I knew something was wrong when the doctor demanded I come to her office in person rather than just telling me what was going on over the phone.
I expected the worst going in, I think everyone does when going in to receive the result of tests previously thought to be routine, and spent the whole morning nervous, skipping both breakfast and lunch before I went in, too nauseous to eat. The doctor took one looked at me as I walked in and, smiling sadly, beckoned me to sit. It was not, she explained, news that you wanted to be standing when you heard.
“Self-doubt,” she said, softly, resting a hand on my shoulder as though physical contact might cushion the blow, “you have self-doubt.”
She outlined options, which I could barely hear, and I sat there, nodding occasionally. I was numb to her words, lost in private thoughts.
How could my psyche betray me like that? I’d always considered myself a person of appropriate self-esteem, healthily confident without crossing over into arrogance, comfortably assured. And yet, here I was, sitting in a doctor’s office being told I had self doubt? What the hell was so wrong with me?
The doctor reassured me that, with modern medical techniques, conditions such as mine were no longer as debilitating as they’d once been. She told me we could schedule psychic surgery before the end of the month and, with appropriate psychotherapy afterward to burn away the remaining traces, there was a nearly eighty percent chance of a full remission and recovery.
Shell-shocked, I nodded my head and signed the appropriate release forms. I spent the whole cab ride home still silently stunned by the news.
My mind is all I am. If even it can’t be trusted not to turn on me, what in the world can I trust?
The next two weeks passed in a haze, as I sleepwalked through my life. Friends noticed I was distracted, but when they asked about it I just told them I hadn’t been sleeping properly and they left it like that.
Which, in it’s own way, was true. I was up late most nights scouring my psyche for any reason that self-doubt would rise up and plague me now. None could be found, and I wondered if that was just delusion on my part, if the reasons were plain and I was a fool, wilfully ignoring them.
The surgery couldn’t come quickly enough.
And, after what seemed like an eternity, it came, and they put me under, and the psychic surgeons cut into me, and I went home after a day of observation with nothing to show I’d been under but a small, shaved patch on my head with a scar. And when the hair grew back, even that scar was hidden from view.
I attended the psychotherapy sessions, did the confidence building exercises at home, and started feeling better about myself. It’d been a close thing, and there were follow-up tests yet to run, but it seemed I’d been one of the lucky ones, I was by all accounts recovering well.
Except, I couldn’t help but wonder, had I done the right thing? I mean, what kind of man chooses to go under the knife in a circumstance like this? Psychic surgery was an option my parents never had, and I was grateful for the advancements of medicine, but I know my parents had moments of self-doubt, everyone back then had them sometimes, and yet they somehow managed to get through their lives. Mine was the first generation with real medical options in circumstances like this, previous to now mankind had doubted, and found strength within themselves, and soldiered on. And likely they’d been stronger for the experience. I had chosen instead to go under the knife, to have my own self-doubt excised at the hands of a skilled surgeon, to take a cowards way out of a problem that offered me the opportunity for meaningful emotional growth.
What kind of person did that make me? And, if I was so weak, so pathetically spineless in the face of this adversity, how could I honestly know for certain that any of the decisions I’d made in my life, decisions I’d been so sure of at the time, hadn’t been motivated by that same fundamental weakness of spirit?
I finished the therapy, and the exercises, but my heart wasn’t in them. The cutting edge of psychological and medical science had been devoted to my recovery, but I grew to suspect I didn’t deserve to recover, that if I lacked the strength of character necessary to confront my personal demons, I deserved to be plagued by them. Which, I grew to suspect, I would be.
By the time my doctor called me back to her office to give me the results of the follow-up tests, refusing once more to tell me over the phone, I was resigned to my fate. She didn’t need to say a word, I knew even before she turned apologetic eyes to me what it was she was going to say.
The self-doubt had survived, and spread, and metastasised into self-loathing.
And there was nothing we could do.