where a man can build his strength and freedom

Are you suffering in silence today, and totally alone?

A young person is alone and seated with his back to us, facing out into a gray void in  this stark black and white photo .

If you are all alone today and in some kind of pain,
maybe you just want to be left in peace.
If that is the case, I send you my blessings.

But suppose you are wishing that someone would see
that you are alone and suffering,
and would give enough of a damn
to reach out and connect with you?

If that is what you are wishing,
I am ready and willing to do it.
I will talk to you.

Hey, as long as I’m talking and you are hearing me,
you aren’t entirely alone, right?
Even if you can’t talk back
there are still two of us here, not one.

That means your isolation has already ended,
at least temporarily!

No invitation

Did you see how I just barged into your life
without an invitation? Dang. Ya gotta watch these therapists.
They’ve got a lotta nerve.

Yes, I am very good at barging in.
I have learned never to wait for an invitation.
In the battle between the analytic couch and the door,
between engagement and exit,
I may only get a brief period of opportunity to connect.

So, my way of working
is to walk straight into the person’s heart and sit down.
Stride right past the guards before they know what happened.
By the time they put up their defenses it is too late.

So now that I’m sitting in here…
hopefully in your heart…

What would you like me to talk about?
Well, how about I tell you about a woman
who was referred to me for psychotherapy.

The problem? She was silent.
Hadn’t said a word in months.

She was in extreme emotional pain.
She had been diagnosed with terminal cancer
and refused to speak to anyone.

I was the psychology intern at the cancer hospital
where she was an inpatient.

When she was referred to me for psychotherapy
no one could offer me much background.
She was a middle aged woman, single, dying of breast cancer.

Could I get through to her, they asked me?

A psychoanalytic approach

Well, I remembered a psychoanalytic paper I had read once
on what to do if the patient is silent.
It explained that silence is usually due to anger.
The patient feels refused and abandoned by their Bad Mother,
their Bad Spouse, the Bad World, and the Bad Doctor.

You give me nothing. So I give you nothing in return”

The analyst who wrote the paper said
what you must do is simply talk.
Give words. Lots and lots of words. On any topic.

Do not ask questions nor seek any response or reply.
Just give.
Giving in this manner serves to counteract
their inner accusation that you give them nothing.

So I decided to do that.
I went to the woman’s room and introduced myself,
but asked her no questions.

This must have been quite a shock,
given that she had been told
that a psychologist was coming!
I told her I was going down to the sun room
at the end of the hall to sit for a while.

I asked if she would like to come with me.
She hesitated.
I said “I’m not going to ask you any questions.”

She looked at me with her dark expressionless eyes,
then got up and slowly walked down the hall with me.
We sat there on a bench, a few feet apart.
I just started talking about my daily life.

Did this, did that, this week…
described in detail all the mundane everyday things,
nothing personal or dramatic.

She sat there listening.
After about an hour, I said we better get back to the ward.
So we slowly went back.

I came to her room twice a week
Did she want to go to the sun room?

She went.
I talked.
We went back.

After several weeks of this, I was running out of topics.
One day I decided to talk about cooking,
and tell her the times I had screwed something up.
I told her about the time I made brownies
but mistook the salt canister for the sugar canister.
Thank God I always taste the batter before I bake it, I said.

She sat there stone faced.
Then I told her that in all my years of cooking
I had never learned to make good scrambled eggs.
I had tried every recipe under the sun, I said.
But I never had any success.
Mine always turn out tough, I lamented mournfully.

You’re turning the heat too high!”

I was stunned
but made no reaction
in my shock and joy
to hear her voice.
I acted as if nothing had happened.
I kept my mouth entirely shut
and simply looked at her gently.

You have to do scrambled eggs on LOW heat
or you’ll RUIN them!!!”
she continued.

I sat and took this in contritely
as if I were a kid in grade school.
She continued to explain the fine points
and when she had finished her lesson,
I said quietly:
“I see. I see what I was doing wrong.
I think I can make better eggs now.
Thank you.”
And we went back to the ward.

She gradually began to speak with her nurses,
and was able to communicate with her family before she died.

Breaking the silence

So now I have been talking and talking with you, my reader,
today, and for the nearly three years I have been writing posts to you.

I hope this one was comforting to you.
I thought maybe this story would connect
and you would see that we are never alone when we are in pain
once we let another human being in.

I am hoping YOU will now speak up
and tell me something I am doing wrong.
In this post, or in any other you have read.

Tell me how I can make these eggs turn out better.
I promise to take it as contritely as if I were a kid in grade school.
And I will thank you for building me into a better writer
and a better doctor.

Just send me an email to reply.
I read every one!

Dr. Hall