“Do you masturbate, Ismail?”
“Do you masturbate? Do you have wild sexual fantasies? Do you picture yourself d…”
“…I know what masturbate means.”
“So? Do you?”
“I’m not gonna talk about that.”
“Yes you will.”
“And why exactly?”
“Because you’re paying $100 for this one hour session.”
“I heard that.”
Dinner was good. I enjoyed the breast, chicken breast. And then we started talking. And then I suddenly felt weird. “Are you Ok Ismail?” asked my friend, “I’m…fine,” I lied. “Excuse me,” and I headed to the bathroom. I was wondering what the hell was happening and why I could barely breathe while washing my face. Then I realized what was happening, and it was awful because I wasn’t home, and the thing usually happened when I was home, not in a public place.
“Does your mom know you’re doing this?”
“She overreacts over stuff.”
“All moms overreact. I’m a mom, and I overreact.”
“She saw a red mark on my left hand two weeks ago, and had a mini heart attack. She thought it was some kind of cancer, and wanted me to do full check-ups.”
“And the mark was a…”
“…never mind my question.”
I told my friend everything the next day. What happened and why it happened, because, supposedly, I knew what was happening and why it was happening. “You need help,” he said, “I know some people who can really help you.” And then he told me about one of his acquaintances who had similar problems, and how the people he knows helped her a lot.
“Do you watch porn?”
“What the ….”
“I’m gonna do it. Give me their number,” I told my friend. And I called them. They gave me an appointment and I went there the next day. I sat among a bunch of people in the waiting room; all of them were much, much older than me. I was clearly more comfortable though because judging by the looks I was getting, they were wishing their heads were covered up with paper bags. It was a shameful thing they were doing.
“They’re called ‘panic attacks.’ The thing you had lately is one of them.”
“When did they start happening?”
“Years ago. I was 8, or 9.”
“Which means soon after you had the eye accident.”
“And did they increase after the ‘school thing’ happened?”
“I can’t remember.”
“You look more comfortable now that we’re doing our fourth session.”
“That is correct.”
“Are the pills helping?”
“I don’t know. They’re making me nauseous and dizzy, which means they’re doing something.”
“Do you feel better?”
“I’m glad I’m talking to someone without being judged.”
“Judged of what?”
“Of breaking some rules. Being here, doing this is one of them.” And I laughed.
“[Laughs, shakes her head.]”
“I mean, you know and I know that I’m a bit different.”
A woman called my name, and sat with me. She asked me a lot questions about my past, my personality, why I decided to come here and stuff like that. The interview took an hour before we moved to another room; it was Dr. Fouad’s office. “Hello! How are you doing?”. “I’m fine,” I replied. “No you’re not. You’re here,” and he tapped on my shoulder.
“You’re not different.”
“Then why am I here?”
“Have you ever considered the idea that you’re not actually ‘different’, but people made you think this way?”
“Perhaps, but you can’t start a fire without a spark.”
“Major Depressive Disorder,” said Dr. Fouad after checking my file. At first I was amazed at how sophisticated the name was. Then I realized how silly it was to be amazed at how sophisticated it seemed and how stupid I was for waiting so long before opening up, before seeking help. And I always knew that I needed help. “You must start sessions with Dr. Maram, and taking these pills,” he said. “You’ll get better,” he added. “So, it’s serious,” I said.
[Flashback: January, 1998. “Can I go to the bathroom?” I asked. “Go ahead,” the teacher replied. The intention was to take a leak, because my bladder was about to explode. What happened was different. “Hi,” I said to the man, a plumber I guess, who was fixing the faucets on the outside wall of the bathroom. And I went in. And I wish I didn’t. I wish I held it in. I wish I had waited till I got home. But I couldn’t, my bladder was so full I couldn’t focus in class.]
“Why didn’t you tell your parents about what happened at school that day?”
“I don’t know. I was afraid.”
“And you kept it to yourself all these years.”
“Yep. I’m a great secret keeper, am I not?” and I laughed.
“Did you feel humiliated?”
“Did you feel weak?”
“Did the guy…”
“No. He couldn’t reach that point, even though I didn’t know that point existed back then.”
“[Laughs], well there’s a good part in everything.”
“Except in a Daughtry album.”
Dr. Maram was a kind woman. We did many sessions together and I honestly liked them very much. They were… liberating. I didn’t believe in psychotherapy before. I thought it was useless, its only purpose being to overcomplicate stuff and give everything a name. My perception changed drastically when I went through one. It’s always about the person you’re facing, and that person can make you feel so comfortable you find yourself saying things you never thought you’d ever say. And at the end of the day, saying these things makes you feel much better. Going through the therapy made me better, but also made me sad about all the people who need this, but don’t do it because it’s “shameful.” I’m a happy person now, thanks to the therapy. I’m more confident than ever. I’m less insecure than ever. I’m happier than ever. Dr. Maram told me that I “withdrew” myself from many things in life because I thought I was different and because I thought I looked different. And that, even if it was partly true, was dramatically over-scripted in my head, because people wanted me to feel this way. And that was absolutely true.
“Hello, I’m Maram,” she said the first time I met her. “Hello,” I said. It was awkward being in such clinics. “Sorry, it’s my first ever psychotherapy session, so I’m not really comfortable,” I added. “It’s OK!” she said, “and since you mentioned it, let me calm you down. I read your file, and the first question I felt like asking is the following,” and then she put the file aside and said:
“Do you masturbate, Ismail?”
Follow me on Twitter, @IsmailSakalaki.