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“What is your depression like?  We’ve never discussed that,” asks my newer counselor at the not-free free clinic. They are post-graduate level interns, which hasn’t done wonders for me in the 2 years I’ve gone there.  At least they know that depression accompanies chronic illness like a fever accompanies the flu.

“It’s like a dark cloud over my head and everything goes black—the light at the end of the tunnel went out years ago,” I reply. “Then,” I say, “I go to the past—before I got sick—when my life was good.”

I get a stare.

“What about the future?” my counselor asks.

“I never go to the future anymore—it’s too scary.  The future means more illness, more pain, more medical bills, maybe living in my car next month,” I answer matter-of-factly.

My counselor says, “Most people are stuck in the past and the future.”

“Not me,” I reply back. “I just go to the past and I’m stuck with the present, but I never go to the future.”

“The past is just an illusion—it doesn’t exist,” states my counselor.  It feels like I have been socked in the face.

“WHAT?” I reply, and give a thousand examples proving otherwise.  My counselor’s explanations make no sense while my brain goes through those thousand memories like still photographs in my mind.

I’m supposed to appreciate small things in the present.  I already gave the example of my cat weeks ago.  My eyes wander in the small room and then to the bushy, palm tree blowing against the window that I can see fairly well.

“I like that palm tree,” I tell my counselor. “Those trees have the fronds that look like a fan.  You need the fan-shaped fronds to build a palapa—those thatch roofs made of palm fronds in México.  I had one built and they had to go high up in the jungle to get to those trees.”

“You found something simple that gives you joy,” responds my counselor.

“It makes me happy because it takes me back to a better place—a time in my past,” I reply back.

I leave the appointment with my head swirling.  Did I have anything left?  Where was my past if it was just an illusion?

I came back to the motel and Google spied on an ex from over 15 years ago who I’d been trying to find forever—and finally did.  A little trip down memory lane.  Then, I was even more depressed that the only Jewish guy I ever dated—even if he was so neurotic that I dumped him—hadn’t turned back into the Super Size American he was before I met him at 22 and that he was married and actually had his good hair still. His face had aged and I really didn’t recognize him very well, although I have a photo of him somewhere from the brief time we dated so long ago.  Was the past an illusion, after all?  He wasn’t the same.  How different do I look?  At least his wife was a hot mess—he used to tell me I looked like a supermodel, minus the height thing.  Then, I had my usual meltdown.  So much for memory lane.

So, today I Googled this concept that makes no sense in my mind: the past is just an illusion.  An illusion is a rabbit in a magician’s hat.  I figured this is what I get for going to the not-free free clinic.  It’s actually physics it appears.  I underestimated my counselor.  Albert Einstein first described it in his theory of relativity.  Stephen Hawking and all the big physicists follow the theory that all time is an illusion: the past, the present, and the future.  Einstein said, “The distinction between the past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.”  For those science-types who would like to learn more, you can read this boring article.

I don’t have any interest in the theory of relativity.  It’s not going to give me my life back, which is all I really care about anymore, aside from my 3-legged cat.  I hate physics and I never even studied it.  Physics is that weird uncertainty principle on that huge blackboard in A Serious Man that Larry, the physics professor, dreams about—as seen in this clip. Throughout the movie, he always asks, “Why?” and never gets an answer.  It’s a Jewish thing—this need to know why all the time.  Maybe I would have done well in physics.  I was only one of two students in my class to pass logic in college and with a 4.0.  My friends watched as I wrote 20-something page solutions and were convinced I could crack codes for the government.

Maybe physics is logical, but it seems abstract—like why I can’t see anything due to keratoconus despite my good visual acuity per the eye chart.

“High order aberrations,” said my dry eye doctor when I decided to ask him 2 weeks ago due to my inept corneal specialist. “It’s physics.  Let me give you an example.”

