“I saw you.”
I swallowed hard and looked up at my therapist.
I began a rapid mental inventory of where I’d been in the week since our last meeting. Had I done anything incriminating?
I finally licked my dry lips and asked, “Where?”
“At spin class,” she said, calmly.
Spinning was something that she had suggested. To help me relax. Take my mind off things.
“At Bernie’s class,” she continued.
Bernie was my favorite spin instructor. He played classic rock instead of techno music, which made the grueling 60-minute class feel more like a bearable 45.
“How do you feel about my presence there?” she pressed.
“It’s fine,” I said, waving my hand. “I mean, it’s not like anyone there knows you’re my therapist.”
“True,” she said. “But you do.”
“I don’t care,” I replied. “It’s a gym! Everyone is allowed in.”
Therapists must run into their patients all the time, right? I later wondered if there was any policy on how it’s supposed to be handled, so I reached out the American Psychological Association to ask.
“There isn’t any specific ethical or best practice guidance,” said Vaile Wright, the association’s director of research and special projects. But she said that generally, therapists should let clients take the lead. “So if they say ‘hi’ to you on the street, you would respond in kind. If they ignore you, you would respond in kind.”
So, my therapist hadn’t done anything wrong.
But when I spotted her on the stationary bike directly in front of me at the next class, her black ponytail stuck to the back of her neck, I realized that I didn’t feel as Zen as I’d thought I would. She probably knew more about me than I knew about myself.
When our eyes met in the mirror, I quickly looked away. I had to wonder if she was observing me and if she could feel the unease her presence was causing. Had she taken this class to spy on me?
But I knew it was a mere coincidence. After all, as the self proclaimed “Spin Master,” Bernie had a devoted following in this Northern New Jersey town. People enjoyed his playlists as well as the show he put on. His raunchy jokes and random factoids about various musicians and their lyrics as well as his unique dance moves on and off the bike made spinning with Bernie feel more like you were watching a stand-up comedian perform than exercising. That and the gym’s proximity to my shrink’s office made her presence understandable.
Once when we ran into each other while filling our water bottles, my heart skipped a beat. I smiled briefly in her direction and she smiled back. I turned around and made a beeline for my stationary bike. It was like being a child seeing a teacher outside the classroom, going about everyday life. Seeing her participate in a basic activity was, somehow, disappointing. She had no weight to lose. She shouldn’t have to spin. She was better than that.
I’d been seeing her for a year to help keep my anxiety in check, and I knew that she had the mental skills to cope with all of life’s tribulations. In other words, she was beyond spinning.
In the months that followed, she never mentioned our new-shared bond. Had she forgotten that we had climbed that same outrageously long hill with Tina Turner’s help? Because I hadn’t. Mornings, when I searched for a parking space outside the spin studio, I instinctively looked around for her white Toyota. On the days when I spotted it, my jaw tightened while my hands gripped the steering wheel. Stop overreacting, I told myself. She’s riding a bike in the same room with you. Who cares?
But I did care. I wanted to tell her, “Get out of my class! How dare you. You are making me uncomfortable and you should know that!”
Was it possible she didn’t know what spin class meant to me? It was an excuse to ignore my phone, let go of my anxieties and allow the music to whisk me back to my glory days. I purposely went to a gym outside of my town so I didn’t have to chitchat with other mothers and feign concern about our kids’ upcoming social studies project or the latest changes to the soccer schedule. I wanted anonymity and a way to burn off the cupcake or wine I indulged in the previous night.
At spin class I could pedal away my fear that my career was stagnating as well as my perpetual worry that I wasn’t a happy enough mother. I wanted to spin in peace.
It was not a place that I wanted to share with my shrink, who reminded me of my anxiety — the reason I was in therapy.
So, in our next therapy session, instead of studiously ignoring the fact that we’d been sweating together for four months, I had to tell her that we could no longer share Bernie. He was mine — not hers. But when I looked into her dark, compassionate eyes, I said, “Bernie has a great playlist, doesn’t he?”
She smiled and asked, “Is it weird for you to see me in class?”
I wanted to say, “No. Of course not.” I wanted to be a woman so comfortable in her skin that sharing a spin class with her therapist didn’t bother her.
But I wasn’t that person. According to my therapist, I was a person who needed to speak up when I was upset instead of carrying around a simmering rage.
Exposing my true feelings felt dangerous. What if my feelings were wrong or worse — what if I was overreacting?
“Well,” I said. I wanted to look down at my feet, but I forced myself to maintain eye contact. “I have to admit that it is weird to see you in class. It makes me feel,” I paused. “Awkward.”
Not the most assertive response, but it was all I could manage. To avoid conflict, I almost always kept any feelings of discomfort to myself.
She looked me in the eye and said, “I’m glad you said something. We’re making progress.”
I unclenched my jaw, let my shoulders sink into the leather couch behind me and listened to my heart rate slow down. I wondered if she had she planned all of this. Was she testing me? Was she going to quit Bernie? It didn’t matter.
The anger quickly melted away when I told her how I felt. It was a sensation I had never before experienced. I wanted to jump up off the couch and hug her, but I decided it was best to remain seated. We had plenty of other issues to discuss before my session was up.
Addie Morfoot is a journalist and screenwriter who is completing her first novel.
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