Leiden Fiction: Therapy

The carpet was grey like a storm cloud. Woollen threads of black, white and steel swirled together to form a mottled pattern that tessellated around the room. She was intimately acquainted with the carpet now, this being her third visit.

It was a curious choice of colour, she thought, given the precarious state of those in the room. All other aspects of the space seemed so carefully considered from the framed prints of inoffensive undulating shapes; the numerous indoor plants that had been so lovingly tended to lest one browning, wilted leaf give anyone the wrong idea; to the generic furniture with soft, round edges. Even the magazines that littered every end table had titles like Breath or Mindful Living.

And yet the carpet was grey.

There were three other people in the waiting room, each of them as knowledgeable on the turbulent grey sky beneath their feet as she was. No one ever made eye contact. They, like her, aimed to be so small, so quiet, that they were rendered invisible.

Hello. Would you like to come through?

Sarah smiled reassuringly, gesturing for her to make her way down the corridor, away from the plants, comforting magazines and other people staring resolutely at the ground.

Would you like some tea? Sarah asked.

Yes please. Earl grey, milk, no sugar. She didn’t resent having to once again tell Sarah how she liked her tea.

There were always three chairs in the room, grouped around a low coffee table. Each chair was home to its own squashy cushion. One even had a knobbly blanket draped casually over its arm. A box of tissues sat suggestively on the table, not quite hidden by a jug of water and two upturned glasses. The carpet was steel blue.

On her first visit, choosing which of the three seats to sit in had felt like a test. If she chose the one closest to the door, would Sarah think she wasn’t committed to getting better, that she might jump up and run out the door at any moment? Or would choosing the sturdy chair facing the wall somehow indicate that she was sceptical about the whole thing and that Sarah would be wasting her time. No matter her choice, it was a test she felt sure to fail.

After much deliberation she had settled for the chair (duck egg blue, timber arms, pink cushion) that faced the window, her rationale being that if she couldn’t bring herself to look at Sarah, she could at least speak to the neon Subway sign across the street. Her choice made, she had had sat in that chair every session since.

Sarah returned with the tea which she placed carefully on the table.

The beginning of the session was always the most awkward. She felt nervous, having never gathered her thoughts as she ought to have, as she had had plenty of time to do in the foyer. Having the tea to hold, to fuss over, made it easier. She tried to ignore the clawing feeling in her stomach and the tightening of her throat.

She had known something was really wrong with her for some time now but it had taken her months to build up the courage to ask her doctor for a mental health plan. Her mood had steadily sunk, she felt constant lethargy and could barely bring herself to do even the most basic tasks. Her boyfriend had been encouraging her to get help for years, even before things had got really bad, but it wasn’t until one of her friends had described her experience with therapy that she felt she could actually do it.

So what’s been happening since we last met? Sarah sat with her pen hovering over the blank page fastened to her clipboard.

Well, I’ve been up and down, but on the whole I’ve felt a lot better than when I last saw you.

This was only partially true. There had been some good moments, like the night they had eaten an entire tray of brownies while reminiscing about their last holiday. They had taken turns doing impersonations of another couple who had stayed at the same hotel. As they rolled around the floor snorting with laughter, she had almost felt back to normal.

In actuality, most of the fortnight had been spent either lying in bed staring blankly at the ceiling, lying on the floor staring at the ceiling blankly or sitting at her desk at work, blankly staring at her computer screen.

She knew it was wrong to lie about her progress, that it would undermine everything she was trying to do here with Sarah, but try as she might she couldn’t escape the urge to impress her. She wanted, no, needed Sarah to think that she wasn’t quite as pathetic as she felt she was, that she was a functioning adult who could get up, get dressed and go to work without staring at anything blankly.

Have you been doing your mindfulness exercises? Sarah’s pen quivered again.

As part of her cognitive behaviour therapy she had been tasked with trying to keep her attention on the present rather than fixating on the future. Sarah had given her a number of print outs of suggested exercises at the end of her second session. Despite her good intentions, she had tried to be mindful only twice.

Yes I have tried quite a few times now and I think it has helped.

She kicked off her shoes and pulled her legs up underneath her on the chair. It was less of a lie than before, but still a lie. She added ‘being more honest’ to the increasing list of things she had to work on.

Good, that’s really good. Sarah said.

Her favourite thing about therapy so far was having someone to talk to that knew nothing about her other than what she chose to reveal. She loved her friends but sometimes it felt like they knew too much about her to offer her objective advice. Sarah provided her with a clean slate on which to imprint only her most relevant experiences.

Tell me what’s been happening at home this past week. The opening pleasantries now over, Sarah was ready to direct their conversation.

The allotted hour ticked by, measured by the two small clocks strategically positioned around the room. Sometimes she would ramble off course and then pause awkwardly, waiting for Sarah to bring her back on track. At other times thoughts would pour from her mouth in torrents and Sarah would have to intervene. Time moved either incredibly slowly or painfully fast and never in between.


Well that’s all we have time for today. Sarah put down her clipboard and pen. She put down her empty cup, having nursed it the last fifteen minutes or so.

They stood up together and left the room, Sarah walking her back to the foyer and the grey carpet.

Illustration: Lexi Keelan

Interested in writing fiction? Leiden is looking to publish fiction pieces from both emerging and established writers. Find out more in our submission guidelines.

Emma Batchelor

Emma Batchelor

As well as a near obsessive interest in fashion, Emma is a former scientist, occasional contemporary dancer, avid reader and self-confessed cat lady (she has three). Emma lived in Leiden in the Netherlands as a baby and Leiden ought to have been her middle name had her mother thought of it at the time and not chosen Louise instead.

One Comment

  1. Not an easy subject on depression and schizophrenia to write about Emma which you have written about with style and empathy – got me reading till the end , thank you

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