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Abstract Concepts

Posted on Mon May 29th, 2023 @ 11:09pm by Lieutenant Jennifer Bracco, M.D. & Ensign Mei Ratthi

Mission: On the Road Again
Location: Bracco's Office
Timeline: Mission Day 3 at 1055

[Outside Dr. Bracco's Office]
[Deck 4, Section 3]
[USS Sojourner]
[MD 3: 1055 Hours]

‘It’s okay, Mei, she’s not going to bite.' Mei turned that into a mantra as she exited the lift and forced herself to go in the right direction instead of turning around, getting back on the lift, and going back to her quarters. She was going to have to face this at some point, and anyway. Dealing with a counselor wasn’t the end of the world. She’d faced worse- or better?- when she’d lived on Betazed. Her grandfather had always known what was on her mind, and while he’d lacked tact, he’d never made her feel bad for her feelings, even if they were inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, like a lost toy or a schoolmate who called her a mean name.

And it wasn’t like she didn’t know Dr. Bracco; they’d spent a couple of hours stuck in the mess hall together during her first week on board. Bracco was a known quantity.

So why was she so anxious to talk to her?

Probably because she wasn’t a child anymore, and her problems were a lot bigger than lost toys and mean classmates, and talking to Bracco meant talking about what had happened on Shaddam IVa. On purpose.

“Just do it, Mei,” she whispered as she stood in front of the door. Then, before she could second-guess herself again, she tapped the panel on the wall to announce her presence.

[Doctor Bracco's Office]

Jennifer Bracco -- acting ship's Counselor -- sat on the couch in the living space of her quarters, shoe-less feet folded underneath her. Her 10am patient had canceled at the last second -- apparently, he'd been asked to stay on duty past his shift -- so the psychiatrist had spent the unexpectedly free hour going through patient files and refreshing herself ahead of subsequent appointments for the day. Next up was Mei Ratthi, the young ensign she'd met during the crisis with the photonic lifeforms who'd taken control of the ship -- the same ensign who, just two days prior, had been on hand for the grisly death of Crewman Booth.

According to Ratthi's service jacket and psychological profile, the woman had led a fairly quiet and "safe" life. Growing up, Mei had apparently moved all over the quadrant, following her mother from architect job to architect job. Jennifer noted that, as a kid, Mei had also spent several years on Betazed. This gave the doctor pause, though in a good way. Perhaps Mei had grown up there in the presence of Betazoids who routinely felt and responded to her emotions and thoughts? Jennifer didn't have any empathic or telepathic abilities but reading body language and using self-discovery questions often yielded similar results. She hoped Mei's time on Betazed perhaps indicated some experience and comfort with being psychoanalyzed. If not, though, Bracco could work with that, too.

Beyond the data in Ratthi's personnel file, Bracco knew little about the ensign, aside from her dependability in a crisis. When the photonics had initiated a lockdown of the ship, Mei -- along with the Gorn Operations office Gar'rath -- had proven herself capable of keeping a cool head. But given the nature of Mei's time down on Shaddam IVa, Jennifer wondered how the experience might have changed the young woman. In her experience, Starfleet officers who came up against their first real brush with trauma on the job tended to have difficulties getting through it. She'd been glad to see the booking request come in from Mei: that, in itself, was a good sign.

As the chrono struck 1100 hours, Bracco's door chime sounded. Unfolding her legs, Jennifer slid her sock-outfitted feet back into her waiting shoes and then rose. Clad in a Starfleet uniform just like everyone else -- she eschewed permission to wear more casual clothing -- the psychiatrist moved towards the door but stopped several feet from it. Meeting patients at the door itself was sometimes jarring. Instead, she called out permission to enter (pipelined outside her door by the comm system) and waited patiently, arms relaxed at her side and a neutral expression on her face.

The door opened and Mei stepped inside just far enough to let the door close, then paused and glanced around like she wasn't sure of where to go next. She gave Bracco a hesitant smile. "Hi? I mean, hello. I didn't mean for that to sound like a question. I mean, who intends to make a greeting sound like a question?" She blushed, and seemed to wilt a little. Then she took a deep breath and started over. "Hello, Dr. Bracco. It's nice to see you again. I just, you know, wish it was for a different reason. Should I sit down, or--?"

