02 - Patient #11-A-7 (Caleb)
by Lauren Shippen

[sfx: click of a recorder]

Doctor Bright: Patient number 11-A-7, session 9. Male, 16 years of age, with the abilities of a highly advanced empath. So far he’s made very little progress in controlling this ability. Sessions have been quite challenging as a result, for obvious reasons.

[sfx: door opening]

Doctor Bright: Caleb, come in.

[sfx: door closing] 

[sfx: Caleb sitting down]

Doctor Bright: It’s very nice to see you. How have you been?

Caleb: Fine, I guess.

Doctor Bright: You had a football game yesterday, correct?

Caleb: Yeah.

Doctor Bright: How was it?

Caleb: It was fine. We won.

Doctor Bright: That’s wonderful. That must have made you happy.

Caleb: Yeah, I guess.

Doctor Bright: Was everyone on the team excited about winning?

Caleb: Yeah. Yeah, everyone was pretty excited. It was really…it was really loud.

Doctor Bright: People were shouting? Or, do you mean it was loud for you internally? I know you’ve had problems with post-game gatherings in the past.

Caleb: It was just loud.

Doctor Bright: How was school this week?

Caleb: It was alright.

Doctor Bright: You had a big presentation in English class? Isn’t that right?

Caleb: Yeah.

Doctor Bright: How did it go?

Caleb: It was ok.

Doctor Bright: Remind me – what was the topic?

Caleb: Macbeth.

Doctor Bright: That’s right. Did you enjoy reading it?

Caleb: It was okay I guess. I- I didn’t really the witches – they were really creepy and I didn’t really like the whole “free will thing”.

Doctor Bright: What do you mean the whole “free will thing”?

Caleb: Well, Mr. Collins was talking about how the witches take away Macbeth's free will by, like, tempting him to kill the king and make him confused and stuff?

Doctor Bright: Do you agree?

Caleb: What do you mean?

Doctor Bright: Do you agree that the witches took away Macbeth's free will?

Caleb: I don’t know. Not- not really – all they did was make a bunch of prophecies that they knew Macbeth would like. I mean, he was still the one that killed people.

Doctor Bright: Him and Lady Macbeth, many would say.

Caleb: Yeah, and Lady Macbeth. I didn’t really like her either.

Doctor Bright: No, she’s not a very likable character.

Caleb: I just don’t think that’s possible - making someone do something, just because you know what’s going on in their head. Macbeth was already ambitious; the witches couldn’t control him just because they knew that, right?

Doctor Bright: What do you think?

Caleb: No, no, I don’t think they could.

Doctor Bright: Remember, in the same way that Macbeth chose to murder; the witches and Lady Macbeth choose to manipulate. It doesn’t matter what information you have. It’s about what you choose to do with it.

Caleb: Yeah, I guess so.

Doctor Bright: Caleb, are you worried about making someone do something they don’t want to do?

Caleb: No, I just…I think I made something worse.

Doctor Bright: What do you think you made worse?

Caleb: There’s this kid in my year, he’s like a total loser-

Doctor Bright: Caleb, remember, don’t use insults to connect to people.

Caleb: Right. Sorry.

Doctor Bright: Continue.

Caleb: So this kid is one of those weird emo types- sorry - he’s different I guess. He’s in every one of my classes and he’s always drawing these pictures and listening to like- like, stupid, sad folk music. And it’s so fucking distracting. I-I’m sorry. 

Doctor Bright: It’s alright. It’s good to express your frustrations. Does this boy – what’s his name?

Caleb: Adam.

Doctor Bright: Does Adam bother you during class? Talk to you?

Caleb: Not really, no.

Doctor Bright: But you find him distracting?

Caleb: Yeah, I mean he’s just…he’s so sad, like all the time. And it-it-it’s…

Doctor Bright: And it makes you sad?

Caleb: Yeah, no shit. It makes me sad. Whenever he’s in the room I can’t feel anything else. I-I just feel his- his stupid emo-ness crawling all over me and it’s just- it’s not fair, okay? I don’t care that he’s sad, a lot of people are sad, just fucking deal with it! What does it have to do with me?

Doctor Bright: Remember what we talked about, Caleb. Responding with anger is not productive. 

Caleb: Okay, I know you say that, but I think- I think you’re wrong. When I get angry the other stuff goes away.

Doctor Bright: But you’re not dealing with it. You’re overpowering it.

Caleb: Why is that a bad thing?

Doctor Bright: Because it’s a temporary solution. Caleb, you have a wonderful gift. Being able to feel other people’s emotions is something many people would be thankful for. I know it would certainly make my job a lot easier. When you try to drown that out with anger and frustration, you muddy the waters. You need to learn to take in each feeling and balance them alongside your own emotions. I know that’s easier said than done.

