Obsessive Worrying


elisabeth_icon.gif everleigh_icon.gif

Scene Title Obsessive Worrying
Synopsis Elisabeth meets with Everleigh to try and determine if she's worrying too much.
Date December 15, 2019

Everleigh's Office, Elmhurst

The appointment was made via a therapist that was SESA-cleared specifically to handle the intricacies of this case. The early part of the year saw Elisabeth's therapists making notes that are familiar to anyone who has treated combat veterans — troubled sleep, nightmares, flashbacks at first, graduating to extreme anxiety reactions that trigger bursts of uncontrolled power. None of these things seem overly different from any other SLC-E war veteran. But Elisabeth Harrison's file is … unique. Highly classified. Because some of what she deals with is not the aftermath of the Civil War, it is the aftermath of years of living on the run and guerrilla warfare in alternate timelines. The latter part of the year has shown significant improvement in all of those reactions, though she still shows evidence of general anxiety and mild paranoia (in the opinion of the therapists; she would beg to differ).

The put-together blond lowers herself slowly into a chair and pulls in a long breath. "It's nice to meet you," she greets quietly. "I think I'm supposed to verify your identity and your security clearance before I talk to you," she adds with a self-deprecating smile. "But I don't think they'd have sent me to you if it weren't high enough." Dressed in dark gray slacks topped by a soft violet-gray blouse, she looks like any other executive except for the badge at her waist and the holstered weapon that she handed to a tall African American man in the waiting room before entering. She automatically chooses a chair with its back to a wall and her blue eyes are curious while they scan the room, taking in the details as she sets a black blazer on the arm of the chair and exposing that her left hand is encased in a low-profile rigid brace.

While Everleigh Madison is a much more petite brunette and not at all an intimidating presence, that’s almost exactly the point. She looks normal, nothing particularly outstanding other than her smile. That smile happens to be a very casual but genuine expression that she wears like a warm welcome. She’s settled in a chair close to the middle of the room, one that has a fair vantage point all around it.

“Don’t worry, I’ve crossed all my ‘t’s and dotted my ‘i’s to be here, a bit of a rough set up but we both made it here, so looks like I’ve done everything right.” Instead of a pad of paper for notes, Everleigh’s approach seems to be more personal than clinical. “So why don’t we start with where we want to go with this. This is about you more than anyone else, regardless of what everyone else seems to think. So there may be other people who expect you to be getting a certain thing out of therapy, family, co-workers, bosses…” She pauses.

“But we’re saying screw them. This is about you and only you. So let’s figure out what you want out of this.”

The chuckle that bubbles out of Elisabeth is soft. "Let's call you… my reality check," she replies easily. "The holidays haven't been pleasant the past couple of years, and last year was particularly hard. My daughter and I … watched a massacre happen around us and had some unique and horrifying things go on." Maybe she should have said other unique and horrifying things, but … she's led a very strange life off-and-on the past decade or so. "Bad things seem to happen a lot in November and December for us… so although I realize the expectation that things will go to hell is a little irrational… it's not unprecedented in my life either."

She gives a subtle shrug, as if to loosen her shoulders, and the blonde admits, "My husband is out of town, someplace I once watched him nearly die. It makes me … anxious … that he's gone there and that I won't be on hand to back him up if it turns into something horrible. And it's something my daughter picks up on, so it ramps her insecurities too. I don't want that." Elisabeth looks down at her hands where she's toying with her wedding ring.

“I see,” Everleigh says. It’s not a statement of observation or one to sound like more of a therapist, it’s simply an acknowledgement that she understands what Elisabeth is trying to express. She is listening and taking in all of what is being said.

“It’s interesting that you speak about others first. Your husband, your daughter. You’re anxious for them, concerned about them. But your daughter’s a child and your husband is away. So who’s worried about you? How you feel and what you do is just as valid as their feelings and actions. If I were to pinpoint something precise I’m noticing, it’s a feeling of helplessness. Is that how you feel?”

