Lying on the couch this morning, I was staring up at the bookcase, all 24 weathered volumes of Freud, once so mysterious, now so familiar. “What are you feeling now?” my analyst asked. I lie rigidly in an arms-across-my-chest mummified position, so unmoving that often I get paralysed pins and needles in my right arm. “Nothing,” I said, truthfully. He must be exhausted by me, I think. “Well,” I said, “a minute ago I felt slightly nauseated by the smell of last night’s supper.” I have my daily sessions in the attic room of his house and can often smell the breakfast porridge, the curry of the evening before, the soapy smells from the bathroom as I pass. “But you didn’t mention it at the time,” he said.
This seemed absurd. If I mentioned every tiny little thing I noticed about my surroundings I would fill the whole 50 minute session talking about the ticking clock, the Bulgarian builders’ conversation outside, the spider on the ceiling, my analyst’s small movements, his bottle of water, his cough, the ping of his emails arriving. You get the picture. He pointed out that my hyper-vigilance was so constant that I barely noticed it happening. I agreed and said it makes me a good driver. “And it would be brilliant if I was a detective,” I said. “I almost want there to be a crime so that I can show off my skills.”
My analyst and I both caught the fact that my vigilance was related to an anticipated crime, or perhaps to a past crime. I lay stiff on the couch, listening , smelling, looking, mind whirring. “Yes,” I said. “I am always ready for escape, just in case. I could disable you, if I had to, and get out very quickly.” I was stunned by my own revelation—that I am always coiled, ready for flight. “I do,” I admitted, “usually keep a machete by the bed.”
I have been in analysis a long time and there have been revelations big and small, so it was surprising that something so fundamental to the way I think had not made it into the room explicitly before. I talk and talk about my childhood, my children, my husband, my psychotherapy training, the lecturers, the supervisors. I ruminate, I ponder, I explore, but I had never mentioned quite the extent of my ceaseless scanning for anticipated…