When I found out that my psychologist of ten years was going to retire, I was a little panicked. What would I do without her? She’d literally helped me raise my only child. She’d been there when I was up from a manic high and down when I was low from a depressive drop. She listened to my paranoid fears and my optimistic prayers.
But we had never touched each other. Not even a handshake. I had refrained from bodily contact with her on purpose. I hadn’t wanted to make her uncomfortable. Didn’t want to threaten her.
But on our last day together, I felt free enough to give her a hug. We embraced, and she patted me on the back. I knew she loved me, and I loved her.
I first went to Helen because I wasn’t bonding with the baby we had adopted from Guatemala. I was caring for Tommy — bathing him, feeding him, putting on his clothes — but he didn’t feel like my baby.
“Well, I’m getting up three times a night to feed Tommy.”
“That’s the problem,” she said. “You’ve got to stop the midnight feedings cold turkey. He’ll cry for a few nights, but he’ll adapt.”
And that’s just what I did. The first night, Tommy did wail. But by the fifth night, he slept silently through the whole evening. He turned out to be a very good sleeper.
I can’t say that this immediately solved the bonding problem. That would drag on for years.
Helen said that I would bond even more when Tommy acquired language. “That’s when the real bonding occurs,” she said.
And she was right. Once we could talk to each other, we grew closer.
I found out when Tommy was 10 that he was autistic. So the problem hadn’t been all on my end.
It’s been five months without Helen. I have a new psychologist who is just fine. I like her. I’m even beginning to feel real warmth towards her.
If you see a psychologist, you just have to know that one day you might lose them.
About two months into my therapy with my new psychologist, she asked me how I was dealing with the loss of Helen. I told her that it was like I’d lost a family member.
Tommy also has anxiety disorder. He’s afraid of many things. We’ve been told that he also has sensory integration issues. Last Thursday, the fifth grade went to a symphonic band concert at an old theater in Akron. His Intervention Specialist had tried to get him on the bus with the rest of the children, but he was too upset. She finally stopped pushing and kept him at school with her. I guess they worked on math problems while the rest of his class enjoyed symphonic band music.
It was the combination of going to a new place and potentially loud music. Both of those things bothered Tommy.
His friend, another autistic child, had gone to the concert successfully. The boy’s mother had jubilantly written about the success on Facebook. I couldn’t help but feel a little bitter.
Deep down, I wouldn’t want Tommy to be any different. When he’s happy, I’m happy. When he’s blue, so am I.
Tommy and his father are out walking. They’re at a neighborhood park, enjoying the fall leaves. Later we will journey to the local apple orchard, where Tommy will pick out a pumpkin, and we’ll inspect bags of apples. Then, there’s the apple cider. And the yearly freshly-baked apple pie. Steve will buy a pint of cinnamon whiskey, and we’ll make nightly toddies that burn our throats.
Helen left in May.
It seems as if she waited to retire until I had my life together. She picked a good time to leave. Bipolar since 1991, I hadn’t felt better in 25 years. In a word, I was sane.
She realized that and decided to take her leave, her final bow.
I asked her if I could ever contact her again.
She graciously said, “When the dust has settled. I would like to know how you and Tommy are doing.”
I’ve spoken to her a couple times since we ended our professional relationship. I called to tell her about Tommy’s autism diagnosis. And I called her again to ask her if she cared that I wanted to write about her and what we’d gone through. She said she was OK with my writing about us, but she asked me to please change her name. Helen is not her real name.
Helen was a great doctor. She was not surprised by anything. She listened patiently. Helen helped me grow up.
My thirties were crazy; my forties were the tough years with Tommy. Now the fifties, yes the fifties, I’m finally at peace. I could have never gotten to this point without my dear coach — Helen.
I guess I also have to mention that during the time I was under Helen’s care, I had breast cancer. Stage two breast cancer. I was diagnosed in 2011. Tommy was six.
My sickness completely destabilized him. They were calling me from his school and asking me to come pick up my little boy. He wouldn’t get up off the floor, lying face down, crying his eyes out. I got through it by not thinking about it. My husband Stephen took care of everything — Tommy, laundry, cooking. We didn’t talk much.
First came chemotherapy, many weeks of sitting in a big chemo chair, falling asleep while the meds, the poison, my oncologist was fond of calling it, dripped into me. After that was a double mastectomy, which really didn’t even hurt. The doctor insisted on putting in implants. I didn’t want them. This speaks to the great patriarchy which is our plastic surgery system. Finally, I lay on a table for six weeks of daily radiation therapy.
I think when I had the cancer, Helen was scared. I think she thought she might have to help me die.
But I pulled through. It’s now been four years since my diagnosis. I have one year to go until I can truly say I am a survivor.
I know a little bit about Helen. I know she spent her life in service of the mentally ill, that she has two sons and some grandkids, that she’s still married to her first husband, that she believes in God. That she was a God-send.
I’m not surprised by anything anymore.
I’m like Helen.
Good bye in clouds photo available from Shutterstock