Aversion To Therapy


chess4_icon.gif everleigh_icon.gif

Scene Title Aversion (to) Therapy
Synopsis Chess tries a new thing, but despite Everleigh's best efforts, decides it isn't for her.
Date January 26, 2021

Elmhurst, Dr. Everleigh Madison's Office

As she enters the cheerful inner office of Dr. Madison’s practice for the first time, Chess Lang looks anything but comfortable, despite the warm and inviting nature Everleigh has tried to create through color choices, textures, fabrics, and other elements of decor. Her dark-eyed gaze slides across the room, taking in the cheerful hues and the comfortable seating options, before it alights on the doctor herself.

In one hand, Chess holds the questionnaire. It’s blank, though Everleigh probably can’t see that from where Chess hangs back at the door, waiting for direction. The woman glances over her shoulder at the reception area behind her, then back to Everleigh. Her brows lift, curious, but there’s something defensive in her posture, like she might turn and walk out at any moment.

“Is the door locked when you already have someone in here, or do people just walk in when you’re already in a session?” she asks, rather than saying hello or good morning.

"I usually lock it, if I'm expecting anyone else," Everleigh notes, lifting her gaze from a pile of news articles. Nothing of note, really, just clippings from the most ordinary of articles. She's got a collection of whatever she can find that isn't a catastrophic event. She shifts in her chair, then gets up to her feet entirely. "You'd be surprised at how willing people are to wait and not disturb someone. I lock it, but I've never had anyone try it when it's locked. Ever. I imagine it's some kind of respect."

She gestures to the myriad of seating options. "Wherever you'd like. If you even want to sit, that is." It's nothing forced… an offering of choice.

Chess gives the door a dubious look, then looks above it thoughtfully. “You could get one of those radio station lights, that says ‘on air’ or whatever, maybe. Change it to ‘In Session.’ Though that seems a little Lucy from the Peanuts maybe.”

She looks around. Does she want to sit? Standing seems strange.

“I feel like this is some sort of psychological test. Or something you’d see on Buzzfeed — pick a chair and find out what your personal neuroses is,” Chess murmurs, then walks to the armchair. She angles its position a little so that she can see both the door and Evenleigh without having to turn her head, then sits down on the edge.

“A light would ruin the vibe,” Everleigh points out, moving from the desk to a spot on the couch not far from where Chess perches. “No Buzzfeed here. All of this is designed to allow you to have some choice and agency. Some people don’t have a choice about being here, but they get to decide how and where they feel comfortable.”

She gestures around the room a bit. “I don’t find the clinical style suits me. But I like to allow patients things that make them comfortable with the whole process. Don’t think of it as a test, think of it as options.” She levels her gaze in Chess’s direction. “What is it you feel you’re here for?”

“That’s fair.” Chess looks around again, then meets Everleigh’s eyes. Her lips curve up in a small smirk. “That reminds me of television shows where a kid gets in trouble and has to go to the principal’s office,” she says, a little amused, but she shrugs. “I wasn’t mandated or anything, if that’s what you mean. I know why I came.”

Of course, that’s not what Everleigh meant, and even Chess knows she’s delaying the actual answer.

“Without getting into all of it, I’ve had a shitty year, following, well, a shitty decade,” she says with a shrug. “I generally just try to keep moving forward, but it’s getting harder to ignore some of it.”

“If you’re looking for help and no one’s forcing you here, then you’re aware there’s some kind of problem. You’re the one who knows what that is.” Everleigh seems to be taking everything in. Perhaps assessing what she knows so far. If there’s any recognition from anywhere, there’s no obvious tell—she seems to be treating her with the same level of calm as before.

“You don’t have to get into all of it or the specific details of the bigger picture,” she says, glancing back at Chess, “but you’re going to have to explain what bits of it you’re having trouble ignoring. I can’t offer any useful help without knowing what to help with. But share what you are comfortable with.”

Chess huffs a soft, breathy laugh at the first comment. Her eyes drop to her hands while one thumbnail works at chipping off the nail polish from the other, though the navy-blue manicure seems still whole, new without any chips.

“Don’t worry. I don’t expect you to be a telepath. I’d have gone to one of those if I was comfortable letting anyone in my mind,” she says wryly.

