The therapeutic relationship

Update: A run-on sentence was corrected so that it actually makes sense.

Talk therapy may be taxonomized the same way interactions in the biosphere are put into categories by naturalists.

You become familiar with certain paradigmatic, therapeutic relationships when you live in New York City.

The reason why everyone mows you down on the sidewalk is because everyone is running late for their weekly session.

You think it’s because they’re busy? Nobody’s busy in New York. They’re just in therapy. Everyone sees a shrink there.  It’s like a law or something.

Consequently, when you live there long enough, you get to hear some pretty alarming stories about therapists. There’s transference and counter-transference. There’s the corporate medical plan deciding that they’re no longer covering your mental health, unless you’re absolutely positive that you’re going to take a gun in to work and take out half the staff. Even then you need a reference from your GP. Then there is the creme de la creme. It’s the moment when you discover that your therapist’s partner is a huge blabbermouth, because your therapist’s partner is your ex-girlfriend’s therapist, and one day your ex-girlfriend says that her therapist said that your therapist said that you “had the most miserable childhood” she’d ever heard about in her 20 year career. Horrors.

Given that, it might make it easier to understand the generalization that all therapeutic relationships are, to some degree, a kind of mutual predation.

In Auckland, though, I’ve found therapy to be far more beneficial, symbiotic. My therapist gets as much of our regular sessions as I do. For one hour each Friday, I get to go on and on and on about my bizarre youth and upbringing, my various ersatz careers, and my inability to accept Auckland as legitimate city. Meanwhile, my therapist gets to catch up on some much-needed sleep. You see, therapy doesn’t have to be a zero sum game. It’s a total win-win.

To be honest, my relationship with my therapist doesn’t stand out as exceptional among all my relationships The only difference between therapy and the rest of my waking moments is that when I’m in a session, strangers aren’t gaping at me like I’m a six-toed geek whilst I mutter incoherently. That doesn’t happen in therapy. My psychologist is a professional, trained in the delicate art of concealing her disgust. Which is neither here nor there, as between the time she sets her alarm clock and 50 minutes later, she is asleep.

I don’t want to give the impression that I dislike my therapist or my therapy. Quite the opposite. I haven’t made it a secret on this blog that I’ve been suffering from depression, for which I take a Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor, or “Happy Slappy” as I call it. And for which I gave up reading in order to watch every episode of every series in the Star Trek franchise. (From The Next Generation to the largely horrid and unwatchable Enterprise).

And for which I have seen a psychologist. It has been more than a year, now. And I would have to give therapy credit for lifting me out of the abyss I descended when I first found out in early 2010 that Jacquie meant us to move to New Zealand, not just visit. My outlook has gotten a lot better since those evil days, and not just because of Happy Slappy, neither.

Of course, I do slip once in a while. A few weeks ago, I experienced my worst episode in two years. It was a usual Friday after work, but I’d arrived at my therapist’s office 15 minutes early. There was a radio playing, which I’d assumed was meant to prevent me from overhearing the session going on behind closed doors while I waited. It took a few minutes after I’d sat down to realize that I was in a really shitty mood, and the reason was the radio was tuned to The Breeze FM, Auckland’s answer to a fatal morphine drip.

Actually, morphine drip is the wrong metaphor. In fact, it’s difficult to understand how the shrill, nasally, canned, screaming, soft pop The Breeze plays is supposed to relax anyone. Personally, it makes me feel violent. They play the exact kind of creepily unimaginative music that used to drive me out of delis at lunch time back in New York.

Here I was seeking to improve my life when all of a sudden I wanna dance with somebody by the late Whitney Houston comes on. Was this her shrieking, horrible cry for help? Would things have turned out differently had she been able to finally dance with somebody? And was it her off-putting, siren like, ear shattering voice that actually prevented her from dancing with somebody? The more I heard, the deeper my gloom. I had never wanted to commit suicide more in my life than that moment.

But as I say, I have a good therapeutic relationship, who interceded just as I was about to fashion a noose out of an extension cord.

My therapist sat me down, gave me a drink of water, and assured me that suicidal ideation was not an uncommon reaction to Whitney Houston music.

After I’d calmed down a bit, my therapist said, “And you could have always just turned off the radio.”

This subject will be picked up again in a future post. In the meantime, feel free to adore my kitten.

His name is Vince. He’s a six month old purebred Maine Coon (with papers). His breeder name is Mainflame Red Hustler. And I will tell you more about him in an upcoming episode of Basement Life.

My dog spider

I only ever wanted two things out of life when I was young.

