Transcript of 1st Session between Charles Balis, M.D. and Ms. Sharon Lough, Friday, November 7, 1997 at 10:00 am.

Ms. Lough: Um, hi. You're Doctor Balis, right?
Dr. Balis: Yes. Hello, Sharon. You're a little early.
Ms. Lough: Oh, sorry. I can come back...
Dr. Balis: No, no, that's fine. Come in, sit down.
Ms. Lough: I'm a little nervous. I haven't seen a shrink...I mean a therapist in a long time.
Dr. Balis: It's perfectly natural to be a little nervous your first session. When did you last see a therapist?
Ms. Lough: I hope you're not offended by me calling you a shrink.
Dr. Balis: No, that's fine. I've been called worse. When were you last in therapy?
Ms. Lough: About a year ago. I've been in and out of therapy most of my adult life, since I was about 19 or 20. That's almost a whole decade.
Dr. Balis: What's going on in your life that leads you to seek therapy now?
Ms. Lough: Well, work, for one. I hate it. I'm overwhelmed. And I'm having problems at home. Everything sucks, basically. Everything's going to hell in a bucket.
Dr. Balis: Hmm. Let's start with work. You say you're overwhelmed?
Ms. Lough: Yeah. I'm a one of the secretaries for SII. There are three secretaries assigned to this group of software engineers I work for. We have a major project deadline coming up, the paperwork never seems to end, and they always want constant revisions. I've been working really long days--12, 14, 16 hours, sometimes. I feel like a zombie, one of the walking dead. I'm always exhausted; it's like I'm barely alive.
Dr. Balis: It must be a drain to work such long hours.
Ms. Lough: Yeah. Well, it's not like I have much of a social life anyway. One of the secretaries in my group is a dud, a real pain in the ass. I get stuck picking up after her all the time.
Dr. Balis: Hmm.
Ms. Lough: I mean I know I should be patient with her--she's got some serious problems, but don't we all?
Dr. Balis: Problems?
Ms. Lough: I heard her husband is abusive. She's really scatterbrained, she can't retain anything. She makes careless errors and loses things. And what a slob! Everywhere she goes, she leaves a trail of paper, assorted office supplies, used Kleenex, and cough drop wrappers. This woman, Celeste, is so thin and frail you want to feel sorry for her. But I get so pissed off at her, I want to snap her scrawny little neck. My God, I hate the way that sounds. I must sound like an awful person.
Dr. Balis: You're allowed to feel frustrated and angry.
Ms. Lough: And at home it's even worse. I hate my job, but the thought of coming home is so awful I can't stand it.
Dr. Balis: What's going on at home?
Ms. Lough: My landlord is a real asshole. Sorry. He's a jerk. I've got a foul mouth. I think it comes from cursing at my computer all day.
Dr. Balis: There's no need to apologize. You may speak freely here.
Ms. Lough: Well, I moved into this cheap apartment. I needed to move in a hurry, and it was cheap, and they allowed pets.
Dr. Balis: What kind of pet do you have?
Ms. Lough: I have a ferret. They're illegal in California. So I had to find a place that wouldn't mind.
Dr. Balis: I see. What's its name?
Ms. Lough: Harriet. She's the highlight of my existence. She's the only thing I look forward to. Do you want to see?
Harriet the Ferret

Dr. Balis: Sure. Nice ferret, although she looks a bit out of her element in this picture. But she's cute.
Ms. Lough: Thank you.
Dr. Balis: I'm just considering getting a kitten myself. I'm not familiar with the practice of keeping ferrets as pets. It's illegal, you say?
Ms. Lough: Yes, there's a stupid California law. I'm part of a group that is trying to get the law changed. Ferrets are not vicious animals. They're sweet and affectionate.
Dr. Balis: How do you feed and care for a ferret, exactly?
Ms. Lough: Harriet likes cat food. Kitten food, actually. Ferrets eat meat. But she likes all kinds of things. She likes avocados and corn chips. She likes beer, but I don't give her too much.
Dr. Balis: Harriet sounds like quite a character.
Ms. Lough: She is. She's a sweetheart. Anyway, my landlord and his family have several cats and dogs and lots of kids. I kind of liked the idea of all the animals and kids when I first moved in. Maybe I romanticized the notion of being part of a big family, you know? I realize that most families are dysfunctional in some way, but these people are...well, they're really awful. I should expand my vocabulary, huh?
Dr. Balis: Please express yourself in the way that's most comfortable for you.
Ms. Lough: Yeah, well, I should buy a thesaurus. I just don't want to sound crude or uneducated, like they do.
Dr. Balis: They?
Ms. Lough: Yes, my landlord and his charming family. He and his wife are constantly screaming and cursing at their kids. Listening to them--it's not as though I'm eavesdropping, because they're always yelling at each other--they sound like white trash, worse than the guests on the Jenny Jones show.
Dr. Balis: The Jenny Jones Show?
Ms. Lough: That's one of those trashy daytime talk shows. When I get home late from work sometimes, I watch the reruns that come on at one or two in the morning. It helps me unwind.
Dr. Balis: You're up until one or two in the morning? What time do you get up to go to work?
Ms. Lough: Around six or so. I don't sleep well, and my landlord's family upstairs make a lot of noise. There's always some kid crying. It's either that or he and his wife are having a shouting match.
Dr. Balis: I see. Have you always had difficulty sleeping?
