My analyst was on vacation throughout August. During this break from psychoanalysis, I had time to reflect on my progress over the past three years. Analysis has been a crucial experience. I wouldn’t be where I am without it, for reasons far too involved to relate here. Before the break, however, it had turned stagnant. Formerly a compost station for my obsessions, a place where I could retool the waste, the factory had gone on strike. It was as if the more content and present I became outside analysis, the more obsessive and neurotic I was while in session. Furthermore, my life seemed to improve over the course of the break, and as my schedule has grown busier of late, I’m less inclined to make room for the four three-hour round-trips I make to my analyst’s office each week. I began wondering whether it was time to close that chapter. Upon his return, my analyst probed this fraught potential.

Analyst: “Other than your schedule, what are some reasons you might feel like there’s less value to our work here?”

Me: “Well I can’t answer that because there’s a false precedent. I don’t not value this. I just have to make a choice.”

Analyst: "…”

Me: “I also harp on it because it’s something you’ve mentioned before. Like I either value this enough to come here or don’t value it much at all.”

Analyst: “Okay.”

Me: “I guess I’m also seeing diminishing marginal returns. Like as my life has improved, our work in here has been” (don’t say less valuable don’t say less valuable don’t say less valuable don’t say less valuable don’t say less valuable) “more of a burden than a boon. It’s like I’ve hoarded all my obsessions in here, while out there I’m freer and more present.”

Analyst: “Interesting.”

Erstwhile, I’d begun noticing something sinister. Something that had been lurking in broad daylight since childhood. The notion struck me while working on a massive proposal to provide sign language interpreting services for one of the world’s biggest companies (whose name I can’t mention for fear of my life/contractual confidentiality). Put simply, it was incredibly difficult to concentrate on the proposal, so I did what I’ve done since high school: self-medicated. This wasn’t new. What was new was the realization that I was self-medicating not for improved mood, but concentration.

Two years ago I started on Lexapro. Up until then I’d been using marijuana to combat depression and anxiety. A mere decade ago you couldn’t express this without some form of risk to your image. It’s funny how certain stigmas dissolve into the collective conscious, while others don’t.

As an early adolescent I was a solid student. Mostly B’s and a smattering of A’s. But I had behavior problems. (Though of the benign variety, one particularly amusing instance was when my Choir teacher, Ms. Doring, asked me to move because I’d been talking to my neighbors, and I scooted over an inch. She sent me to the office.) I barely did any homework. I only focused on things I was into, like sports or videogames. Enter marijuana at sixteen years of age, and suddenly I’m in AP/GT/Honors classes with an A average and killer SAT scores.

Fast-forward to my early 20s, and marijuana begins losing its value. Enter coffee, which I hadn’t touched until I was 21 and which was basically like a 10mg Adderall when I first started drinking it. With coffee, I wrote a novel in four months. Not a good one, but a 350-page work of metafiction nonetheless. After nine years, however, coffee has leveled off as well, now providing but a slight kick to my morning.

Around 23 I discovered kratom, a Southeast Asian plant with a versatile neural profile. It was by far my favorite supplement for an insidious reason: among its fuckton of active ingredients, 7-hydroxymitragynine is the opioid agonist that balances kratom’s stimulating buzz. Which is to say it’s addictive, and therefore unsustainable at high frequencies/doses. While not an overtly bad thing — people will get addicted to whatever meds/supplements they take every day — it’s a big commitment to be dependent on an opioid, even if it’s a mild one.

Stuck on this carousel of concentration aids with a blindfold on, it struck me as I was writing the proposal: I’ve always had trouble concentrating. This might seem obvious on paper, but it wasn’t, it was hidden within my emotional baggage, a vibrator tucked into the secret linings of her honeymoon suitcase. Subconsciously, I’m oppressed by the daily grind, and require something to help me concentrate. Conversely, if it’s something I’m passionate about — like writing, or FIFA — I’m automatic. From here sprung a crop of other clues: constantly misplacing things; long history of behavior issues; impulsivity; poor organization; inexorable procrastination; forgetfulness. The list goes on. I discussed it with medical friends and a friend with ADHD. I discussed it with my analyst. I decided to see a psychiatrist.