Caleb: No kidding. I can’t balance shit if I’m walking down a hallway of a hundred students who all have their own stupid problems and emotions. It’s just, it’s like, suffocating, you know?

Doctor Bright: Other students’ problems are not stupid. Everyone had their own burdens to bear-

Caleb: Yeah, so why should I have to bear all of them? I didn’t ask for this! I don’t wanna- I don’t wanna deal with this anymore!

Doctor Bright: Your mother told me she wants to get you at home tutoring. I know you have an easier time with adults. Have you considered taking her up on her offer?

Caleb: I wouldn’t be able to play on the football team, if I did home school. Adults are better, but spending all day with one person is hard. I started feeling only what they are feeling and I don’t like that. It’s like- like having someone else inside of my chest, you know?

Doctor Bright: I see. I have to say I’m surprised you find football enjoyable still. Don’t your teammates’ emotions get in the way of the game?

Caleb: Not really. Look, it’s easier when everyone is feeling the same thing. Football is intense. But it’s- I don’t know, it’s comfortable. It’s simple.

Doctor Bright: Hmm. You said that when Adam is in the room you can’t feel anything else. Do you mean his are the only other emotions that you feel?

Caleb: Yeah, pretty much. He just sort of…drowns everything else out.

Doctor Bright: Isn’t that preferable to feeling what everyone in the class feels? You don’t sound very happy about it.

Caleb: No, of course I’m not happy about it, that’s literally the point. I can’t be happy because he’s so miserable.

Doctor Bright: Do you know why he’s sad?

Caleb: No, how the fuck would I know that, I’m not a mind-reader! Look, I just- I just know that he’s sad.

Doctor Bright: In previous sessions, you’ve talked about how similar emotions can have slightly different colors to them. Happiness over getting a good grade versus happiness over seeing a friend, for example. You feel that difference. It’s something that you’ve felt many times in school, correct? Those different colors?

Caleb: Sounds a little gay when you when you put it like that, but yeah I guess…

Doctor Bright: Caleb.

Caleb: Sorry.

Doctor Bright: So does Adam sadness have a special color to it? Is he sad over his grades? His family?

Caleb: Like I said, I’m not a mind reader. But I mean, I don’t know, it’s pretty general. He’s lonely, I guess. Yeah, he feels alone. He doesn’t have a lot of friends, so I guess that makes sense. Actually I don’t think he has, like, any friends…so.

Doctor Bright: Perhaps that’s why you only feel him when he’s around. His loneliness isolates you from feeling anything else.

Caleb: Yeah, maybe. I mean- look, people are sad and lonely all the time, it’s high school. He’s just- he’s just different for some reason.

Doctor Bright: You said you made something worse this week? Did that have to do with Adam?

Caleb: What? Um yeah. Yeah it did.

Doctor Bright: What happened?

Caleb: Well, we did our presentations on Macbeth. Mine went pretty okay. I mean, I basically just read off the Spark Notes for it, so…what? Everyone does it. Anyway, he gets up there and he gives this, like, really long, really weird presentation about the witches and symbolism and and King James and I don’t know. I didn’t really understand any of it. It seemed pretty smart, I guess. Mr. Collins was impressed. But all of us were like “who does this nerd think he is?”. It was just really show-off-y.

Doctor Bright: And that bothered you?

Caleb: I mean, a little. It wa just- it was just really annoying but at least he wasn’t sad during it. He was just focused. So, you know, that was a little bit of a relief. But it bothered some of the other guys.

Doctor Bright: What other guys?

Caleb: Some of the guys from the team. They were giving him a hard time about it after class, calling him names and stuff, pushing him around. You know?

Doctor Bright: Were you apart of this behavior?

Caleb: No, I mean, why would I want to make him worse? It was just going to make me feel worse.

Doctor Bright: And did you? Feel worse?

Caleb: Yeah, I did. I mean he was just starting to get really sad again and really angry. The dude’s got a lot of anger. Like, way more than I would have thought. And it was making me really mad. So, I asked them to stop bothering him.

Doctor Bright: And did they?

Caleb: Yeah, they walked away.

Doctor Bright: I don’t understand the problem then. It sounds like you did a really good thing, Caleb.

Caleb: Yeah, except- expect when I told them to back off. I said “leave him alone the dude’s sad enough as it is. Can’t you see that? He just- he wants to be left alone.” Andthen look on his face, he just looked so embarrassed and I could feel him getting even more depressed. And scared. I just- I think it was the wrong thing to say. And now I’ve made him sad and scared. I was just trying to help and I’ve just made him feel worse.

