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  • Jo

Wicked Uber Healthy


It didn’t matter if the PhD was a mistake or not because it was finally over and you can’t live in the past. Like, literally, you can't, good luck. But that didn’t change the fact that five years of relentless studying, tests, interning, and forcing her brain into the deepest and darkest places of the human experience was threatening to throw Brooke over the edge. She was trying to build a therapy practice but had no idea how to find clients. She was overwhelmed with all of it and so, so sick of sitting at a desk. She needed an outlet. 

Yes, because of her degree in mental health, she knew about all the good-for-you things one should do with one’s body and brain. Yeah, everyone should start yoga, a meditation practice, put in a self-help podcast, and stroll along a wooded path while experiencing, um, nature. But that wasn’t what Brooke felt like she needed. No, her brain was different. So she offered herself an alternative prescription.

She needed a dark club with neon lights, the oonst-oonst-oonst of EDM pulsing through her limbs, and enough vodka sodas to lift her just slightly up off the ground, a taste of defying gravity if only for a few hours. Would you like to hear how Brooke justified this behavior? 'Cause it's pretty impressive.

 She told herself that she deserved an escape. And who was to judge whether or not going out into the wee hours of the morning was ‘right?’ Sure, weekend mornings could be rough, but nothing that a few Advil, some strong coffee, and a run through the canyon, only occasionally stopping to vomit couldn’t fix. 

Brooke’s justifications continued as she zipped up her stiletto boots walking through a mist of perfume, headed out the door into the cool night, and hopped into her waiting ride share.

Her brain spun, insisting that there was nothing wrong with this behavior. 

She only went out to the clubs on the weekends. Well, for the most part. Occasionally, there was a Thursday night party with a DJ that you’d have to be categorically insane to miss. But she was 33 and single and it’s not like she was drinking until she blacked out or wound up in some stranger’s bed. It was perfectly reasonable behavior she told herself. She gazed out the window of the back seat to the illuminated sign nestled in the hills. Hollywood. Where dreams came true, right? It had always been her dream to help people. Her psych classes in undergrad absolutely fascinated her and she wasn’t expecting a scholarship for her doctorate. But, it happened.

Had she made the conscious choice to be a psychiatrist? Or did it like, just kind of happen to her?

Brooke had always been told she was a great listener.  She was like little Lucy in the Charlie Brown cartoons offering psychiatric help for five cents. She’d grown up lying on her comforter, phone cradled between her chin and shoulder, counseling her friends through bad days and break-ups.

And her last bit of justifying: her clubbing habit was good for her physical health:

Dancing was like cardio and cardio creates endorphins so actually, going to the club was the same thing as going to the gym. She was just working out in heels and a miniskirt. Which was good for balance. And balance is a solid indicator of longevity. Alright, she might have made that last part up but it sounded, probable? 

The Uber share made a stop at a familiar apartment complex on Melrose. How did she know this place? An old friend? A fling? Brooke pushed the thought to the back of her mind. Two girls maybe a bit younger but with very similar outfits hopped into the waiting Honda Accord. Brooke smiled at her fellow passengers,

“I love that bag. So cute.”

“Oh my God, thanks! Avalon is gonna be off the hook tonight!”

And that is how Brooke met Shayna and Delilah and partied with them until 2 am. 

So these were her weekends. Filled with old friends, new ones, cocktails, music, flashing lights, dancing, and full-on fun and excitement. How was she supposed to replicate this feeling in a smelly yoga room full of people trying to touch their toes? It wasn’t the same thing. What was wrong with using a loud space to calm her mind? She knew that plenty of normal and high-functioning brains worked in the same way. It was the reason that some people with hyperactivity responded well to stimulants. Instead of hyping them up, it calmed them down. This is how Brooke regarded her clubbing habit: as a form of therapy. Really, this woman could justify anything.

The following weekend, coming home from an especially epic night with a DJ she’d been following for a year but had yet to see in person, she waited as her Uber share pulled over to grab a girl from a club on Cahuenga. The girl who hopped in was carrying her stilettos and had mascara-smeared tears across her sparkly cheeks. She didn’t look like anything actually awful happened, probably the usual - a boyfriend dancing too close with another girl, and, by the looks of this one, a man who was refusing to commit. Oh, yeah, Brooke was right.

“You can’t win,” sobbed the barefoot passenger, “you’ve got to show them that you’re still young and fun and up for anything. Except my clock is ticking and I don’t even know if I’m wasting my time.”

Brooke nodded and in her slightly buzzed state, handed the girl a business card before she got out of the car and limped up to her door. The boots had been a rough choice. 

Ok, maybe Brooke was slightly more than buzzed during this interaction. Because she was very surprised when she woke up to an email from a woman named Casey asking if they could schedule an appointment immediately. Casey also thanked Brooke for being such a thoughtful listener the previous night. Thoughtful listener? Brooke forced her brain back to Avalon and the DJ and the bartender… who did she listen to? It took a microwaved day-old cup of coffee and half an orange Gatorade for her to recall her time in the Uber. Huh. No shit. Had she really just gotten a client? That Wednesday at 10 am, in her most professional attire, sitting behind her new desk at a mostly unfurnished apartment in WeHo, Brooke invited Casey to take a seat. 

