Shrinking the Shaky Expectations in a State of Anxiety

Hesitantly, the patient pushed open the door with one finger and walked in. Just being in a psychiatrist's office made him feel inadequate.

"I'm glad to see you," Dr. Torper said. "And frankly, I'm not surprised."

"What do you mean?" the patient asked.

"Let's just say I've heard of you from others," the doctor said. "From people's descriptions, you've got quite an interesting psychological profile, and I was almost sure we'd meet someday. Now, what seems to be the problem?"

"I'm not really sure," the patient said. "I'm the last guy in the world I ever expected to see talking to a shrink. It seemed like one day I was fine, and the next day I woke up and everything was all screwed up."

"Tell me about it," the doctor said. "But first, would you like to lie down?"

"Yes, I would," the patient said, stretching his long body on the divan. It was easy to see that he once had been strong and supple, probably tanned and blond, but the years had robbed him of sinew and color. The hair was wispy and ash white, the skin pale. The lines in his face suggested a drama of many acts, but if there once had been comedy it was giving way to tragedy.

"I'm not sure where to start. You've got to understand, I've always been the Main Man, even as a kid. I don't want to brag, but I've always been the star pupil, the best-looking, the most athletic. I was the guy everyone came to with their problems, their dreams, their frustrations. All kinds of people. And I've always been able to make things better for everyone. If someone needed a place to stay, I'd put them up. If someone needed some extra cash, I'd give them some. If someone needed a job, I'd find them one. And the crazy thing is, I didn't mind doing it. Hey, I loved doing it. It never seemed like a burden; it just seemed natural."

"And now?"

"And now, I just can't seem to do it anymore. I can't seem to fix anything. Everybody wants something from me, and I just can't give it to them. I can't help them."

"As I expected," the doctor said.

"I don't want to sound corny, but it's like I had dreams. A vision of things. And now I feel like it's never going to happen. But that's not even the worst part. The worst part is that people are making fun of me now. They used to envy me, I know they did, but now they make jokes about me and seem to be relishing my decline."

"You're engaging in what we call negative self-talk," the doctor said. "You're being overly critical of yourself."

"I can't help it. When you've always been able to deliver, you think you're invulnerable."

"But that's unrealistic," Dr. Torper said. "I don't want to reduce your problem to jargon, but you're a classic case of someone in developmental crisis. Simply put, a life stage crisis."

"Is it terminal?"

"Usually not medically, but it can be spiritually. We usually refer to it in terms of the loss of youth and brilliance and the difficulty of coping with the inevitability of aging. We feel we're losing our beautiful appeal, the idealism of youth, and we're unable to accept the inevitable decline."

"That sounds like me. But how can I get it back? Those were such grand days. I thought they'd last forever, and whenever anyone told me the bubble would burst, I'd laugh and tell them this was one bubble that would never burst."

"You need to move from negative self-talk to self-nurturance," the doctor said. "You've got to stop blaming yourself for things you can't change. You can't solve everybody else's problems. Start treating yourself better and challenge these new fears of limitation and impotence. Think about taking constructive action instead of sitting around griping about your lost sense of identity that couldn't possibly last anyway. Whenever you hear yourself start to say, 'I used to be, but I'm not anymore,' purge those thoughts."

"You know, doctor, that's the way I used to be. I used to think in terms of possibilities."

"Exactly. Think that way again. Just make some allowances for a changing reality. Look for opportunities that you didn't have before. Just because you're giving up previous sources of esteem and identity doesn't mean you can't begin to look for new sources in this more current situation."

"You mean I'm not doomed?"

"Not unless you want to be."

He got up and stretched to his full height. While not the imposing presence of his youth, he was by no means spent. He left with a renewed bounce in his step.

"So long, Doc."

"So long, Cal. And don't worry about other people's jokes. They still wish they were you."

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