Ali paces back and forth, tapping small black heals against a solid wood floor, second-guessing this decision. Meanwhile, her hands are doing this bizarre thing where they're freezing cold but sweating all at once.
"Hi, Ali. Come on in," a silky voice breathes into the room. Ali's shoulder begins to relax, but her skepticism doesn't abate. The woman standing in front of her is a Cognitive Behavioral Therapist, recommended by a friend to tame her unrelenting jealousy of everyone around her.
So, for her 30th birthday, this is what Ali bought herself. A therapist. How 2022 of her.
"Tell me a little bit about yourself, Ali," Dr. Aideen begins. "Tell me why you're here."
"Well," Ali twiddles her fingers, glancing around the room. "I don't know, really. I feel stuck, and I don't want to feel stuck anymore."
"Okay, let's start with that. Why do you feel stuck?"
"Because no matter how much I give, I feel like I'm not getting anything back, I guess."
"And why do you think that is?" Dr. Aideen's eyes meet Ali's, making her shift in her seat.
"I don't know?" Ali says in a question. "It has always been like that, really."
"Why don't you give me an example," she suggests, and although every pulse in her body is urging her to walk away, her feet stayed glued to the marbled rug tied down by the chair beneath her.
"How far back?" Ali asks.
"However far back you're comfortable with."
"So, recent?" Ali asks nervously. Dr. Aideen nods slowly, unwilling to make the decision for her. Yeah, this wasn't going to be easy. And the word vomit that followed just confirmed that for Ali.
"Well, let's talk about why after nearly a decade of good grades and academic achievements, a college degree, and a successful start to my career — I get it a 'good job, Ali,' and my sister starts college, and she's getting praised left and right. Tell me why when I worked my ass off for career success — as the first one to go to college and graduate in my family, mind you — it's my little sister that is bragged about to friends and family. My parents constantly talk about how smart she is, how much potential she has, and how freakin' great she is. What about me? Why am I not great? Why am I not praiseworthy?"
Ali lets out an angry sigh. "I did it first, for God's sake. And what did I get? I got a generic, 'I knew you could always do it. Now, move along."
Her heartbeat moves from her chest to her head, her fingers, her dang toes. She can feel the heat of her thoughts burning on her skin. And before anyone can think, oh how cute. It isn't. All she can think is it's not the pretty blush that paints the lady's cheeks in a perfectly drawn portrait. It's blotches of red trailing from the tip of her forehead to the bubble of her breasts being held in place by a black tank top.
Breathe through your nose for three seconds. Hold it. Exhale for another three to four seconds. Repeat.
Ali slowly opens her eyes to Dr. Aideen scribbling notes, doing that head nod thing she has seemingly perfected. She gives Ali another minute to collect herself before breaking the silence in the room.
"Did you ever consider that maybe you're putting too much stock into how others perceive you?"
"Absolutely," Ali answers honestly. "I know that's what fuels it. Everything I do is for someone's approval. And I know that's part of the problem. I just don't know how to change it."
"Let's start with this," she pulls out a pen and paper and hands them over. "For the next 10 minutes, I want you to write nothing but positive things about yourself." Ali's eyebrow raises combatively, but she does what she's told. And when the timer is up, she's given homework. "Now, I want you to take this home with you, read this, and then look at the situation again. Separate yourself from it, and jot down ways to approach it from a better perspective."
"You want me to journal about my feelings?"
"I do." Ali refrains from rolling her eyes and decides on a smile instead.
"Thank you for your time, Dr. Aideen. I will."
"You can call me Jessica."
Ali sits opposite Jessica, tapping her toes and holding onto the small book in her hand for dear life. She has gone back and forth about attending another appointment. It feels pointless, weird, and downright silly. Hell, even the stuff she's talking about seems so childish. She's a grown adult. She needs to act like one.
"How did it go?" Ali shrugs. "How do you feel?"
"I don't know. Like, maybe I'm overreacting?" An urge to leave is getting stronger inside her, and Ali finds herself twirling fabric in between her fingers to stand her ground and stay.
