Friday, June 4, 2010

No sleep

You see, I have this giant issue with sleep. It is now past one a.m. Two and a half hours ago I took a bath, one Excedrin PM, and read a boring book until I felt sleepy. Got the ceiling fan on the right speed, fluffed my favorite pillows, and assumed the position. Then another position and yet another. For an hour. Then I relented and took half of an Ambien. That didn't work so I got my corn husk comfort pillow. That didn't work either. Then after another hour I took another half Ambien. And I remember how much I resented that damned psychiatrist of mine who was able to fall asleep at the drop of a hat. So, in honor of my inability to sleep--ever--I'm reprinting here from my yet unpublished book a story about my sleeping psychiatrist. This story and recipe got printed in Texas Monthly a few months ago. I love Texas Monthly and they love me too, but not lately. I'm going to have to send them something new to love. I'll work on that, but in the meantime here's the story with a recipe for addictive ginger snaps. Addictive like those sleeping pills that don't work. Yawn . . . are you getting sleepy? Here's the whole thing . . .

A prayer for healers . . .

Minimum Shrinkage

Lord knows I needed help. My husband had just left me and I was barely functioning. I was desperate for something to pull me through. A physician I knew referred me to Dr. Kruger, a psychiatrist with an excellent reputation.

Dr. Kruger’s office was on the first floor of a tired 1950s-era apartment building in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood of Washington. The narrow, dark hallway smelled like cabbage cooking. I imagined gypsies and withered old Hungarian women living behind the metal doors. Dr. Kruger had a small apartment that served as her office—a small windowless waiting area, a larger room where she saw patients, and a dingy bathroom with cracked tiles and a grimy bathtub. I wondered if any of her patients ever felt compelled to bathe before or after their therapy sessions. The wall-to-wall carpet, formerly beige, was stained and had ripples big enough to trip an unwary patient. Old copies of Readers Digest and Ladies Home Journal with large sections torn out were tossed around the waiting area. The cover of a magazine caught my attention—“How to Tell if Your Man is Cheating”—supposedly on page 38, but when I looked inside the pages stopped at 37 and began again at 45. I guess I wasn’t the only one with troubles

Dr. Kruger was in her 60s, a kindly plump woman with a short black pageboy hairstyle, gray roots, and no fashion sense. Her entire wardrobe was polyester. A typical outfit was a pink print top with a black knit insert in the v-neck, an elastic-waist print skirt, and knee-high sheer hose that showed the top elastic when she was seated. She wore white shoes after Labor Day and before Memorial Day. I had no respect for her fashion sense or her décor, but I wasn’t there for either. I needed emotional help.

It’s hard to establish a relationship with a therapist. Most people don’t begin therapy until they are in a desperate situation, hurting badly. So you drag your sorry self to the therapist and start spilling out your pain. The problem is, if after several sessions you decide you aren’t connecting with the therapist, you have to search for another one and start the process all over again. And you’re doing this at a time when you have few emotional resources—otherwise you wouldn’t need a therapist.

Week after week I showed up at Dr. Kruger’s office at four o’clock on Wednesday afternoon. When I arrived often she would be in session with another patient and I could hear what they were saying while I waited. I hated that—if it had been the least bit interesting, I might have enjoyed eavesdropping on the intimate details of someone else’s life. The other patients would leave—always awkward, especially if they suspected I heard part of their session. “Just quit your whining and get over it, for God’s sake, don’t be such a wimp,” is what I often was tempted to say. But I avoided eye contact and said nothing.

Then I got my chance with Dr. Kruger. I only can imagine now what we talked about then. I suppose I did my own whining and blabbering about my husband leaving and what was I going to do with my life. She should have told me to get over it. But Dr. Kruger didn’t really care. Regularly, she fell asleep in our sessions. Not just once, or twice, but probably in half of our sessions. She sat in her special psychiatrist chair, nodding, saying, “Yes. I see. And how did that make you feel?” and her head would begin to fall. I just kept talking, perhaps raised my voice a bit. Eventually she would jerk up her head, with a barely noticeable startle, and like a tape on a replay loop, continued saying, “Yes. I see. And how did that make you feel?” I pretended nothing happened. The last thing I needed in my wounded state was to have a confrontation with my psychiatrist. She was supposed to be my refuge, my support, and I lacked the courage to challenge her. So for several months I tried to ignore her catnaps.

I must have been getting stronger because on one Wednesday afternoon, at about 4:30, she started nodding off again. But this time I just stopped talking. She fell into a deeper sleep and started snoring. My shrink, the one who was supposed to be helping me find some self-esteem, was snoring during our session. This was like something out of a cartoon in the New Yorker. I just sat there, getting angry, watching her sleep. Finally she awoke with a little jump and I said in my best ice-queen voice, “You were asleep.”

“But you stopped talking,” she responded.

I wish I had found the presence to say, “I didn’t know it was my job to keep you awake,” but I barely stifled an unamused chuckle, quickly finished the session, and walked down that dark, narrow, cabbage-scented hall of metal doors, seething.

That was my last session with Dr. Kruger; I left a message on her answering machine saying that I would not be returning. When she sent me a bill for the final session, I wrote her a letter, telling her that I wasn’t going to pay her. “I am offended by your unprofessional behavior,” I wrote, “I deserved better from you. I deserved some respect."

Maybe, in her own way, she was a great therapist—she helped me find some courage.

I don’t know why I chose this recipe to accompany my piece on the snoring psychiatrist. Maybe it’s because I wish I had come back to her with a brilliant snappish retort. I’m a ginger lover and developed this recipe because I needed a delivery system that would give me a huge hit of ginger. Warning—they’re addictive and I’ve yet to hear of a support group for ginger addicts.

Triple Ginger Snaps

¾ cup softened butter
1 cup sugar
1 egg
¼ cup molasses
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1 ½ teaspoon dry ginger
1 ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¾ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon allspice
1 tablespoon minced candied ginger

Cream butter. Gradually add sugar, beating medium speed with mixer. Add egg and molasses, mix well. Combine flour and dry ingredients. Add dry ingredients gradually to creamed mixture. Stir in candied ginger.

Chill dough 1 hour. Shape dough into 1-inch balls and roll in sugar.

Bake 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets or on parchment-lined cookie sheets.
Bake at 350 degrees for 11 minutes.

Makes about 4 dozen.

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