Leaking therapy notes

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I’ve been seeing this patient since the beginning of summer now. On Sunday morning, she knocks on my bedroom door. Finally. We’ve been rescheduling all weekend, but I have a deadline to meet, and any later would be too late. 

I hold the door open, and with it, space for all the big feelings she’ll bring. 

She always looks a little different. This time, she looks a lot like I do now, just a year younger. The only difference between us, really, is that she hasn’t been to college in the United States yet. 

My usually cluttered room is empty suddenly, a writer’s asylum of overthinking. There’s just some suggestive wall art and glasses of water. Hers is half empty and mine is half full. 

She lies down on the couch. I lie in parallel on my bed. We both stare up at the ceiling and I flip my laptop open gently. I don’t want to overwhelm her. 

We begin. 

Me: Today, I’d like to talk about your absolute denial of some of your cultural norms. Let’s begin with your thoughts on housewives. Take a second to ruminate on them. 

One second later. 

She: I feel bad for them. The concept is toxic to women and the financial dependence represses their dreams and numbs them into a life void of purpose. 

Me: Knowing that they are common in India, have you spoken to any housewives about this? 

She: Yes, I have. They claimed that they aren’t interested in a career and are instead fulfilled taking care of their children and families. But that has to be an adaptive response. They must all be gaslighting themselves out of being something. 

Me: Why do you equate being something with being someone? They can have rich inner lives regardless. Maybe this mental framework is your coping mechanism instead of theirs. I don’t mean to be overly pathological or political, but I believe you have an avoidant attachment style with your culture and catastrophize its traditions. Instead, you hyperfixate on American ideals as the ideal. Western association of capitalistic productivity with value is the perfect microcosmic example.

She: It just seems like eternally sitting in the discomfort and grief of a loveless marriage and staying for the kids. 

Me: Why does the marriage have to be loveless? 

She: Because it was an arranged marriage. They didn’t even care for each other before they entered the sheltered dynamic. It was just a societal compulsion. 

Me: That doesn’t mean you should invalidate it. Children don’t choose their parents, siblings rarely select each other. Love doesn’t have to be first, but it can still be long. Try centering yourself in multicultural understandings of it. Be mindful of the homogenous American media you consume and acknowledge its biases. It positively reinforces your diagnosis of romance as just one thing. 

She: Huh. Sounds like that was a pretty healing breakthrough for you. 

Me: It was. 

She: I can’t have this coffee you made, by the way. It has milk, and I’m trying to go vegan before I move to Berkeley. 

Me: Like vegan vegan? No dairy at all? 

She: Yup, like vegan vegan. 

Me: What about paneer? You know, that curd cheese ingredient central to Indian cooking? The one that’s your favorite and you have made so many core memories over? 

She: What about it? I’ll miss it, obviously, but this is what’s ethical. 

Me: What is? Mirroring eating patterns of people from other cultures? People who may not have the same inherited ties with the food? I’m sorry if I sound triggered, I’m trying to process this decision. Why not be as harm-conscious as you can be without denying yourself paneer? Or other ethnic dishes like kulfi (simmered cardamom ice cream) or the comfort combination of aloo paratha (potato-stuffed pancakes) and dahi (yogurt)? Why would you subject yourself to moral boundaries of absolutes? They don’t allow the transference of your entire identity. 

She: OK, I guess I’ll have the coffee. Oh, and speaking of boundaries, how do I set them with the people in my life? 

Me: What do you mean, has somebody been invading them? 

She: No, but “setting boundaries” has become this wellness thing online, and it feels important to better self-compare. Sorry — I mean better self-care, of course. 

Me: Freudian slip. Happens all the time. Go on.

She: Well, I love unadulterated intimacy and oversharing despite what my for you page says. What is that about? 

Me: It’s about community-based Indian values. As a person of color, you’ll learn that doing right by you isn’t always the same as doing right by current convention. In a world that only affirms American individualism of coloring outside the lines, sometimes it’s more defiant to color inside the lines. 

She: Hmm, I never thought about it that way. Interesting. I think our time is nearing an end though. 

Me: You’re right. Same time, next week? 

She: You know it. 

Every week this summer, my younger self and I have been putting in the work to overcome our internalized racism. My words have created a safe space for dialogue with her. 

After she leaves, I edit the session notes and leak them on the Internet. 

Thank you for reading them.

Mahika Singhal writes the Friday column on being a person of color at UC Berkeley. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter @dailycalopinion.