Margaret Thatcher is tall, lean, and trendy; she could be an art museum curator if it wasn’t for her need to understand her own mental illness through others. Though, if she’s fucked up in her life, it wasn’t too catastrophic—she doesn’t put on airs during our sessions and appears to care for my wellbeing. Her office is shared and typical for a publically funded community psychiatric clinic; a khaki box otherwise empty besides a framed print of Picasso’s Guernica hanging on the wall. I feel agitated. Ms. Thatcher’s subdued presence triggers a smudgy emotion inside of me, one which has lingered far from the emotion that bore it, the feeling’s a cross between being nude in public and dropping food on the ground in front of strangers. There are no windows.
“How’s the writing?” She begins.
Margaret Thatcher sits back in her chair and exhales the “Oh shit” she formed inside her mouth.
“Wow, okay. I’m sorry, Josef. You must feel very upset.”
“I know that I am, I know that I should be, but I feel unable to processes it—I suppose I feel guilty. I thought I was doing my best to make her feel better after the assault, but I didn’t help her recover at all.”
“Helping others through a traumatic experience is a tough business. Maybe you did better than you thought?”
I take a second to think.
“I concocted ideas of what she needed and tried to force them onto her without considering I was wrong.”
“I let her alone when she needed someone close. I was too close when she needed space. I was thoughtful and patient—I was forceful and impatient to motivate her, but always on my terms. I did everything right and saw nothing get better, so I did everything wrong in hopes to inspire the opposite effect. I could have just asked her what she needed.”
“The former sounds like the flawed logic of desperation.”
“I was anxious and unable to wait. The weight was bearing down on me. Things had to get better when I needed them to.”
“So, since things weren’t improving quickly enough you took control of the situation by blowing it up?”
“It felt like things were going too slowly and I was close to a breakdown. If she were to see me lose my shit, like I’ve done in the past, she wouldn’t want to be with me anymore. Self-destruction wasn’t a conscious choice, but looking back, the only choice to reduce my anxiety.”
“Self-destruction is a common option we choose when we’re overwhelmed and cannot acknowledge and communicate our feelings properly. What’s troubling about patterns of self-destructive behavior is outsiders can clearly see the individual in question’s ill-conceived plans, but the individual is too wrapped up in self-denial to calculate that their trajectory is on a collision course with reality.”
“I remember thinking things were coming to a head and I should prevent that from happening. But, a second after the thought I reckoned a collision was the natural progression of the situation.”
“I hear that a lot,” Margaret Thatcher says. “We also know your family history and how much self-destructive behavior, perpetual conflict and overly simplified resolutions are the norm. It’s easier to stick with what you know.”
“When emotional responses are sought after like drugs to the addict,” I say. “How the hell did we become this way?”
“It was something your mother learned, something she and your uncles were raised with and used to survive in their broken home. You hold onto the ideas surrounding how positive relationships should be and begin a complex process of mimicking several archetypes of normalcy in the hopes you can fake it until you make it, but it’s still acting. It takes self-discipline, counseling, and time to rewire your brain from that kind of behavior.”
“We’re all high strung, anxious, co-dependent, and insecure— I wish I could control how rushed I always feel, how unsteady and ashamed. I wish I didn’t have this maniacal inclination to always be in good standing with everyone. To always quash conflict.”
“Conflict in the world or conflict you perceive is directed against you?”
“I suppose both.”
“I don’t see you trying to change the world?”
I smile and lean forward in my chair.
“Well, I’m apprehensive to change the world after what you did to it, Margaret Thatcher.”
She rolls her eyes.
“You have two more Margaret Thatcher jokes left this session,” She says, dryly.
“I spend a lot of time thinking about people not liking me.”
“I know, I’m your psychiatrist.”
“I look back on my life and think about all the wrong moves I made. How much I went out of the way to seek validation from those I thought were cool, while ignoring the extended hands from friends I took for granted. For someone who cares so much what people think about him, it’s bizarre who often I put myself in embarrassing positions.”
“What do you believe are your thoughts and feelings that keep you from having peace of mind? In other words, what is inhibiting you from being a consistent and dependable human being?”
“My thoughts are always agitated; I’m always anxious. Often Angry.”
“Why do you think you’re always anxious?”
“Because I can’t help but see everything in a state of decay.”
“What do you mean by that? Decay?”
“Entropy. I had to go to the hospital last night to see my mother in the ER and when I got there she was laying on the bed asleep looking like a dying child.”
“Is your mother’s mortality perhaps changing your thinking to see everything through this lens of entropy?”
“No, I’ve thought this way for a long time—I can’t stop thinking in the past. Often good times that are gone, or times I embarrassed myself. When something good happens I remind myself it will soon pass.”
Margaret Thatcher creases the right side of her tan bob behind her ear leaving a single tendril hanging in the gap between the arm of her glasses and her cheekbone.
“Why are these memories milestones of decay?”
“Because they ended poorly.”
