Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "To Give the Problem Back"

This poem is spillover from the March 1, 2016 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from [personal profile] dialecticdreamer and [personal profile] technoshaman. It has been sponsored by LJ user Daisiesrockalot. This poem belongs to the Shiv thread of the Polychrome Heroics series, and directly follows "Deceit and Defiance" and "Responsibility and Accountability." Read those first or this will make no sense.

WARNING: This poem contains some intense topics. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. The inside of Shiv's head is a terrible, horrible mess and even with Dr. G trying to guide him, almost everything Shiv thinks or feels in this scene is bent to hell. This includes poor self-image, low sense of self-worth, reluctance (but not complete refusal) to talk about any of the problems, inability to believe that problems can be fixed, minimal ability to appreciate real accomplishments, ambivalence over praise, a metric fuckton of awful memories making current challenges even harder, assumptions that current people will misbehave in the same ways as previous people have, Shiv's inevitable misery and anxiety over having his boundaries violated recently, some very fatalistic views about that, a spectacular failure of Socratic method, exploration of distorted thought patterns, dire expectations of relationships, attachment disorder, social disconnection, and other emotional mayhem. Due to the length of this story arc and necessity of breaking it down into manageable parts, there is no happy ending in this poem, but they do make progress toward cleaning up the mess. Readers who have had challenges with counseling in the past may find this a difficult read. If these are sensitive issues for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.

"To Give the Problem Back"

When Dr. G arrived for their next session,
he led Shiv to one of the group meeting rooms,
its cheerful yellow walls surrounding a table
with a dozen chairs covered in green cloth.

"We're working here today, because all of
the smaller rooms are busy," Dr. G explained.

"Hey, upgrade," Shiv said quietly as
he sat down in one of the chairs.

A rough couple of days had taken
the bounce out of him, but he still
liked getting a bigger share of things.
Maybe it was greedy of him, but it
made him feel better all the same.

"You look a little tired," Dr. G said,
joining Shiv at the table. "Would you
like to tell me anything about that?"

Shiv shook his head. He was
still a bit tired, and the last thing
he wanted was to talk about why.

"You made it two whole days. That
must have taken a lot of concentration,"
said Dr. G. He pushed an unopened bag
of licorice allsorts across the table to Shiv.
"I am so proud of you for getting this far."

"Uh ... huh," Shiv said, uncertain how
to respond to praise since he almost never
heard any. He popped two pieces of licorice
into his mouth, then resealed the bag.

"That's all you want?" Dr. G said.

"I, uh, learned not to eat too much licorice
at one time," Shiv said sheepishly.

"Problem?" Dr. asked, frowning.

"I ate like a whole handful of those black cats,
and it made me feel kind of weird, so I asked
Dr. Bloch about it," Shiv admitted. "He said
it wasn't dangerous but that if I didn't like
the feeling, just don't pig out on licorice."

"Then that was an important lesson,"
Dr. G said with a satisfied nod.
"I'm pleased to see that you're
learning from your experiences."

Shiv flicked a fingernail against
the end of the candy bag, making
a faint thwip-thwip-thwip sound.

"Did you bring something to keep
your hands busy?" Dr. G asked.
"We talked about how that can
help you to think better."

Shiv startled away from the bag.
"I uh, have this thing ..." he said,
fumbling in his pocket to find
the blue plastic popper.

Pushing the little bubbles
to make them pop did give him
something to do with his hands,
but it also reminded him of Dr. Bloch
and the recent disaster in the infirmary.

"Now there's a long face," Dr. G said.
"Would you care to tell me about it?"

Shiv mashed on the bumps some more.
"Dr. Bloch gave me this," he said.

"Maybe there's something
that you would rather bring up
with him, then?" Dr. G said.

"Yeah no, he's kind of ...
not speaking to me anymore,"
Shiv said glumly.

"That sounds frustrating,"
Dr. G said. "He doesn't seem
like the kind of person to take
offense easily. What makes you
think he's not speaking to you?"

