Episode 3: Dr. Arya Chettiar
She looked back at her notes, all of them. The ones from private practice, and from her rotation on the psych floor. Arya tore through hardback books with lined pages filled with her handwriting. From last week. From a month ago. From a year ago. The notes of the patients who stuck out because of their uniquely bizarre symptoms, and more importantly, the uncanny similarities among them, in common a very specific personality pathology. In all, from as far back as seven years, four patients so similar the notes on each were interchangeable. Replace one with the other, only looking at their very specific and duplicate pathology, and it would be hard to tell who was who.
The demographics, however, were all over the place. Socioeconomics, age, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation. They were as different as could be. And, they didn’t know each other, a truth she went to great effort, well beyond what was ethical for her profession, to confirm.
The only link she could see was they were all alive in 1987, and all were insistent about and fixated on the year. A strange observation. A fact she would have never acknowledged, or even realized, if not that all of them were obsessively drawn to the time period in very intimate ways. It didn’t matter if they were forty, fifteen, or a day old during the year. They all felt deeply connected to that moment in time.
The core aspects of the pathology: a feeling of not being real, or alive, or meant to be there – not so unordinary. A common symptom of Dissociative Disorder. Except, they all dreamt of a moment in time, in 1987, when they were connected deeply to someone or a place or experience. All four had different experiences, but all taking place that year.
They also claimed another dream that came less frequently – they dreamt of how they died…in 1987. If the common profile wasn’t enough of a statistical anomaly, the four patients experienced the same physical manifestation, that by all accounts, and confirmed by specialists, was completely psychosomatic. It was a distinctive type of color blindness, for lack of any other way to describe it. They saw only blue, as if the entire world was seen through a monochrome filter, only darker or lighter shades of the one color. Rather than the genetic condition that impacts the cells within the retina, there was no clear physiological correlation to what they claimed to see, which too was linked back to the year 1987.
One of the patients was born then and saw blue from the beginning. The other three of varying ages, remembered being able to see other colors leading up to the fateful year and only blue after.
Arya was caught up in it to the point that she was seeing connections and reasons around every corner, like ghosts in blurs on the peripheral walking through a staged haunted house. One night, while looking through old boxes from college in the attic, Arya found a cassette of a punk band from campus. The demo was called Be Blue, See Blue. ‘Synchronicity,’ she thought at first then laughed at the idea. Arya wondered if the lead singer had a similar pathology, which upon a brief reflection was a ridiculous leap with not even the slightest of circumstantial evidence other than a color coincidence. After the find in the attic, she even had the occasion to search for answers in corners that would be described politely as fringe science, usually after she relaxed and pleasantly fuzzied her brain, and searched the web into the early morning hours.
There were reasons why, probably, Arya told herself. The mystery allowed her to focus on something else, some other. Somewhere outside of the long work hours, time with the family, and the awful sleep patterns, she studied the notes. She called colleagues across the country, and in very rare finds, she came across a case consistent with her four unique patients.
The most significant reassurance that what Arya deemed something worth study came when she found a newly published paper looking at the same pathology, and with it the revelation that there were many more with the same experience than she could have ever imagined. Possibly hundreds. The discovery came on the heels of the chance for life change in the wake of a personal crossroads.
Comfortable was the best way to describe things, or content maybe was a better word. Four bedroom rowhome, two young children, two dogs, stay at home husband, she was the bread winner. Private practice was not exactly gratifying but it paid the mortgage, and she made up for high hourly rate sessions by doing two shifts a week on the psych floor of the hospital two blocks from her office.
She smoked pot, only late evenings when the family was asleep and she was left alone in the den to catch up on paperwork while listening to songs from another time when things were simple. Her smoking wasn’t to the point where it interfered with life’s responsibilities and she kept it completely hidden from everyone even though it was perfectly legal, not perfectly acceptable to him. A functional vice. Just enough to temporarily kill off the inner most ugliness absorbed during sessions where the inner most details from her patients spewed out like projectile vomit. And the things she saw on the psych floor that were truly awful, people at their lowest points - psychotic breaks, suicide attempts, the deepest depths of true grief and torment.
She cheated. Not often and nothing that resonated emotionally. ‘Not emotional cheating,’ she would tell herself. It was sex, like pot, to dull the real.
Arya felt her own metamorphosis brewing. The years of doing therapy, she felt like a sponge absorbed and bloated with the pain of others, so much so that she couldn’t discern what was unfolding in front of her anymore, except in the clinical sense. The instincts were gone, the knowing when someone was in a dangerous state, or incapable of functioning, the way of reading the eyes and body language that accompanied the colorful admissions. She could only take in the words said, compare it to the academic guidance her brain had digested, compute the formula and spit out the result. Any other way would require Arya to see the true hurting in front of her and there just wasn’t enough inside to do that anymore.
The bloated sponge expanded into the personal. There were no lines. Work coupled with actual life, bleeding into each other. Everyone needed – the droning in the hourly sessions, the panic in the faces of those strapped to a gurney in the midst of a psychotic break, a husband with feelings of abandonment, her kids who needed to be held.
The academic was something she gave a lot of thought to. Could she find a place to teach, and continue doing therapy in moderation, and still make the ridiculous mortgage? She applied to a few local colleges (the city had plenty) with no success. Then, a strangely convenient chance for change that was not at all on Arya’s radar. A small liberal arts college away from the city chaos and the city angst, wanted to interview her for a position on the faculty. Strange because she had never applied to the school, a fact that was drowned out by the desperation. Her husband was supportive, reluctantly. Her kids were too young to have roots.
The request for an interview came in the form of a letter. The second paragraph stated that she was recommended by the esteemed applied physics researcher Sophia Page Mitchell. Arya knew no such person.