Doctor Bright: Sometimes, people don’t want others to see their sadness. He probably thought he was hiding it well and the fact that you noticed frightened him. It brought into focus just how unhappy he is.

Caleb: See what I mean? I knew how he was feeling and instead of fixing it, I made him more unhappy. You’re always talking about this like it’s some sort of stupid gift, that I can help people. But I always just fuck things up.

Doctor Bright: That’s because you haven’t learned how to control it yet. You’re so young and you’re dealing with so many of your own emotions that handling others’ is going to be overwhelming. Being a teenager is hard, you know that. I’ve said before that I think this ability get easier as you grow older-

Caleb: Yeah, I know, I know. Being a teenager is rough, there are hormones and all that stuff, blah, blah, blah. That doesn’t change the fact that I suck. It’s not an excuse. Someone was sad and then I opened my mouth and now they’re sadder. And I don’t know what he’s going to do or how he’s gonna react, or if he spent the whole weekend thinking about it- and would you stop that! I can feel your fucking pity bleeding out of you and I don’t need it! I’m not some pathetic emotional loser, okay? I’m not like him!

Doctor Bright: Okay, okay, Caleb. Caleb, it’s alright. It’s alright. I don’t pity you. I’m empathetic to what you are feeling. Surely you of all people can understand that, right?

Caleb: Yeah. Yeah. Right. Sure. Look I’m sorry, I just- your feelings are normally pretty quiet and- so, it just surprised me, that’s all.

Doctor Bright: I see. I think you are being too hard on yourself. You are not responsible for what other people feel. But, as I was saying earlier, you can choose how to respond to it. You need to get these outbursts under control. Think before you speak. And that will only be possible if you learn to filter the incoming emotions. I think it’s possible you’re not in control of your own feelings because they are being overpowered by others, that’s why you need to learn to balance them.

Caleb: Yeah I know. I just- I don’t want anyone to get hurt. That’s all.

Doctor Bright: I have an idea. I think you’ve been given a unique opportunity.

Caleb: Awesome, more unique opportunities…

Doctor Bright: If you couldn’t do what you could do, do you think you would have noticed that Adam felt worse after you intervened?

Caleb: No, I guess not. But, I wouldn’t have gotten involved in the first place if I couldn’t do what I do.

Doctor Bright: I just mean that you know now, that he’s feeling worse. And maybe you can help make that better. Make the choice. I think you should talk to him on Monday. Try and become friends.

Caleb: Why the hell would I do that?

Doctor Bright: You said yourself that he’s lonely. He could probably use someone who understands what’s going on with him. And it might help whatever misplaced feeling of guilt you have if you befriend him.

Caleb: Using my ability to make someone feel a certain way is exactly what I’m trying to avoid. Isn’t that an abuse of power or something?

Doctor Bright: Is it?

Caleb: I don’t know. 

Doctor Bright: Adam’s feelings are having a profound effect on you for a reason. I think you owe it to both him and yourself to find out what that reason is. If his emotions are so overpowering, perhaps it will help you learn focus and control to get some one-on-one time with him. Learn to contain both his feeling and yours.

Caleb: I don’t know. That sounds a little- sounds a little weird to me.

Doctor Bright: Promise me you’ll at least try? Ask him to have lunch with you this week and try to get to know him. Focus on the feelings that are coming from him and see if you can control how much it affects you. Will you do that?

Caleb: Yeah, okay. I mean I’ll try.

Doctor Bright: Thank you. Now, let’s work on your mediation exercises.

[sfx: clock ticking] 

(time passes)

Doctor Bright: Alright, Caleb. I think that’s enough for today. Do your exercises at home and remember what we talked about. Make contact with Adam this week and see what comes of it.

Caleb: Yeah, I will.

Doctor Bright: Good. I’ll see you next week.

[sfx: door opening and closing]

Doctor Bright: End of session 9. Interesting progress today. Subject showed increased focus in his exercises after venting about a fellow student. I’ve encouraged him to pursue a friendship and I posit that the results will be very telling.

[sfx: click of recorder]

[music & credits]

Lauren Shippen: The Bright Sessions is written and produced by Lauren Shippen. The voice of Dr. Bright is Julia Morizawa. The voice of Caleb is Briggon Snow. Special thanks to Elizabeth Laird for her advice as both a psychologist and fiction lover, to Elizabeth and Matthew Harrington for their enduring support, and to Anna Lore for our graphic design. For additional content or to donate to our podcast, please visit thebrightsessions.com. For any questions, or just to say hi, email us at thebrightsessions@gmail. Thanks for listening and stay strange.