When Adriel announced that he wanted to be a cardiovascular surgeon, I asked him if he'd be okay with patients wanting never to see him again; he blinked and said," That's okay, Mum, as long as they're alive to wish it."
Being a single mom was hard both financially and emotionally, with a recently started psychiatric practice and just a few guilty calls by my ex to ask after Addy and checks sent 'with remorse' for child support. Who will support the mom? I wanted to scream sometimes. I was desperate for better credentials to get employed in a well-established firm, preferably one where the installed electric appliances actually worked.
Just an hour to a new year, I proclaimed gleefully to myself. About to leave for the party Adriel had been pestering me to accompany him to, I stopped in my tracks when I saw that my brain had conveniently ignored one patient at the bottom of the list: Emilia Brien. Fuming silently, I rang up my receptionist, whose name I was too furious to recall, who always said even "Hello?" like it was a question.
Me: What is this? I told you no patients after 10:50.
Receptionist: They said they're paying double even for half-time(clearly after snickering at my financial tight spot)
Me:(anger miraculously ebbing away)FINE.
Oh,well, maybe I could buy Addy a new surgeon's kit to make up.
Saving the world one mental illness at a time...
I was picking the hair out of the common bathroom soap, wondering if I could isolate a thesis in it- 'The Disgustingly Sticky Tendencies Of Human Hair', maybe? That, or 'The Annoying Habits Of Bored Kids'- both were inextricably related; it would bring me money, along with the attention of young parents... Emilia knocked. Washing the filth off my hands, I smiled warmly and told her to take a seat. She was a petite, pretty girl of about thirteen, with a seemingly confident demeanor. This was where my creative experiment set in. If she took the couch, it meant that she was mentally in a confined space, feeling suffocated and needed air. If she took the easy chair, it meant that she was feeling unusually vulnerable. This was just an speculatory trick to guess at the patient's ailment, but usually gave astonishingly accurate results.
She took the couch.
"Hi Emilia! I'm Apolline. Before we begin, I'd like to assert that this is all strictly confidential. I'll just be telling my diagnosis to your folks." An enthusiastic and genial tone often soothed patients enough to confess their deepest inhibitions.
:Yeah, fine, doc-", she began in the characteristic sullen monotone of teenagers,
"Call me Apolline."
"Apolline, I don't care with whom you share our conversation- or monologue- which one is it? I just want to feel- well, not like personified darkness all the time."
"Well, darling, it says here that you have recurring dreams about coffins and- graveyards?'
"Cemeteries," she corrected. "A cemetery is a plot set aside specifically for burial, while a graveyard is always located in a churchyard. I'm not Catholic."
Well, well, well, who wouldn't want to spend NYE with Ms. Know-It-All spouting discrepancies?
"Yeah, so about that?"
" In them, I'm wandering among coffins in a cemetery Suddenly, someone comes up from behind and shoves me into a coffin. I try to scream but my throat constricts, and- well, you get the idea."
Ugh. I shuddered inwardly at the macabre description. "Well, sweetie, how long has this been happening?"
" Just the nightmares?"
"No,"she swallowed nervously. "Yesterday, we were passing by a cemetery. Suddenly I felt choked and there was a pressure pushing me down..."
Hmm, slightly schizophrenic symptoms.
" Death is all I think about. I claw through caskets only to find my ruined bones and no body. I stop breathing and retch..." She continued describing herself when she thought about getting buried, but I was not listening.
This girl had feretrophobia. It was, indisputably, one of the rarest cases I'd ever see in my practice.
Feretrophobia was the fear of coffins, caskets and getting buried alive. I was 99.9% sure about my diagnosis. I had never even heard anyone talk about it in my social circles, which were, admittedly, microscopically small, yet...
An animal psychologist( whose thesis was 'Chickens prefer beautiful people') told me once about the most eccentric mental fears: omphalophobia (fear of the navel), pteronophobia( the fear of getting tickled by feathers), arachibutyrophobia( the fear of peanut butter getting stuck to the top of your mouth), optophobia( the fear of opening one's eyes), and so on. My experience with feretrophobia was limited to reading Edgar Allan Poe's 'The Premature Burial', but I sensed that my candor would not be expedient here.
Well, first things first: how did this phobia develop? Most phobias developed as a result of frightening events, stressful events, frightening experiences or trauma. For example, catoptrophobia ( the fear of mirrors) developed not due to low self-esteem but usually by hallucinations of seeing phantasms in mirrors. Thanks a lot, Bloody Mary.
"Emilia, can you think of any recent traumatic event that evidently left you feeling suffocated or claustrophobic?"
"Um-",she began reluctantly. " I was very nearly assaulted three weeks ago in a malfunctioning lift."
I nodded encouragingly, with what I hoped was a placid expression on my face, to hide, in equal parts, my overflowing sympathy and abject horror, Usually, traumatic incidents like attempted assault left indelible marks on the survivor.