Does she? Elisabeth considers the question, sorting through her emotions. "It's probably a good description, although I dislike the word itself. The connotation of being… weak, unable to protect my people." Then she grimaces. It's as if the word itself unlocked a flood gate of frustration. "I do feel helpless. I know there's a threat, I— we brought it with us when we came through. And we don't know shit about it except that it's dangerous enough that others before us incarcerated it. Which means, yet again, I have pretty much failed my child because I took her from a place where she was mostly safe because I wanted to come home.

"And that's really only the most … nebulous of the problems. Let's call that one the overarching one; I'm kind of used to that level of helpless. It's how I've lived for the past few years. Siege mentality sucks."

Elisabeth drags her good hand through her hair, and then adds. "But it's the smaller levels of completely feeling useless that are maybe worse. Watching Richard wrestle constantly with his fear of becoming what he hates most drives me crazy. The man's not perfect, but … I fought like hell to come home to him. I've fucking well seen the best and some of the worst of the man, and he still doesn't want to really talk to me about the things in his head. Like I've already been through so much he doesn't want to burden me. So on the one hand, I'm strong enough to literally fucking jump worlds with a toddler in tow, but now that I'm home, I'm not strong enough to actually be his partner with the things on his mind." She rolls her eyes. The conflicted feelings involved in that set of statements are evident. "Of course, I knew that going into this. So what did I expect? But let's throw on top of that knowing one of my friends who came home with me is struggling because he can't figure out who he is in this strange world; another is being stalked by someone who wants him dead; my dad is struggling because my mother came home with us and she's … not my mom that we know; Aurora's having nightmares of last Christmas. Plus now my own nightmares right now with this trip Richard's on. I thought coming home would would at least… "

But Eileen was right…. The realization burns. You and Varlane can’t just Goldilocks your way across worlds until you find one that’s just right. It hadn't been about finding one that was just right… she just hadn't expected home to be quite so bad off. She should have expected it after she learned of the civil war. She and Walter had even talked about the fact that going home again wasn't easy. She just hadn't expected to make things worse, although perhaps she should have learned that was inevitable, too, from what happened even before she and Magnes were thrown through worlds.

"I don't know what to do now that I've reached the goal of getting home… because the truth is, home might be where your heart is but in a great many ways, we were fucking well better off several worlds back." Her tone is subdued. Looking down at where she's once again twisting her wedding ring, Elisabeth shakes her head slightly. "I can't help anyone here. I can't protect my people. I'm terrified that I'm going to wake up and this will all be gone. And I feel very much like every goddamn thing I do is making it worse. So yeah… helpless is probably a really good word for how I feel. But the worst part is that… I almost want another portal to open up. And that makes me both a fucking coward and literally just as bad as Zeke."

“I’d have to disagree with the word helpless. The connotation makes people think of weakness, but when you think about it, it’s merely the inability to help. The inability to take action. It speaks not to your character,” Everleigh puts forward. Leaning back in her chair, she continues to listen. “It’s tough to separate your feelings for yourself with the feelings of being a parent. I can’t speak from my own personal experience here, but…”

She leans forward again. “With all that you’ve got going on, it almost sounds like you’re losing yourself. I know it seems like all these problems around you are the most important and the most pressing things in the world but my job here isn’t to save the world. It’s to get you back to where you need to be to live in it. The world’s not exploding at the moment, so it’s time to take a little time for yourself.”

“Step one,” she starts. “I want you to name me one positive quality you have that you appreciate about yourself.”

"I'm a good mother" Elisabeth replies promptly. "And I'm loyal to a fault." The answers to that are simple. At least … she thinks they are.

“Both of those are good answers,” Everleigh starts. “But it’s interesting that you chose two qualities that related to how you can serve other people. In asking you what you valued about yourself you valued what you can offer to your children and what you can offer to those around you. You’re so focused on other people and what you are to those other people that I worry you might forget who you are. Are you kind? Are you compassionate? Are you funny? Your first instinct to define yourself is to run to who and what you are to other people. Is that a bad thing? No. But it’s something to be aware of. It’s something to remember if you’re alone, if you’re in a situation where your children and those you’re loyal to aren’t there. Will that cripple you, or will you stand on your own?”