Knowingly, Jessica says, "It's okay to be uncomfortable. In fact, you should be. This — let's call it the Green-Eyed Monster — has made you too comfortable with these thoughts and feelings about yourself and the people around you. Taking down this monster won't be easy. Do you think that's something you're ready to do?"
"I'm here, aren't I?"
"You are. But are you ready?" Ali looks at Jessica for a minute, initially annoyed by the question but simultaneously done with being annoyed. Fuck it. She's all in.
"Why don't we explore another incident?" Jessica asks. After a moment's hesitation, Ali jumps right in.
"How about work," Ali starts. "I have been working on my art for decades, honing every detail, rolling with every creative spark that comes my way. Sure, I've got acknowledgments here and there. BUT... today," Ali's hands fly to the air. "A coworker comes to me, and some piece she drew for fun is getting noticed by some very important people. Even better, she doesn't even care! I've hoped for this moment since I could hold a crayon between my fingers. I've prayed for just one important person to see a piece I've spent hours and hours of my life on. To notice my work. And she gets it without even trying? It's bullshit!"
"I see. Now take a step back for a minute and consider why you feel this way," Jessica suggests.
"I know why I do. I feel this way because it isn't fair. I want it and don't get it. She doesn't care, and she gets it."
"Would you like to hear what I think?" Ali lets out a deep breath and nods. "It sounds to me like you may have let your jealousy cloud the situation here, Ali. Sometimes we perceive certain situations differently when we fixate on a feeling, especially one like jealousy. While you assumed she didn't earn it, it doesn't sound like you know that to be the case. Even so, her worth does not negate your own. Her getting that recognition you crave from your art does not equate to you being unworthy. It also does not equate to you being worthy. Do you see what I'm saying here?"
"Uh, kind of?"
"Look at it from a different angle and put yourself outside of the incident for me. What is the bigger picture here?" In response to the silence, Jessica pulls harder. "Why are you so mad at her?"
"Because I want what she has!"
"And how can you get it?"
"By working hard and putting myself out there," the words started flowing out of her like they weren't even her own, surprising her with how true they felt. "I need to stop prioritizing a career I only have to prove I am something to other people and start chasing my damn dreams."
Jessica smiles approvingly, and Ali can't help to smile back. A small giggle even escapes her lips. "Damn doc, okay."
"Have you continued your journaling?"
"I have," Ali responds.
"You're smiling today," Jessica points out.
"Something feels different. I don't know."
"Can you tell me what feels different?" Jessica asks, doing what she does best and tugging at those strings for something more profound.
Ali lets out a deep breath. "I suppose that's why I'm here, eh?"
"I saw an old friend today. She's got a beautiful family. Tyler and I always wanted that," Ali says softly. "We keep going back and forth between trying and 'seeing what happens," she air quotes.
Thinking about the moment, Ali falters with silence. Jessica moves her along, keeping the momentum up. "And how did that go?"
"Well, of course, the green-eyed monster perked its little head up. It wanted me to storm away and call her insensitive to my inability to have a child yet. How dare she be so happy with multiple? It wanted me to cry myself asleep, thinking about that curly-haired bundle. How dare her talk about how hard it is when I'd trade everything for it."
Jessica's pleasant features falter for just a second, but she expertly pulls them back together. "And how did you handle those feelings?"
"I acknowledged the source of the jealousy and let it go. It's not her fault that it hasn't happened for me yet. I know that. Instead, I practiced gratitude like you suggested," Ali shoots some goofy finger guns over to Jessica in appreciation. "I went to the restroom, reminded myself of all the wonderful things in my life to be grateful for, and believe it or not, I had such a great time talking to her."
"I've hardly killed the monster, but I feel better about how I handled it," she added.
"Today was your last session. How do you feel about that?"
Ali let out a half-hearted laugh. "I feel like there's still a lot of work to be done."
Jessica nodded. "Ali, we all have to work on ourselves. Constantly, in fact. The key here isn't to kill the monster. The key is to change how you respond when faced with those ugly Green-Eyes. Don't let it affect your happiness and relationships. Other people are doing great things around you. So are you. One does not determine the value of the other. Remember that."
Ali nodded appreciatively.
"One monster down," Ali said. "Many more to go."