To this point, Dr. Katz has focused on asking short questions to probe around different areas of my life and I’ve done my best to answer them.
This session is different. He starts to assert control and talk more. I find it’s a vast improvement to become engaged in real conversation instead of mostly monologuing like the previous sessions.
He starts off by asking me what I spend most of my time at work doing.
Uh, work? Well, the first six months were pretty busy. But now it’s slow.
Okay. Well, do you like that? What do you do there?
Well, yeah, I think I like it better than being busy all of the time like I used to be. I guess. I exercise in the morning and then I try to come up with a few things to do that will easily justify my existence for the day.
So you don’t have a lot to do?
No, not right now.
But you’re used to being busy. Most of your other jobs were high intensity, right?
Yes, you have it right. Every day used to feel like a fight for survival.
Have you been busy for the last six to twelve months?
Well. No, now that you mention it, not really. Since my first major project wound down, I’d say I probably only do maybe 10-15 real hours of work any given week. Sometimes I get a stretch week at 30 or 35, but it’s not common.
Mhhm. So where does the remaining time go?
I thought about it and realized I spent quite a few hours doing what I think of as ‘internetting’ — the new millennium’s version of channel flipping. This is the act of mindlessly moving from website to website and seeing where it leads you. News sites, youtube, that sort of thing. It’s addictive, and largely brainless.
That’s normal. What else?
I told him I think about retiring. Not coming to work. I am not sure why I’m still working. I don’t want to work anymore.
When you say you think about retiring, what do you really mean? There must be more to this.
Well, I also do stuff like check account balances and run retirement calculators but that doesn’t take too long and I don’t do these things more than once or twice a month. Sometimes I cruise early retirement websites and forums.
I also email friends and family here and there. Whatever. It’s not important.
What do you mean? What’s not important?
What I do is not important.
Oh. Well, still, if you want to talk about it, I’d like to hear it. And you know, it’s completely okay to feel that way. Like your job doesn’t matter. Many people do.
Really? How about you? Are you part of many people?
Dr. Katz laughs and a genuine smile bursts suddenly upon his face. He says he has bad days just like everyone else, but yes, fortunately he does feel as though his job matters. Therapy helps people, and I like that, he says. He asks if I want to talk some more about my relationship to my work.
No, not really. I think I’m just worried about retiring. I mean, it’s this big change, you know? I wanted the ability to leave work so badly, and for such a long time. Now it’s here, and I strangely don’t know how to deal with it. So I imagine scenarios where I retire and things don’t work out.
Maybe my wife leaves me. Or I’m unhappy without structure in my life. All sorts of crap. I think about these things a lot. Especially at work.
So, tell me, why haven’t you done it yet?
That’s just it: I don’t know. I honestly have no fucking idea. Some days it drives me crazy. Others, I think: I should just stop thinking about this and work forever. It’d be easier in some ways.
Interesting. How does your wife feel about all of this?
Eh. I think she’ll go along with it, but she’s mentioned that she will probably keep working herself, even though she doesn’t have to. We don’t see completely eye to eye here.
I wonder if you might be thinking about this too much. Have you noticed an increase in thoughts related to quitting and embarking on your ‘retire early’ plan over the last year?
Well, yeah. Definitely. No doubt.
That’s going to be part of the issue, then. You’re probably engaged in what I call ruminatory thoughts, where you think about a short list of things over and over again. These patterns can contribute to depression.
Ok, yeah, that makes sense.
We need to work on breaking you out of this. I’m the type of analyst who is going to make firm suggestions on what to do — I want you to know that I’m not content to simply listen to my patients.
Fine by me.
So here’s your homework. I want you to think about exactly what it is that’s changed. What’s happened in your life? Is it really just that you don’t have to work anymore? Or is there more to it? Let me know next week.
Because I want to know: What is it exactly that you’re thinking about?
Somewhat terrified by his request, I nevertheless commit to answering these questions.