"Day after you left, I was flipping out
over the long wait, so Rosie took me
to the craft room and showed me
this box of stuff," Shiv said.

"A good distraction can help with waiting,"
said Dr. G. "What did you think of it?"

"I liked it, I really did -- he put this bunch
of plastic bits inside, with some sharp things
for me to play with," Shiv said. "So we
did all kinds of terrific games with it and
I beat Mr. Vanburen at hide-and-seek."

Rosie had made it just for him, was
the best part, because nobody did things
like that and Shiv loved having something
of his very own. He didn't say anything,
though, because when he did, people
called him greedy and selfish.

"So far, so good," said Dr. G.

"Then I got a headache and they
wouldn't leave me alone," Shiv said.

"Headaches are no fun," Dr. G said seriously.
"Some of the ones I get just won't quit, not even
for extra-strength headache pills, and the stuff
I take for those pretty much puts me to sleep.
Did anyone offer to take you to the infirmary?"

Shiv slouched in his seat. "That's where
everything went to hell," he said. "I told them
no and they wouldn't listen and they made me
go anyhow. It was -- I couldn't think straight, and
the nagging made me feel worse, so I just balled up
and tried to ignore them. If you let it work, they'll
just do more of it. If you don't give them what
they want, eventually they quit trying for it."

"Passive resistance," said Dr. G.
"That's a safer choice than violence."

"You're not taking their side?"
Shiv said, his jaw dropping.

"Mmm," Dr. G said. "It doesn't sound
like their choices turned out very well
for anyone. Did your choice of tactics
get you the result that you wanted?"

Shiv sighed. "Not really," he said,
digging his fingers into the popper.
"I mean, they let me go after while,
but by that time I felt like crap and
everything was all fucked up."

"People are leaving you alone now.
There's nobody here but the two of us,"
Dr. G said. "Is that what you want?"

Shiv didn't know what he wanted
right now, only that he was scared of
getting bulldozed again but also he still
felt crummy about what happened.

He shrugged. "I dunno."

"So it's not a success in your book,"
said Dr. G. "How do you think
Dr. Bloch feels about this?"

"Probably glad to see the back
of me," Shiv said with a shrug.
"Most people are. I'm used to it."

"Everyone makes mistakes sometimes,"
said Dr. G. "Whenever that happens,
responsible people feel an urge
to try making things right. What
does that say about Dr. Bloch?"

"Doesn't matter," Shiv said.
"He can do whatever he wants."

"You're used to expecting the worst
from people," Dr. G observed.

"It's what they do," Shiv said.
"Nobody likes me. Shit happens.
Story of my life. Move along."

"It's what has happened, in the past,
often enough to influence the way you
respond now," said Dr. G. "Look around
you, though. I think you'll find that some things
are changing more than you have realized.
You might get better results if you check
your predictions against your outcomes
so you don't wind up catastrophizing."

"Huh?" Shiv said. He hated it when
people used big words that he didn't know.

"Bad things used to happen to you
a lot. Now they're probably happening
less often," said Dr. G. "Catastrophizing
means thinking things are or will be worse
than what's really going on." He reached out
to flick the bag of licorice. "Like the --"

Shiv slapped his hand over the bag. "Mine."

"Yours," Dr. G said mildly. "I just meant
to point out what you are learning with
the marshmallow game. In the past,
you didn't have trustworthy people
to play that game with. Now you do."

"So?" Shiv said.

"If you act like I'm the same as
the bad crowd, then you guess wrong
and you miss the second treat," Dr. G said.
"If you can focus on me, then over time you see
more examples that I do what I say I will, and acting
on that observation gets you more candy."

"I like candy," Shiv said. Dr. G played
weird games, and the last few days had
sucked, but there was the licorice after all.

