Today my little sister and her friend were playing imaginary games while I was babysitting them. In one of the games my sister pretended to be a “psychiatrist” and her friend pretended to be her patient. I used to play “psychiatrist” too when I was in grade school. The fact that my father and stepmother are both psychiatrists obviously played some role in our interest in playing this game at such a young age.
I actually got in trouble a few times because of my fascination with mental illnesses. Once in third grade I was held after class for giving my “mentally ill friends” bad advice. According to my teacher none of my friends were manic depressive! Who would have guessed that!? For the rest of the year my teacher would ask me highly personal questions about living with my parents, in order to make sure I wasn’t being traumatized by my psychiatrist father. Unfortunately for her my father was one of my heroes and other than the fact that I thought my mother was bipolar, and that every cold that I had might be cancer (I guess not much has changed!), I lived a content life. For a few months my teacher tried to end my curiosity with mental illnesses. She eventually gave up after she read a short story I wrote about my cats celebrating Christmas. The punchline of the story was that my cats' problems were all resolved when they were given prescription drugs such as lithium for Christmas.
Now, ten years down the road, my sister is playing similar games with her friends. (Lucky for us we both inherited good looks, charm, and a sense of humor- so despite the fact we ask our friends to participate in psychoanalytical games, we have also been socialites since we emerged from our mother's womb.)
My sister asks her friend, “ What’s your problem?”
My sisters friend pauses and tries to think of a humorous response. “Lopsided tables! How can you help me doctor?”
My sister advises her friend to ask an adult to fix the table. The kids laugh and then decide to play the game again. My sister is still playing the doctor and now her friend is pretending to be a woman who comes to see a psychiatrist because she has a fear of bubbles in her milk.
“ I’m sorry but there is no way to fix your situation. You’re going to have to give up milk all together.”
The kids continue to laugh. Eventually the game starts to loose its magic. It’s becoming to repetitive. My sister asks me to play too. I sit down in the chair next to them. She asks me in a “grown-up” voice, “ What’s your problem?”
I start to laugh. “If only I could narrow it down to one.”
It’s bizarre to think that I was playing this game ten years ago with my friends and that back then my biggest concern was being a “good kid”. Now I could go on endlessly about all of my problems, worries, concerns, anxieties, and faults.
“ You have to say something, Meesh? Just make something up.”
“ My problem is that my life has gotten more complicated than lopsided tables and the bubbles in my milk.”
2 years ago