Casey, clearly, immediately felt so comfortable with Brooke. She unloaded about her age and her partying. She was an attorney, clawing her way up in a large firm, desperate for an outlet for her pent-up anger about work and being a woman in her 30s and really about life in general. She loved Brooke. She booked sessions twice a week. They called it “an emotional boot camp.”

Casey might have been the first patient that Brooke found coming home from a club at 2 am but, well, she wasn’t the last.

The Thursday after their first appointment, Brooke hopped in the shower, shaved her legs, blew out her hair, and applied her makeup like always. There was a certain buzz in her stomach on this particular evening. Did she really think that lightning might strike twice? That she might find yet another client in this very, very unorthodox way? Well, she did. This time, it was at last call.

Brooke stood in line, waiting for the obviously coked-up bartender to notice her and remember her order when she found herself next to a woman doing the same.

“I don’t even know why I’m having another drink,” the curly-haired woman confessed to Brooke, “there’s no one here to meet. This night has been a total waste.”

A bit of banter. A thoughtful smile and smart timing. Before Brooke knew it, she’d reached into her sequin-covered bag and pulled out another business card. The woman with the curls looked it over. Brooke was grateful that she’d splurged on the heavier card stock. And this happened again. And again. Not every night but, a lot. Over the next six months, Brooke managed to fill her work schedule entirely with party girls in their thirties whom she'd meet in ride-shares or at bars or, twice, having a greasy burrito on Melrose as the sun came up.

She’d met women in line at the bathroom at the club, one crying in the large stall after her best friend got engaged, and even waiting behind the velvet rope for VIP entry. These were her people. She’d found them. And counseling them through their issues during their fifty-minute sessions, Brooke found herself feeling better and better about her own decisions. Sure, she spent more time and money at the clubs than she did on, say, her gym membership, but wasn’t it fair that there were all kinds of outlets for all kinds of people? And, on top of all of that, wasn’t it her duty, as one of them, to help counsel her people without judgment? This was Brooke’s mantra over the next six months.

LA didn’t change with the seasons because it doesn't have seasons. The days got a little longer, but that didn’t impact the nightlife. The temperature rose a bit, but it’s not like any of the club girls were wearing pants to begin with. The flags and fireworks came out for the 4th and the DJs boasted residencies in Vegas. And Brooke kept up with all of it - minus one hiccup.

Her business was now thriving, her office professionally decorated, and her roster packed with a very specific clientele, one after another after another. At first, she thought that it was funny and relatable that both she and her patients were hungover on Fridays. And Thursdays. And sometimes Mondays.

“Hey hey,” Her 10 am came in with two coffees and a bottle of Advil precariously balanced on top of the drink carrier. Brooke was so, so grateful for the jolt of caffeine and the comforting blanket of ibuprofen. She glanced in the mirror she kept in her desk drawer. It was not a pretty sight. The bags under her eyes were un-ignorable. Last night’s blue eyeliner was still visible under her lashes. Brooke could smell her own breath. She gasped, silently she hoped, and slammed the desk drawer shut.

During the session, she tried her best to be professional, to take copious notes, to think only about the woman sitting on the plush chair, spilling her guts out, but Brooke found it close to impossible to think of anything except for the woman she just saw living in her desk mirror. The session dragged on. And with it, Brooke’s embarrassment grew. 

Here she was, charging both this woman and Blue Cross of California to recognize her unhealthy patterns as she, the supposed doctor, was engaging in the exact same behavior that she was allegedly trying to stop. Brooke couldn’t wait for the sun to go down so she could zip up her new leather skirt and dance herself far away from these emotions. The headache pulsated through her temples.

And this specific aftermath wasn’t the only aspect of her partying that was cramping her style. It was running into these women at the bar and on the dance floor and shoving the slice into her face on the sidewalk at 2 am. She couldn’t avoid them, they were now everywhere. No matter the club or the bar or the pop-up Tiesto party, there was a client; drunk, smiling, and, judging her? Now, how do you think Brooke went about solving this program, now that she was a literal doctor of psychology, a graduate of over ten years of higher education, a woman with more diplomas than would fit on the small office wall? Did she take a long, hard look at the situation and ascertain where she could make adjustments in her personal life?

 No. She looked for her own therapist. Because that was what she was trained to do. 

There is a certain kind of shrink who caters to other shrinks. It can be a great gig or a nightmare. The people who specialize in this space can be… well, interesting. Either totally chill or hugely bogged down in a world consisting of nothing but psychiatry. Brooke scrolled through her university’s page of recommendations and then clicked on Pamela Green, who looked like they’d be friends in real life. Pamela was young-looking and had graduated cum laude from the same University as Brooke.  She looked cool, fun, and oh my goodness they owned the same necklace. Perfect.

Did Brooke want to sit in Pamela’s seemingly comfortable office and probably be offered a kombucha and flax-seed crackers? Um, yeah, yeah she did. Did she see Pamela, through her Real Estate-looking profile picture, as someone who would be an easy confidant? Someone who would laugh about her extracurricular activities and bemoan the Peter Pan boys who made up all the men in their 30s in the greater Los Angeles area? Yeah. Totally. Pam Green looked like a friend, a Saturday afternoon mani/pedi buddy, and like she’d probably enjoy cocktails at the Chateau on a Wednesday. Definitely.

