BOOK EXCERPT: A Path to Seek - Chapter 1
Alex woke again. His eyes staggered to open, and his limbs refused to move. He had to be at work in an hour as usual, but he didn’t have the energy or enthusiasm to get up, even though he had slept nine hours.
Finally, after three snooze alarms had gone off, he conjured up enough resolve to get out of bed, into the shower and off to work. Still half asleep, he walked to the bus stop in the awakening summer heat. In the past he would race to the stop hoping that the bus hadn’t already gone. And as soon as he got there, he would wish that the bus would imminently arrive, a testament to how fast a person’s wants can change. Lately though, he just dawdled to the stop and didn’t care if he missed it or not.
When he had almost reached the stop, the bus appeared. To catch it, he would have to run; to run, he would need the desire to catch it; to have the desire to catch it, he would need the desire to get to work. But since work didn’t give him much satisfaction anymore, he didn’t have the desire, so he didn’t run and just accepted that he would be late. However, for some reason the bus didn’t move. Alex looked more intently to see what was holding it there. The bus driver was waving his hand out the window gesturing for Alex to get on. He was puzzled. Since when do bus drivers go out of their way to wait for people? he asked himself. (He was oblivious to the fact that some bus drivers do in fact do just that, but it was his first time to be on the receiving end of such a kind deed.) He walked onto the bus, expecting to see the smiling face of an angelic driver. Instead, the scowling-man-behind-the-wheel asked impatiently, “Where are you going?” and put out his hand ready for Alex’s money.
Alex paid and surveyed the seats to see where to sit. The bus looked quite full. Then a waving hand at the back entered his gaze. A moment later he saw the person who the hand was attached to: it was Susana from work. He shuffled his way up to her and sat down.
“Hi Susana, how are you?”
“I’m well. How about you?”
“Yeah, I’m… a bit late,” answered Alex, eager to hide his distaste for the process of going to work. “I guess I’m lucky the bus driver waited for me to get on.”
“Actually, it wasn’t the bus driver. I saw you out the window and noticed you were going to miss the bus, so I called out to him to wait for you.”
“Oh, really? Thanks a lot!”
Susana, in her late twenties, was a few years older than Alex and quite appealing to his sense of beauty. Like him, she had dark-brown hair and eyes, though her hair was much longer and more luxuriant than his. They had never spoken much to each other before, but he was always hoping to. After their greeting they sat silently all the way to work. Alex didn’t know what to say to her. (In fact, he wasn’t the greatest conversationalist.) And Susana had been immersed in a magazine article, so she continued reading until it was their stop.
They got off the bus and walked into the office.
Alex went to his desk, giving a nod and a mechanical smile to everyone he passed. He got out the project he was working on, started working where he had left off the day before, put himself in auto-pilot, and worked through the entire day without even stopping for lunch. This was often his daily routine at work, a routine driven by habit, not passion.
There was half an hour to go before work finished, so Alex started to wrap up his tasks for the day. He opened his planner to write out the next day’s work plan, glanced at the present day’s page, which he had forgotten to look at in the morning, and was shocked to see that he had an appointment that very afternoon. It was at 3:15 p.m., so he had forty-five minutes to get there. If he didn’t want to be late, he had to leave immediately. He was tempted to simply slip out of the office but thought he had better tell his boss that he needed to go since he hadn’t already done so.
Alex tapped on his boss’ open door: his boss motioned for him to enter.
“How can I help you, Alex?”
“Sorry, but I really need to leave early today. Is that okay?”
“Can I ask what the reason is?”
“Well, I have an appointment.”
Alex could see in his boss’ eyes that he wanted to know where he was going and certainly did not want him to know. He wished in his heart that his boss wouldn’t probe him any further for information about his personal life.
“Is your project on schedule?”
Alex sighed in his heart with relief. “Yes, I believe so… probably ahead of schedule.”
“Okay. But please try to give me more notice next time.”
“Of course, thank you!”
In contrast to the morning, Alex ran to the bus in the now-blazing-heat, hoping that the bus he needed had not just left. He got to the bus stop and urgently asked the people there, “Excuse me, do you know if the 'two-one-two' has already gone past?”
“It hasn’t come past since I’ve been here,” one woman replied.
“I haven’t seen it either,” said another man.
Alex was relieved. A second later he was desperately hoping that the bus would come immediately. Five minutes later it came.
He got off the bus and arrived fifteen minutes early. It was his first time to visit a clinic of such type. He went in and urgently informed the secretary, “I have an appointment at three fifteen!”
“Who are you seeing?” she asked softly.
“I can’t remember his name, sorry.”
“That’s okay,” the secretary reassured him with calm acceptance. Alex felt pleasantly soothed by her gentleness and delighted to be treated as a dysfunctional person who was expected to forget things.
