The Double Shot Americano Therapy

Therapy is conversation. And conversation is work. And that needs sufficient caffeination.

As someone who was recently diagnosed with clinical depression that had followed an earlier diagnosis of a rare/ unusual degenerative orthopedic condition, I have taught myself to look forward to Saturday mornings with my therapist. The nightly sedatives and sleep medication, make the Friday night convention of dinner and drinks with strangers and friends (that most people of my age and type look forward to) difficult to follow. Add to this, forced explanations of why I have to eat early, sleep early (so that the drowsiness doesn’t carry over to the next day) and cannot drink as much as I have been known to, has become an extremely patience-testing exercise. I have happily and abundantly used my physical health as an excuse (mental health — I’d quickly learnt — invites less empathy and more curiosity), to my convenience and cancelled plans last minute till people, to my relief, finally gave up on me. Contrary to the trivia that goes around helping depressed people — I don’t really want people checking in, asking me to meet or generally bother with me on a frequent basis.

[No offence to nice people who have probably actually cared — the effort it took to make them feel comforted about their kindness towards me, was simply exhausting. Most of these conversations would end with me smiling and nodding my head to generic sounding advise about how ‘I should try this amazing yoga plus meditation program’, ‘Call/ meet them more often’ or ‘speak-to-this-other-friend-who-is-also-depressed/ dealing-with-chronic-pain’].

But I tell myself, people mean well. Most of us have not really been taught/ trained to respond to such situations. And most times, people are naturally inclined to advise what they think will help them — if they were to find themselves in the same situation ever.

But coming back to this story.

I’m obsessed with routines. And this new routine of traveling to the other side of town to meet my latest therapist — it seems — has started to become very important to me. She has a difficult-to-find, unusual-for-Bangalore, quiet clinic with those nice-looking indoor plants and a small coffee shop down the road. The clinic is in a quiet part of town surrounded by those lovely bungalows that have been lived in long enough to have creepers all over. So yes, I look forward to these Saturday morning sessions for which I have to take 2 hour long cab rides. So much so that there are days when I dress up in sarees and make up stories about work meetings after my appointment. Seeing me dressed up, the therapist usually starts by asking for difficult meeting details — leaving me wondering if she is indeed curious about the nature of my very boring work meetings or worried that I have finally truly gone nuts. Truth is, I don’t have much else to do in life and nowhere else to wear my lovely sarees to. So why not therapy.

This Saturday morning, I found myself unusually awake and ready for the day ( a new anti-depressant is beginning to kick-in finally, I think) and I decided to wear an old red Kolkata handloom saree I’d not touched in five years now. I removed my large ‘grandma’ glasses ( as some of my colleagues like to call them) and bothered myself with contact lenses. I even wore some Kajal — leftover from my days of daily Kajal and put on a black bindi. Extremely pleased with myself I looked into the mirror as I swallowed the egg sandwich my husband had prepared in between all this dressing up. A properly draped saree with breakfast was a great milestone already achieved. Unfortunately, though, my cab was here and there was no time to gulp down the steaming hot cup of tea in front of me. I was awake, yes, but not caffeine-awake. Therapy is conversation. And conversation is work. Which needs me to be sufficiently caffeinated.

So I remind myself of this coffee shop outlet near the clinic and rush out to the cab.

As I start my two-hour journey to the clinic, I also begin making mental notes I prepare myself with for these sessions. As daily and everyday as my sadness may be, I am forced to prioritize. I have one hour and I have to talk about the saddest possible parts. I plug in my ear phones — to drown out the traffic noise and start thinking hard, trying to remember which parts of my week were sadder than the others.

I am still thinking when 1.5 hours later, earlier than expected, the driver pulls over outside the clinic. I am surprised. But not too much — it is Saturday after all. Fortunately for me, people are hung over or taking their time to get out of bed. I have 20 minutes to kill and I am elated by this realization. I walk over to the coffee shop I usually visit after my sessions. This coffee shop, your usual off-the-block Café Day outlet, has been where I’ve rewarded myself with my second coffee for the day and planned my rides back. I stay far outside the city. People want to drive me to the clinic but not back.

I’ve come to this coffee shop almost every Saturday for the last four months. The girl at the cash counter is sweet looking and usually places my order when she sees me walk in. Given how middle class I am, this kind of stuff makes me very happy. The double shot Americano she serves is pretending hard to taste American but is actually thankfully very south Indian. It is an important part of this Saturday routine and I look forward to it.

Unlike other Saturdays, though, I’m in a hurry today. I need to get my coffee and walk back to the clinic five minutes before my session is to start ( therapists hate it if you walk in looking rushed). But it’s a bit early for Bangalore coffee machines and I know I’m asking for a favor when I walk up to the counter in the hope of fresh caffeine.

The girl, Sushmita, looks up confused for a few seconds before she breaks into a smile. “Oh it’s you madam. I didn’t recognize you, you look happy today!”, she says, in broken English. She genuinely means it and I know not to feel offended. After all, I did surprise her with my Kajal eyes and handloom saree — versus my usual loose t-shirt and grandma spectacles.

I smile back and say thanks, feeling a bit awkward. I am touched by the fact that she cared to say something other than “Would you like to eat something with your coffee today?”.

“I know it’s early but can I get an Americano please?”, I ask. She asks me to wait while she goes back inside to check the status of the machines.

“The coffee machine has not started madam. Give us 10 minutes and I’ll get it for you”, she says. My shoulders fall in disappointment and I look visibly sad. My face has never been great with hiding my thoughts. “I’m running late and won’t be able to wait. Can I get any coffee that’s quick? Please? Even if it’s just a little bit?” I ask pleadingly. She feels bad, I think, and then she asks, looking somewhat unsure, “Is it okay if I make it ‘manually’?”. I am puzzled. “How do you mean?”, I ask. “I’ll make it myself — with boiled water and coffee. Isn’t Americano just that — black coffee?”, she says enthusiastically.

I am genuinely touched and grateful. I say yes please, that would be really nice of you. She rushes back in and gets to work. Just five minutes later she’s back at the counter with piping hot coffee — but not in the usual disposable cup. She is holding a flask branded with the coffee shop’s name.

I look at her, with a very middle-class look that clearly says ‘do I need to pay for the flask?’ and so she begins to explain quickly “this is a flask the company put off sale after they did some changes to their branding. I thought I’ll give you the flask because I know you’ll come again next week and can use it again. Why waste paper cups each time? I cleaned it in hot water so you don’t have to worry”, she says with a big smile.

I look at her, smiling and struggling for words. I think about all the times I’ve refused kindness from friends. Because I don’t want to be nice back to them and because I can’t be bothered to help them feel good about themselves for reaching out to me. And here is a stranger who caught me off-guard.

I thank her and tell her that I’ll see her next Saturday with my new flask that — as-cheesy-as-it-can-get — says ‘a lot can happen over coffee’.

Researcher, writer — always wondering why and what if.

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