“When was the last time you were happy?’
“Probably when I was 7 – I had nice hair and no acne then. Those were the days.”
It’s what I wanted to say, but you don’t want to seem too unhinged in your first ever therapy session. I thought that you needed to lead up to it, make the therapist work for it a bit. They are professionals after all, it would insult their intelligence to give them something too easy; where would the challenge be, the thrill of the chase?
So I continued to smile awkwardly at the screen. One of the conveniences of an online session was that I could deflect questions like this and blame it on a bad connection.
The sigh from my therapist, Dr Dani, was tinny but damning. She shifted in her varsity sweater on a cream sofa that was probably the product of asking hundreds of people when they were last happy.
“Let’s try a different approach – what does happiness look like to you?” she said, fixing a sympathetic smile on her face. From Dr Dani’s profile, I knew she was being beamed into my living room from somewhere in the States. I wondered how people managed to do this in the same room as the person, this was painful enough and we had the Atlantic Ocean between us. I felt a little sorry for Dr Dani too. There she was, being all relaxed and well-balanced on her cool sofa, having to talk to me, who was hoping her webcam was low quality enough not to show the film of stress sweat covering me as I sat in my bed at 2pm on a Wednesday in my knickers and a tshirt.
“What does happiness look like…I don’t know,” I finally managed. At least I was being truthful. My eyes fixed onto Dr Dani in terrified anticipation of her reaction.
“That’s good,” Dr Dani told me. Is it? I personally thought it was rather alarming, but hey, she was the professional. “Tell me a little about your life.”
“It’s fine!” I trilled, though of course it wasn’t. It’s just a knee jerk reaction; your boss asks how that project is going – “It’s fine”; you bump into someone from university and they ask you how life is these days – “It’s fine”; your yoga teacher asks you how it is holding that pretzel position – “It’s fine!” Then you have a little internal scream to relieve all the tension. Such a great catch-all term to cover the myriad of misery.
Dr Dani did not look convinced. She had clearly heard the desperate defenses of the dissatisfied millennial before, although she looked to be one herself. She looked about the same age as me, in fact, she could have even been younger. Now, that was a depressing thought. There she was, essentially a foetus in stylish glasses, telling me how to sort my life out, while I began to notice how pronounced the wrinkles were getting in my forehead in the webcam mirror.
“I’m sure it is, but I want to know more,” she said patiently. Poor Dr Dani, having to deal with this. At least she had her own prescription pad.
“Well, I live in the UK. I am 28 years old. I work as a Digital Officer for a University. I like going to the cinema and reading books.”
Now even I looked disappointed in myself. What was that boring answer? It sounded like something you would learn by rote for a GCSE French speaking test.
“OK. And say you woke up tomorrow and all your dreams came true, how would your life have changed?”
I would be living in a shack on a beach with a Tahitian house boy and my office would have been struck by a meteorite, I mused internally. It seemed quite drastic and it would be a shame if Dr Dani soiled her lovely cream sofa in horror.
“Things would be a little different,” I admitted.
“How so?’ asked Dr Dani, on a tone verging on interest for the first time in the conversation. She took a thoughtful sip from a mug.
I searched for an answer, gulping away like a fish that has taken a suicidal leap out of its tank. “It’s hard to say,” I conceded.
“Give it a short,” encouraged Dr Dani with the chipper spirit only an American can muster.
“I guess I would rip it all up and start again,” I found myself saying. It was a relief to say it, like popping a massive spot or finally finding a toilet when in dire need of one. I could feel the blood rushing to my face, but I wasn’t sure if it was in embarrassment or excitement. I could see my face was now that Dr Dani was probably going to check her screen’s colour settings.
“Good,” said Dr Dani. I managed to suppress shouting “Really?!”
“Destruction can be a sign of growth. You want to rebuild.”
What an old, wise head on such young, girlish shoulders, I marveled.
“You’re right, hurricanes are very misunderstood. They’re just home improvement enthusiasts,” I ventured, my true personality suffering a wardrobe malfunction and being momentarily exposed.
Dr Dani laughed. “Hurricanes are forces of nature. They are powerful and you are too.” I retreated back to my previous stance and stifled a groan. If I had wanted inspirational quotes, I would have just bought a poster for my wall, or written slightly worrying poster notes of self-affirmation and put them up in my cubicle.
“Don’t do that,” said Dr Dani and I gave a start, like a naughty child caught doing graffiti.
“Do what?” I spluttered.
“The groan. I saw it,” she said, shaking her cup at me like it was a gavel.
“I’m sorry, I’m British. We have a natural aversion to unbridled positivity.”
“Well, I can’t prescribe anything for that, but we can certainly work on it,” said Dr Dani, replacing her gavel with a thumbs up. To my horror, I felt myself return her gesture.
“How do you do it, Dr Dani? I think I actually feel…not full of dread?”
“It’s all part of the job,” she said, waving away the compliment.
“I know, but look at you. You’re so put together, so functioning. Sitting there on your lovely sofa, redefining business casual in your glasses and sweater, helping your idiot peers sort their lives out…”
Dr Dani smiled, though it was not as assured as it had been. I thought that maybe I had been too effusive, perhaps she was scared I might start stalking her, but I would have to be quite dedicated, given that old Atlantic barrier.
“I’m only human!” she said shakily, or was it the connection acting up? She gave an exaggerated shrug, knocking over her mug.
“Oh, shoot,” she muttered, scrambling to recover it from the floor. Her head bobbed out of shot and I saw a flash of frilly material scoot past the screen as she bent over. Could it be…Dr Dani was also sitting there in her underpants? Could it be…Dr Dani was as much of a hot mess as I was?
There was only one way to find out – book another session.