" I want to become a pediatrician, but I hate biology. I was going for a biology study session with my friends, when it suddenly creaked to a stop. There was a man in the lift when I had come in- a tall, obese man in his mid-forties." Her voice wavered, and I offered a glass of water to her.If she could get through this, she would become exponentially more emotionally stable. She gulped it down and exhaled loudly, the way kids did after taking it all down in one breath. " I was in a hurry to get there and didn't notice when it happened, but suddenly all the lights went out. I tried to call my mom, but there was no damn signal. All I could think about was the golden rule of our house-' Don;t get into a lift if you're not alone.' I panicked and started frantically waving my phone around in search of a signal. Then there was a pressure on my shoulder: the man had placed his hand there. He said," Don;t worry, I'm here, baby." He started touching me-",Here she hiccuped, sobbing so loudly her words became nearly unintelligible. " I backed up into a corner, and he followed me, saying," Don't run from me, dear." I felt suffocated with him pressing me down. I wanted to screech out with all my goddamned might but a lump formed in my throat. All I could choke out was a tiny, pathetic,"Don't." You see, overpowering him was quite unimaginable; he had the advantage both in height and weight. All I could think about was the irony that I wanted to save lives, but couldn't save my own. Then, the adrenaline kicked in- I wasn't going to end up as a teenage statistic- and I shoved him, then went through my bag while he recovered from the unexpected blow, searching for a weapon, a pointed object, something to hit the animal with. He stood up, which was when I decided that enough was enough. I hit him with my phone so hard he spat blood." She grinned smugly through the glimmering sheen of tears on her face, apparently having regained her equilibrium.
"I bet he was the one crying then," I interjected, unable to stop myself.
" Oh no, he was incorrigible. He got up again and whispered 'menacingly', "You little daughter of a-", but I didn't let him finish his scintillatingly eloquent expression of pain. I'm a feminist; I don't believe in women cowering behind male chauvinist pigs, begging them for mercy, and this man and his kind were the ones I would tell my reed to first. I kicked him in the stomach and banged his head against the metal door, shouting in his ear,"No more, you animal, no more, This isn't the 1900s, you know." And for special dramatic effect, I threw him on the ground and kicked his back, the bones of which made a satisfyingly crunching sound. Uptil now, he had been too overwhelmed- no doubt he had assaulted many teens without them raising a voice. Now, though,he recovered his strength and venomously said," Oh! Have a lot of fight inside, do you? " ,and threw me down. By now, I was feeling out of breath- I'm asthmatic- and when he sat on me, his weight crushed me. This time, it was my bones cracking. He took out a handkerchief from his pocket and said"This is going to be delightful," as if we were going out to explore a new city. I thought I was going to die and felt sick to my stomach. I just couldn't imagine all my dreams, ambitions, hopes and wishes going down as the headline of some local: 'Teen Brutally Assaulted and Killed, Murderer Pleads Not Guilty' . I shrieked before he could gag me- a caterwauling, blood-curdling scream- and suddenly, as if this was what the lift had been waiting for, it groaned back to life. The nanosecond it opened, I sprinted out, not looking behind."
Suddenly, she burst out," Did you know that whale poop and whale vomit is used to manufacture 'exotic' perfumes, and that eyeshadows and lipstick shine are made using fish scales? I'd go easy on the makeup if I were you. God knows it would save lives, including yours."
Just when I thought I couldn't like her audacity more. I could have lashed out, in another universe. I suddenly became a huge fan of the Multiverse theory. I could tell that Emilia was the sort of person who thought of bringing world peace and conveniently forgot about it five minutes afterward.
A long, decidedly uncomfortable pause ensued. "Um..good to know that?" Ugh, I was turning into my receptionist. " Well, it seems that you have the extremely rare feretrophobia, which is the fear of caskets, coffins and getting buried alive. No worries, even George Washington had it." Seeing her vague disinterest, I decided not to mention that in the 19th century, people began to put bells in their coffins and to request a wake of more than five or six days, due to an outbreak of feretrophobia. "Well, I am prescribing some medicines to help with the nightmares. Come back next year..." I trailed off lamely, seeing that she hadn't gotten the joke."I mean, in two weeks, and we'll see how you're getting on, all right?"
I didn't bother to correct her. "And Happy New Year!"
"Maybe if the morbid dreams stop," she said cryptically with the air of an enlightened saint, revealing the secret of life, or in this case, the secret of how to get an advance payment.
"I hope so, darling!" I enthused. Keeping this ebullience up was exhausting, for both of us.
She smiled a little at me and walked out, shutting the door behind her softly. I glanced at the wall clock; it was 12:10. Zenith, notorious for her perkiness that did not cheer people up, had texted," Happy New Year!"
How creatively expressed. I then glanced at the thought of the day on my home screen: Life isn't meant to be understood, but to be lived.
If only philosophers could read it.
I texted to Zenith, "Bonne annee!" Same blandness, different language.
I locked the door to the office and began to think about one of the weirdest P.H.D.s in the world: 'Why Wet Underwear Is Uncomfortable' .Relatable, but I was only innovative enough to stick to human hair and its gross inclinations...