Essays: A Secret Order

In all chaos there is a cosmos, in all disorder a secret order.
— Carl Jung

This morning, my chihuahua threw up on me in bed. I was curled up in the fetal position, and she was behind me with her chest against my back. You could say she was the big spoon and I was the little spoon, as preposterous as that might sound, given that I am approximately eighteen times her size. But there it is: big spoon = chihuahua, little spoon = human.

Understandably, being woken in this manner led me to believe I might not be in for the best of days. As I took care of my dog, got myself cleaned up, and cobbled together all the linens that needed washing, I felt defeated before I’d even brushed my teeth. Then my centralized pain set in, along with intestinal distress because I dared to eat out yesterday afternoon. As if that weren’t enough, I felt like I was being strangled. Yesterday, my new thyroid surgeon examined the scar on my neck from the thyroidectomy that my old thyroid surgeon performed last fall. He needed to assess how much scar tissue was present. Turns out, there’s a significant amount of scarring, and manipulating the area has made it extremely tight and painful today.

I needed to get it together, and fast. My first session with a holistic therapist was scheduled for noon. This meeting was important to me. I didn’t want to arrive at the therapist’s office sweaty, whiffling, and redolent of dog vomit. I needed to be lucid, solid, maybe even likable. (The last one is always a longshot for me, but I hold out hope with every new interaction.)

I made it to the session with my pestilent body in tow. A sack of pain I was. The therapist put me at ease by pointing out her Carl Jung action figure and saying, “Not everyone has one of those.”

“They don’t,” I thought. “But they damn well should.”

She also had a stuffed Yoda on her desk. He was wearing spectacles. I should probably show her my bright orange, 3D-printed Yoda head at our next meeting. I don’t have any Jung tchotchke to share, but I do feel Jung at heart, so at least I have a pun lined up for next week’s session.

The therapist knew things were serious when she began charting my immediate family, and I was in tears by the time she asked me what my father’s name was. I would have totally lost it if she’d asked my mother’s name. (It was Merry, which is heartbreaking considering how much trauma she was born into and lived through. Given her life circumstances, my mother’s name was a cruel, impossible demand — a mirthful adjective that would never find its occasion. What were my grandparents hoping for, beyond hope, when they fitted her with that albatross?) In short, I wasn’t able to mask my physical or emotional pain, and that made me feel as vulnerable as a fledgling swallow leaving the nest for the first time.

The therapist asked how I was feeling. I told her I was a burning tumbleweed careening down a hill, setting the countryside on fire.

She seemed to understand.

I asked her if she thinks there’s more merit to the diagnosis of post-traumatic stress than other DSM diagnoses. She said she doesn’t give a hanging chad about diagnosis. She only cares about hearing and seeing the person in front of her.

“You are not a diagnosis. You are a human being,” she said. “What I’m hearing and seeing is you.”

I tried not to cry because I don’t want Therapy Dana to be someone who is weepy throughout an entire session. But I’m not sure I’m in charge of who Therapy Dana is or isn’t, let alone what she does and doesn’t do.

I chose the Jung quote above because it makes me think about the DSM and its litany of disorders. The DSM is a dead end that never leads back to order. How do you make your way out of that book once you’re in it? My therapist says you have to stop looking at the disorder and start looking at what will help you heal.

I don’t always know where to cast my gaze, but I’m looking.