“Sometimes trying to help somebody can lead to a lecture.” My daughter Kate said that on a recent morning. It’s the sort of philosophical grumble that frequently issues — quietly, whisperingly — from the back seat of my car. We spend a lot of time in the car, and the back seat is where Kate must sit, even though she’s 31 years old, because, tiny as she is, the airbags in front are a threat to her existence. And our frequent rides in the car are the setting for impromptu therapy sessions as Kate, who just happens to have Down Syndrome and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, struggles to make sense of the world.
As a therapist, I have not been a rousing success. And I do think of myself as the therapist, and the back seat of my car as the couch. Kate has a lot of questions — many of them some form of WHY IS THE WORLD THE WAY IT IS? And many times, these questions are drenched in anxiety — as in why did so-and-so say that to me? Why does she do that? Why did he have to die? Why do I keep doing that? Why is everything turning out wrong?
All this anxiety seems to find an outlet on the long car drive between our house and Innisfree Village, where Kate is a “day-worker.” Innisfree is an idyllic place, or so it seems to me, a “life sharing” community in a beautiful mountainside setting with fun things to work on like old-fashioned looms at The Weavery and gardens and farm animals to take care of. But it’s Kate’s workplace, and she approaches it with lots of worries — about conflicts with her co-workers, real or imagined slights, and, because she has OCD, the knowledge that she is once again very late for work.
So on this particular day, we are hoofing it out to Innisfree Village, and Kate is trying to figure out where things went awry with one of her co-workers. I have been probing around the possibility that Kate herself brought on this day’s problem — because she’s so eager to help people with THEIR problems, or because, like a tongue worrying around a crusty tooth, she inevitably finds the anxiety-provoking element in anything. She has parried away my inquiries with her usual “It’s hard to explain.” This is Kate Code for “Please stay out of my business.” I have suggested that she could have just ignored what so-and-so said and that perhaps so-and-so was not in the mood for helpful advice. But, my own advice has devolved into that dreaded thing: a lecture.
Obviously, Kate needs a real therapist. Not because I feel like giving up ( I’ve been doing this on-the-road therapy for about seven years now), but because some person other than Mom might not have all her insights trashed as “lectures” — thus being of more actual assistance to Kate. Her former therapist closed her practice — could she have fallen into despair due to Kate’s failure to improve even one iota in getting to work on time? Well, anyway, now I’m on the look-out for a new one.
Have you ever tried to find a therapist for a person with an intellectual disability? Not a popular niche in therapist world, let me tell you. Nor for that matter is being a psychiatrist to the intellectually un-gifted a category of interests you’ll find on anybody’s professional website. On top of which, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is considered more or less un-treatable. Who wants that niche? One of my closest, dearest friends is a psychotherapist, and when I myself was in therapy, she told me that I was the kind of patient who would be a favorite — that thinkers and intellectual types are “fun” to do therapy with/on/whatever. Though I’m here to tell you that my daughter, despite her disability, should be hugely popular with therapists. Why? Because she does not stop thinking, wondering and asking why. And here’s the perfect example. The very first thing she said to her first therapist on her very first office visit was “How do people change?”
What a moment. I sat there just admiring the hell out of my daughter and thinking, wow, that’s the million-dollar question, and how’s this therapist going to deal with it? I was intrigued. But the therapist’s answer was kind of disappointing, kind of a parrying question of her own. But who would have anticipated that question from this tiny person with Down Syndrome?
So here I am with Kate and these existential questions, which continue to issue from the back seat. And really, I wouldn’t have it any other way.