Candy Krainin dreaded retirement. At 72, slowing down was not an item on her agenda. Fifty-two years of dedicated work as a psychotherapist taught her many important lessons relating to the nature of the human mind. By listening to the woes of others who came crying into her windowless office in Manhattan week after week, she knew to never give in to the temptation of permanent rest, otherwise, the soothing lure of depression would rot away at her soul like a cavity in a tooth.
The celebrated clinician understood the basic principle of cognitive behavioral management and what causes so many to lose their way– an idle mind is the devil’s playground and so few knew how to keep busy, like Candy. The world seemed down and its inhabitants were stuck on the same cycle of failing to do anything constructive. The therapist understood the importance for everyone to move on in new and brighter directions. She lived her life by following the rules of a sacred proverb– chop wood, carry water. She believed that the key to living mentally- healthy was to keep busy, otherwise, conditions like Alzheimer’s were just waiting to cause their ruin.
Sanity is not as crazy as it may sound, at least that is how Candy analyzed the concept of finding true happiness and contentment. Her golden rules in treatment plans were these: keep pressure off the chest, develop interesting hobbies, never stop punching some sort of time clock, and always keep a close friend close by, just to talk to if necessary. With these standard rules for living and a willingness to share them with others, every nut case to cross her caseload left treatment feeling much better.
The simple act of listening to the lost helped them to find their way back. Candy’s reputation was impeccable and she was known to have successfully cured the minds of biologically based emotional illnesses like Bi-Polar Disorder and Schizophrenia without the use of unpopular medications. Good doctors knew her name and sent their most challenging ‘cases’ her way.
Candy learned the hard way that listening intently to others is far different than simply listening or pretending to have an ear pealed. During some sessions, in particular with those suffering from eating disorders like anorexia, she sat with her mouth wide opened, pretending to be shocked by what her patients were saying to her. She had heard it all before. Nothing could shock her, yet she acted as if everything said during sessions was alarming. Her shocked facial expressions were intended to be subliminal triggers, like contagious yawings, when one who is tired suddenly yawns after noticing another place their hand over their mouth.
Candy’s looks of shock caused her eating disorder patients to open their mouths wider as they talked about how ugly they felt. Only then could she physically assess just how deeply her patients had slipped into the hunger of such a corrosive illness. She hated seeing their teeth and how the enamel had rotted away from too many stomach acids splashing from behind, on their way out, following the tickle of a finger or two. Candy got false teeth at fifty and hated seeing young children ruin their beautiful smiles so selfishly.
Once she managed to get their mouths wide open, the venom from her clients anger spilled across a well- worn Oriental rug on the floor of her suite.
“Why do you feel fat when it’s quite obvious you are as skinny as an Ethiopian?”
“I have irritable bowel syndrome.”
“Nonsense. Look at your teeth. You are doing this to yourself. It has nothing to do with your intestines. How could it? You let no food go down.”
“How dare you say that to me. That’s unethical. I’ll sue you. I’m ending our treatment today.”
“Then I dare you to eat this Tic Tac. Here you go, hold out your scrawny hand for me. Now, prove to me that you can eat. Show me that you are not ill, little girl. Here, eat this Tic Tac and wait thirty minutes to the end of this session and let’s see if you can tolerate this little piece of candy. Prove it to yourself. You have nothing to prove to me.”
Her patient, Amy Ryan, broke down in tears, ate the Tic Tac, and moments later changed the conversation to her father and suddenly had forgotten that she had swallowed anything. Amy was instantly cured. In two weeks, she put on twenty pounds. Candy knew it was not a miracle cure, simply the art of honest conversation.
She absorbed so much of their burdens. Often, after such sessions, she would fast for days on end just for the thrill of understanding what was going on with her cases. She somehow had taken on their illnesses. She was able to absorb what it was that had led them down such dangerous paths and in a way, it felt mysteriously sensual to her– to be so hungry. After a point, the pain goes away and the mind slips into a world of delusional ecstacy. It is a sacred place in the mind where only the well trained, those like Candy, are able to slip safely in and out of, unlike those who were lost who came to her to find their way back out.
For the woman who dedicated her life to helping others, the glow of self-inflicted starvation and the secret peace that is found within the body when no food is present made the long hours in a chair seem worth it in the end. It was a trick of the trade of human consciousness that made all the stories she had digested over the years seem to fold into one giant tale– one she had written and a story that was somehow about her.
She was advised to be careful in school. They taught her about boundaries there. Candy pushed the limits and went beyond Freudian concepts though. When the clock clicked past 30 minutes, her patients were usually just getting warmed up. She let them go on for as long as they needed. It took almost for a decade for her to say “That’s the end of today’s session.”
There is only so much water and wood one therapist can chop and carry. Listening for so long had worn her thin. Besides, she was hungry again. Hungry for silence. It was time to let go and rest in places like the arms of a fasted, starved body that had found its own bliss. Time to let go– time to move on again.
The phone rang in her office.
“Hi. My daughter has an eating disorder. She’s just been discharged from St. Vincent’s and she needs an outpatient therapist. I was told you are an excellent one.”
“I’m sorry, I’m not taking any new patients. I plan to retire soon.”
“Oh, please, but you must. My daughter is pregnant. You must save my grandchild.”
“What’s her name and age.”
“Connie. She’s twenty-one.”
“I have an opening on Friday at 3 p.m.”
“We’ll take it!”
(To be continued…)