“I just can’t say something good about my weekend because… you know, it’s so hard and lonely and… you know. It’s just that it’s never going to end so-“
I hunch forward in my chair with my elbows on my upper thighs and roll my pen between my hands, up and down, up and down. No one is looking at Yumi. They point their faces anywhere but toward her. She has broken an unspoken protocol by showing her alienation and grief rather than just talking about it.
Yumi sits in the same seat every day: the chair by the door that doesn’t quite fit into the circle format. She brings her tea from home in a thermos and punctuates the morning conversations with loud sipping. I don’t know what her exact issue is. Possibly Anorexia. Probably Major Depressive Disorder. Maybe some kind of domestic violence. Or maybe not. The specifics aren’t clear.
“-and I try! But it doesn’t change. There’s no one to help me……” Yumi trails off into a dirge of tears. I watch her face blossom red with her emotions. No one says anything. No one offers her a tissue.
Counselor One, a small stature man who dresses himself in tweed jackets with elbow patches, speaks in a soft monotone. “Well you made it here, Yumi, you made it here today.”
“Yeah…that’s true,” she says.
“Yes,” he agrees. Heads in the room bobble up and down.
Yes, I nod with the others. Yumi fades back into her chair and the group continues on with the check-in.
Everyone else is usually more subdued with the daily check-in, including myself. In fact, the group sessions tend to be devoid of any real feeling or introspection. How is it that a group of people, brought together by their myriad of mental illnesses, maintain such superficiality? Isn’t this the place to let those emotional demons loose, like Yumi? Maybe they’re all drugged up. Maybe it’s too much effort. Maybe none of us really want to get better.
I stretch my legs out one at a time and shift as quietly as I can in the unforgiving chair. Ron, a six-foot four guy with a mustache and anger issues, is mid-way through his check-in.
“I didn’t blow up. I didn’t say a fucking thing. I tried to count and all that crap, but I still don’t see how you can forgive someone if they don’t apologize.”
Ron won’t ever accept he could be responsible for his own anger. I tune him out. My eyes burn red with the sting of early morning. Two cups of coffee and I still want to close them. Instead I look at each person as they talk. Be engaged, I tell myself, be involved. Compassionate. Understanding.
Sun is speaking. She works at a postal office and as far as I can tell, is going postal. “Work is stressful. All those people from Oakland. They come here, and they are lazy! They make me so mad. They don’t do anything at all. Those people won’t work!” Her face is a stone wall. “So I try to think more nicely. I think: See those people, they are lazy, but they drive all this way- they have two jobs and they have to drive…but no…it’s no good.” She leans back and folds her arms against her chest.
Even Counselor One doesn’t know how to react.
“Okay,” he says.
“Okay,” he repeats.
He nods for the next person to start her check-in: a sweet lady named Irene, who deals with Anxiety and Depression. She recently agreed to Electroconvulsive Therapy to cure her illnesses. Now her memory is fragile. Irene gets through her whole check-in before remembering to tell the group that she is graduating today. The group claps, making a collective attempt at enthusiasm. I wish her well. Later she and I will exchange numbers, but I will never call her.
Frank, the Once Highly Esteemed Professor of Psychology who has Fallen Into Madness, is escorted into the room and steered toward a chair. People actually take a moment to whisper back and forth about him. Frank is crazy and quite brilliant: crazy with brilliance. As Counselor Two lectures Amanda on the benefits of acknowledging one’s propensity toward distorted thinking, Frank becomes belligerent. He demands she give a proper lecture with proper evidence. He overrides her with his own lecture, and defies her to contradict him.
Then he blesses us. “Dios te bendiga! Gesundheit! Doministiku!” This upsets Counselor Two and Frank is escorted away.
“G’day, Madam,” he says to me on his way out.
“And you, sir,” I reply. We tip our mental hats to each other.
Sherry ignores Frank’s antics and has already started her check-in. She tugs her messy hair while speaking. “Then I made a list of my moods and I don’t think the Zoloft is working although I felt more energy than usual- like my daughter wants to see me with more energy. Ha! That would get her outta the house, alright! Yeah- she’s a good kid anyway-but my mood this weekend was low, although Zoloft seems like a good fit with the Lithium.“ Her vigor makes some sigh and fidget in their seats. Gail, another Manic Depressive, peppers Sherry’s rambling with her own one-liners. They laugh like they’ve known each other forever.
A few people start eyeing the clock. I see Yumi cleaning her glasses with her shirt; tears still stain her face. There was one morning where a new guy had burst out crying when he tried to talk. His wiry body shook with each sob. He was right next to me, and my instinct was to hug him. Even then I felt the unspoken rule of the group, so I resisted.
Phil nudges me with his foot. It’s my turn. My hands start shaking. I shove them under my legs. The counselors gaze at me; their faces offer encouragement. I grit my teeth. Smile. Show them nothing.