Magazine, website & books written by teens since 1989

The Psychologist's Equation

Custom User Avatar
More by this author
“Do you know why you’re here?”

I’d heard of people saying those words. But I never imagined that someone would say them to me.

“Not really,” my voice squeaks into the silence. Ha. That’s a lie. So maybe honesty is supposed to be the best policy, but sometimes I just…can’t, if you know what I mean.

Stepping into the room a few seconds ago, my mind had immediately absorbed the surroundings. One large window overlooking the street, the sunlight pouring in through the crooked blinds. A tissue box and a plant on a table on a rug on the floor. I had seated myself on a sofa on one side of this table, and, on the other side, she had plopped into a chair with one leg planted on the corner of the carpet. I hate when that happens- one leg on the carpet when the other three are not.

I could go on forever describing everything in this room. My mind doesn’t just take in objects; it takes what I’m thinking about it at the moment. Right then, I was thinking about how all of these things were …imperfect. Right now, I’m thinking about the color of the wall. Did the psychologist paint it that neutral, faded beige for a reason? Hopefully that reason was to make it more inconspicuous, because if it’s supposed to soothe me, it’s not working.

“Well. You mother has probably mentioned that she’s already talked to me …about you. She’s worried that you might be- that you’ve been going through a lot of stress lately.”

Why they pay psychologists to state the obvious, I don’t know. I can tell a lot about her too, like how she’s nervous talking to me- a little uneasy. Right now, when her voice wavers a bit and she brushes back a strand of her hair. And it’s not like people can’t read my emotions- I’m an open book.

“Your mother says you’re a good student, but you tend to push yourself very hard.”

A good student? I’m failing school- at least, that’s what I believe. Just thinking about it now is torture.

She looks up from her clipboard and peers at me. “What do you think about that?”

“Well-” I don’t want to sound like too messed up of a person- “sometimes I think, uh, maybe I- my grades could be better. So maybe I should push myself a bit harder.”

She raises her eyebrows, and I want to say: What I mean is, I’m not perfect and it would be nice if I could be more perfect.

More questions. Honestly, I don’t know how this person is going to help me. Some things you just can’t solve, like those math equations where there’s no solution- I hate those. The thing is, you can look at the problem and see right from the start that there’s no solution. Or you could keep trying to solve the equation, sticking in different numbers and using different methods for hours and hours. But there will still be no solution. Isn’t it easier to just admit the problem can’t be solved from the start?

“Do you notice any unusual patterns in your routine? Anything you always repeat, sort of like a superstition?”

“I don’t think so.” Another lie. My whole life is based on patterns. I walk at an even pace, even align my footsteps in just the right fashion so I never, ever, step on a crack in the sidewalk. I always-

“Sorry, that was a weird question.” She smiles apologetically, and I nod and pretend I don’t know that she’s testing me, trying to see how to solve a no-solution problem. “It’s just that some people have very… precise patterns in their daily routine. Some really obsessive people, you know, when they lock the bathroom door- they check twice to make sure it’s locked, or something like that.”

More questions. Throughout the entire time, I’m also studying the contents of the room- you could say my brain is multitasking. Yes, I’m paying attention, and yes, I’m answering the questions, but I’m also inwardly glaring at the table. If only she would move it a little to the right…

“Are there any numbers that you generally avoid or don’t like?”

“Do you mean numbers as in written form or number form?” I blurt without thinking. What I really want to ask is if she means numbers that are written or spoken, read or thought. Does she mean digits on a clock, or someone spelling out the number in a spelling bee? Is she talking about regular numbers, or Roman numerals, or binary, or atomic numbers, or…Numbers in a math problem, or numbers that are counted in English, French, Spanish, Japanese? Numbers on dominoes, numbers tallied out on a piece of paper, numbers…?

My brain whirls. I have all sorts of problems with numbers, but it really depends in what context. She explains that she just generally means numbers, which doesn’t help at all. I choose the first thought that comes out of my head.

“Uh, I don’t really like prime numbers.” The sentence sounds stupid, but it’s the best simplified version of my number-thought-process that I can come up with on the spur of the moment.

Next question. “Have you ever felt…melancholy?”

This makes me smile, because I suddenly think of a book using that very same word. I notice the psychologist watching me closely and realize my expression has changed- told you, I’m an open book.

“Sorry, I was just thinking of a book.” I wince at how random that sounded, but she leans forward and asks me what book it was.