He mentioned waves and I was already lost.  I even took oceanography.  He drew side views of misshapen corneas like mine, which I’ve seen and I understand.  I’m a visual learner. Aberrations are refractive problems, which leads to less-than-perfect vision.  In my case, light isn’t refracted correctly due to my Rocky Mountain-shaped corneas, or one of them after cross-linking.  This creates a high order aberration, or more specifically, a vertical coma.  Due to keratoconus, I also have nearsightedness and farsightedness, which are low order aberrations.  It’s all just physics.

“Why can I read 20/40 then?” I implored.  Actually, I read 20/70 that day, but the DMV doesn’t need to know that, or that I drive in two lanes.

“Well,” said the good doctor, “The exam is under optimal conditions—it doesn’t represent how you see in real life.”

Finally, an answer to my why.  My distorted vision isn’t an illusion—or is it?  My brain remembers that there is only one moon, not the several moons that I now see in the night sky. Maybe my entire life has become an illusion.

This is what I know.  I am who I am because of my past.  The good memories gave me life and the bad memories made me a survivor in every sense of the word.  Some events from years ago are so clear they play like a video in my mind. Certain smells can transport me in time or bring people back from the dead.  The simplest things can trigger a memory from my past. They are as real to me as the present moment. No illusions and no smoke and mirrors.  The past is so tangible to me—it is alive for as long as I remember it.

I remember when my father was a dad.  I remember when I was a roller skating queen.  I remember when I had acquaintances and best friends and boyfriends.  I remember when I fell head over heels in love.  I remember when I went out on the weekends—every weekend.  I remember when I drank too much and I don’t care.  I remember when I had fun and laughed all the time.  I remember when I spent the whole afternoon at the mall.  I remember when I sat for hours people-watching.  I remember when I was in college.  I remember when I had old apartments in Seattle that I loved to decorate.  I remember when I was a good cook and could eat almost anything.  I remember when I read books and sipped soy lattes on the weekends in coffee shops in rainy Seattle.  I remember when those who are now gone were alive.  I remember when I enjoyed the present, but lived for the future.  I remember when I was an expat in México.  I remember when I had a life.

And I remember that every Sunday in my early 20s, when my business was closed like nearly every other in the pueblo, my stray dog and I walked to the puesto de cocos—the coconut stand—and I would buy un coco and the vendor would hack the top off with a machete, give me a straw, and my dog and I would walk to the sandy beach on the warm Pacific Ocean and I’d drink the water from my coco and talk to my friends while my dog ran free and life was as picture-perfect as a postcard.

This was real.  I lived it.  I can’t go back, but I can re-live it in my mind and I am someone again—someone who was healthy and pain-free and not visually impaired and didn’t stay in a motel and lived life to the fullest and could be anything I dreamed of.  That is where I go when the sky becomes black and the light at the end of the tunnel is still gone and there is nowhere else to go because the present is a nightmare I can’t wake up from and the future is a slow and painful death.

Physics answers the big mysteries of the universe and explains why planes don’t usually fall out of the sky.  It doesn’t delve into the human experience and try to make sense out of the nonsensical.  Isn’t that what counselors are for?

By the way, according to the theory of relativity, everything you just read is an illusion—it’s in the past now.

The MarineI dedicate this post to the memory of my beloved, paternal grandfather, whose yahrzeit—the anniversary of one’s death in the Hebrew calendar—falls today.  I lit a candle, said Kaddish, and made a small donation at sunset, when everything begins. This is what we do.  My grandfather was larger than life, the strongest man I ever knew, a traveler of the world, and as seen here, a self-enlisting Marine in WWII who fought in Okinawa and survived.  He died the year I got sick, but the smell of rye bread brings him back in an instant.

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  1. What an amazingly written and beautiful post! Very touching and soothing at the same time.

    So according to the theory, it doesn’t matter anymore whether we live in the past, present, or future. I like that.

    My uncle lost his hearing from meningitis when he was twelve. The last time he was at my house, he looked at the steaming kettle and said “Oh how I loved that woooooooo – beautiful!” Then he added “I remember”.

    • Hi Sheep!

