I did not see another therapist until I was in law school in New Orleans. Until that point I never appreciated the connection between the mind and the body. I had met my wife and asked her to marry me and she said yes. She immediately went ahead with the planning which took me aback. It seemed like there was a lot of pressure and looking back on it I had no way of coping. My throat started to feel like it was closing up on me. I started to get really bad heartburn. I went to see the doctor in the school clinic. He prescribed Prilosec. It did not really work so I went to a gastroenterologist. I remember now that he suspected my symptoms were stress related but at the time I did not understand what he told me. I think the fact that I was in law school scared him because he continued to run tests on me. There was a procedure where they shoved a camera down my throat. One time I had a tube fed up my nose and down my throat. At the end of the tube outside my body was a computer device. It recorded something to do with my throat. I eventually changed doctors because nothing he did helped my symptoms. The second doctor also suggested that stress was the problem but again I did not accept that answer. I was prescribed antibiotics but they did not work. The doctor seemed annoyed with me. I wanted to think that the problem was physical. He eventually referred me to a cardiologist. The cardiologist acted like he did not know why I was there. I gave him my story. He agreed that the problem was stress and recommended me to see a psychiatrist. This time I listened.
The psychiatrist was a tall, lanky, older man with a gray beard and mustache. He looked the part of a psychiatrist. His office was in a shotgun house. It was dark inside and the walls were lined with tall wooden bookshelves. One shelf had a skull on it. He was dyslexic and wrote awkwardly with his left hand. He assured me my issue with my throat closing up was indeed stress related. He prescribed me a drug called Serzone which I think is a serotonin reuptake inhibitor like Prozac. He had me sit in a recliner and talked me through meditative sessions. I do not recall what exactly they entailed but I think they brought me to a relaxed state and then he told me when a stressful thought entered my head I should say to it “Stop! Get out of there!” After a few sessions the sensation started to subside after months of misery. This was the first time I appreciated that psychological stress can cause physical problems. It was also the first time in my life I experienced a physical problem that a regular doctor could not cure. I believe his method was the Cognitive Behavioral approach.
I met my wife, Louanne at a law school TGIF party in an Uptown bar called Brunos. As I poured her a beer from the keg we introduced ourselves. She said she was from Scranton, Pennsylvania. I told her I was originally from Avon, Connecticut. She said she knew about Avon Old Farms (my high school) because one of her mother’s piano students went there. I knew him. We discussed how weird he was. We started dating soon after.
During spring semester Mardi Gras rolled around the school shut down for the week. My apartment had a balcony overlooking the parade route on St. Charles Avenue so it became a popular hang out spot. Louanne spent the week. We made a trip to her basement apartment she rented from the Dean of the law school. When we got there he stood in his driveway dressed in a Soviet officer’s uniform. We offered him a beer (everyone had beer in their backpacks that week). He produced a flask and asked us if we wanted to “spice up” our beers. We said yes and he poured vodka in our cans.
A month or so later one drunken night I asked her if she wanted to marry me. She said yes. The next day she called her parents and told them. That sort of made things more real than I had anticipated. We planned on getting married the summer between second and third year.
My second year in law school I lived in the same apartment. Ed moved out and Louanne moved in. Later that year I took out a student loan. The debt made me anxious. I also began to realize that I was not doing as well academically as I expected despite my efforts. I was passing all my classes but I was still just barely in the top half of my class. This made me anxious as well. The reality that I would be getting married also made me anxious. Then some woman rear-ended my car on the way to class. She did not have insurance and I did not have collision. I opened the trunk and then could not close it. I shut it with a bungee chord but every time I drove over a bump the trunk flew open and slammed shut. I felt embarrassed and angry that someone else did this to me and I had to deal with it.
One day I woke up and my throat felt constricted. I thought it would pass but a week later it was still there. I went to a Gastroenterologist. He examined me with an endoscope and did not find anything wrong with me. He told me it was stress. I did understand what he told me. In my mind there had to be a physical cause and medical solution to my symptoms. I went to another Gastroenterologist. He put a tube up through my nose and down my throat attached to a computer. I wore that device overnight. This doctor also told me stress caused my symptoms.
The next Mardi Gras was coming up. I worried that the symptoms would not go away before then and I would not be able to enjoy myself. I feared I would be missing out.
My friend Al had a party in at his apartment. We got drunk on Chevas Regal in a blue felt bag. My throat still felt constricted but I tried to numb out the feeling with booze. I ended up throwing up under a rug in his apartment. I crashed at his place. The next morning I was so hung-over Louanne and I slipped out and went home. Al found what I had left him under the rug later in the day.
My last Gastroenterologist sent me to a cardiologist. I sat in the waiting room. I finally asked them if they knew I was there. They said they overlooked me. I went back into an examination room where a nurse shaved my chest and attached the monitoring equipment. They found nothing wrong. The Doctor came in. He could tell I was exasperated. He told me my symptoms were stress related and recommended a psychiatrist. This time I heard the message.
I saw the psychiatrist. When I told him my symptoms he knew right away what the problem was. I saw him weekly for about a month and the symptoms started to go away. This was the first time in my life I began to understand the connection between the mind and physical symptoms.