“I think it’s cancer, I really do. What else could it be? Oh, what will the kids do? What about Mike? This is terrible. I can’t imagine going through chemo, and how sick I’ll be! Oh, and—”
“Honey. I’m looking at your arm right now, and you know what I see? A spider bite. You don’t have cancer, you’re not dying—what a surprise—and ain’t nothing going to happen to those kids and husband of yours. You’re fine.”
“Oh, I can’t imagine that to be the case. Yes, that’s quite impossible. I’m telling you, I’ve been having symptoms! Nausea, hot sweats, occasional memory lapses—”
Jeremy broke in. “You’re what? Forty-five? Did you ever think you might be having menopause?”
“No, I’m quite sure it’s cancer. Quite sure.”
Sandra, the forty-five year-old hypochondriac, sat in her chair staring down at her arm. Terry looked smug as always, shrouded in hip-hugging jeans and her New York tough attitude. The rest all sat, impatient with Sandra, waiting for the meeting to continue in some more enlightening direction. I realized I’d better get talking fast before Sandra decided she’d somehow contracted heart disease while we were sitting here.
“Well, Sara, what about you? Has anything new happened since we met last week?” A chunk of Sara’s mousy hair fell over her eye, and she bowed her head and ducked behind it. Sara’s quiet demeanor never ceased to unnerve me—as a professional ppsychologist, it’s difficult when you come across a case that you know needs broken, but you just can’t break it. It makes you question whether you’re good at what you do, or just a fraud who’s gotten lucky with a couple of people.
“No,” she answered back. Her voice was so high and quiet, I had to strain to hear her. But I had known what she would say before she said, so I wasn’t in much doubt despite the volume.
“Nothing at all? You sure?” Sara shook her head vigorously in that way people do that makes you know they’re not being truthful with you. But I make it a rule in group thereapy never to push anyone to talk if they aren’t ready to, so I moved on.
“Jeremy? What have you been up to this week?” I’d placed Sara in this group expressly because of Jeremy, to tell you the truth. I had a feeling that if anyone could get her to open up it was him. He’d been through just about everything in the book: abused as a child, drug addict as an adolescent, in combination with depression, a brief struggle with sexual orientation, a hint of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (nicely controlled by medication at the moment) and now his biggest problems were women and alcohol. Yet he was a shining testament to the power of comprehensive therapeutic treatment. Overall, Jeremy was doing well and improving consistently, and he was an excellent member of group. He always knew how to make light of a situation—a remarkable gift for a man so riddled with troubles himself.
“Well, you know Sharon, this and that, that and this.” His eyes sparkled as a smile crept over his face, and I had to laugh. I knew that smile. Jeremy alwas grinned like that when his week had been filled with a little of this and a little of that—usually meaning a good deal of trouble. “But I was good, Doc, I only drank a couple of times, and the girl is someone I might actually consider seeing again.” I had seen Jeremy at much lower points in life, so I decided to glaze over this minor indisgression.
“Does anybody have anything they want to address this week? I have some exercises we could do, but I don’t want anyone to think there’s not time to talk about something they planned on discussing.”
“Well,” said Sandra, “I’ve been worrying a lot lately that the world was going to end, and that—”
“What, that aliens are going to come down and laser us into oblivion? That Jurassic Park’s gonna come true and the dinosaurs are going to come and eat us all alive? Come on, man, “Terry taunted, “it just isn’t worth worrying over. You need to chill out, Sandy.” Sandra hated to be called Sandy. Her face seethed red with embarrassment and a hint of anger. I made a note on my chart that Sandra’s paranoia was intensifying and made a mental note that I needed to talk to Terry about the rule about not judging others in the group. I also noted that, though I hated to do it, I might need to move Terry or Sandra out of this group. Sandra’s illness was turning into something Terry could not be patient with, and the tension this caused was good for neither of them.
Sandra muttered, the red slowly seeping out of her cheeks, “You can take the girl out of New York, but you can’t take New York out of the girl.”
“Damn it, I still live in New York half of every week! And you’d better not be sayin’ anything about it. You think you can just go around shooting your mouth—” Did I mention that Terry’s problem is rage? The only sector of her life that her deep-seeded anger doesn’t infiltrate is the other aspect we’re trying to work on—Terry’s boyfriend abuses her. It would seem that she’s attracted by his rage; she sees it as something they have in common…
Thankfully, Jeremy broke in for me, allowing me to remain neutral for the moment. “Terry, just let her go. She’s obviously not doing well. Sandra, I remember when my OCD was active. One time I was walking down the street past an office building and felt a drop of something wet fall on arm. It was probably a bit of water, but I got it in my head that it was someone’s spit, and that someone probably had AIDS. It was illogical, but I believed it and it worried me. I spent the next two hours knocking on every door in that office building to see if anyone had spit out the window. Anyway, that doesn’t happen to me anymore. Since the medicine’s kicked in, I’ve been just fine. I don’t worry about those things. And you just started on your medicine, isn’t that right? Have you been taking it?” Sandra nodded. “I believe, even though what you have is a little different that what was happening to me, that the medicine will help you, too…”
Jeremy continued to talk, and Sandra and he discssed some concerns she had about the meds and other things about Jeremy’s experiences. Meanwhile, I looked up and caught the eye of the final member of my group—Carl. Carl, like Sara, was very quiet, but more so tonight than ever. Unlike Sara, he was not so troubling; his quietness did not disturb me, or cause me worry. Its mystery enthralled me, it was alluring even, but I tried to quell such thoughts. Tonight Carl did look distressed though; his tan face was distorted in a mild grimace. He had started therapy because he suffered from depression, discovered when he tried to overdose on aspirin. I could have my license revoked for my crush on him. I calmed my hormones and forced the psychologist in me to kick in. “Carl, is something wrong? If there’s something you need to talk about, please go ahead?”
He frowned for a moment then began to speak. “My sister’s dying. She was diagnosed with progressive heart failure yesterday. She’d been having chest pains. She’s only 36—a few years older than I am.”
The room sat speechless, sad at Carl’s