Star Trek

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.

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The lame, tiresome, obligatory year-in-review

I love end-of-the-year countdowns and retrospectives.

Recalling what happened in the last 12 months brings sepia-toned tears to my eyes.

When I go to the toilet, I get nostalgic for the last meal I ate.

But, as sentimental as I am, when it came to writing a retrospective blog post for Basement Life, I was of two minds.

On the one hand, every newspaper, magazine, television show and blogger does this sort of hackneyed thing.

On the other hand, I just drank a bottle of Glenfiddich.

I also have a couple draft blog entries I wanted to use up before the new year. You know, so I could start 2012 clean.

So without further ado, let’s take a closer look at the exciting events of 2011.

A milestone

2011 was a year of anniversaries.

Every day, it seemed, was an anniversary of something.

But September 29 was the most special because Jacquie and I celebrated our fourth wedding anniversary on that day.

I wasn’t sure what the traditional gift for number four was so I played it safe and got her nothing.

But when I got home from work that night, I saw her through the window, preparing my favorite meal of salt.

I had to think quickly and get her something she desperately needed at that moment.

Parsley.

And a Nivea deodorant sampler, which I’d found on the street a few weeks before, but held on to just in case I ever decided to start using deodorant.

Dodged a bullet on that one.

Other notable milestones include December 21, the second anniversary of Basement Life; November 2, the second anniversary of our arrival in New Zealand; and that’s pretty much it.

…And a millstone

The other thing that happened this year was I watched the entire Star Trek franchise—after the Captain Kirk years, which I’d seen too many times already—from The Next Generation, to Deep Space Nine to Voyager to Enterprise.

As regular visitors to this blog may recall, I started down this path of misery in the throes of a deep depression at the start of 2011. I thought that I could numb myself to my suffering. It seemed to be helping. But by the time I reached the final series to witness Scott Bakula’s performance as Captain Jonathan Archer, I realized that I was no longer just depressed, but that I also had lost the will to live.

Luckily, heavy medication and an accidental chemical lobotomy, the details of which are too disgusting to get into right now, protected me and I was able to finish watching Enterprise and learn a valuable lesson, too.

Before this series, I assumed that the formula for a successful Star Trek spinoff was simple: feature an alien chick in a skin tight space suit emphasizing her prominent gazongas, and you’re golden.

That was based on the assumption that the average Star Trek viewer had never matured past the oral/anal stage of development.

Enterprise taught me that it takes a lot more than a pair of alien gazongas to keep a show aloft for more than four seasons. It takes at least two pairs of alien gazongas, some minimally engaging dialogue and story lines, and a compelling leader, since every spinoff pivots on the character of this or that captain.

While Enterprise does well in the gazonga department, it falls short in every other dimension, especially Archer’s character. Bakula gives this character no swagger or toughness, so instead of coming off like a ship’s captain, he seems more like the guy who changes the water cooler bottle at work and flirts harmlessly with the receptionist on the way out, while leaning on his idle hand truck.

One more thing

Another thing that happened to me this year was that I found out I am fat and boring.

In conclusion

And that’s pretty much it for the year. Apologies for the very lame blog post. I’m on holiday.

Have a happy new year, New Zealand and the rest of GMT+12.

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.