PUT A DRESS on over my bathing suit and stuff my makeup and blow dryer into a small bag. Am downstairs at 9 o'clock when Elizabeth, an agoraphobic woman, who, prior to coming in for treatment, had been unable to leave her home for two years for fear of panicking, picks me up and off we go for a therapy session. We swim together for 20 minutes, while chatting between laps.
She recalls how only two months ago, merely driving to the health club seemed inconceivable. Today, she is not only able to drive here and come inside, but is even having a good time. She drops me back off at my house and promises to go to the health club at least two more times by herself before our next session, which will be a trip to White Flint, something she is convinced she will not be able to do. I know better, so I tell her we will just plan to meet and then decide if she is up to making the trip.
Run upstairs just in time for my next appointment. Three people who have public speaking phobias. Two attorneys and an ex-radio announcer. I marvel at their ability to laugh at themselves and at the same time be so sensitive and supportive with each other. We share in Ken's joy of having successfully given a talk to a group of colleagues last Friday.
Grab some fruit and nuts to be munched on en route to the office in Rockville. Think about how much more enjoyable this trip would be if I had a new car, and concentrate on justifications for buying one. Reflect upon my first meeting with Bob DuPont, two years ago, when he asked me if I would like to work with some of his phobic patients. Would I like to? I was euphoric; an opportunity to work with this outstanding psychiatrist whom I admired, and visions of my childhood fantasy of being a "travelling shrink" becoming a reality.
The 1 o'clock group session is quite moving. Two newcomers, both of whom have contamination phobias, join the group and are meeting other phobic people for the first time. The other group members are now "old pros" at dealing with their phobias and enthusiastically and inspirationally share their accomplishments of the previous week with the new folks.
Everyone claps and cheers Rita on when she announces that she drove to the grocery store by herself, did a week's shopping and was able to sign her name on a check at the cashier -- three things she says seemed impossible just a few weeks ago. Tuesday
In anticipation of a long day and evening, I try to sleep late. Impossible; too much on my mind: the new office in Baltimore, the Phobia Conference in June, training the new therapists, remembering to tell Bob that I think Glenn needs to consider taking antidepressants. Up and out.
To the office for lots of phone calls and then off to Baltimore in time to lead the first of two new phobia groups. The second won't be until the evening, but there is much to be done in between.
Starting a new group -- equally exciting and anxiety producing. Will I assign the right therapist to the right patient? Will I cover all the logistical information I need to go over at the first meeting concerning the program and, at the same time, be sensitive to each individual?
In choosing a location, I was careful to choose a place in as non-threatening an environment as possible. No elevators or high floors, not too difficult to get to and a group room large enough so as not to seem too confining.
All the worries about the day melt away when, at the end of the second group, just as I am about to collapse from exhaustion, a spouse of one of the phobic people comes up to me with tears in his eyes and apologetically says, "I'm embarrassed at being so emotional, but this is the first time in six years that I have seen a ray of light for my wife."
It isn't until 10:30 p.m. that I get back to town and, instead of going home, I spend the night in Bethesda with my friends' two little children who are missing their vacationing parents. As they both hop into bed with me, I hug them and wonder who is more comforting to whom. Wednesday
Get to the studio early so I will have a chance to chat privately with Dr. Marks, one of the world's leading experts in the field of phobias, before appearing with him on "Morning Break," a talk show. I feel the show went well, in spite of my usual anticipatory anxiety. Lots of good questions and empathy for the subject from the hostess and lots of good questions from the call-in viewers.
When doing a TV show, I want so much for phobia sufferers to realize they are not alone with their problem, are not mentally ill and will not go crazy, although they are convinced they will. I talk about my own phobia, a fear of heights, in hope that people will see it is nothing to be ashamed of.
Quickly rush back to the office for feedback. Did I say the right things? Did I talk too fast? (which, along with thoughts of being overtaken by my New York accent, is my worst public speaking fear). The frantic looks on the faces of our secretary and bookkeeper who are desperately trying to keep up with the overwhelming number of phone calls from people who had seen the show and want to ask more questions, assure me I got my message across.
A meeting with Bob, a couple of letters to write and a review of several more abstracts that arrived today from mental health workers from different parts of the country who want to present papers on their work with phobias at the phobia conference. Bob and I are hosting in Washington in June. I now understand the Peter principle. Treating patients, supervising and training staff members, program development -- things I love to do and feel totally confident doing. But running a conference? Bob keenly recognizes my potential for incompetence and assures me help is on the way.