She looks up again, then lets her gaze be pulled by something bright or interesting to look at, using it as a focal point as she speaks. “Two issues. Well, a lot more than that, but two that I’d like help with, I guess. The first is nightmares. Memories, really. I can’t go more than a couple of hours most nights without having one, makes for shitty sleep.” Her gaze drops down to her hands again. “The other’s a little more complicated, but also related to memories.”

"I can't do anything nearly as impressive as telepathy," Everleigh notes with a grin, "so I think you're safe on that account." She listens, though, shifting her weight in her chair for a moment. "That's pretty common for anyone with any sort of trauma. Do you remember your nightmares at all? Often they're a reflection of your trauma or things weighing particularly heavily on your mind, but if they aren't sticking with you that might be something else entirely. It's really a matter of narrowing down the root to any and all of that."

She looks thoughtful. "I will say you've got me curious about the second issue. Complicated usually ends up being interesting even if it's a challenge."

There’s another small huff from Chess about the ‘challenge’ of her complicated issues, but she answers the first question first.

“I remember. The nightmares are memories, most of the time. People dying. Me dying — that one’s newer.” Her words are short, schooled into an even, nonchalant tone. Her hands find their way into her pockets, one curling around the small stone she keeps in the right hand side. “Even if the dreams don’t stick, I remember anyway. It’s just pretty rare I can sleep through the night, and it’d be nice to, without knocking myself out with alcohol or worse.”

Her gaze lifts quickly to Everleigh to add, “I don’t do worse. And I’m not an alcoholic.”


“The other issue… you know how some people got secondary abilities after what happened in Detroit?” Her eyes narrow slightly at the word Detroit, but otherwise, Chess manages to sound like it’s not too personal a topic to her — at least she thinks she does.

"Nightmares are a tricky thing when they're based off of memories. It's in the realm of PTSD at that point. Often the only way to reduce them is to really face them. Get to the root of what scares you about them and face that. Other than that there are other treatments… medication to help you sleep that are actually prescribed, there are over-the-counter herbal remedies that work incredibly well to ease someone into sleep. So there are different methods of attack in this particular case."

Everleigh tilts her head as she glances back over. "I'm aware of the situation. Are you having any sort of adverse effects?"

Chess looks away, brows drawing together as she seems to study the corner where wall meets ceiling, but her gaze is much farther away than that. “How do I face it more than I already have? I saw the people I love get killed violently. I can’t stop it or go confront the people who did it.”

She laughs a little roughly and scrubs her hands over her face. “Fuck, I’m going go to be one of those people who ask for advice, then tell everyone why it won’t work. I fall asleep fine. I just don’t stay there. And medication — I’m not comfortable with something that would make me useless if I had to wake up in the middle of the night for an emergency.”

Her hands drop into her lap. “If that makes sense. I’d be willing to try something that doesn’t.”

Resuming the nail-chipping, Chess scowls a little, but it seems to be at herself, not at Everleigh. “I somehow got a power much like my sister’s, who died that day.” There’s more to it, but that’s all she manages to say for now.

Everleigh seems to be thinking for a moment. "I don't mean face it in so much as a literal confrontation. I'm not one of those people who looks at someone who is afraid of heights and tells them to go skydiving. I'm someone who goes back to try and understand why they're afraid of heights in the first place. There's a big difference." The mention of being willing to try some sort of medication has the doctor smiling in a bit of amusement.

"I don't mean like a sedative. I wouldn't recommend something like that unless it was incredibly necessary. Often, dreams are things that focus on things that cross your mind before you sleep," Everleigh explains. "As for me, I have the most mundane, fairly useless ability you could ask for. I can make it smell like lavender to calm people. Appropriate for a therapist, I can see the irony. There's something about the scent, though. If you can get to sleep in a more relaxed state with focusing on things that make you calm, it can make a huge difference in sleeping through the night. Sometimes it even puts you in a better place to fight off nightmares. Unfortunately, my ability doesn't work on me for whatever reason, but I've tried lavender on its own. There's a reason they put it in sleep supplements and use it in spas, as hokey and holistic as it sounds."

She nods. "But to be honest, I find that delving deeper into what it is that's behind your anxiety and allowing you to see that in a different light that can help you figure out how to deal with it yourself."

Realizing she’s ruining her manicure, Chess crosses her arms as she listens, nodding now and then. “That makes sense. I don’t think I focus on that stuff when I fall asleep, but I’ll try to think of something else deliberately, something relaxing, and see if that works.”

