What, then, is this?

Other people’s words about … therapy

Sometimes I wonder why I come here [to see my psychoanalyst] when the coming is so iterative, so forced. Having to come here sometimes feels like the biggest problem I have. I feel like a lonely man visiting a brothel, the money changing hands, paying for understanding as some people pay for love. And just as that is not love, so this cannot be understanding. What, then, is it?

from ‘Aftermath
by Rachel Cusk

As I’ve mentioned here before, I spent several years in and out of therapy, being treated for anorexia and its aftermath. I will be forever grateful to the therapists I saw during those years. They treated me with respect, patience, warmth and compassion. And they listened. Oh, they listened.

But I stayed in therapy too long, I think. I believed at the time that I was seeking a cure for my constant sense of malaise. That cure seemed terribly elusive. Now I think it was elusive because, subconsciously, I knew there wasn’t one. What I was really reaching out for was understanding, and that is not something I found in therapy sessions.

Therapy is a strange process. It is, as Rachel Cusk says in the passage above, a transaction of sorts. When that transaction starts to make you feel worse rather than better, when you feel lonelier leaving the therapist’s office than you did on arriving, it’s time to stop. It really is as simple as that, though it took me some time to figure this out.

Post-therapy, am I still seeking understanding? Yes, of course — just like everyone else. Have I found it? Not really. Perhaps no-one ever does. What I have found, though, is solace. I find solace in pots of tea, and walks along the beach, and wanders in the Scrub. I find it in cakes I bake, and books I’m reading, and camping trips I plan to go on. I find it in birdsong, and in leisurely bike rides, and in the company of my partner and my dog.

And I find solace in other people’s stories.

Tell me, then, where do you find solace?

When summer came

Other people’s words about … summer

Summer came, clanging days of glaring sunshine in the seaside town where I live, the gulls screaming in the early dawn, a glittering agitation everywhere, the water a vista of smashed light.

From ‘Aftermath
by Rachel Cusk

I live in a seaside suburb like Rachel Cusk. Gulls scream outside my window most mornings, flapping over the roof, perching on the top of the stobie poles. I find great solace in their shrieks. Like the call of a wattlebird, there is nothing elegant or beautiful in a gull’s cry. It is gloriously unapologetic, and harsh, and guttural, and wild.

There is a particular kind of summer day at the beach: the sand is so hot along the path from the road across the dunes that if you are making your way barefoot — or if you are a dog — you have to run over it towards the shore to prevent the soles of your feet (or paws!) from burning. The sky throbs; the air is windless, hot, salt-scented; and gulls stand in the shallows, waggling their legs as they stare down into the clear water, searching (I think) for fish. It’s so quiet in the hot stillness that you can hear the little lapping, bubbling noises the water makes as the gulls’ legs move about in it.

A vista of smashed light.
A vista of smashed light

I haven’t swum in the sea much this summer. Due to the storms in December and early January, the water is muddied and polluted. But I love the beach at this time of the year, regardless. I feel no glittering agitation, as Cusk does: only joy.

It’s the heat. And the light. And the gull-shriek-rent air.

About a dog

Other people’s words about … pets

No words from me today — just a quote.
Anyone reading this who has a dog will, I think, smile and nod in recognition.

The dog stretched out and dropped his head onto my lap. Instantly he began to snore and I admired his opportunism and the detail of his design. The seams of his eyelids and the way they met perfectly, sealing him shut. The backward slant of tufty eyelids; a dense ridge of tiny hairs. And the odd crazy whisker that sprouted from his head, feeling its way out into the world. I flicked one and he twitched but he knew it was just me. And with my other hand I stroked him long and hard and felt the thick grease of his fur rise and coat my hand. He soothed me; he always did.

From In my house
by Alex Hourston