The first was I wanted to grow up to be an irredeemable slob married to a woman of superior intelligence, wisdom, earning-potential and physical beauty, so inexplicably contrasting with my own qualities that people seeing us together in public would marvel, saying to one another “He must have a lot of money” by way of justification of this mystifying arrangement. In retrospect, my desire was not an overly ambitious one, considering that by the age of five, I was already considered by most experts on the matter to be a child prodigy in the “irredeemable slob” category. I was that much closer to attaining the American Dream.

The author (left) enjoying a visit with a family of domesticated Okies on display at the Monmouth County Fair Grooming Stables in Red Bank, New Jersey, 1979. The author exhibited from a young age a preternatural instinct for becoming a slob.

The stunned, even offended expressions of our wedding guests as Jacquie and I marched to the altar that infamous day in 2007 only confirmed my sense of pride and masculine achievement. Perhaps the prospect of such a match was revolting to our friends and relatives who saw it as a defilement of nature. How could anyone argue with that? But nobody that day would even dare try to come between me and my happiness.

And I was happy. For a while. Then I became depressed, a contributing factor to which was the realization that though I was married to someone who smelled better than me, had more money in her pocket, knew her way around dental floss and could fill out a tax form, whereas I was limited to signing my name with an X (drawn in crayon), there was still that other thing missing from my life. I felt its absence sorely.

I did not have a devoted pet, the kind of animal I imagined when I was 11 I would eventually have by the time I was an adult: a furry thing that would wait by the door every night for me to come home from my job sorting the discount sex-toy bin at a local adult-emporium. But that was just a childhood fantasy. The reality is, I don’t have my dream-job sorting the discount sex-toy bin at the local adult emporium. Nor do I have anything more companionable in my life than my cat, Sunny, an orange miscreant with a bad attitude, a short temper and shiv-like claws with which to kill and maim.

My bad luck seemed to have finally changed recently. A winter storm had caused a power outage in Mt. Eden.  The house was dark when I came home from work. I was instantly surprised to feel something furry nuzzling my leg. I thought I’d finally gotten that pet dog I always wanted. I couldn’t see him very well in the candle-light, but he was real friendly and we played for a long time. I kept throwing things and he kept bringing them back.

Woof, woof, woof, woof.

Come on boy. That's it. Come to daddy. Who wants to go for a walk? You do. Oh yes you do.

Wait a minute. Something's not right here

Apparently, my dog was really a Black House Spider (Badumna insignis). What I thought was playful cavorting was actually its attempted insemination of my leg using its palps. And what I thought was me having fun and enjoying myself turned out to actually be excruciatingly painful swellings, nausea, vomiting, sweating, giddiness and skin lesions from multiple venomous fang marks.

The greatest depression ever

It’s only been in the last month or so that I started to recover from a severe and prolonged depression.

Next stop, Deliciousville. Things are looking up.

It was bad. A preoccupation with death, a constant flow of hateful self-talk, the lost ability to remember, to concentrate, to something else that slips my mind, continued unacknowledged and festering until the miserable condition became familiar, even comfortable.

It was really bad. It was as if one of Hieronymus Boschs demons was taking a six-month-long shit on my medieval tonsure and I liked it so much I massaged it into my scalp thinking it was ok because, hey, it’s organic. I lost interest in all those things that once animated me: reading, socializing and sexing.

Even writing blog-posts with my signature “Take my wife…please” sensibility (as humorous now as it was when it first circulated the Catskills 50 years ago), even those entered the endangered list, although they never went extinct. So my condition wasn’t just bad; it was schlocky.

Things got to such a low state that I fell into a habit more disgusting and pitiable than my obsessive eyebrow-hair plucking and chronically inadequate personal hygiene. I started to watch Star Trek, from the beginning of The Next Generation, to the end of Deep Space Nine.

Photo courtesy of the New Zealand Tourism Board.

Some people might ask, “Simon, what do you have to be depressed about? You live in New Zealand where shoes are optional, where people drive with their eyes closed, and where everyone is in bed by nine because what else are they going to do? Where it’s OK to be a grown adult and still talk in your outdoor voice throughout a live performance of Mary Stuart starring that lady from the second Lord of the Rings movie, true story. What could be so bad?”

Lieutenant Paris (right) reports to Captain Janeway and Commander Tuvok on his recent visit to Meat Plaza.

While it is true that I was feeling like shit before relocating, and that moving from Brooklyn to New Zealand temporarily elevated my mood to its jaunty “I-hate-the-world-and-everything-in-it” baseline, this reprieve did not last long.

So many factors played a part in the plunge I took in New Zealand that I cannot give them justice in one blog entry.