Ms. Lough: Ever since I was a kid. I used to have nightmares all the time. Now, I come home so tense and angry and get so pissed of at my scum bag landlord and his demon children, that I can't sleep. I stay up all night seething. My stomach is always upset, and I've been getting these headaches.
Dr. Balis: Have you been taking any medication?
Ms. Lough: I've been taking Zantac for the stomach pain. I take a lot of Tylenol for my headaches. Sometimes, I get backaches and pains in my shoulder and neck. I also take this's called Trazodone. I was given a prescription for it a year ago. I only take it when I really need to sleep and I'm too tense to relax. I take them a few times a week.
Dr. Balis: Have you been taking more of them recently?
Ms. Lough: Well, yes. But I don't take them every day. I only take them when I really need them.
Dr. Balis: Where did you get this prescription?
Ms. Lough: Well, that's a long story. I guess I should tell you. Um...
Dr. Balis: Take your time.
Ms. Lough: My company isn't going to find out about this, is it? Can my boss see your files?
Dr. Balis: No. Everything you tell me is strictly confidential.
Ms. Lough: But SII is paying for this, or at least for part of it, right? Don't they have a right to know whatever information you have on me?
Dr. Balis: Your company doesn't have access to my patient files. Anything you tell me is strictly confidential, except for certain limits such as if you tell me that you're about to kill someone or something.
Ms. Lough: Okay. I really don't like to talk about this, and no one at work knows. They can see the scars, but they don't know the whole story.
Dr. Balis: Scars?
Ms. Lough: I made this clumsy, half-hearted suicide attempt about a year ago. I tried to slash my wrists. I didn't do a very good job. See?
Dr. Balis: Hmm.
Ms. Lough: I was pretty fucked up when I cut myself. I'd been drinking and taking Xanax and some other pills. And I'd been doing a lot of drugs even before that.
Dr. Balis: What was it that led to your suicide attempt?
Ms. Lough: I broke up with my boyfriend about a month before. The last time I saw him, we got into a really bad fight. I had been doing a lot of speed--methamphetamine, you know?
Dr. Balis: Yes.
Ms. Lough: Anyway, he beat the shit out of me. I provoked him--I broke a lot of things around his house. I was so angry, I was doing everything I could to piss him off. I was completely irrational. Anyway, after that night, I couldn't seem to get rid of the anger. I snarled at everyone around me including my boss--who was this really nice guy--and all the people with which I worked. I was such a bitch. I ended up getting fired after getting into an argument with my boss. Afterwards, I cleaned out my desk, drove home, and was completely hysterical. When I got home, I drank as much gin as I could and took every pill in the house. Then, I slashed my wrists.
Dr. Balis: Did someone find you?
Ms. Lough: Yeah, the people downstairs. I left the water running in the bathroom, and the sink overflowed. They banged on the door, but I was so out of it, I didn't hear them. The landlord--my old landlord, not the one I have now--unlocked the door to my apartment and called an ambulance. When I woke up, I was in the hospital.
Dr. Balis: How long were you there?
Ms. Lough: One week. I spent a few days in intensive care, then I was sent to the mental ward--"inpatient psychiatric." I stayed there another four days. It seemed like forever. When they released me, they gave me this prescription. I haven't really used it much since.
Dr. Balis: Did you see a psychiatrist while you were hospitalized?
Ms. Lough: Yeah. I saw those goddamn shrinks every fucking day. Oh, sorry.
Dr. Balis: That's quite all right.
Ms. Lough: I got so sick of being asked all these stupid...all these questions. When I was released, they made me see some quack...uh, I mean counselor at this clinic. I only saw him a few times. He was a real prick.
Dr. Balis: Hmm.
Ms. Lough: He was such a flake. I was working downtown for this other company. I wasn't making much money, and I had a lot of bills, including the hospital bill--my insurance only covered part of it. So I worked nights, too. It was really hard for me to take time off to see him. And half the time, he wasn't even there. He'd make appointments and forget them. Or he'd schedule appointments and forget to tell me, and then accuse me of standing him up. Finally, I got fed up with him messing with my head. And I couldn't afford to lose more hours at work. I finally told him to go fuck himself, and I never saw him again. So you see, Doctor Balis, I don't have much of a track record with people in your profession.
Dr. Balis: It sounds like you've been through quite an ordeal. It's understandable that you might be apprehensive about entering therapy again.
Ms. Lough: Yeah. Well, I guess it's not fair to think that all shrinks are inherently evil.
Dr. Balis: I like to think that there are some of us who aren't.
Ms. Lough: I know. I came here, didn't I? I came here because I was at the end of my rope. I felt so helpless. I was afraid I might snap again, like I did last year. I don't want to do that again. I don't want my life to be screwed up any more than it is. And I don't want to go back to the loony bin--back to the psycho ward. It's really hard to be around people who are even crazier than yourself.
Dr. Balis: Well, I will try to help you, Sharon. I support you in your desire to get better and I think that coming to see me is a very positive step in your effort to get control back over your life. We have work to do and I'd like to start in earnest next week, okay? Let's see, would this time next week work for you?
Ms. Lough: What? We're out of time? Jeez. Um, okay. Sure. Yeah, this time would be okay.
Dr. Balis: All right, Sharon. I know this session went kind of quick, but it will take a while for us to get to know each other. Can you tell me how you feel after your first session?
Ms. Lough: I feel okay, kind of relieved. I was so nervous. But I'm glad that I came. At least I got to vent some of my frustrations.
Dr. Balis: I'm glad to hear that. I'll see you next week.
Ms. Lough: Okay. Thanks.
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