Elisabeth smiles slightly. "You asked me about positive qualities I appreciate about myself. Those are the ones I appreciate most. I like to think that I'm kind and compassionate. I don't think I'm terribly funny. And yes, I will stand on my own." There's a flash of something infinitely harder through her expression, just as quickly gone as it's there. "I'm a survivor, if I'm nothing else." She doesn't seem overly proud of that. It's simply a fact.

“You’ve survived a lot, yes,” Everleigh agrees to that. “And you’ll survive more, I wholeheartedly believe that. The universe will always send something else our way, I feel, big or small. But let’s look at that feeling of helplessness a bit. The first important thing to remember is that you can’t do everything. While you can certainly try, you aren’t capable of solving everyone’s puzzle at the same time. It sounds like you’re very motivated to help the people in your lives, you just aren’t sure how to.”

She shakes her head. “I know there’s a mothering instinct to just be able to solve things for everyone, but it’s not realistic. What is realistic is that you can be a pillar for people. Be someone they can come to, someone they can ask for help. With your relationship with Richard, I’m not really sure that it’s your place to help him. To be quite honest, it sounds like the problem is his, he just needs to be the one to realize it. Nudge him gently, or if you think he might benefit from it, send him to me. I’m a neutral party and not emotionally invested in the situation, it might be easier to get something out.”

“But while you want to help people, you have to also learn to accept that people need to help themselves sometimes, and that sometimes all you really can do is be there for someone.”

"Yeah… and now you're saying the same thing I have to tell myself every day." The same thing every therapist she's ever spoken to says. Elisabeth smiles. "Far easier said than done, thanks to an overdeveloped sense of responsibility." Breathing out a long sigh, the blonde is quiet for a time.

"It probably sounds ridiculous to you… but the longer my life stays quiet, the more uneasy I seem to get." Elisabeth pauses. She's always careful even though she knows the other woman has been cleared for her actual history. "After Aurora was born, I had to build some kind of life for her. Life was… not fantastic, we weren't rich. But it wasn't a bad life either. We had friends. People we cared about. We didn't want for anything. Around Aurora's second birthday, I realized I was actually happy. Nothing we'd done in those two years was really getting us any closer to going home, and… I started to really settle down."

A soft huff of laughter escapes her. "And then shit hit the fan." Because November 8th always sucks. She looks up and admits, "It's too quiet right now. The longer it's quiet… It's like the early years of the city Aurora was born in. I'm starting to feel like I'm home. I'm daring to actually be happy." It feels like tempting fate. Especially when you know for a fact something is coming. "I don't want to hold onto what I'm building so tightly that I break it."

“Maybe it’s been said before, but that’s probably because you need to hear it.” Everleigh shakes her head. “You don’t have to worry about sounding ridiculous. It’s not my place to judge your emotions or feelings. If you feel that way, you feel that way for a reason.” She seems thoughtful. “But you’re seeing a pattern and you’re afraid that something bad is happening soon.”

She frowns. “I can’t tell you everything is going to be okay, but you’re a capable woman, Elisabeth. You said it yourself, you’re a good mother and loyal. You’ve been through troubled times before and undoubtedly that will happen again… but I don’t believe for a second you aren’t prepared to protect your family. If something happens, you’re already ready. You’ve been ready since the last time.”

Now she smiles. “Don’t let your worry stop you from enjoying the life you want to lead. Be confident in who you are and that you’ve got it under control for next time. If you just worry about it, you’re missing out on that time that could be spent with your family.”

