by Leslie Cohen
Gregory felt desperately tired as he struggled to climb the few steps that led into the building. He was always desperately tired, and it was ruining his life. If only he had more energy, he could…
“Go right in,” said the secretary, as Gregory stepped into the waiting room.
It had all happened too fast: the taxi ride to the analyst’s building, the trek up the steps, his entrance into the office. He felt dizzy as he sat in the chair facing the analyst’s large desk.
“Welcome,” said the Doctor. “You look exhausted. Would you like a glass of water?”
“Thanks,” said Gregory, as the Doctor poured water from a pitcher into a small cup.
“I understand this is your first experience with analysis,” the Doctor said.
“Yes, as a matter of fact,” Gregory answered, putting down his cup.
“You’re probably aware that I do traditional analysis, and my clients use the couch,” said the Doctor.
“Yes, Lauren told me.” Lauren had recommended the Doctor to Gregory.
“Good! So, let’s begin,” said the Doctor. “Take your shoes off or leave them on, whichever is more comfortable for you.” He gestured to the couch, and got up from his chair.
“I’ll sit in the chair next to the couch while you lie on the couch and talk,” he said, crossing the room.
Gregory was a bit flustered. He had expected a conversation, however brief. The Doctor smiled at him.
“Psychoanalysis may take a session or two for you to get used to. It’s really not a conversation between you and me, but more like a conversation that you have with yourself. Think of me as your personal guide to your unconscious. That’s why I sit next to your head, at the end of the couch.”
Gregory got out of his chair and shuffled over to the couch. He was too shy to take off his shoes in front of this near stranger, so he left them on. He lay on his back and looked up at the ceiling. It was a high ceiling and it had a large stain. But, unlike the ceiling, his mind was a blank.
“It really doesn’t matter what you say. Anything at all that comes to mind is fine. In fact, it’s much better if you don’t even think before you speak—don’t censor what you say. Just let the words flow.”
Gregory was confused. Lauren had told him “You just talk, that’s all there is to it.” But, still, he wasn’t ready for this.
After a few uncomfortable minutes of silence, the Doctor said, “We can begin by playing sort of a word game. It’s called free association. I’ll say a word and you say anything that comes to mind.”
“Okay,” said Gregory.
“You’re feeling tired on the job?” asked the Doctor.
“I’m always tired. On the job, at home, in the car, everywhere... That’s why I came to you. I’m tired all of the time, too tired to cope. Too tired…”
“Go on,” said the Doctor.
But Gregory was silent again. He started to think about how tired he was. Several minutes later, the Doctor heard him snoring.
When his hour was up, the Doctor awakened him and told him to come back the next day at the same hour.
Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday were all variations on the same theme. Gregory got to the Doctor’s office at the same hour each day. He went straight into the Doctor’s office and lay down on the couch. After a few minutes, he was fast asleep. By Friday, he was feeling much better than he had for a long time, but wondering if he should just quit analysis and rent a room in a hotel instead. It would be much cheaper.
“Do you want to try that for a week?” asked the Doctor.
He did. But it was a miserable failure. He would arrive at the hotel, check in, lie down on the bed, stare at the ceiling, and worry about everything he had to do for the rest of the day. Luckily, he had arranged with the Doctor to come back the following Monday, after the trial week at the hotel.
Lying on the couch again, staring up at the stain on the ceiling, Gregory felt much better.
“It’s funny,” he said. “There must be something to this analysis stuff after all.”
“I mean, why can I sleep here, but not in the hotel room? It’s so much cheaper there!” He laughed. And then he realized that he wasn’t used to saying amusing things. While he was thinking about that, he was staring at the stain on the ceiling. But not for long, for soon he was fast asleep.
The analysis went on like that for months. Gregory would chat with the Doctor for a few minutes and then fall asleep. The Doctor would wake him up at the end of the hour. Gregory would go away feeling cheated, but nevertheless, he was rested. He made another attempt at renting a hotel room for a week, with the same result. After a sleepless week, he came back to the Doctor, wondering what it was that made him able to fall asleep so easily on the Doctor’s hard leather couch.
Maybe I should try putting a couch like that in my office? No, that would be going too far!
But, Gregory realized that the extra five hours of sleep a week made a difference. He was thinking more clearly and his boss noticed the difference, too.
“Looks like analysis is doing you good,” he said.
Gregory laughed uncomfortably in response.
“Never mind, you don’t have to tell me about it. I can see it’s helping you,” he continued, now thoroughly convinced.
“I feel like a fraud,” Gregory told the Doctor.
“You know, all I do here is stare at the stain on your ceiling, say a few words, and fall asleep. And then my boss and my wife tell me that analysis is doing me a lot of good!”
“And you never say anything but ‘mm-hmm’.”
Gregory was thinking about what to tell the Doctor, but the stain on the ceiling caught his attention and he soon fell into a deep sleep.
Somehow, a year went by. Gregory got a promotion at work. His wife stopped threatening to leave him. He started playing golf with his brother on Saturday mornings. He had long since stopped thinking about renting a hotel room.
“I think I’m cured,” he told the Doctor.
“You feel better.”
“Well, I got a raise and my marriage is improving, and I have enough energy to play golf once a week.”
“So, what do you think?”
“Maybe you’re ready to begin analysis.”
“And what have we been doing for a year?” Gregory fairly screamed at the Doctor.
“Overcoming your resistance.”
Gregory thought about that. “Let’s have a trial—you know, like when I rented a hotel room instead of coming here.”
“I’ll try to stop psychoanalysis for a few months and see if I still feel good.”
“That sounds reasonable,” said the Doctor.
Seventeen years ago.