A good friend is someone who knows more about you than you do.
One such friend told me that as a young woman, I could stand on a street corner waiting for someone with such aplomb that it would seem as if I were not even there.
I think I learned early to distance myself from many things and people, and when I began my professional career, I’m sure it was the same. Read for example, a poem I wrote and had published in ASHA magazine, about my first encounter as a treating therapist with a person who had global aphasia:
“How are you?”
“You,” with head nod.
And I wheel you in to begin.
“House. House. House. House.”
“House,” again, with reassuring tone.
And “House. House. House.”
Until I am sure one of us will scream and strike the other.
And it comes.
I smile and am pleased in my professionalism because you have said
We should go to that house,
outlined so nicely on plastic-coated card.
Knock on the door.
Have a cup of tea.
Laugh to see the rabbit spread his bread with treacle.
You smile, pleased that I am pleased
while I turn and begin,
“Sugar. Sugar. Sugar.”
I wore a white coat in those days: armor against connection. The idea of sharing myself with the people I sat next to day after day, was not acceptable to me. I saw it as unprofessional. And so, when the sadness of someone’s story threatened to overwhelm, I would blink back tears, and avoid more than a light touch of reassurance. I felt it was important to create a safe space for people with aphasia to tell their truths, unhindered by the connections of husbands, wives, children; free of any concerns of pulling those who loved them down into their own pit of emotions. At least, that’s what I told myself.
In reality, I did not want to share myself with them. They knew nothing of my joys, fears, family, though I knew theirs. It was a decidedly professional relationship with feelings moving only one way.
I don’t know when it changed exactly, when I began to realize that the very core of the therapy depended upon relationship. Certainly the Life Participation Approach to Aphasia validated what I was feeling, and gave me courage to connect.
Yesterday, I saw three clients at the office. The first one had talked to me the previous session about her pesto, born of her prolific garden basil. She handed me a brown paper bag, holding a container filled with homemade pesto and some grated cheese. I used it with the grilled chicken I had planned for dinner, took a photo of it, and sent it to her via email.
In the next session, I was in the middle of an exercise when the gentleman with aphasia grabbed my left hand and turned it over. Two weeks ago, I had told him how I wound up in the ER with a cut finger and needed stitches. He was adamant about seeing how it was healing.
And at the end of the third session, someone I’ve known for several years, halfway out the door, turned to ask about my son, who is making a life decision that troubles me. Having raised two sons of his own, he cautions me about trying to push back, and to accept what my son is doing and why.
Somewhere in all of that afternoon, I did some good clinical work as well, but when I left the office, it was more about how these three people are somehow as much in my life, as I am in theirs. I’ve worked hard to get to this place. It’s a good place.