A psychiatrist and her patient rose from their chairs in her office. They left the second floor suite and strolled down a flight of steps. Outside, they found bustling sidewalks and traffic-filled streets. They skirted the pedestrians and a convoy of bicyclists. The glare of the sun cast confusing shadows. Around them, people moved from place to place. There were sounds of metal on metal, of children yelling, of shoes on the sidewalks. The patient talked about his observations.
"I thought I was going to hate this," he admitted. "But I like how everyone's keeping their distance. They're ignoring us."
"Just to confirm, you were initially anxious about seeing the crowds?" his doctor asked.
"Of course. I was hiding it."
"You think so? Well, we're all limited. Not everyone can see themselves in the mirror."
"Not everyone is afraid of crowds the way I am."
"I meant something different," she said. She led them toward an outdoor cafe. Smells of food drifted on the breeze. Customers huddled together in groups as they ate. "Everyone knows a little bit of your feeling. But mostly, other people have different problems. I see a lot of problems in my line of work."
"Do other people hide their disabilities too?"
"They try. Their problems aren't hidden for anyone who looks. No one really conceals mental issues."
"I hide mine. I do it every day."
"You might think so but no, you don't. How can I explain?" The psychiatrist sighed. She took them around the sidewalk to the other side of the crowds. Her patient stepped out in the street at first. It took him in a few seconds to build up the nerve to follow her. "You wouldn't be under this illusion if you were missing a finger. You would know that people must notice. It might take them a minute or two but it would be inevitable. With emotional problems, it's the same."
"My fears aren't as noticeable as a missing finger."
"If you and a friend sat down for lunch, in time your friend would forget the missing finger." She pointed to a group of diners. They spoke animatedly with their upper bodies and ignored everyone else. "But mental problems become more obvious over time, not less. They're in every choice you make, every word you utter, every glance, every gesture."
"No, it's natural. Your actions are shaped in every instant by your perception of the world, same as they are for everyone else. And that's why I now feel sure you'll improve."
"I don't follow. How can you train me to lose my fears simply because everyone else is messed up?"
“Haven't you met people who are consistently wrong but are convinced they're right? And they refuse to check the facts?”
“A few. They're very irritating.”
“But you check the facts. I'm sure you'll succeed because you allow for the possibility that your perceptions are wrong. That puts you ahead of people who are fooled by their senses all the time but never question what they perceive."