Home by 7, a quick shower and out to dinner with a friend. Somewhere between the appetizer and main course, he looks at me hesitantly and tells me there's something about him I should know. He has a phobia and has never told anyone before. Thursday
In anticipation of a talk I will be giving at Catholic University this morning, I am scribbling notes while chomping away on cold cereal, fruit and nuts. Suddenly I feel as if someone hit me in the jaw with a hammer. Frantically, I call Ed, my dentist, who assures me if I come right over he will check me out quickly and send me on my way. Wrong.
He sends me as an emergency case to an endodontist who smiles at me while telling me I have an abscessed tooth, that root canal is an immediate must and that it will cost $320. Ouch, on all sides!!
Get to C.U. late, puffed out and swollen, but manage to talk about the treatment of phobias to a much enthusiastic counseling staff. Rush back to the office, feeling a bit sore as the novacaine wears off.
Meet with a driving phobic who successfully goes three exits on the beltway while I follow behind in my car. Then, see a woman who has difficulty being in large, crowded shopping centers. Together we decide on a task, which will be her going to White Flint and purchasing a book with my being nearby, but not in sight. After much apprehension, she succeeds.
Meet with Merna to go over the Baltimore program and, possibly, make some changes; go over the billing with the bookkeeper and return several phone calls. No longer feeling a pain killer is a "luxury," but rather a necessity, I run to the druggist to have the dentist's prescription filled. Wonder if I'll be coherent enough to conduct the staff meeting. Having a "super" staff certainly contributes to my getting through the next hour.
Although there is a 7 p.m. group I am scheduled to lead, by 5:30, I realize I won't be much help to anyone the way I am feeling. I opt for going home and plopping into bed. Friday
Finalize plans for my trip to Crete next month. Have been invited to present a paper at an international conference and can't imagine a more perfect setting. Much excitement about going -- kept down only by the fact that I still haven't begun to write my paper. Next week . . .
Spend an hour riding up and down the Rosslyn Metro Station escalator with Paul, a height phobic. I wonder if the attendants recognize me by now. Rarely does a week go by when I'm not over there practicing with someone. Up and down, up and down; teaching the phobic to watch and label anxiety levels, to focus on manageable tasks in the present (such as counting backwards from 100 by 3s) rather than focusing on the anxiety and to assess and stay connected to reality.
First, I ride up and down with Paul; then, stay several steps behind and, ultimately have him go solo. When he begins to panic, Paul wants to move quickly. So, for most of the hour, I am running up and down the escalator.
Next, it's riding across the Key Bridge with someone who is afraid of losing control of the car. I assure her that the feelings are frightening, but not dangerous; that she will never do what she is afraid of doing and that by putting herself into the phobic situation, she will begin to trust what I am telling her. Also, I point out that if she was in any real danger of losing control, why would I be willing to be in the car with her? She nervously laughs at that, but gets my message.
Back to my apartment for a quick lunch and phone call to check in with my office. Two of the therapists need to speak to me regarding new patients. Make a few calls, save the rest for later.
Off to the Capital Hilton to catch the afternoon session of a conference on anxiety, in hopes of learning something new about the treatment of phobias. After listening to 3 1/2 hours of speakers and frantically taking notes, my mind begins to wander toward this evening's plans, teaching a friend to bake bread. Saturday
Looks like spring is finally making its way. In celebration, Herb, the perennial "perfect challenge" seeker, suggests we go to Roosevelt Island, via the Roosevelt Bridge, on foot. His "challenge" in this case is to get me to "practice what I preach."
To me, the thought of walking over a bridge isn't much different from the thought of skydiving without a parachute. Mustering up the things I say to everyone else all week, I grab Herb's hand and charge over the bridge. Not really so bad. As a matter of fact, pretty exhilerating. Some wine to celebrate and lots of good laughs. Sunday
A long walk through Rock Creek Park with my brother and sister-in-law and off to the Y for a swim, sauna and steam. Even though there are lots of people around, I feel alone and peaceful -- a good break before getting back home and picking up the phone to begin setting up appointments for next week. Pay some bills, finish reading "Sophie's Choice" and nod off with warm thoughts of my trip to Greece.