"It's nice to see you too, ensign," Bracco smiled back, making mental note of Mei's penchant for over-explanation in social situations. "And I definitely get where you're coming from there. I promise to make the best of a bad situation, though." She gestured then to one of two empty armchairs -- situated where the dining table would be in most quarters -- and lowered into one herself, expecting her patient to take the other. "In here, I'm a big fan of dispensing with ranks and formalities. How about we go with 'Mei' and 'Jennifer,'" she referred to herself, "instead of 'Ensign Ratthi' and 'Doctor Bracco?'" With a nod towards the replicator built into her wall, Jennifer said, "Feel free to grab a tea or something before we begin if you like."

"Oh. Okay." Mei glanced at the replicator, then made a quick request for a glass of water before taking the offered seat. She held the glass between both hands in her lap and stared down at it for a moment. "I-" she cleared her throat. "I'm not sure where to start? Should I- I don't know. I just- I can't get it out of my head. I thought, after a couple of days, I wouldn't be thinking about- about what happened. Not all the time, but I-" She bit her lip and shook her head, her limp curls flopping around her face.

"I find the best place to start," Jennifer reached for her tea and took a sip, "is with whatever is currently in your brain. Stream of consciousness and all that," she said, keeping her expression neutral. "I'm assuming you're talking about the death of Crewman Booth?" Her question was a careful one: she wanted to encourage Mei to express more without encroaching on her own agency by making assumptions. Instead she would let Mei set the pace, though perhaps with a bit of subtle redirection as needed. Sitting back in her chair, Jennifer crossed her right leg over her left and summoned a face that said "Go on."

"I am, yeah," Mei said softly. She drew in a shaky breath and let out slowly. "He died right in front of me. Horribly. And there was absolutely nothing I could do about it. I mean, I'm not Security or anything. I passed my phaser qualifications, but that's all. I just--" She took a sip of her water to buy time to regain her composure. "My life has been pretty safe. You know? Sure, we moved around a lot, but it wasn't anywhere very dangerous. You don't build fancy new buildings like my mom designed if you're in the middle of a war zone. And. I mean. It's not like I didn't know about death or something. But it was always something that happened at a distance. To people I didn't know. It was just an abstract concept. And now I've looked right at it, and I can't get what happened to Booth out of my head. It's just there. All the time. No matter what I'm doing. And I don't know what to do about it."

"Like a video on repeat," Jennifer said, nodding, "only you can't hit the stop button." She sipped from her tea again and then set it down. "I was reading in your file that you've moved around quite a bit in your life. But I would agree that you've kind of lived in a bubble up to this point," she validated the thought. "On top of seeing someone pass away, you're also struggling with that safety bubble being burst. It's a lot for anyone to deal with," Jennifer said, her tone kind and encouraging. "When death is no longer an abstract, all kinds of questions about our own mortality can arise. Are you struggling with yours?" she wondered, finding it logical that Mei might question her own safety on future missions. It was a bit of a side question but provided a gentler on-ramp than tackling the topic of Booth head-on.

Mei frowned. Her gaze dropped to the floor, and she was quiet for a long moment like she was struggling to gather her thoughts. For a while, it was strangely quiet; the normal background sounds of the ship seemed suddenly loud. Finally, Mei came to a conclusion and looked up. "You know, I haven't. That seems weird, doesn't it? That I'd see . . . that. . . happen to a crewmate, and not be struggling with thoughts of my own mortality. I know I'm young, but that seems weird. Like I'm in denial about it. Like, 'I didn't die this time, so obviously I won't the next time around'. She put air quotes around the last sentence. "But at the same time, I'm not stupid. I know that someday I'm going to die, but I'm not worried about now. But I keep going over what happened. What does that even mean?"

"Well, it could mean a few different things," Jennifer said neutrally. "By its very nature, death is only something that happens to other people...until, inevitably, we face it ourselves," she explained. "Some people are troubled by death every moment of every day. Others," the therapist went on, "don't even consider it until some external factor roars its ugly head and brings the possibility to mind. It's kind of a spectrum, really," Jennifer mused. "Young people especially," she gestured with an open hand to Mei, "often see themselves -- whether conscious of it or not -- as invincible. Like something will never happen to them," she noted further. "And when, inevitably, a traumatic death happens in front of someone, that illusion might start to break. The mind can fixate, replaying that trauma ad nauseam as a kind of wake-up call."

