Deep in the Act
Quality Check: Isalee
First Published on Chaleuria
At their second meeting, Gao Zhun was still as beautifully put together as he was when Fang Chi first saw him, with waxed hair loosely pulled back, and a single black onyx stud in his right ear. He was absolutely dazzling and captivating as he stepped into the clinic with a polished air of charismatic self-assurance. Trailing behind him, secretary Feng desperately wished to fall at his feet and become the very shadows on which he walked. He was early for his appointment again. Barely recovered from his previous consultation, Fang Chi greeted him in exhaustion. “Mr. Gao, do you wear ear studs on a regular basis?” he asked.
Gao Zhun put down his bag – Givenchy limited edition, its design so exquisitely refined that it appeared almost feminine. “There was an event in the afternoon for interdisciplinary and commercial artists. I had to blend in,” he explained as he gave his bag a kick. “I wouldn’t be caught dead carrying something like this otherwise.”
Fang Chi’s eyes fell on the dark shine of his Berluti shoes, traced their pointed toes – designed to catch a woman’s breath – and returned his gaze to Gao Zhun’s face. He registered the dull, sagging skin and the shadows under Gao Zhun’s eyes. It was a face marked with suffering from long-term insomnia. “Are you wearing a women’s fragrance?”
As if he was stung by Fang Chi’s words, Gao Zhun’s face twisted into a strange expression of disgust, or perhaps fear. “Never. I always wear men’s cologne – it must be the models… they like hugging… or maybe their scents rubbed off on me during the photo-shoot…”
Fang Chi began to smile as Gao Zhun unraveled before him into clumsiness. “Shall we begin, Mr. Gao?”
He signaled to secretary Feng, who was waiting near the doorway. He kept his eyes on Gao Zhun as she walked over lightly to close the door and saw the same panic-stricken expression on his face. Like a little petrified creature, Gao Zhun seemed to be ready to fall into a swoon at the mere snap of his fingers.
“Mr. Gao,” Fang Chi began, seated again at an angle from Gao Zhun with his pen and notebook. “You came for the last consultation on a recommendation from your fiancée. What about this time?”
Gao Zhun forcibly tore his attention away from the door and redirected it with effort to the exchange at hand. “I am here of my own accord.”
Fang Chi nodded approvingly. “So,” he continued to ask in his usual softened tone, “why are you here? In other words, what prompted you to seek help?”
His questions visibly confused Gao Zhun. “Be… because… you said you could resolve my issues.”
Fang Chi stared unwaveringly at Gao Zhun as he probed further, “If that’s the case, will you tell me about your issues?”
“I can’t sleep, I get nightmares, and I have trouble focusing…” Gao Zhun replied, unable to meet his piercing gaze; its persistent strength frightened him.
“I want the truth.” Fang Chi crossed his legs. Gao Zhun thought for a while and was about to speak when Fang Chi cut him off, “The whole truth.”
Gao Zhun swallowed, dropping his eyes. Staring unblinkingly at the near-reflective floor, he pleaded, his voice almost a whimper, “I told you before, give me time…”
No response from Fang Chi; the only sound in the room was the ticking of the clock on the wall. Gao Zhun locked his hands anxiously together in evident distress. The silence dragged out – to Fang Chi’s satisfaction. Finally breaking the moment with a sigh, Fang Chi replied, “Alright. I will wait for you.”
He pulled out a folded sheet from his notebook. “Mr. Gao, therapy is a collaborative effort. You may not believe this, but there is great strength hidden in you. The only person who can set you free is yourself.” He passed the sheet to Gao Zhun, adding, “Of course, I will be with you every step of the way, whenever you need me.”
It was the first time anyone had ever spoken like this to Gao Zhun. He looked at Fang Chi in shock, the folded sheet momentarily forgotten in his hands. He felt what little strength he managed to muster in isolation over the past month beginning to crack under the influence of Fang Chi’s words. The feeling of being cared for – unconditionally – brought tears to his eyes, but he immediately crushed his overwhelming urge to cry. The idea of giving himself away filled him with fear; he did not dare to let Fang Chi know how he truly felt.
Yet Fang Chi knew. All of Gao Zhun’s feelings were crystal clear to him. “Every word uttered in this room will be kept strictly confidential, unless…” His eyes shifted to Gao Zhun’s slender fingers and watched as they trembled uncontrollably. “Unless laws have been broken, that is.”
“What do you mean?” Gao Zhun interjected suddenly. Despite having pre-empted Gao Zhun’s possible responses to his speech, down to the points at which he might be interrupted, Fang Chi did not expect to be cut off right now.
With a raise of his eyebrow, Fang Chi elaborated, “For example, if your insomnia is induced by a murder or some other violent crime you committed, I am obliged to report it to the police.”
