After a particularly torturous session, I ran crying into the woods, punched a tree, and talked to a worm which talked back, scaring me so much that I murdered some nearby ants, got a confusing erection, and had a realization: What I was experiencing, this madness and mania, was similar to what Julia was going through — intrusive thoughts becoming dominant, crowding out everything else.
I felt this not intellectually but emotionally, how terrified and lonely she must be and how spectacularly I was failing her. Which meant I was capable of much more empathy than I realized.
I went back to the meditation hall and began actually listening to the teachers, resolving to stop hiding from the unpleasant things looping in my mind.
The next six days were still awful but productive. The retreat was about changing some of the stories I had begun telling myself in childhood, and one in a post office queue. I am not a narcissist, although I know how to think like one, something that started when I was a shy and sensitive child in an environment that didn’t value those things. Feeling too much, I began telling myself I felt little.
Similarly, if people don’t like you, you can decide they’re either right or wrong. Repeat a lie often enough and you’ll start to believe in its truth. But these were choices, like the choice I’d made to become a memoirist — intentionally making my life small and self-centered. Choices that made me an emotionally unavailable partner and would make me the same kind of father, if I were lucky enough to have that chance.
Back in the real world, I did a lot of apologizing and took a break from work, not wanting to write about happier times until we had made this one, even childless, as good as it could be. Then, after we had given up hope, we found ourselves in yet another doctor’s office, after I.V.F. treatment, sobbing with joy, seeing the first snowy glimpses of our daughter on the tiny screen.