Happy

I was standing in line at one of my favorite coffee houses, a place with wood everywhere and antiques for sale, and I was thinking, I want a blueberry scone. I asked myself: Would that make you happy? (The answer was supposed to be No, I don't need all that butter.) And I thought, I am happy. I feel good. I was sort of excited and scared to think about getting my hair cut. I felt a sense of contentment. It was hot, and crowded, but there was no jostling. It was the city's fourth day of early spring, and I'd seen daffodil buds outside Fancy Hospital an hour before. I was anticipating the coldness of my iced latte.

Fancy Hospital is near WRU (Well-Regarded University), and I'd gone there after my appointments to print out some student papers. The computer room was closed down, so someone showed me to a computer with printer attached. I printed out two student papers while I was looking out the window at the lake. I checked my e-mail messages, and found one from a friend who'd just heard about my cancer. She said, It must be scary and terrible. But it didn't feel that way. I was drain free! (See previous entry.) I felt happy in my hot pink long-sleeved t-shirt with L's blue work shirt over it, with my Cancer Sucks button over the left pocket.

I knew at least one reason I was happy was that I had all my medication. I'd been out of Cymbalta for a couple of days last week, and it showed. From age 16 on I was in therapy (because I wanted to be) , and the therapist and I--or the group, the therapist, and I--would try to analyze my emotions and change them. Or analyze my thoughts and change them. Or dig deep into my feelings and the family dynamic to find IT, the Reason. Over the years I've tried affirmations, feeling dumb while doing so, and they didn't work. In the gift basket my students gave me last week was a book of linked stories by Margaret Atwood. In one of them the narrator talks about her sensitive weepy, unhappy, suicidal sister, and how finally everything changed--when she took a pill. Snap! That was it.

It is like that. I think of all the years I spent analyzing anxiety--which the pills later dissolved. Years. Years. I was at the point of not returning calls because I was crying all the time. I lost a friend for about a decade because of that. And then, Prozac. I found him again, in Wisconsin. (And after Prozac, I stayed in therapy another ten year.)

We are so influenced by Freud, who in turn was influenced by his society, of course. The question my best professor used to ask about every phenomenon was, What question is this the answer to? What question was Freud the answer to? I think Freud was the answer to the question, How can Enlightenment principles be applied to solving emotional problems? For Freud, it was easy: The patient suffered X because she suppressed an unconscious desire to do Y. You get them to talk long enough, and they'll figure that out. Narratives that illustrated the trajectory of these desires had already been mapped out by the ancients. Interestingly, Freud turned to the Greeks and not the Hebrews; he didn't give us the Solomon or Ruth complex.

Your parents wanted a boy, a therapist with a New York accent and beard concluded when I was in my 20s. That's why I was anxious. But my parents wanted girls. They wouldn't have known how to deal with boys. But still.

Freud would ferret out the offending belief or repressed urge, bring it into the light, and poof! he would ease the person into "ordinary unhappiness." If that person was a female, he would urge her to accept the acceptable role of the bourgeois female. Second-wave feminists criticized pyschoanalysis for this, as well as for the idea that the vaginal orgasm was the only real, mature kind. Many years ago I read a well-known and sort of silly biography-as-novel of Freud' & Breuer's Anna O. I couldn't figure out why the author let herself be photographed wearing what appeared to be thick mascara or false eyelashes, and (if I remember correctly) pearls. Then I got it: She was showing us that although she had succeeded in the male world by producing a creative and intellectual object, she had managed to keep a tight hold on her femininity.

I was thinking about all this as I sat upstairs, next to an open window, at the coffee house. I had finished grading the papers and eating my blueberry buttermilk scone. Last summer I got involved in a conversation about Freud, in that very room, and in so doing met a rabbinical student who'd gone to school (it turned out later) with a student of mine. The room has red walls, a bookcase with old books, a pink velvet sofa and a fireplace with a carved mantel. We were married there in our 15-minute ceremony three years ago. When people see the wedding photos, they think we were in the rabbi's study. At about 6:30 tonight L met up with me there. He was self-castigatory because he'd lost his cell phone. I called his phone and a very nice guy named Carl answered, and then we jumped up to go meet him and retrieve it.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

I've been away from my computer since Saturday and really missed your blog. Just got caught up. I only wish that I could have been reading stuff like your words when I was going through my own family cancer crisis. You can't do this stuff on your own.

I used the cancer card to get out of a speeding ticket and library fines.

jzbrapp said...

You'are so right about the pills. I haven't been able to write for 2 years. Started a new pill on Thursday, started writing nonstop on Friday, still going strong. I think Freud'[s been replaced by DuPont.

Carolyn said...

But what question is Prozac the answer to?

Barb said...

Maybe some of us benefit from both the Zoloft or whatever forever, and the talk-therapy for a while.

Anonymous said...

I feel bad being away from Chicago. I am experienced in being with people I love who have cancer. I would make you laugh. Or at least make myself laugh.

It seems to me that this is one of the best uses of a blog, keeping informed the people who love us. I can hear your voice. Not just the writer's voice. It's because I have always liked your writing. It's also because I feel I am in the room with you and you are talking and, the best part (for you), I don't get to interrupt.

So this is me interrupting. I ate a Starbucks scone every weekday for four years. And a tall coffee. Three dollars and 43 cents, every day, and I'd leave the change. So I spent at least $4,000 on Starbucks coffee and scones, and I say "at least," because sometimes I was there twice in a day. But the good news is that I don't have cancer or at least I am not experiencing its syptoms (I read that almost everyone who is autopsied after age 80 has visible cancer that's been growing for decades.).

So I say a scone a day keeps the cancer away. I am living proof. Don

Maggie said...

Hannah Decker has a feminist and sympathetic reading of Freud in her book, Freud, Dora and Vienna 1900. She puts Freud and his patient in cultural context and really brings the time and place to life. You can update and revise Freud (and many do) without throwing him out.

Old Fogey said...

Remember the email I sent about the three humans and five cats who were present for a dramatic reading of the story about Big Ruthie?

The same group was assembled last week and we read "Happy."

V from the train said...

Yeah, the pills, the therapy, yoga and meditation, sunshine and exercise... Reading your blog I thought that if only I could write like you, think like you, if only I could get it all out of my system I would surely overcome depression. So now you are saying it doesn't work like that?!

Cancer Bitch said...

No, it doesn't, dear V.