The smile Elisabeth offers is wry. "Hence why I'm sitting here telling you about all my obsessive worrying instead of smooshing it into a little ball in my gut. I've definitely learned to identify when the hamster in my head is running circles that go nowhere." Propping the elbow of her undamaged hand on the arm of the chair, she rubs wearily at her forehead. "I'm hoping that by laying it all out, again, out loud that I can purge the tendency to keep on running those circles and maybe sleep a little better. I'm not going to sleep well until Richard's home," and not a nuclear shadow-stain on the Antarctic shelf, "but I'd like to get to a place where it's not the constant feeling of waiting. So, you know… I come here, see you, get you to make sure I haven't slipped over the edge into complete paranoia, and then … go home and start cooking. It's what I do when I'm driving myself crazy. Everyone around me eats for weeks." She's both amused and resigned to this coping mechanism. "My daughter loves to cook with me, these days. There've been too many times when there wasn't enough food. So… it's a luxury to have all the ingredients to make things."

“Getting it all out is good. I’d rather you spew endless words at me for as long as you need if that’s exactly what you need. It’s worth trying, at least.” Everleigh nods slowly. “But I think you’re less paranoid than you think. I think your concerns are valid. This is a dangerous situation and you have every right to be worried. But this is a situation out of your control, but the one thing you can control is your mind and how you handle it.”

There’s a pause. “Cooking is a good outlet. It means something to you, it keeps you busy. Holidays are coming up and I’m certain some people are too busy to cook. In fact, there are probably several charities who need people to cook some hot meals around this time of year. Volunteering might actually be a good option for you, especially if you take your daughter along. You can be together and she can see what it’s like to give back to others. Take that fear and frustration and turn it into something beautiful.”

"It started as something I did with my mother. Her family was Italian, so… you know, feed every ill." Elisabeth trails off for a moment, thinking on something. It makes her smile. "I can remember years ago… I don't know if you lived in New York before the war. We had a really really bad winter one year. And then a bit later, I spent a winter on the run." It's said so casually. As if it's basically the norm. But that year, 2011, was a pretty important one in her life. It still blows Elisabeth's mind that she's a known face. "I think I cooked and baked enough to feed a battalion," she admits. There's a low chuckle. "Richard used to gauge how stressed I was by how much food he found when he came by. And complain I'd make him fat."

Pulling in a breath, she's still smiling. "And yes, I'd already decided to loan my hands at the local shelters. I usually go down to Our Lady of Fatima at least once a month." Elisabeth shrugs. "And the kids love it when I sing for them. I haven't done a lot of it, but when my daughter mentioned that I only sang anymore when she was sad, I've been making an effort to spend some time with my music too. I have things that center me." She pauses. "I guess I just needed someone not involved in the Twilight Zone that is my life to say that I'm not … blowing things out of proportion, maybe."

“New York’s always been my home, born and raised. Only left for a little while for school and then came right back.” It’s a little smidge of her life that Everleigh shares, but the hint of it is there and then gone. “I’m glad you’re making yourself a good outlet to at least get some of this nervous energy out with.” She listens attentively, hands folded in her lap.

“Well, I try to stay out of the Twilight Zone. The Safe Zone’s better,” Everleigh smiles. It’s intended to be a small joke. “But your feelings are valid, Elisabeth. I don’t know if you felt as if they weren’t because you were reacting to your own feelings or seeing other people react, but it’s alright to feel anxious about these things. That’s pretty normal, actually. So you’re doing okay. You’re dealing with it a lot better than some of my patients deal with things.”

Pulling in a long, slow breath, Elisabeth lets it out just as slowly and then nods. "All right. Sanity check accomplished." She wonders sometimes why it's easier to come to a stranger and just let it all out… but she knows the answer. They're not emotionally invested. Which… yeah. She still hasn't mastered not taking on too much. So an objective eye that says she's not losing it? It's a huge help. She smiles at Everleigh. "Thank you. I'll get on with doing the things I can do and just… trying to keep an eye on the rest."

“You’re alright,” Everleigh agrees. “Just remember that you can take a break from things if you need to. No one’s gonna judge a little bit of a break, you know.” She slowly gets to her feet to offer a hand to Elisabeth. “Just remember if you need me, let me know. I’m here to offer assistance, that’s what I’m here for. Even if it’s just a phone call as a reminder that you’re not losing your mind, I’m more than happy to. Good luck.”

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