“Or, is it that they just ended?”
God damn Margaret Thatcher going after my negative thoughts again.
“I don’t know, perhaps. But, when I think about the embarrassing moments, I cringe and think how can I have such a lack of self-control to indulge such poor behavior?”
“The process of nostalgia is often evoked to stir in us a sense of serenity and closure. However, if that picture is then compared to our image of the present, the here and now looks less than desirable. Perhaps you already know your nostalgic memories are as false as your embarrassing ones. In my opinion, nostalgic memories are more dangerous than self-loathing thoughts.
“I thought you were into nostalgia?”
“Is that another Margaret Thatcher joke?”
“Okay, that was number 2, now say something smart.”
“I’ve never wanted a relationship of any kind to cease to be; I’ve wanted the connection to always remain even if our roles change.”
“Is this strictly romantically?”
“No, I mean all relationships. Friendships are the easiest to maintain, but somehow I’ve exhausted those connections too often as well.”
“I highly doubt that.”
“I lost many friends after my divorce. I lost more in New Zealand.”
“You’re not alone and friendships forged abroad will always be loose and eventually fade.”
“But, I want a perfect record.”
Margaret Thatcher stares at me as if she sees something inside me that I cannot and begins to smile.
“Your hopes are valid but unattainable. You will lose relationships, you will watch friendships come and go, you will be faced with the inevitable consequences of living in the world, where both good and bad things happen.”
“I wish I had a better grip on my emotions.”
“But to GRIP them, as you say, means you must be outside of them in order to secure them.”
“Okay,” I say, “To control them.”
“What is control?”
“To not give in to temptation.”
“I forgot, Margaret Thatcher, has a thing against Catholics.”
“Margaret Thatcher joke number 3 for the win,” she says, invoking a weak fist pump with her eyes scanning the chart balanced on her lap.
“How could I not?” I say.
“Control.” She says to keep us on topic.
“It’s to always respond in the right way. To instantaneously weight a situation and perform appropriately based on its demands,” I say.
“So, it’s some Victorian idea of behavior and restraint developed through good breeding and a high moral and ethical compass?”
“Uh, is that what my answer sounded like?”
“To me, it sounded like a bunch of, excuse the expression, poppycock.”
“Is that a Margaret Thatcher joke?” I say.
“No, it’s a you joke.”
“Ouch, nice one,” I say. “Look, I go up and down, left and right. I’ll have a good couple of days and then the anxiety comes back. I’d like to write more, but I can’t draft anything with a semblance of consistency. I’m unstable. I can’t work more than twenty-five hours a week without exhausting myself and getting worse. I’ve never held a real job because I can’t concentrate or be stable enough to do my tasks at a consistent level over time. I run my own contracting business because I can’t have a boss. I can barely work with others anymore because before, I’d get such profound performance anxiety I’d lash out. I’m something to laugh at. I have no control.”
“No, you suffer from rapid cycling bipolar disorder,” she says.
A pause. A dog barks, but from Where? Margaret Thatcher’s lips are pursed with the pride inherent in a well-executed bombing pattern. I riposte.
“No, I think it’s just a learned behavior from my mother; I’m not like her, I don’t eat my fucking meals over the sink.”
Margarette Thatcher’s green eyes glint just below her bangs and then pop with emerald smoke curling up towards the ceiling.
“So, I’ve been nuts this entire time,” I say, “and people have been placating me?”
“That’s a meaningless sentence. Tear it apart and ask yourself if it holds water.”
“It’s a reactionary thought which bears little on reality and more so upon my insecurities,” I parrot back to her like I’ve heard it a thousand times.
“But, are you sure? Bi-polar? I’m actually fucking crazy?”
“Josef, you’re not crazy. I’ve been observing your behavior for a couple months now and have been almost certain for a few weeks. However, I wanted to wait and be sure, and to also notify you when you were ready.”
“How the hell is now the time when I’m ready?”
“Because your family needs you to fight for yourself to help them, and Shannon needs you to accept yourself so you can begin loving her.”
I resonate with what Margaret Thatcher is saying, but afraid of what it means. I feel emotional.
“Have you heard of lithium before?”
“Yes,” I say, less than excitedly.
“And?” She asks.
“I’m afraid it will turn me into an uncreative zombie.”
“Well, you’ve been complaining about being an uncreative spas the past two months, what do you have to lose?”
“Look, it’s all about the blood work. We’ll get you on the right dose, which will stabilize your mood without making you feel like a manikin.”
“I suppose I’ll have to trust you,” I sigh.
I look again from Margaret Thatcher to the Guernica print and realize that I’ve been screaming in the inside like the cow in the painting for years.
“You put that print there on purpose, don’t you?” I say.
“No, but someone did,” she says.
I look away and my eyes begin to swell.
“This isn’t a loss, Josef. This is a chance to gain control back.”
“What if I’m scared to have control? I’d rather keep wanting it than to actually have it.”