Unfolding her arms, she sets them on her knees, and now her ankles cross — sitting still seems to be difficult, as she tries to explain the other issue further. “The other problem happens when I’m awake, so maybe there’s something I can do more than just try not to dream,” Chess begins, looking to the window, then back to Everleigh.

“I haven’t used it often. The new ability. It’s kind of a defensive one, so hopefully I won’t have to often.” Her expression turns a little flat, like she doesn’t think this is going to be the case. “But when I do, I tend to see her — my sister.” She presses her lips together, brows drawing together. “In times of trauma, I guess, to use psychological terminology.”

Her dark eyes grow a little glassy as she looks to the window again, but when she looks back to Everleigh, she’s already blinked away the tears.

Everleigh listens, a compassionate look offered in Chess' direction. "Kind of sounds like, to me, it's your sister's way of protecting you. I've seen a lot of people with powers who have been affected by traumatic experiences throughout their life, but I've seen enough to know that there's a lot more than we all know. Perhaps it's hard now, but true or not your sister is there for you in times of trouble. Maybe eventually that will be less of a painful experience and more of something that comforts you."

She lets out a breath. "On a personal level, I don't know how I feel about an afterlife or what happens to someone when they're gone, so I can't advise you there, but what I do know is that a lot of what I've been through in my life I would never have thought could possibly happen when I was a child. There are also all kinds of things we know about that could cause those memories to resurface. It very well could be something like PTSD."

Chess’ smile turns a little wry. “Well, half of the memories are her trying to kill me, which is how we were reunited after twenty-something years apart,” she says, and despite the dark truth behind that statement, there’s something like amusement and affection in her tone. “We worked through it, mostly.”

Her gaze drops down again and she nods. “I don’t have your degrees, but I do know I have a metric shit ton of survivor’s guilt, both from the war and my family situation. And I know logically most of it isn’t my fault, that I can’t change it, and even if I was aware of some of it, I wouldn’t have had the power to change it.”

She looks back up, head tipping and shoulders lifting. “I don’t know if I’m fixable, honestly. A friend from my vet group suggested I give this a try, but I think you’d have to basically wipe all of my memories for me to be un-broken.”

"You don't need any sort of degree to see when someone's hurting and has been through things. These days, finding someone who hasn't been traumatized by the war or a terrorist attack or really awful family… it's pretty hard. So I've seen a lot of this over the years, past and present. You're looking at this all wrong, though," Everleigh shifts her weight, gesturing in Chess' direction.

"People aren't things that need to be fixed. Broken assumes there's one correct state that works for everyone. Having tough experiences can seem like they break us from where we were in life, but it's a catalyst for change, not something you can get back to being. To gain muscle, body builders strain and stress their muscles to the point of breaking so that they'll heal from the pain to become stronger. There's this lovely practice the Japanese have where they take broken pieces of pottery and rejoin them using gold. I can't quite remember what it's called, but I've seen it often in museums. Those pieces become something new and beautiful."

She offers a wry smile. "I'm not saying your experiences are good. What I'm saying is that experiences don't break you and leave you in need of returning to your prior state, experiences shape you into something new and different and it's you who have to decide how you're going to move forward with that. We're all in a continual cycles of breaking and getting stronger. No one goes back to who they were. We move forward."

The doctor offers a nod in Chess' direction. "I guess the important thing is to remember that if you're seeking to go back to who you were before, that's impossible no matter how hard you try. If you want to figure out how to use your trauma to help you become stronger? That's the general idea here."

A small huff escapes Chess that isn’t a laugh or a scoff but something of realization. “Kintsugi,” she says softly. “That’s actually sort of fitting.”

She doesn’t say why — that she’s only recently been reading more of Japanese philosophies in general, or because her new ability makes her glow gold in the places she absorbs kinetic damage. Still, there’s a thoughtful expression as she considers the analogy, and she sits with it long enough to suggest some of it might have sunken in before she deflects again.

“So no quick fixes, just an attitude adjustment? That sucks,” Chess says wryly, but it’s with a small smile, suggesting she didn’t expect otherwise. “I know people who do therapy talk about putting in the work, but what kind of work are we talking about, because I’m exhausted already. I’m not good with…” she gestures around, as if to indicate the general office or the space between the two of them. “Well. Talking. People.”

