‘Maybe You Should Talk To Someone,’ Lori Gottlieb
I am a faithful infidel. In my relationship with books, that is. At any point in time, there are at least 4-5 books in various stages of reading. Some are left behind on the way, to be forgotten completely. Others are picked up depending on the time of the day and the level of lucidity or exhaustion of the mind, as the case maybe. Interesting fiction gathers pace while engrossing non fiction is taken one or two chapters a day. The list on my e-reader keeps expanding almost daily. And half of them recede into a place so far down that sometimes it is lost for ever. However, some others are dragged back to the top as another list appears and the said book have to be read, just then.
So it was with this one. Downloaded some time ago, picked up for reading after an appearance somewhere in December. One chapter at a time, over a couple of months.
The premise was interesting enough, a psychotherapist, four patients of hers, and her therapist. I didn’t have any expectations, honestly. Maybe because I was not sure what to expect. Lori Gottlieb is an American writer and psychotherapist who writes the Dear Therapist in The Atlantic, said Wikipedia. Whatever, I was ready to take a chance.
Her patients – a self absorbed Hollywood producer, a thirty five old, recently married terminally ill woman, an almost seventy year old who is planning to kill herself if something really good did not happen to her soon enough, and a twenty something girl who flits from one relationship to another. Then catastrophe strikes the therapist. Her boyfriend who she was planning to get married to, drops a bombshell that he wants to opt out. The reason? He doesn’t think he can bring up another kid, that too someone as young as the author’s son. Her whole world comes crashing down and her search for healing brings her to another therapist’s couch, that of the inimitable Wendell. Of course, it’s a pseudo name. But that’s besides the point.
Reading through the first few chapters was like browsing through some magazine articles at random. The author was slowly building the confidence of her patients in her, while she herself was struggling to face her issues. Under the age old guise of finding a therapist ‘for a friend,’ she lands up on Wendell’s couch. Literally and of course figuratively. She is no different from her patients, talking about everything under the sun except what needed to be talked about.
Slowly, each story grows on you. What seems obvious are not the real issues. The roots of each case go deep, planted long ago, watered by others and nourished by themselves. The insecurities, deep rooted fears and in almost all cases, the never ending guilt that makes them stop on their tracks, stunting their emotional growth and affecting their relationships.
Even in the Western world where you can find more therapists than pediatricians, it is still a stigma. One of Lori’s patients even pays her in cash, not to leave any trails. Going to therapy is equated with being crazy, having a mental illness, that needs ‘treatment.’ Lori’s stories bring out how therapy is much more than that, how it is more about emotional growth, crossing the deep chasm of guilt, taking responsibility for our selves even when we might be scared to death.
The meaning of the book took a turn for better for me somewhere midway when the author quoted Viktor Frankl. Something that I keep reminding myself from time to time, to live by. If you haven’t yet, read his ‘A Man’s Search for Meaning.’ It will stay with you, for life.
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances.”
As the author starts confronting her demons, there is a marked change in her patient’s lives too. Slow, but sure. Yes, a young woman is inching closer to death, however in acceptance and thankful for the short and happy life she has had. With an obituary that could be the aim of all our lives,
“For every single day of her thirty-five years,” she wanted it to read, “Julie Callahan Blue was loved.”
The producer finds acceptance about a catastrophe that has turned his life upside down, the guilt laden old woman reaches out to the dear ones whom she had hurt deeply, the young woman learns to stand her ground in relationships and her smoking habit too. It’s miraculous how their attitudes and their lives itself change once acceptance is made.
“At some point, being a fulfilled adult means taking responsibility for the course of your own life and accepting the fact that now you’re in charge of your choices.”
As Lori and her patients cross their hurdles something unwinds in us too. So much dust and cobwebs swept under the carpet that our minds are. And the carpet growing mustier and thicker as years go by. How our behaviors are shaped by unresolved happenings and thoughts. How guilt overpowers us. That the uncertainties, the questions, the doubts, the angst is all necessary before we take that leap of faith.
“Sometimes you have to take a leap of faith and experience something before its meaning becomes apparent.”
So, here I am. Ready to leap.
Maybe I will find my own Wendell. And maybe I will talk to her.