Monday, 10 June 2013

Technical Drowning by Maria Kyle

Read by Sin Gwamanda

Everybody in this world provides a service of some kind. That much is self-evident. And service provision is a simple matter of supply and demand: the rarer something is, the more you pay for it, and vice-versa. It’s the same with shrinks. Maybe I shouldn’t be saying this, and maybe it’s an open secret, but it’s been obvious to me for a while that though only a few people really need us, damn near everybody above a certain wage bracket feels like they ought to have one. They want a psychiatrist on call, on tap, on speed-dial, on their Christmas-card list, on their health insurance – just on, basically. Available in case of emergencies. There to soothe the worries away, to siphon off the bile so they don’t get caught bitching to their colleague or have a panic attack in a board meeting and wave bye-bye to promotion. They want a welcoming voice, a forgiving heart, a listening ear; someone who will never reject them.

As a shrink, I’m in demand, and believe me I charge a lot, because I’m the only one of me. The only one who can - who will - do what I do. Unconventional? Sure. Unprofessional? I’ll see you in court. But effective? Oh yes …



My rococo approach, my unique technique, is simple, and therefore beautiful, and therefore true, and therefore right. It’s called Stop Wasting My Fucking Time. Well, that’s what I call it. To my patients and the eager, desperate, hopeless millions who buy my self-help books, it’s known as the Purposeful Impatience Paradigm – PIP for short.

What it means in practice is that instead of letting my patients drone on self-indulgently about whatever enters their cluttered heads, I take action. I don't just sit and nod and note: I make judgements. I take responsibility. I ask questions and I give them answers – which is all, frankly, most people want: something to do and someone to tell them to do it. And of course someone to point the finger at if it all goes wrong, but I get them to sign a watertight waiver beforehand, naturally, so they usually end up blaming their mothers as per usual. Therapy can be dangerous, but not if you have a good lawyer.

So when other shrinks get cases they can’t crack in the usual way – i.e. by nodding and listening and prescribing a couple of maracas’ worth of Prozac – they hand off their troublesome clients to me. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen that movie Nikita? Victor the Cleaner? That’s me, with depressives, obsessives, neurotics, psychotics, manics and every other flavour of crazy. The other shrinks are a little scared of me, I think. Scared of my power over the minds of these hopeless cases. As if they couldn’t do the exact same thing themselves; as if anyone couldn’t, if they only had the balls.

OK, enough foreplay. Onto my new patient, Lt. Col. Jeremy Holz, formerly of the U.S. Navy. On semi-permanent sick-leave since Guantanamo. Hallucinations, bed-wetting, night-sweats, hydrophobia. Prize for the best guess why.

I keep him standing in front of my desk, at-ease like a high-tension cable, drawn and wasted. Poor fucked-up bastard can barely stand, he’s so wiped out. I take all this in at a glance, then drop my eyes to his case notes, letting the silence spread like a pool of piss. Military types respond well to disdain and contempt. Which is lucky, because that’s all I got for this one. When East, whether Near, Middle or Far, meets West in any context, East usually gets fucked and people get hurt. Look at Vietnam: first the French had their fun back when it was Indochina, then America weighed in. OK, that was hardly a shining victory, but that's a rare example of the West biting off too big a mouthful: otherwise it's chomp, chomp, stomp stomp all the way, and this particular asshole was part of the problem.

“So, Jeremy,” I ask him at last, in a voice from the back of the chiller cabinet, “why are you here?”

“Guess I got some issues,” he says in a barely-there mutter.

“That you have,” I agree dryly. “A whole slew of ‘em.”

“Dr. Mason said you could help me,” he adds, staring at the rug.

“I can help you if you’re honest with me,” I say. It comes out sounding more threat than promise, which is fine by me.

At this he glances up and, for a shaving of a second, into my eyes.

“Anything,” he says.

It takes three sessions for him to admit that he was involved in a spot of waterboarding way back when on that notorious island, and that that’s what his hitherto unspecified screaming nightmares were about. I guessed this straight off, naturally, as any half-intelligent person would, but there’s always a certain catharsis in getting a patient to admit what he knows you already know. It’s all about taking responsibility – and then, of course, abdicating it to me. Guilt and shame: you gotta love ‘em. 

He’s crying as he tells me about it. The good thing about where the shrink traditionally sits during a consultation – that is, at the head of the couch, just behind and to the left of the babbling patient – is that you can see them but they can’t see you. Specifically, they can’t see what you’re writing. Or in my case, doodling. Or in this precise case, checking off a pre-prepared list: the final part of Jeremy's treatment, one I compiled earlier. 

There’s a bunch of horrible detail; nothing I haven’t heard before. Threats. Insults. Abuse. Imprisonment. Lies. Beatings. Torture. Confessions. That about covers it. Oh, and guilt, guilt, guilt, of course, about following orders, and personal conscience, and man’s damned inhumanity to man. Keep making excuses, asshole.

The one interesting detail Jeremy comes up with is that waterboarding, although not technically drowning, has the effect on the victim of making him feel like he is. Psychologically, I can see the elegance and neatness of such a technique. After all, I practice something similar: when I tell a patient to do something, they are not technically orders, but they always feel as though they must obey. I’ve forgotten more about the abuse of authority, and the power of a metaphorical white coat, than Milgram or Zimbardo ever knew.

Jeremy describes the process to me in broken, sobbing sentences, while I tick, tick, tick. A board. Shackles or ropes. A man, face up. A gallon or two of water. And later, a rag in the mouth. Then cling film over the face. Apparently, CIA officers who have subjected themselves to this technique have lasted an average of 14 seconds before caving in. I never knew that. I tick off the last item, stand up and stretch my tendons. Time to save another soul. Let’s see how long Jeremy lasts.

I know he won’t object; he’s so rotted with guilt that he’s just begging me to punish him. I jiggle the key to my private therapy room in anticipation of one more miracle cure, one more grateful client.

What can I say? It works. You should see what I do to the rapists.

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