I saw a therapist in high school. His office was square and mahogany: cocoa-colored rugs, hazel armchairs, bronze floor lamp, burgundy tapestry, manila folders peeking from the rusting filing cabinets.
I walked up two different creaky stair cases and opened a door that swung shut too quickly, always clipping the heels of my hesitant feet. I sank into a too-squishy armchair in the waiting room and stared at the same drab painting on the wall, watched the same two neighboring psychiatrists lock their doors and leave for dinner at 4:30 p.m. I watched the same man with his briefcase leave my therapist’s office right before I went in, tossing a few closing words about the scourge of modern technology back through the open door. And then I’d go in.
His office felt like a sponge, small and absorbent, mopping up all the loose feelings so they didn’t rattle around and disturb the dust collecting on the beige bookshelves. The way the silence of the room ate up the words as soon as they left my mouth was unnerving, stifling.
But behind his professional veil of taupe, my therapist owned the most amazing art collection. I went to his house one day and saw it.
His house was tall and thin and light. The driveway was steep, nearly vertical. The front door was thin and rectangular, the hallway after it, narrow and elongated.
We spoke in the living room, wandering through white carpeted hallways to get there, looking at the art clinging to the walls, staged on the floor in the corners of the rooms, nailed up around the light switches.
I dragged my feet through the hallway, hesitating at the doorframe as we passed the dining room — I saw large, turquoise, blown glass spheres perched on spindly end tables, pale pink crepe paper stretched over geometric wooden skeletons nailed up on the walls, a patchwork of red and violet paintings spread over the expanses of white drywall.
Everything was colorful, even the couches we sat on.
I talked purposefully to my therapist about my parents’ divorce while I studied the massive, globby painting spanning the wall behind his head, internally deciphering whether the purple blob in the middle was meant to be a tree or a boulder. Or maybe it was a cloud.
“Well, that’s all our time,” he said. As we went downstairs, he told me about the broomstick tacked to the wall at the first landing, where he bought the painting on the clear plexiglass canvas, what he thought would fit in the trapezoid-shaped hole left near the banister when he moved the old drawing into the dining room.
When my mom picked me up and asked me how the session had gone, I would only talk about how much art he owned: “Like a museum,” I told her.
When I think about the year I was in therapy, I think about that day the most — not because I articulated any of my feelings any better than usual, and not because my therapist said anything particularly jarring or insightful, but because of how colorful it was.
Being depressed washes your world in a lot of gray. To use an overwrought artistic metaphor, it’s like a watercolor painting that got all muddy when you didn’t wash all the black paint off of your brush before you tried to paint the sky blue. At least that’s how it was for me — a lot of monochrome. There were white pills rattling in white bottles that I picked up in white paper bags from fluorescent-lit pharmacies with white linoleum floors, the black of my ceiling at night mirroring the dark sky outside as I lay awake for hours unable to fall asleep, my therapist’s office designed only in various shades of brown.
In this sense, a lot of the days are a wash, blending together in their various bland states of synonymous colors.
And maybe it sounds silly to say that all the color in my therapist’s house surprised me, changed the reason for my routine reluctance to begin the appointment, made me a feel a little bit better. But a lot of things don’t make sense when you say them out loud. I think visual art is one of those things — it takes getting close to it and looking at it and seeing how you feel about it to really appreciate it.
I don’t take antidepressants anymore. I don’t lie toss and turn at night, painfully awake. In general, I feel really happy. It’s been two years since I saw a therapist — a lot’s changed. But I still love art. I love museums and art galleries, so much so that I make my own of a sort.
On the wall in the space above my bed, I tape up posters and drawings and newspaper clippings, plastering my room with colors.
Olivia Jerram writes the Thursday arts & entertainment column on experiencing art through other people. Contact her at [email protected].