"So apply that to Dr. Bloch. You've had
a lot of rotten experiences with doctors in
the past, but now it's better, because you've
gotten some good help from him," said Dr. G.
"What does that tell you about this mess?"

"That nothing good ever lasts," Shiv said.
He had plenty of experience in that.

"Well, this isn't working," Dr. G said.
"You're missing too many pieces to get
to the bottom of the situation this way.
Would you consider letting me mediate
between you and Dr. Bloch to see if
we could work it out like that?"

"He won't come," Shiv said at once.
"He hates me. Everyone does."

Shiv knew that, but he still missed
what he'd lost and wanted it back.

"I doubt that," said Dr. G. "If he really
hated you, then he wouldn't have called me
worrying that he might have hurt you."

Shiv narrowed his eyes. "Funny
how you didn't mention that earlier."

"I wanted to get your perspective
on the situation first," said Dr. G.
"Of course, if you have a better plan
for fixing this, I would love to hear it.
Maybe I could learn something."

"If I did, I'd already be doing it,"
Shiv said with a snort.

"That's what I thought," said Dr. G.
"If you give me a chance to try mediation,
one of two things will happen. It will work,
which solves the problem. Or it won't work,
and you get to watch me make a fool of
myself. That's a win-win for you."

"Yeah," Shiv said, smirking. "It is."

Dr. G didn't say anything, just lazily
folded his fingers together with
the first two pointing up.

After a minute, Shiv realized that
Dr. G was waiting for him to say
yes or no about the mediation.
"I got nothin' here, so we might
as well try your idea," he said.

"Thank you for the opportunity,"
Dr. G said, like it was some big deal.

Then he called Dr. Bloch and said,
"Hello, this is Dr. G. I'm wondering if
you could spare some time to talk with
me and Shiv about something important."

"Give me five minutes," said Dr. Bloch.

"We're in the yellow meeting room,"
Dr. G said, and closed the call.

"That was fast," Shiv said.
His stomach sank a little.
Probably Dr. Bloch was
eager to lay into him again.
"I thought shrinks were supposed
to make problems go away."

"No," said Dr. G. "My job is
to listen to your situation, then
to give the problem back to you
in a way that shows you its value,
so you can learn from it."

"That's nutty," Shiv said.

His stomach flipped over, and
he grabbed another piece of
licorice to try and settle it. Then
he fidgeted with the seal on the bag.

"Nervous?" said Dr. G. "If you are,
then you can ask for moral support.
Would you feel better if you had
a friend here, or maybe someone
from your ... car, is that the term?"

"I don't have friends," Shiv said,
looking down at his lap, "or a car."

"That sounds lonely," said Dr. G.

Shiv just shrugged again.
He didn't care about company,
but the lack of backup was
uncomfortable at best and
downright dangerous at worst.

"Would you like something to do
while we wait?" Dr. G offered.
"I have some worksheets about
healthy relationships, problem-solving,
event analysis, and other things that
might help you think, or at least,
give you paper to doodle on."

"Okay," Shiv said.

Dr. G opened his case and
brought out a sheaf of papers,
a box of pastel pencils, and
one regular writing pencil.

Some of the worksheets were all
lines to fill in, but most of them had
some blank space that would work
as well for drawing as for writing.

One of them even had a row of
little cartoon dudes freaking out
along the top of the page. It
made Shiv smile in spite of
the antsy feeling in his gut.

He pulled it toward himself and
started drawing the clusterfuck
with colorful stick figures.

Shiv didn't like losing things,
or people, or even arguments.
It just was what happened in
his crappy excuse for a life.

If trying some of Dr. G's ideas
gave him a chance of getting
back what he'd lost ... well,
that was worth the effort.

* * *


“The therapist’s job is not to be an exterminator to take things away. The job is to give the problem back to the client in a way that shows how much they need it, show its value.”
-- Thomas Moore

This room is suitable for small group meetings, up to about ten or twelve people. It is reasonably comfortable without being luxurious. It's also used as spillover for smaller meetings if the other rooms are full or people want a good-sized table. This room is used most often by standard wing inmates, although it's accessible to private wing inmates, just not cheap.