Instead of backing down, Gao Zhun probed further. “What if I were to fantasize about a crime I have yet to commit? Or…” – he blinked, assuming an air of deliberate nonchalance – “what if I were a victim?”
But Fang Chi saw right through him; his attention piqued at the unusual expression: victim. “I will keep strict confidentiality in such cases,” he assured Gao Zhun. He passed his pen to Gao Zhun, still warm from his touch. “Mr. Gao, what I have just given you is a simple Adlerian questionnaire1. Please take some time to complete it.”
As instructed, Gao Zhun unfolded the sheet, somewhat lost in his own thoughts. Printed on the page were twenty questions relating to his childhood experience. He began writing without any sign of hesitation. Running his idle gaze along the arch of Gao Zhun’s neck, taking in every inch of its exposed skin and delicate line, Fang Chi recalled Gao Zhun’s overreaction to personal space invasion at their previous meeting. All of a sudden, he felt the urge to conduct a physical stress test on Gao Zhun.
Gradually, he began leaning toward Gao Zhun. Then, all of a sudden, his hand darted towards Gao Zhun’s left temple. It was a brief and fleeting touch, but Gao Zhun lost his grip on the pen instantly and twisted his entire body away in an attempt to evade contact. Just as he was about fall out of his chair, Fang Chi reached out and scooped him up. With a premeditated look of surprise on his face, Fang Chi explained, “There was something in your hair. I just wanted to pick it off for you.”
Gao Zhun was utterly terrified. He stared long and hard at Fang Chi, a deep flush burning across his entire face. “I’m sorry…”
“It’s okay,” Fang Chi answered as he released his hold on Gao Zhun, increasingly certain about the possibility of Gao Zhun being a victim of some sort. “Are you done with the questionnaire? May I take a look?”
Loosening his tie, Gao Zhun handed the paper back to Fang Chi, carefully angling his hand in the process as if afraid of coming into physical contact again with the other man. “Is my childhood related to the treatment for my insomnia?” he asked.
Of course not, Fang Chi thought inwardly; he had only wanted to find out more about Gao Zhun’s personality through the test. Scanning through the responses, however, he replied, “Yes of course. You’re a single child in a single-parent family and you’re unmarried – all of these characteristics are high-risk factors that can contribute to anxiety disorders.”
Still visibly shaken, Gao Zhun bit his lip, his fingers digging hard into his sleeves till their tips turned livid. Fang Chi kept the questionnaire away and picked up his pen before speaking up again. “Mr. Gao, will you please tell me more about yourself?”
“Me?” Gao Zhun was unsure how to begin. After organizing his thoughts, he followed Fang Chi’s lead and started with his family. “My parents separated when I was still very young. My mother… was very stern… very strict. She taught me that the only life worth living was that of a man above all men.”
“What does it mean to be a man above all men?” Fang Chi pressed.
“It means to be the best.”
“Do you consider yourself to be a perfectionist?”
Without the slightest hesitation, Gao Zhun replied in the affirmative, “Yes, I think that all good things are perfect and without flaw.” Yet, even as he was speaking, he felt a tinge of sadness at his own words. To conceal his feelings from Fang Chi, he immediately added, “My mother always asked me to be a real man. Show my father what being a man really means and make her proud.”
“What does it take to be a real man, then?” Fang Chi asked.
“Physical strength, financial prowess, and gallantry towards women.” He began to smile as he continued, “I may not be tall enough to meet the first criterion in full, but I’ve definitely fulfilled the other two.”
“Being a real man – is it important to you?”
Gao Zhun pondered on the question. “I suppose so. I used to cry easily when I was a child, and my mother always told me to hold it in. She said a real man must never act like a woman…”
He stopped suddenly; his voice trailed off into silence. Fang Chi observed him quizzically, watching his lush eyelashes quiver in the orange glow of the setting sun. He was not bothered by Gao Zhun’s behavior; it was a common occurrence amongst patients to which he was already accustomed. Figuring that Gao Zhun was probably lost in his childhood memories, he asked, “Mr. Gao, will you please describe a scene from your childhood for me?”
- Adlerian questionnaire: A questionnaire based on Adlerian psychology, a psychotherapy approach based on the work of pioneer Alfred Adler.
- This approach focuses on the importance of nurturing feelings of belonging in the individual, as Adler believed that a person’s feeling, emotion, thinking, and behavior can only be understood in the context of that person’s life experiences.
- In particular, Adler focused on the effects of feelings of inferiority and inadequacy on an individual’s mental health, and believed that such feelings resulted from early age devaluation, physical limitations, or lack of empathy.
- Alfred Adler is often considered one of the big three founders of psychotherapy, alongside Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung.