Each year like clockwork, my therapist leaves the city for three weeks and unlike clockwork, my life becomes that bit messier, a bit trickier to predict. As August begins, the dread also begins.
I worry that without my 45 straight minutes of blabbing each Friday, the bolts in my life will loosen and I’ll come shuddering to a complete halt, blocking the tracks for everyone behind me. That kind of thinking is called “catastrophising” and, not to boast, my therapist says I’m actually really good at it. Rationally, I’m sure I will be fine this month. I’ll keep trudging on just as I did before I was lucky enough to get health insurance and the money for a co-pay. But it’s a wobbly kind of month.
I find some comfort in knowing I’m not alone in being left alone. Lots of New Yorkers lose their therapists in this most grotesque of all the summer months. Perhaps all of the therapists travel together in a calm herd. Maybe they swim, silently gliding through the water, managing to stay in their lanes even in the ocean.
Once, my friend Abi confided in me that she wonders about her therapist’s life and situation, and asked if I did the same about mine: “I mean, aren’t you dying to know who she is? To find out anything at all about her?” I answered honestly that no, I’m not. I understand that my therapist is not a bot activated only by my presence, but her life is not really any of my business.
I’m telling you, in therapy I’m like the self-absorbed, peevish little boy in “The Secret Garden,” fretful and whiny. My therapist is that big strong girl who wheels him around in a barrow and shows him the flowers. Besides, her office is the only place where the person I’m talking to isn’t dying to jump in as soon as I stop for breath.
If I really miss my therapist’s concerned and kind eyes trained on my face, I’ll simply sing along with the Moana soundtrack really loudly and my dog will fix me with the same expression.
Now, if you do happen to know me and you’re worried that I’m talking about you, well, look at that, you made it about you again.
That said, I’ve accidentally gleaned a couple of scraps of information about my therapist over the past four years: She both reads and watches the Outlander series, and her mother became a fashion model later in life. Should I wish to follow her, are those enough clues as to where she might vacation? The Scottish Highlands, or through time? Perhaps wherever stylish elderly people go, like that part of the Met way uptown. I don’t know. I just know I’m on my own.
In order to navigate my own melancholy cliffs, flecked through with flints of anxiety, I’ve come up with a plan. First, I will talk to and listen to others. I’ve been practising this. Just the other day, I chatted to the letter carrier, the traditional victim of the lonely, for almost a full minute. I told him I suspected there was either a rat in the building or a large army of roaches that moved together as one, shaped like a rat. He smiled along credibly enough before I saw that he was wearing those little earbuds with no wires.
My second line of defence is to avoid living in my head, since it’s bound to be chaotic up there. I will instead live in my body, however overheated it gets. And if I really miss my therapist’s concerned and kind eyes trained on my face, I’ll simply sing along with the Moana soundtrack really loudly and my dog will fix me with the same expression.
I’m not going anywhere this month. As I explained to my therapist, some of us have to work. That statement was followed by a quick discussion of how well I’m unlearning my passive-aggressive style of communicating. In truth, I’m staying because want to see what will happen next.
After the heatwaves and floods and blackouts, I am grimly determined to learn what horror will befall those of us who remain. A citywide shortage of cava? A mayor who continues to keep his eyes off the prize? An infestation of those horrible little scooters people use in Los Angeles?
“New York,” I sigh up at the thundery sky. If you can make it here, particularly in August without a therapist, then you truly can make it anywhere. But if I can make it anywhere, then shouldn’t I leave here at once?
Then, before I make any big decisions, I remember everything I’ve learnt in therapy. All of that insight I’ve worked to illuminate, that won’t go back to black. In the end, didn’t the fresh air and midnight talks revive that weak little boy in the book? Yes. Surely I can hang on for another few weeks. And if I can, we all can.
Maeve Higgins is the creator of the audio series ‘Aliens of Extraordinary Ability’ and a contributing opinion writer.