Person-centered counseling focuses on assisting the client to solve problems by using his own inner resources. This guide to developing goals has examples to contrast conventional with person-centered goals. For all Shiv's fussing and fumbling through counseling with Dr. G, he hasn't refused it outright, which is actually new. Trying to force goals on him gets a very hard bounce.

Praise has a lot of power to influence people. It is vital to catch teens and adults doing something right. On the other hoof, some people hate it and it can have drawbacks in therapy. Shiv mistrusts praise because it's unfamiliar at best and manipulative at worst ... but it still tugs at him a little. Understand how to give effective praise and what to do if praise makes you uncomfortable.

Licorice allsorts contain a mix of different candies. You can buy them in small bags. Making them at home may prove more challenging, although I did find recipes for basic licorice candy and for licorice caramels.

Dr. G believes in learning from mistakes, with an oblique reference to this scene.

One of Dr. Bloch's gifts to Shiv is a fidget toy, a gizmo that feels like popping bubble wrap. It is actually made by Maneki Neko and is a tech toy from Kaeru.

Passive resistance is a form of practical protest which is nonviolent. The idea is to make the oppressor exert maximum effort for minimum return. Shiv's phrasing may be crude, but his application is pretty good.

(Some of these links are disturbing.)
Catastrophizing is a tendency to predict the worst outcomes. This can come from mental illnesses such as depression or anxiety, in which case it is often baseless. It can also come from child abuse/neglect, in which case it is simply what the survivor grew up with. Survivors often catastrophize due to their negative experiences, especially with punishments wildly out of proportion to their behavior, although the tendency can diminish if they form positive attachments with trustworthy people later on. This video shows an example of exaggerated response in an abusive context. Among the ways to reduce negative thinking is to remind yourself that whatever bad past or future you're fixated on, it is not happening now. You should also know how to handle catastrophizing in other people.

Steepling hands is part of the body language of thinking.

A car is a group of allies in prison. Shiv's assertion that he has none is only half true. He hasn't acknowledged one, but two large groups (Kincade's and Sanquez') plus most individuals would step up to protect him if necessary. He just hasn't really noticed that.

Among the worksheets Shiv has to explore are problem analysis, trigger-response, the freaking-out dudes, anger map, thought-feeling-behavior, pros and cons of acting on impulse, understanding the problem, problem-solving grid, problem-solving path, problem-solving steps, goals and priorities, problem spiral, and structured problem-solving. Thinking Wallet Worksheets help to illustrate a plan.

Colored pencils are helpful for doing worksheets if you think visually. A modest-sized set like this provides variety without creating choice paralysis.

Young people may resist counseling for many reasons, chief among them past therapy that made them feel worse. In Shiv's case, his experiences have been extremely negative and widespread, which impairs his ability to use the better opportunities now present. Forced counseling is a violation of boundaries which can do extensive damage, necessarily undermining the therapeutic relationship and degrading the quality of care; there are better ways to solve mental problems. In fact, you can't have a therapeutic relationship with someone who rejects it. The reason Shiv thinks that he hasn't really been doing anything with Dr. G is simply because it's not aimed at therapy per se. Most of Dr. G's focus has been on coaxing Shiv into a relationship.  Even though Shiv's participation has been voluntary in the sense that it wasn't mandated,  Dr. G recognizes that it didn't start with Shiv deciding to seek help and that Shiv's consent may therefore be impaired (which it is), so Dr. G has been working from the ground up.  That's so different from Shiv's experiences that he doesn't even recognize it. This works better than all his past "therapy" put together.  And now that something has actually blown up in Shiv's face, he's willing to consider that Dr. G might possibly have some idea how to handle that.  \o/
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, fantasy, fishbowl, life lessons, poem, poetry, reading, weblit, writing
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