So yesterday I went for an ADD screening. Only I was supposed to have done it prior to seeing the psych, who we’ll call Dr. Psych. It went something like this:

Dr. Psych: “Are you here for Adderall?”

Me (wondering if this is a trick question): “I’m just here to figure out what’s best for me.”

Dr. Psych: “You haven’t done the screening? You need to be screened for ADD.”

Me: “I thought that’s what we were going to do here.”

Dr. Psych (picks up the phone and dials his receptionist): “Why didn’t you tell him to do a screening before making an appointment?”

Me (in my head): Please don’t yell at her.

Dr. Psych (after hanging up the phone): “You have to do a screening because Adderall is classified with narcotics like Oxycontin.”

Me: “Which is in another league.”

Dr. Psych (stretching his arms to stress his agreement): “An entirely different league. Adderall is completely safe.”

With the receptionist’s perfectly competent assistance, I set up an appointment for adult ADD screening. “This should be quick. I also work for the screening company.” I’d already suspected that the place was a pill-mill. This fact only hardened my suspicions. It didn’t deter me. I have no moral judgments on the matter. But it did get me to think back on choice and value.

Like the time I devote to psychoanalysis, the way I treat my focus issues is a choice that reveals what I value. Smoking pot, while calming, redacts my range of intellectual ability and correlates with unhealthy lifestyle habits. Coffee’s downsides are subtle, but its efficacy — or value — is low. Kratom, on the other hand, is incredibly efficacious, but also requires a chemical commitment that I’m not prepared to make. Adderall and Lexapro sit somewhere between coffee and kratom. They’re medications I’d certainly grow to rely on, but they won’t punish me so severely for abandoning them.

Moreover, I take them and forget them. Otherwise, there would be a ton of time spent brooding, obsessing, procrastinating, self-medicating, repeat. So it stands to reason that somewhere between the ideas of treatment and my default state lies psychoanalysis. Like anything we writers seek and probe — like the idea of devaluing something I value — it’s an apparent paradox that my analyst’s job is to guide me toward the tools that will help me thrive, tolerate, and suffer the vagaries of my existence, yet he’ll also medicate me so I don’t have to think too much about it.

As the cliche goes, life’s a balance. Right now I’m trying to balance a busying schedule twelve hours of unpaid work a week. Indeed, after three years — roughly 1800 hours — of analysis, its value is naturally bound to wane. But whether those diminishing marginal returns have dipped below the line of fixed costs, rendering this factory an unprofitable asset to my spirit — I’m not sure there’s an answer to that. What I have learned from analysis is that my obsessions tend to indicate another problem; that I haven’t obsessed an iota over my decision to discontinue analysis certainly says something. But I’ve also felt relief that comes with quitting difficult things, things that would’ve been unhealthy for me to continue doing, but only because I was unhealthy to begin with.


Said poem is to be read by your mind’s voice with that fake-ass solemnity you hear at your more pretentious variety of poetry reading. Also, because your audience can’t glean your poem’s pretentious structuring as rendered on the page, you must explain it to them with great preciousness, which should take roughly five times as long as it takes you to read these stage directions — or twice as long as it will take you to read the actual poem, given the gravid pauses in your fake-ass solemnity. Halfway through your structure’s explanation you should half-assedly poll the audience for whether you should just pass it around so they can see for themselves. By the time you’re done explaining and equivocating, a statistically insignificant fraction of your audience should remain interested in the sounds you’re about to make.

You know it’s true love…

…wHen PreParation H is discuSSed oPenly.

A wise woman one said, ”Our deepest crushes…

…seed in love’s forest”…

…and I wonder if she meant

…tHe Ponderosa Pine.

Do you get it…


Its formal classification…

…iS Pinus Ponderosa.

Which is sorta close to penis…

…mY God tHosE Greeks WeRe freaks.

Brian Birnbaum graduated from Sarah Lawrence College’s Hogwartsy halls, clearly a Slytherin, in case you were wondering. Outside his MFA in Fiction, he didn’t expect to ever again capitalize on his creative writing genre. Then he was paid $200 for his essay on psychoanalysis, which is a pretty good way to wrap this up. But not before reminding you to subscribe to my newsletter for non-frequent super-fun content of a Birnbaumian bent and updates/excerpts of my novel, set for release in late 2019!