I will, however, mention here one factor contributing to my recent disposition, since it has weighed heavily on my mind: my colleagues at Fairfax Business Group. They are a mean-spirited, bullying lot that picks on me because I’m different, because I talk funny and come from America. They did terrible things to me. They made me watch them eat lunch, and they called me names like “Johnny Argyle” just because I happen to own one or two articles of clothing with that particular pattern.

Technically speaking, Johnny Argyle is a misnomer, since my entire argyle wardrobe consists in a zip-up jumper and a sock I found at the laundromat and took home with me, just in case I needed an extra sock.

I tried to complain about these malicious fiends to the Human Resources director. But I knew the company would have trouble seeing my side of things when I entered the director’s office and she said, “What can I do for you, Jimmy Argyle?”

I was mortified. “It’s not Jimmy,” I screamed. “It’s Johnny. Johnny Argyle.”

Then I screamed some more like I did when I was a little boy, which was exactly like a little girl. Then I ran to the restroom to have myself a good cry and there wasn’t a day that went by during my first six weeks at Fairfax that did not contain some element of wailing and/or gnashing of teeth, which will probably earn me a “needs improvement” on my next performance evaluation.

Of course, I have since reached a mutual sort of respect and understanding with my wonderful colleagues. They love Johnny Argyle. And Johnny Argyle loves them, and doesn’t even mind watching them eat their lunch any more. Mostly.

So, that’s just one example of the many things that have depressed the shit out of me.

But as I say, this subject is far too big to be wrapped up in one blog entry. Which is why I plan to return to this subject in the future, so that you might enjoy my recent, horrifying depression as much as I did.

The city of fun and attractions

I realized the other day that I haven’t been “adding value” to my posts the way I used to do.

There’s a good reason. I mean beside from my usual contempt for people who come to my site.

It’s nothing to worry about. Just a mild case of crippling depression.

But I won’t go on about that right now. I’m saving it for sweeps week.

Instead, please look at some more bland photographs of places to go and things to see around Auckland.

The Pah Homestead in Monte Cecilia park used to be a school and home for orphans and other discarded children. Now it's the home of the lyrically named TSB Bank Wallace Arts Centre, a quite enjoyable collection of contemporary New Zealand art.

I took this picture the last time we visited the Pah Homestead. I intended to write the name of the artist. But before I could, I was tackled from behind and violently thrown to the floor. “Jacquie,” I said, “what the hell are you doing?” “Sorry,” she said, “I thought you were somebody else.”

Jacquie stopped acting so tough when we strolled among Monte Cecilia's massive oak, magnolias, pines, cypress and other native and imported trees.

"Jacquie," I said. "You are no match for these trees. You may be able to do terrible things to me but these trees are not so easily pushed around. Try and you will see." "Simon," Jacquie said. "You are a fool. I will bring these trees to heel shortly. Their bark is worse than their bite." "Jacquie," I said. "We have descended to a new low in both our conversation and our online content. Let us end this now." Then Jacquie hit me in the back of the head with a shovel. Then I woke up in my bed. "Oh, it was just a dream all along," I said. Then Jacquie hit me over the head with a mallet. "That's for ending this in a cheap cliche," she said.

Three Lamps Plaza. The building was erected in 1910 as a roller rink and later became the Britannia Movie Theatre, which closed in 1969. Today it houses a number of businesses, including a roller rink and a movie theatre. Except the roller rink is now a brothel (roller-skates optional) and the movie house shows 1970s German porn in a continuous loop.

This is an ad for a New Zealand television network that launched in February. With its fourth network up and running, New Zealand now offers one television channel for every household in the country.

A house on Ponsonby Road. Ponsonby is a trendy neighborhood where one-bedroom houses can sell for $600,000 to $700,000. Larger properties go for more than a million. I'm not sure if this makes Ponsonby one of the priciest areas in Auckland, but you can certainly see why that would be if it were so.

The trompe l'oeil painting on this fence in Ponsonby gives the convincing illusion of a poorly painted fence. But the important thing is everyone had fun.

Soho Square off Ponsonby Road in Grey Lynn. According to Wikipedia, this was the site of a yeast production plant in 1910. By the looks of things, it still could very well be a yeast production plant, among other things. In fact, it's a good thing this is here because there is a terrible shortage of mosquitoes in New Zealand.

The D-72 on Dominion Road. It's difficult to take a photograph of a wicker office building while driving your car into a bunch of people trying to enjoy their dinner at a sidewalk cafe. But I managed to do it. Only kidding. They weren't enjoying their dinners. It's not the loveliest building you'll see in New Zealand but when you pass it you can't avert your eyes.


Karangahape Road (usually referred to as K Road)


Sky Tower