Encounters of the Novel Kind

Posted by: Barry D'Souza on May 9, 2024 1:52 pm

A clear ‘he can’t’, a muffled anger, not far off – a ‘no way’, he won’t do it…he won’t survive. All emanated from him. He was paralyzed. At least what he was then describing, seemed like paralysis and there was little chance in the compressed perception of self and life ahead, that he’d be able to take ordinary steps to find work. All was crashing down on him as procrastination and all amounted to – he had only to be angry at himself.

Their first baby had come in the spring. The experience of being new family with a colicky kid, which pushes even the angelic to the test, they could best describe as traumatizing. They struggled somedays to remember joy in the exhaustion and felt awful for the fact. By September, they were desperate, tired of screaming at each other at the worst of times, knowing they weren’t in control anymore, at the best of times. The distance they felt towards each other had really started to scare them. That is when they got in touch.

I worked with Henry and his wife for a very efficient six rounds of couples therapy. In the last one, the session that may have been entitled ‘breath in and breath out the trauma of the summer’, when it was his turn to be his wife in the ‘internalized other’ interview (this is when the couple get to answer as the other), the omission of his wife’s fear of death in childbirth, her not being able to walk for two weeks after, her trips to the hospital with malignant high blood pressure, was so glaringly total, that at the end of the exercise we all looked at each other, with a quarter smile of knowing solidarity. I would have sworn that each of the captions, I imagined above our heads, read the same!

“Yikes, you didn’t get that at all, where were you?”, was his wife’s and mine.

“Shit, I didn’t get that, something is really up with me” was his.

Needless to say, I wasn’t surprised when in the next week, he asked for a few personal one-to-one sittings. The reality was this. Henry couldn’t find the time to grieve through that summer when his little girl arrived. He was in the throes of a male postpartum depression by identity and by circumstance. Identity loss, the crashing sound of ‘this is who I am’, his mind swallowed whole at any given present. His work world had imploded, the time had appeared nigh to set out on his own entrepreneurial path and give in his resignation. Now we were nine months down the road since he left the company he had worked for fifteen years.

Henry had built that place into what it was, he said with pride which explained the confidence behind quitting even though the baby was on its way. He had counted on being sought out, that the emails enquiring about his next steps would roll in, that he was somebody in the gallery business, that he’d surely be hunted after. He understood the summer would be absorbed by the baby and family, but he figured there’d be a rejuvenating and rebooting. He planned to launch a start-up company by the year’s end. Fair enough calculation, considering they were two parents to one baby and there’d be various family coming through the summer to the various homes they rented in France and Spain. But, the genesis of new family existence threw him, with it came an unexpected void that baby and his loving wife couldn’t save him from, except for those fleeting afternoons when they picnicked under the tree in the warm sun, it might have seemed to him, another reason to feel bad.

In the first one-to-one Henry took me back to his conviction as a young man, declaring how ‘I can’t take over the family business’. He crushed their hearts, he said of his parents. But, he would die were he to have done otherwise. He couldn’t do their business. He knew that then. There was something similar now. I pictured the amygdala doing its

brain configuring of the being trapped, about not being able to grow. To be or not to be free, is not a question. There is no not being free.

Something was different the next time I saw him. He was seeing and feeling an acceptance that now is not the time after all to start his own company but couldn’t understand why he wasn’t able to apply for any jobs in someone.

‘I am a self-made man’, he declared in a clear moment of confidence and I felt what this was meaning to him. I repeated it back to him several times, so that it was plain to see – ‘you are a self-made man! ‘I don’t know if you felt that just now,’ I said.

‘What is that?’ he asked.

‘When you said self-made, I felt something…Like that is it. That is you!’ He looked quizzically at me but I could see that he wanted to smile into being recognized and wanted to talk about this more.

Yes, there were pressures in life. From his family background and his education, one always works. From his future, his being 40+ years made him fear ahead to another next time, perhaps fifteen years down the road and the prospect of being out of work again then. He doesn’t want to be stuck, to have a “cap”, a ceiling above his head, to be bound to any life situation where he doesn’t feel alive and good in his work. Fair enough.

And work was important purpose in life. Henry had mentioned an identity crisis before on a few occasions. This could understandably hold anyone back from taking the next step. Who is it that is taking the next step?

There can’t be procrastination when you aren’t sure what is next, and the feeling guilty for not doing, when you don’t know what it is next that you should be doing, seems like something to see it for what it is. He mentioned feeling guilt for 40 minute nap he had taken in the afternoon the day before. There was so much out there in the work field that was changing fast. He knew there were many areas where he wasn’t sure about. He had been studying for his self-directed course in AI, wanting to learn about Chat GpT and found himself tired. Such was the context of the unforgivable nap.

‘There is no ceiling to learning’, putting that out there. ‘I wonder what Chat GpT might say to you in your predicament?’

‘How is that?’

‘What does a self-made man, with a nature and character, that needs to be free and to grow in their work, do when they reach a point at 40years old where they’re uncertain about what is next for them, feel a little vulnerable and are unclear how to proceed on generating ‘good feel’ momentum?’.

He smiled, motioned to grab something and asked me to repeat the question.

*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

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