Sunday, October 11, 2009

Shrink to Fit

Like a lot of creative types, I’ve had a little therapy. It all started when I was a teenager and discovered that our small town had a clinic where I could speak to a therapist for free. What I actually wanted to talk about was the fact that I was gay, but in the three years I went there, I never had the guts to bring it up. Instead, I talked to Mr. Weatherly (the kind fatherly guy who was assigned to my case) about my family – which gave us plenty of material. Later, when I went away to college (and came steamrolling out of the closet), I started talking with a younger, hipper guy name Paul who always wore cowboy boots to every session. Paul encouraged me to follow my dreams.

Those dreams led me to New York, where I enrolled in acting classes. In this atmosphere, I was finally free to become a big neurotic mess. So soon, I found "Sherri," who struck me as the perfect New York therapist. Sherri was short and round with frizzy hair and no discernable sense of humor. She also wore these big black glasses that magnified her eyes; giving the impression that she was fascinated by every detail of my miserable existence. After four years of listening to me bitch about my family and career, Sherri felt I had made “some progress.”

When I landed on the sunny shores of California, I brought with me a big attitude. I thought of myself as a “serious” artist -- which meant I had serious, complicated problems. I’d heard stories of nutty L.A. shrinks and I was very leery. However, my partner (with whom I’d lived with for five years) had developed an increasingly serious drug and alcohol problem. The fights were getting worse and I was running out of ideas. After a few cautious phone calls, I found a therapist named Jessica who agreed to work with me on a sliding scale. I made an appointment for the following Tuesday.

When I arrived at her Beverly Hills office, the door opened and I was greeted by the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen in my life. Jessica was a supernaturally gorgeous blonde with a warm, radiant smile. In her early 30’s, she had one of those long, willowy bodies that made her look like a runway model. It was like somebody had put Kim Basinger on a rack and stretched her to 6’.

Settling into her office, I tried to articulate my problems, but found it very hard to concentrate. This woman couldn’t be a therapist. Not a real therapist. How could somebody this ridiculously perfect understand the angst and anxiety we ordinary humans experience on a daily basis? This was never going to work. Somehow, I just couldn’t see myself driving to Beverly Hills each week and telling my problems to Cheryl Tiegs. I had to get out of this, but it felt too rude to dump her after only one session. I decided I’d do it next week.

The following Tuesday, I returned and went on the offensive. Eager to show her I was no lightweight, I began explaining in minute detail just how complex my therapeutic journey had been thus far. At first, Jessica just kept smiling. Then she started interrupting me at key moments and disrupting the flow of my tortured narrative. Finally, I called her on it. Cocking her gorgeous head slightly to one side, she gave me a perky, surprised smile. “Oh, I’m sorry, “ she said. “The reason I interrupted you is you don’t seem to be telling me much about your feelings – which is what we’re here to talk about, right?” I was stunned. She had nailed me. In an effort to discredit her, I’d painfully revealed just how little I’d learned in sixteen years of therapy. The problem wasn’t Jessica or her stunning good looks. I just didn’t want to admit what was going on. I decided she might not be such a bad therapist after all.

I soon discovered that although Jessica probably wasn't the perfect therapist for everybody, she was the perfect therapist for me. Gradually, I started to learn a little about her. She had indeed been a model and that experience had left her with a keen understanding of what it was like to be judged on one’s personal appearance (something I often struggled with). Although she had no personal experience in the competitive world of show business, she certainly understood how the most bizarre and most uncontrollable factors could determine who got the job and who didn’t. Jessica had also, at one point in her life, had a rather large drug and alcohol problem, so when I finally got around to telling her what was going on in my home, she got it in a big way.

Before long, coming to see Jessica was the highlight of my week. Not only did I love talking to her, I loved looking at her. Her flawless taste in clothing, make-up and hairstyling was never less than a miracle to behold. At times, her therapeutic style could be a bit quirky. I remember once telling her about an early sexual experience I’d had and she responded by saying that my story had reminded her of the first time she’d shot heroin. Moments like these left me wondering if my shrink might be a little loopy, but I didn’t care. She was was always utterly honest and wonderfully unpretentious. During our time together, Jessica talked me through quitting cigarettes, watching my first movie tank and the painful decision to exit my relationship after 10 years together. And she was there when I reentered the dating world as a 39 year-old gay man.

I remember one day, admitting to her my fear that I was now too old to compete romantically in Los Angeles; how everybody seemed so much younger and more attractive than me. As I said this, Jessica’s expression changed. My story had obviously struck a deep chord with her. Sadness and empathy swept over her face and for a moment, I thought she was going to cry.

The following week, our session was mostly consumed by one of my many professional disappointments, but just as I was about to leave, Jessica said she had something for me. Reaching into her bag, she produced an unopened jar of Chanel face cream and proceeded to explain that she’d found this product wonderfully effective. Apparently, it had “just a touch of acid in it” that sort of burned off the upper layer of one's skin, reducing the appearance of wrinkles. She placed in my hand with a gentle smile. I was so floored I barely remembered to say thank you. As I walked out to my car, I noticed that the price tag was still on the bottom. It was a staggeringly expensive product. I was touched, but there was something weird about this little exchange. I'd sort of been hoping to hear some wise words about accepting the passage of time and had instead come away with a pricey jar of flesh-eating beauty cream.

When I finally stopped seeing Jessica about four years ago, it was an easy decision to make for two reasons. First, I had run out of money and could no longer afford to talk about my problems. But a larger truth had also become clear. There are no real answers. Only decisions. And God knows the previous seven years of my life had been full of decisions. Some great, some not so great. To her enormous credit, Jessica had approached every dilemma I'd brought her with a freshness that always made it seem like it was her first day on the job. She had, in her way, managed to instill a bit of her “Who the hell knows what any of this means?” attitude in me. I never knew what her life was like outside the office, but one got the sense that ‘Carpe Diem” was probably the order of the day. After seven years with Jessica, I finally felt like my life (in California or wherever I may end up) is ultimately meant to be lived and not talked about.

Copyright 2009 Quitcher-Bitchyn Entertainment, Inc.

David Dean Bottrell is an actor (“Boston Legal”) and screenwriter (“Kingdom Come”) who writes a weekly blog about being strangely middle-class in Hollywood at


Scott Ganyo said...

"There are no real answers. Only decisions."

...and experiences. Thank you for sharing yours. And always remember to enjoy the ride.


Karen Hutson said...

"flesh-eating beauty cream"

I can't decide whether I love you more because you are Sick or because you are Brilliant!


Barbara MacLean said...

.. yeah.. I decided to give up therapy when it struck me, "How pathetic am I to have to pay someone to listen to me??" My husband doesn't want to hear it, my friends don't want to hear it, and my line at the grocery checkout lane is freakishly the shortest...hahaha..complete strangers don't want to hear it.

My aura gives me away I guess... or???

You are so very on point here, David. There are indeed, no answers, only choices and it's the tough stuff in life that is supposed to make those decisions better and hopefully, easier. I know, easier said than done, but true none the less. (I'm trying to see how many cliches I can fit into one sentence.)

Now my therapy "sessions" are with my dogs where I don't talk much. I just watch them tear it up in the fields sniffing out the grodiest of grodies to roll in and "can I catch that heron today?" cross their minds. Keeps me up to date on what's important.

When life give you shit-- roll in it!! Make the whole world smell what you've found... your grocery checker will thank you for the shorter lines.

Your faithful reader,
Austin, TX