A while back I mentioned a diagram in a comment, and today something came up again in relation to that, reminding me of it once again. I’ve been sitting here with this in draft mode for two hours and haven’t deleted it yet. So maybe, hopefully, tonight is a good night to share this story.
A friend of mine had mentioned a while back an exercise that had to do with sorting large and small stones in a jar. It’s really not the same sort of thing at all, my diagram, but it kind of is. So her story mentioned the large stones were “essentials” and the small stones were “important, but not essential” and then there was sand … the filler.
The diagram it reminded me of—at the time it just kind of flashed into my mind as memories are wont to do (hah, ‘wont to do’ is a Susanism I’ve picked up, because Susan is all sorts of awesome)—was about people.
It was my second or third psychologist, I can’t really rememember that well, but I was living at Katzenheim at the time. Katzenheim is what we affectionally called our shared apartment, we being me and my roommates, of which my sister was one. This was the second Katzenheim, just north of the Ashby BART station, the first being at 32nd and MLK in Oakland. But that’s not important. That’s just me, stalling.
Anyway, given where I was living and which psychologist this was, that had to be pretty early on in my mental health journey, so I’m going to say second psychologist. The number isn’t important, either. I do remember this one clearly. She had an office on Lombard Street across the bay. And she was a doozy.
She may have been a very interesting woman, intelligent, I’m sure, but I did not get along with her. She was always making me take tests or do exercises and such. She also put me on a suicide watch at one point. My roommates asked if that was really necessary. It wasn’t. That was sometime after the diagram and it was the catalyst to make me quit her and find someone new. Something I probably should’ve done before then.
But one of the exercises she had me do (to help me understand myself, I suppose, or maybe just because it was a fad in the psychology world she belonged to at the time) was to make a diagram.
In this diagram, I was in the middle of the page. Well, as a circle, anway. And I could make my circle as big or as small as I wanted. It was the smallest point I could make, a pinpoint barely dark enough to see.
Around me I had to draw other shapes representing the other people in my life. There were two shapes, one for males, one for females. I can’t remember if it was triangles, squares, or circles, for the shapes, but I don’t think that’s relevant. Anyway, I could make these shapes as big or as small as I liked, and as close or as far, depending on how important I thought they were to me or how much influence they had on my life.
In any case, I go through this exercise and make all these shapes for anyone I want. She says I can include my family members, my roommates, my friends, my boss and co-workers, anyone. I finish the diagram and hand it back to her.
We go through it, her pointing at a shape, asking me who it is, having to pull the information out of me. She points out my sister, grandmother, uncle, best friend, roommates, mother, everyone, every symbol I’d drawn on the page. When I finish identifying all the shapes as different people in my life, she asks me a question.
“What about your father? Where is he on this diagram?”
There was no symbol, no shape for him. Not big or small, not far or near, just not there.
I could end the story here, let you come to your own conclusions.
But see, that’s the problem. This psychologist jumped to conclusions about why I hadn’t put down any symbol for my father.
Maybe she had years of education, years of training telling her all the likely reasons, and those reasons may well have all been likely for all I know. But none of them were my reason.
I could have explained it to her, I could have argued with her, but by the end of this session, I had shut down, as I was wont to do.
So, without really digging into it, without bothering to find the truth, she decided for me what my truth was. She was wrong. Being wrong? Not a big deal. Telling me my truth and accepting no alternative? Not okay.
Yes, my father was very important to me. Yes, he had a huge influence on my life. She got that right, at least.
He taught me integrity, he taught me to question authority, he taught me methods of dealing with my nightmares, he taught me to hang onto that inner child and embrace it. He taught me to listen to myself.
He wasn’t perfect, and when we fought, we fought big. Huge big. Latin tempers flared. He disowned me I disowned him big. But that’s okay. He was still important. I still love him.
I hadn’t left him off. His symbol, his shape was there. He was just bigger than the page.