      Thanks for your thoughts and compliments, as always (and the like!). I really have no idea how I brought all these tangents together! According to the theory, which would make much more sense to you with your science brain, we don’t seem to live anywhere because there is no past, present, or future. There is also some debate over the theory that time is always moving forward. Does all of this get me out of more Dr. appointments tomorrow (no future and time is possibly moving backwards?). So nonsensical to me! If there is no past (it’s an illusion per Einstein), then how could there be such thing as a memory–as your uncle pointed out? That’s a great example. Well, that was my big issue with this, too. According to my counselor, I just live in La-La Fantasy Land or something as the past is just an illusion. I will be DISCUSSING that with my counselor this week as I’ve been very pissed-off about the whole thing, not to mention I really get zero help from going there. I’m supposed to be mediating now–no thanks! Tried that 11 yrs ago and just makes me focus on my pain more. They just don’t get it! Argh! Fyi, be careful tagging anything as mental health, etc. as there is a scammer Dr. (probably not one) who will hit up your blog and then try to sell his online counseling scam via your e-mail address. I’m about to think of something very creative for all the scammers I’ve been getting lately.

      A 🙂 (really need a disgusted face right now–lol!)

  2. dyspatient says:

    I love your post., And I think your counselor sounds like a boob. A statement like that. It’s just silly. Sounds like someone wanted to sound very mysterious and deep. What it comes down to is invalidating another aspect of your experience, which is really not what you need.

    • Thanks for the compliment, D! A boob–haha! I need to use that word! Yeah, that comment was so weird and I just don’t think it was appropriate for someone who has nothing but the past–totally invalidating (I don’t believe the normies should live in the past or anything). Well, I’ve had this week’s appt. and after a tense hour of trying to sort this mess out and seeing if there is any hope, it turns out my counselor found me to be volatile/aggressive (?), but now we will be actually having discourse (they were “walking on eggshells” before). I’m so confused! I am very assertive and am aggressive if provoked, but don’t recall ever acting that way in our sessions as I normally am just babbling and talking to a wall as they don’t give any feedback (yawn), which I would like if it makes sense. Weird? I’m just hoping we can get down to business now and this theory won’t be brought up again!

      Oddest thing is I had to see the dry eye doc again the same day–reminded me of this post!
      A 🙂

      • dyspatient says:

        Oh my god, clutch the pearls, and stop the presses. A person with a chronic, life eroding, long time “mystery” illness comes across as violatile when dealing with a health care provider who is invalidating!? What did they think was going to happen? (much eye rolling and exasperated tsking here because I get this too.)

        I need to find a new therapist (change of insurance totally destroyed my health care network) and I’ve been thinking alot about how to discuss myself and my goals (for therapy) with whoever I try out and eventually end up seeing. But reading over this makes me realize that I should probably also be asking them about their narrative of an emotionally “healthy” sick person.

      • Oh, I so love what you said! You have such a great way with words. Good stuff! I was really thrown by the volatile client comment, too. I’m trying to keep this person gender-neutral as I mentioned (hitting myself) that I have a blog–mainly b/c they all tell me I need to find something I can do. So, the counselor felt I got mad (I probably got some energy) after a question I didn’t like so they put me in the volatile box shortly after we met, which means they have to walk on eggshells around me. Who agrees with everything? You have to question things, dissect them, and so on. The sessions have all been about the same: I babble forever about how much I hate this city, my doctors, my life, etc. (basic kvetching–not what I want to do) and the counselor just sits there like a blank slate–they are close enough for me to see their face. I’m really lost as we don’t have any discourse, so how can I come across as volatile unless I’m saying really crazy stuff, which I’m not. I do think the more they just sat there in silence, the more irritated I got b/c I do have to drive there (scary) and pay a small fee for the session and then I’m isolated already! Then, I went to the session this week with the intention to say what I was feeling (I was using the “I feel…” words) and it was like they couldn’t handle the criticism (don’t really like that word) and then turned it around on me. OK, that’s it I think. I felt like I was in a fight where we were each trying to prove our point or something stupid. Aren’t they trained to deal with confrontation and a client saying, “This isn’t working for me.” They were just so flustered and said that I came in all pissed off, but I’d had the conversation playing in my mind for a week! That’s what made me feel like I wasn’t even sitting with a counselor!

