My pen was being tapped erratically against my clipboard as my patient rattled on about her past- an abusive lover who was never in a relationship with her in the first place, a monotonous life currently, and an utterly narcissistic outlook on life… Safe to say, I could relate to this child on a metaphysical level.
And yes, this was a child- a 38-year-old child, but still a child. Pretty, with a stutter in her pace from one leg being slightly shorter than the other- a skeletal defect that fuelled many a session of ours-
‘My skeleton doesn’t fit inside my skin. If I don’t even fit inside myself, how am I supposed to fit in with anyone else? Plus, it gives me so much hip pain- I’m in pain every day because the medication makes it so much worse-‘
‘What is ‘it’?’
‘Life. I’m just so utterly sick of life. I think about killing myself every day.’
At this point I’m interested and so my pen stops tapping the clipboard. I lean forward and fix her with my most grave of stares from behind my glasses.
‘Hannah, do you have any current plans to end your life?’
‘No.’ The answer is a sigh, as though the question is inconvenient. ‘It’s not so much that I hate life, but that life itself is meaningless. It just sort of drags on, even after we die, it drags on for our kids, over and over; until at some arbitrary point the sun will explode and our everything will become nobody’s nothing. That doesn’t depress me, it just makes me wonder what would be different if I stuck my head in an oven or something tomorrow.’
She sees me leaning in to make another gentle point, but moves on before I can speak. ‘Don’t worry. The oven is electric. Plus, that’s not entirely why I’m here.’
This is… Interesting. Worrying, but interesting. I have colleagues on speed-dial that could write a thesis on this kid. It’s too late though- she’s mine. ‘Why are you here, Hannah?’
She avoids the subject, like she usually does when she senses the end of the hour-long session coming up. She likes to pretend it ends on a high note- a quality I could admire if I didn’t feel in so much danger of loosing my most interesting customer, my best patient who has agreed to be the subject of any later papers I write (keeping her anonymous, of course). ‘Hannah. That’s my name. A palindrome. It makes no difference if you spell it forwards or backwards. Isn’t that odd?’
‘Yes, Dr Nossbaum?’
‘Can I let you go today without you doing anything drastic before tomorrow?’
‘Our next session, Hannah.’ She likes to play dumb when she senses I’m getting more serious about getting her better- as though she thinks of herself as a joke.
‘Oh yeah. I’ll try to stick around until then.’
I notify her emergency contact when she leaves, worried as much as you can be in the shrink business. I used to wonder why they called us ‘shrinks’- I thought it was us shrinking the problem and the stress of everybody we touched. However, as I lie in front of the telly, watching something I can’t be bothered to follow, with no messages on my phone and a tub of ice cream on my lap; I realise it’s actually our lives that shrink. Lives full to the brim with the problems of others, like a mouldy sponge that gets dried out and turns to dust. Hmm.
My phone beeps twice- a text at 2AM? These are never good news. However, this time it’s odd. It’s not a text from a co-worker, or an alert that one of my patients just surpassed Defcon 5 and has gone into hospital. Instead, I am confronted with the rather twee tone we use when addressing friends and family members of patients.
It’s the standard text for an amber alert to family members- if I had any of those. However, when I read the name it says, ‘To the closest surviving relative of Hannah Moss…’