any question, especially a stupid question, would close her off and send us into a repeat performance of why most college students suck and are idiots. I was bored of that show.
OK, yeh, well worried about hurting myself. I don't want to, OK? I just start thinking about it. Thinking about trading in misery for the dark. I don't really want the big end thing, but I get scared when I know I could; I know I could do it right instead of wrong. I want to be able to talk about feeling it without being locked up.
She had been in an institution for three weeks after the overdose.
"Well, is it like looking out over a cliff--scary and exciting at the same time? We all have that feeling, right? Wondering how it would feel, but not really wanting it bad enough to call it all off?"
Yes and No. I don't want to jump, I don't want to hit that ground-but I want something definite...I want something finite and real...not just hours of this quiet inside my head with all this noise all around me. I want to not think about dying. I want proof living is better, even when living is this dull...
We sat in the silence for about three minutes. No sound but the traffic on the street and the clock. Finally she looked up.
No profound reassurance? No speech about the wonder of life?
"Nope. You tell me, is your life worth living for-isn't that the question?"
She stared at me and finally said this:
I can make things, and I can teach others to make things. I see the world in shapes that others can't. I just want to know if that's enough. Is it enough?
Well, two things-if someone asked you that question would you say Yes? and next-if it's not enough-can I make enough for you?
More stares. I would say Maybe, if someone asked. And for the second thing-no I gotta decide on my own, and I'm not there, but I want to get there. I guess that means I'm getting there, right?
Don't smirk, OK? I don't need that smile shit, OK?