“Because of Winn Dixie.” I could tell her the author, the plot, the exact chapter and page number that I was thinking of. I could recite the passage word for word, but I decide not to. “The protagonist-” India Opal Buloni, but she likes to be called Opal, I think to myself- “gets these…this kind of candy from her friend-” I pause, considering explaining how Opal met the Miss Fanny the librarian and the story of the librarian’s brother, the maker of the candy, which was called Litmus Lozenges… but that would be too off-topic. “The candy, uh, well, the protagonist gives one to her father and he says it tastes like melancholy.”

She nods, but it’s obvious that she has no idea what I mean. I don’t think she gets it, how my mind works, like ten different computers whizzing with information all at the same time. I don’t think she gets that I can recite most novels and that my thoughts race in all directions with each passing moment, and I don’t think she gets that I always go over what I’m going to say aloud a split second before I do.

Her responding question: “So, have you ever tasted…melancholy? Or felt depressed?”

“Uh, I don’t- not really.” That’s the third lie of the day, and probably the biggest one yet. Great.

She moves on, question after question after question. I try to be as truthful as possible and water down my responses at the most- no more lying for me. But I’m still thinking those side thoughts, and I’m still convinced that this psychologist has no idea what equation she’s trying to solve- much less solve it- because she doesn’t really know me…and my responses weren’t all that accurate.

I’m also still thinking about the imperfect contents of the room, so when her hand reaches for the tissue box, I am suddenly afraid she’s read my mind.

“Well. It seems that most of your…stress is mainly caused by your perfectionism. We all have perfectionism to some degree. For example, I always keep these things on my table in this order, the tissue box on this side and the plant on the other.” Her hand points at the table. “But some people would be even more bothered by my things on the table. If I were one of them, maybe I would have to split the table into halves and put each object in the center of each one.” Her hand moves the tissue box over and I wince, because the edges of the box are even less parallel to the edge of the table than before.

Maybe if you made sure that tissue box and plant were directly in the perfect spot, I think to myself, everything would be okay. Maybe if you moved the table a bit so it wouldn’t be crooked. Maybe if you straightened the rug and moved it to the center of the room. Maybe if you wouldn’t sit leaning to one side of your chair- maybe you could make sure your legs are parallel to the sides of that chair the way my legs are parallel to the sofa I’m on. Maybe you could move this sofa so it’s parallel to the wall behind it. Maybe you could fix the window blinds so they’re all letting in an equal amount of light, and maybe you could fix that stupid chair leg so it’s not on the rug…

“So your perfectionism isn’t so severe that you have obsessive-compulsive disorder…”


“-but there are some things we could work on. If you want to come back for… therapy of some sort, we could arrange that.”

“Maybe.” Right now, it seems like everything in my life is a maybe. I tell her I’ll ask my mom. We exchange thanks and goodbyes and I leave.

During the car ride home, I think about all this. Maybe the psychologist has no idea what my real problem is or how to solve it. Maybe she’ll never understand me. But…maybe the equation she’s set up for me isn’t all that bad. Maybe she’s twisted it into something that really does have a solution, and I can pretend that her equation is my own. And if I solve that equation…

I shrug. The car clears its throat, yawns, and rolls to a stop. I get out, go inside, climb the stairs with even footsteps.

Maybe…maybe I’ll give the psychologist a chance.

Shrugging to myself again, I head for my room, close the door, and check twice to make sure it’s locked.

Join the Discussion

This article has 5 comments. Post your own now!

ValxP This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
May 2, 2011 at 2:22 pm

Thanks for the comments below! :)

Mikharo1- You're absolutely right; this story actually has more fact than fiction in it. I think most people tend to write from life experiences- I know that when writing about this event, I just recalled my actual thoughts and feelings (again, this story can really be considered true). 


Mikharo1 replied...
May 2, 2011 at 6:02 pm
That is very interesting. Do you ever try to step outside of the box or yourself while writing? What I mean is I am working on a new story from a female perspective and as a male I am finding it extremely difficult to characterize a gender that is alien to me. Have you ever tried something like that?   
Mikharo1 said...
May 1, 2011 at 7:56 pm

I love the subject matter. It hits really close to home. Any ounce of true life in this story?

The best writers writer what they know right?

Shawntae90 said...
May 1, 2011 at 12:22 pm
Really enchanting! Great read. I thought the characters were interesting and well developed. 
Grace4297 said...
May 1, 2011 at 7:10 am
I love this, especially the end. It reminded me of memory masters that can remember everyday of their lives. Beautiful piece.
Site Feedback