"I don't usually snooze my alarm this many times," Mei grumbled. Her shoulder sagged, and she gave Jennifer a plaintive look. "So how do I turn the wake-up call off, then? It's making it hard to do my job and eat and sleep. I keep dreaming about it, and half the time when I'm trying to eat, the sound--" She shuddered and gripped her water glass tightly. "And I have all this data I haven't been able to analyze or archive correctly. It's just sitting there while I chip away at it, and I know there are important things in it, but I keep getting distracted. How do I make it stop, or do I just have to wait it all out?"

"Definitely understandable that this is impacting your daily life," Jennifer said before sipping from her tea again. It had reached the perfect drinking temperature, so she drank more deeply. This gave her time to collect her thoughts a bit in reference to Mei's question. "When the mind dwells on the traumatic imagery, the body responds physically, too. Mind and body work hand-in-hand to try to process the trauma; it's all interconnected," she explained. "The key is to break the cycle when it rears its ugly head. There's a few ways we can potentially do that, Mei."

Jennifer leaned back in her chair and let her hands gently rest in her lap. "One potential method we might try is simply exercising. When your mind drudges up those thoughts and your body begins to respond, taking a run or doing some light stretching can help. Both as a distraction," she elaborated, "but also as a focusing lens for that pent-up energy. If the energy doesn't go anywhere, it just sits there...and festers," Jennifer underscored. "Getting active can help mind and body to move forward. Get themselves unstuck. What's your current activity level like outside of work?"

"Average?" Mei shrugged. "I get exercise. We're supposed to anyway, and I spend all day sitting and staring at screens so if I didn't get some movement in, I feel like I'd end up like a cat with the zoomies. No one wants that," she said, and for the first time, a little smile appeared on her face and brightened her tired eyes. "So, what then? When my brain decides it's a good time to start an endless loop of Shaddam, I should just go for a run? Might be a little inconvenient if I'm in the middle of a duty shift."

The corners of Jennifer's mouth tugged upward into a slight smile as well, the mental image of Mei as an 0200 hours-crazed cat more than a little comical. But as the young woman went on, the psychiatrist's face returned to normal placidity. "When you're off duty, yes," the Counselor nodded. "The activity could definitely help. On duty is another matter, however, and that's why I said physical activity is just one strategy we can employ." She underscored the singularity of the exercise option with a single finger in mid-air. "When these thoughts strike on the job, we'll need to change our tactics a bit."

"First," she said, picking up her PADD and tapping at it, "I'm going to authorize extra breaks on an as-needed basis for the next few weeks. Second," Jennifer produced a second PADD from the small table between the armchairs, "I want you to use these on those breaks. There's a series of guided meditations on there," the Counselor explained as she handed the device over to Mei. "When the thought loop starts, find a quiet corner of the lab, throw on some headphones, and breathe along with one of the meditations. They contain some great visualization exercises that will help."

"I also suggest we start seeing each other once a week," Jennifer broached. "Today's session helps to get us started but we'll keep working together until we break these thought cycles for you. Does that work for you?" she asked, putting Mei in the driver's seat of her own care plan.

Mei glanced through the listings on the PADD, then looked up at Jennifer. "Yeah, I think that'll work. Anything to get my brain to stop all . . . this." She waved a hand in a lazy circle by her head. "There have been times before when my thoughts just start looping, but about, like, school or my master's thesis. It was all stuff I could do something about. Do the schoolwork. Do the research. Write the paper. But this is-- I can't go back in time and save Booth or anything like that. I just can't get it out of my mind." She sighed and gave Jennifer a crooked smile. "And here we go again. Me repeating myself. Clearly there is work to be done. But I think I've got a good starting point now."

"Good," Jennifer nodded and offered a professional smile. "The first step is always the hardest, Mei. But look," her eyes lit, "you've already done it. I look forward to hearing how it goes with the exercise and the meditations. We can always discuss adding medication into the mix as needed but," she stressed, "I'd rather avoid that until we know if it's necessary. We've got a good starting point here," the woman said as she rose out of her chair, gesturing for Mei to do the same. "Let's meet next week and see how things have gone then. And if you need me sooner, I'm not going anywhere," Jennifer promised.

=/\= A joint-post by... =/\=

Lieutenant Jennifer Bracco, M.D.
Ship's Counselor


Ensign Mei Ratthi
Science Officer


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