“You’ll be seeing Dr Pearson today. Please take a seat and help yourself to a drink of water, and there are magazines on the table.”
Alex went into the waiting room and sat on the luxurious leather couches. There were two other people waiting. He kept looking at them to make eye contact, but neither of them looked up. He wondered why they were there. Do they hear voices? Are they paranoid? Do they have a fear of open spaces? Or closed spaces? He didn’t know. He didn’t find out.
At exactly 3:15 a middle-aged man with grey, balding hair emerged from one of the rooms, and in his ultra-educated accent announced, “Alexander Jones?!”
Alex nodded and walked into the room with him.
“Please sit down… How are you?”
“Good thanks,” Alex replied. Although it was not true, he stuck to the standard response that most people give no matter how they honestly feel. However, Alex was perplexed by the question, thinking the answer was quite obvious: Wasn’t everyone who went to see a psychiatrist not feeling well? But then he entertained the possibility that a person may have felt terrible when they had initially made the appointment and then felt better, but since the wait was three months, the person had thought that they might as was well come and make sure for certain that they are indeed 'sane'.
“How can I help you today?” asked Dr Pearson, now making more sense.
“Well, I get really depressed and I can’t get myself out of it.”
“How long have you felt like this?”
“I think about four years.”
“And how were you before that?”
“I was quite happy. I didn’t really have any problems.”
“How do you feel when you are depressed?”
“… I feel completely blank, and my heart feels empty and dark. Life feels stale and meaningless. I get up and go to work and come home again and again, and there just seems to be no point to it.” Alex was starting to feel emotional. “I can’t escape from it. No matter how hard I try, I can’t…” and then he started to tear up as he talked, “… get out of this state.”
Alex had graduated from university a year and a half before. He studied architecture and was now working in his chosen field. His salary was reasonably high, and he had a comfortable place to live. From the outside everything seemed ideal. But he was not satisfied with his life. His life seemed to lack purpose. He constantly felt empty and miserable, but he didn’t know why. Many times he had tried to make himself happy: he went for walks by the ocean; he saw films; he ate copious amounts of chocolate; he went out to have fun with friends. But no matter what he tried, he couldn’t shed this misery and emptiness. Finally he decided to see someone about it. He went to a doctor who referred him to a psychiatrist. He called the psychiatrist’s office, eagerly wanting an appointment, but the soonest appointment was in three months. Since that phone call, Alex had been living in a dim haze – just giving in to the depression.
Dr Pearson passed Alex a tissue box and said comfortingly, “Don’t worry, you don’t need to struggle anymore – I will help you.”
“Ok,” Alex whispered through his sobs, relieved to have finally talked to someone and relieved that he didn’t have to try desperately to fix this problem alone anymore.
After some more cursory discussion about Alex’s depression, Dr Pearson held up a packet of display tablets. “I’m going to prescribe you some anti-depressants. You need to take these tablets twice every day.”
He wrote out a prescription and handed it to Alex. “We’ll schedule another appointment for three months’ time. Don’t worry – you’ll be fine. You’ll be back to normal in no time at all!”
The doctor stood up, walked to the door and waited for him to follow. He put his hand on Alex’s shoulder and accompanied him to reception. Alex paid his money and left.
He strolled down the street in a relieved peace, finally feeling he had something to depend on. There was a pharmacy ahead, so he went to get his medication. After he got it, he kept walking and walking without a destination in mind and just felt happy to be breathing, knowing that he had found a way out of his problems. He wasn’t ever very keen on taking anti-depressants, both because of the social stigma and the potential side-effects, but if it meant feeling normal again, he was willing to. After peacefully meandering the streets for over an hour, he arrived at a stretch of restaurants and cafés and decided to stop and have an early dinner.
He sat alone and ate his quintessential-quasi-Mediterranean-café food and ordered a cappuccino to stretch out his celebratory meal even more, even though it was quite late for that. He paid the bill and started walking out. Just as he got to the door, Susana walked in. They both stopped in surprise.
“Wow,” she said, “two random meetings in one day! Have you already eaten?”
“Yeah, I just finished. What are you doing here?” asked Alex, knowing that it was an unwarranted question.
“I’m having dinner with my friends over there. What about you?”
“Oh, I just happened to be in the area,” Alex replied, now feeling more cautious so as not to give away the real reason he was there. “Okay, nice to bump into you, and have a nice dinner.”
“Thanks! See you at work tomorrow.”
Alex got a bus home. He marvelled at the synchronicity of yet another chance encounter with Susana.
When he got home, he had a snack to further line his stomach and took out his new tablets. In a spirit of ritualistic ceremony, he swallowed with hope and relief the first tablet of his newly-desired-life-of-peace-and-tranquillity. Despite the caffeine flowing through his veins, he slept soundly and deeply that night. Was it the medication that deepened his slumber and eased his mind or the relief of having confessed his secret?
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