Brooke clicked on her website and began to fill out the endless intake form. The questions were unrelenting. And the whole thing was seven pages long if you took the time to read the fine print. 

These documents are infuriating. Exhausting. Annoying. Brooke paused, thinking of her own intake form. Is this how her clients felt? Wait, Brooke entertained a new thought, for the first time, how did her clients feel about her?

That Brooke couldn’t judge them, right? Because they had already judged her as being in the same messy boat, sinking into Vodka and bad decisions in the lake of urban female life? Right? Oh god. Oh crap. Brooke thought back to the woman living in the mirror in her desk drawer. This is not what she wanted.

She felt a pit form at the bottom of her stomach. Was she helping these people? Or was she a very expensive party buddy supporting all of their decisions because they were the same ones that she herself was making? Now, because Brooke was hungover, overwhelmed, and under-equipped to deal with those emotions, she called in sick.

Crap, she thought, they won’t even think I’m sick. They’ll think I’m hungover. And I’m not. Brooke put the plastic bottle of yellow Gatorade up to her lips and drained half of it. She paused. She might be all of the aforementioned things but she was still an honest woman. Ok, fine, I am hungover. But not, like, too hungover to do my job.

With electrolytes and sugar in hand, Brooke paused. She shouldn’t be doing her job hungover at all. She felt a tidal wave of embarrassment crashing over her makeup-ringed eyes.

Shit. This is not the way she’d planned things. She wiped her face, hit the back button on the search bar, and scrolled past Pamela Green’s profile. She passed the profiles of sharp, manicured-looking people who she would like to have a drink with at a bar. She ignored the men in nice suits and the women with interesting smiles. She scrolled through four pages of impressively educated people with curated headshots until she landed on Dr. Harry Zepernick.

Dr. Harry’s photo was clearly taken by a spouse or a friend, definitely someone without 20/20 vision. He wore a cardigan much like The Dude in The Big Lebowski before it was an ironic fashion statement. His wirey grey hair stuck out from more angles than should have been mathematically possible. His credentials read that he’d graduated from Berkeley in California in the 80s, was a “proud parent’ of six rescue dogs, and that he had been “committed to his soulmate” for 37 years. All six dogs surrounded him in the photo. All were looking at the camera. It seemed to Brooke that if this man could get a half dozen canines off the street and train them to look directly into the camera at the same time, he definitely had the capacity to whip her into shape.

And you know what? She was right. Dr. Harry was unimpressed by her partying. He said nothing could compare to his escapades decades earlier. And, he didn’t believe that she was just blowing off steam, he believed that she was avoiding her reality. And she was.

Brooke didn’t pull her shit together immediately. It took months for her to reduce her clubbing to an outing that could be described as infrequent. She, very reluctantly, took up yoga taught by another old hippie whom Dr. Harry had known from Laurel Canyon in the 90s. She didn’t love sitting still or the smell of patchouli. She didn’t like spending her Friday nights with people who talked about their auras or hamstrings. But she promised the therapist dude that she would. And here’s what’s interesting, it wasn’t that Brooke just easily experienced a personally profound transformation and she changed her ways. It was work. It wasn’t fun. It wasn’t what she wanted. It was, as Dr. Harry liked to quote from Mick Jagger, 

You can’t always get what you want.

But, if you try sometimes, you just might find,

You get what you need.

Brooke was annoyed with how slow she felt she was personally progressing. So that’s not what kept her going. What kept her going was the same thing that had gotten her started in the first place in this profession:

Her practice changed. 

Yes, she’d gotten an entire roster of clients based on shared experiences at the club. And yes, she’d loved talking to them about their weekend escapades. And, yeah, spending her days speaking to women who were on the exact same train as her was validating.  But, to be honest, she hadn’t done that much to help any of them. Until she met Dr. Harry. It took the old man all of one and a half sessions to untangle and clearly state Brooke’s issues: she hadn’t allowed herself any time to mess around or screw up. She hadn’t had a healthy outlet for the stress of getting her doctorate and allowing her world to be consumed by other people’s problems. Dr. Harry was abundantly clear that Brooke would need this kind of balance if she wanted a career in this field. Which she did. 

Now, some of her clients left when Brooke began suggesting that they experiment with other, healthier weekend options. They weren’t ready to hear that their decisions weren’t helping them lead the lives they claimed to want. But some were ready. And those women were eternally grateful to Brooke for the new direction that she offered them.

Now, Brooke bumps into her clients at meditation circles. Which is decidedly less awkward than dancing on top of a bar. And, sometimes she misses the clubs. But that’s what annual Vegas trips are for in your 30s, not random Tuesday nights. And her patients are finding their happiness. Which means that her days aren’t totally saturated with gloom and doom. Which means that she doesn’t need to shake it off all night at Avalon. Huh. It's funny how things work out sometimes.

So, good job, Brooke. And thank you for submitting your story.

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