        I really don’t think most counselors know what to do with the chronically ill, and like MDs, they won’t admit that. Then you get all sorts of weird crap like this story. The good ones are the $200/session therapists I presume. Otherwise, you’re just screwed. Please do learn from my story. I really am hoping this was some breakthrough this week, but why do I need that or any of this? Btw, I’ve never been asked about my goals–they write that out, not that anyone has had any follow-through over there! So hoping things will change… Long reply. Good luck on your search–hope you don’t have to post on it!

  3. dyspatient says:

    They sit there and don’t say anything? Ugh. I had some bad therapy like that once. Someone my ex husband had gotten a referral for. I guess that’s one approach, but it’s not one that works for me. I have the same sort of reaction as you.

    • Thanks for your take on this–seriously. I keep replaying it all in my head as I have nowhere else to go and there is really no mental health services there now, so stuck. Yes, it’s either the blank wall in front of me or something I say that sets my counselor off and I swear to you they bring their crap into the session at that point–like I touch on something they are sensitive about. Wtf? I don’t do well with the former, either. I need to talk and get feedback (the right kind). I really just want Iyanla to fix my life. Haha. I love that show. What if I could get on there and then you guys would know who I am (and my crazy family)!

      Maybe I should just join the meth heads on the top floor so I can see the good counselors there and go to the groups and have junkie friends. You’d die in the waiting room as in the afternoon, it’s almost all court-appointed people and as the place is in my neighborhood, it’s nice and ghetto. 🙂

      • dyspatient says:

        I feel like substance abuse is the diabetes of mental health. If you have that, well let me tell you, there are therapists and counselors a’plenty! That sounds strange, but I hope you know what I mean. I have a family member who is trying to stay clean, I know that there is often more that goes into substance use than just chemical dependency (i.e. what lead you to that chemical in the first place, what long term use does to your relationship, social, and coping skills) but I guess what I mean is that if you’re looking for a therapist or counselor who does something that is NOT substance related, it’s like trying to find a needle in a haystack. And you get all these jerks along the way who, I don’t know, maybe are upset that they don’t have a “junkie” in front of them who they can feel superior to. When confronted with an articulately despondent person for whom a significant element of their “issues” is they aren’t ok with curling up and checking out (via substances, e.g.), these counselors are stymied, taxed, and pissy. They probably suck with the substance patients too, but I suspect it’s easier for them to hide their incompetence in that setting because any time they are feeling threatened by their own staggering lack of usefulness, they can always just blame it on the substance user being oh you know, erratic and weak and all those things we drop on substance users. Not so easy to do if the person in front of them is someone who didn’t choose the thing that is destroying their life.

      • I totally agree. We should be rewarded for not drinking or drugging ourselves into a stupor! I have a family member who is a recovering addict too, and they started counseling again (for the root cause) and it sounds w-a-y better (and a low-cost clinic). Sort of contradicted you there! I mean there are just more resources for that group. I really do get pissed off when I’m in that waiting room and it’s all those court-appointed guys (have seen women’s groups in the past) and I feel like they get treated better! They could be the DV guys–who knows as I can’t see anyone? I think they’re more weed smokers and alcoholics (smells like booze in there) so they don’t look like major junkies if I’m close enough to see them. Those are the people wandering the neighborhood.

        I think that since I deal with interns, they don’t have enough mental health hours yet and just go into substance abuse mode or something, like what you were referring to. Then, to sound like an elitist, I don’t exactly fit in there if you feel me. So, the counselors aren’t used to an intelligent person at my clinic to put it bluntly. It’s like thug city in there. The odd thing is the current counselor (haven’t seen that long) was hired to work with the HIV+ crowd and then the grant changed and changed again, which is why they had to make an exception to the rule to keep me AGAIN (mental health funding keeps shriveling up)! So, if you can work with those who are HIV+ (supposedly), what’s the difference? Life changing disease in the end. Going in circles…

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