Everleigh offers a wry smile in response, but it's certainly mixed with a touch of compassion. "Well, the best quick fix I can give you if you walk away with nothing else is to ask yourself 'why'. A lot of understanding pain and trauma is by understanding how we react to it the way we do. If you don't feel comfortable just talking to me, talk to yourself. Doesn't have to even be a verbal thing, but question everything you can. Try and see how deep you can go by asking 'why' of everything around you."

She gestures towards the office in a broad sweep. "I'm not quite here for a conversation, though. You don't have to be good with people. I'm just here to give you ideas to help. I'm here to offer insight into the things I've seen before and offer that to you. Sometimes we're too wrapped up in our own heads to see how things look from other angles. It's 'work' because you have to do it yourself. You're the one answering your own questions, I'm just helping you find the road to get there."

“There are certain things I can’t get into, even if I wanted to, so don’t be offended,” Chess says, one corner of her mouth tipped upward in an apologetic smile. Not that Everleigh seems offended. “Other things…”

She pulls her hands out of her pockets again, loosely folding them and tapping one hand against the other for a moment as she thinks. “For most of it, I get the why, just not the how to get over it part, you know? Mostly because it’s not really in the past and it might happen again, not something deep rooted in my youth I need to uncover, you know?”

Chess tips her head to one side, eyes narrowing for a moment. “Well, there was that, too, but it’s unrooted now,” she amends with a small smirk, an in-joke for herself that she doesn’t expect the psychiatrist to get. She takes a breath and straightens her back, glancing to the window, then back to Everleigh. “Anyway, I know there’s not a lot you can do if I can’t explain myself better than this. Maybe adult coloring books and hot yoga will help.” Her tone suggests she doesn’t think so, but at least Everleigh won’t be replaced by an easy fix.

"If you're worried about talking about more sensitive issues, I've got more clearance than you might think. Assuming, of course, this is one of those 'something weird has happened in the world and none of us are supposed to talk about it' issues," Everleigh rests her elbow on the arm rest, leaning her chin against her hand. "But the whys are still just as valid in the present. What is it about a certain event that scares you? What makes you angry? Finding what it is that is actually making you unprepared for a scenario allows you to prevent the same thing from happening next time."

She shrugs her free shoulder. "Therapy's a bit hard to do if you don't talk about things. If you don't feel you can talk to someone else, try and explain things to yourself in a mirror. Therapy's often just you talking to yourself with someone nudging you with ideas for things to talk about. You can have some pretty powerful realizations even if you're just talking to yourself though, if you're honest to yourself."

There’s a small smile at the mention of clearance, and Chess shakes her head looking away for a moment. “It’s a bit deeper than just ‘something weird,’ and I never did sign an NDA,” she says wryly. “I lost three family members — four, depending on how you slice it — in a single day while I was trying to stop someone residing in the body of one of my best friends. I had to kill her to try to try to stop it and it’s still out there.”

Despite the fact she’s finally talking, it’s clear Chess isn’t planning to stay as she stands up. “It’s still out there, and probably now in the body — bodies of family member four. We were unprepared, and the world is paying for it.” She pulls an envelope out of her coat pocket, stepping forward to drop it on Everleigh’s desk. “That’s the Cliff Notes of the Cliff Notes. I don’t recommend the whole book.”

Stepping back, toward the door, Chess offers a weak smile that’s tinged with some regret. “This was a bad idea on my part. You’re great. I just… I’m not.”

Everleigh watches Chess carefully, offering a smile first. “You don’t have to be perfect,” she says, the envelope ignored on her desk. “Don’t consider this a bad idea. Seeking a chance to try and sort through your issues is a good thing. Perhaps you might not be so keen on the idea of therapy, but everyone needs the opportunity to open up to someone.”

Her smile turns into a bit of a wry one. “That being said, if you need a friend instead of a therapist, it’s not as if I’m not a person too. Bit different from a clinical setting, but it’s at least good to have people to talk to… for both parties involved. Something to think about. I’ve not got as many friends as I might like, personally.”

“I imagine,” Chess says with a sort of sympathetic smile, “everyone assumes you’re analyzing them instead of just trying to get to know them. That must suck.”

She glances to the door, them back to Everleigh. “I’m not particularly good at being friends either, to be honest, but I promise if I see you at a coffee shop or a cocktail party,” her eyes look a little amused at that notion, given Chess is not exactly a cocktail party type person, “I’ll definitely say hi and pretend we never talked about my disaster of a life, yeah?”

One hand comes up in an awkward wave as she turns to go. “See ya, doc.”

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