The Slow Disappearance of Ashtal Petty

He likened his current state of being to a large lump of sugar being dumped in a glass of Turkish (or Arabic) tea. The lump would slowly descend, breaking into its constituent granules as it hit bottom. Then regress into a thick lurking goo, translucent yet visible amongst the waddles of dark reddish colours, soon to melt away into oblivion.

He could not say precisely when he started feeling this way, or when he first became aware of it; the realization kind of crept on him and rubbed him the wrong way. Ashtal Petty did not suffer fools gladly and that included himself. It was time for a serious talk with his therapist - me.

I was rather struck with the cultural metaphor he chose to describe himself. A drink of the Orient, drunk during winter and summer, all year round, really, at the same temperature and in the same manner, day in and day out. A display of consistency in a region that is exhibiting anything but these days.

Perhaps it was time to ask Ashtal Petty about his roots; where his family originally came from, what religion he practiced, what language his parents or grandparents spoke at home. That might give clues as to whether there is a hidden issue he is struggling with that is causing what I took to be a feeling of alienation.

Pushed away, ignored, neglected by our nearest and dearest, by our friends, by our neighbors, by our acquaintances, we begin to feel as if we are lost in a forest. And, as Anthony Hopkins said in The Edge, when we are lost in a forest, we die of shame.

A few sessions later, Ashtal Petty volunteered that he did not vote in the last election. It was unusual for him to bring up politics during our sessions. He normally talks about his two failed marriages, current girlfriends, his job in the City, colleagues at work. Relationship stuff. Talking about politics - well, that would take us into new territory; the kind I was not looking forward to trespassing.

I voted for Brexit. Yes, me. A London-living professional; a psychologist with half my patients from other countries. I’ve been trying to understand my vote, since then. Or rather, arrive at a better understanding of why I voted to Leave. I’ve even taken up to meeting with a fellow therapist in the hope that our talks would help shed light on what drove me to disengage.

Last week’s session with Ashtal Petty turned out to be our last. He told me of his intention to seek another therapist. That he felt suffocated in my office. That I was not paying enough attention to his answers to my questions. That I was increasingly distracted. That during our last few meetings he thought I looked through him as if he was not there.

At his request, I gave Ashtal the names of two therapists I thought could do good work with him. Not too far from my office.

I had made up my mind the day before our last session: no matter what, I’m not going to work with him on political issues. I don’t want to talk about our colonial history. What we did in India or in the Middle East. What the French did in Algeria, or the Italians in Libya, or the Germans in Africa. We’re done apologising for all that. I just want my country back.