Chalk this up under Things I Never Thought I Would Divulge On the Internet.
My post a few weeks ago about rest and expectations resonated with so many of you. I know this because you commented and shared (thank you), and people came out of the woodwork to message me about their own Hard Time. I wouldn’t have been able to write that post earlier this summer, when I was in the thick of things. I wouldn’t have and I shouldn’t have. While I don’t consider myself out of the woods yet (hardly), I am thinking more clearly enough to see how badly I was struggling. And it seems irresponsible to talk about my wavering mental health without telling you how I’m addressing it.
So hold my hand while we wander tentatively into vulnerable territory.
Until this year, I had never given any serious thought to therapy. It might be different a decade down the road, but growing up in Oklahoma I thought therapy was reserved for neurotic intellectuals on the coasts. Woody Allen types. Needy people. Even as I came around to understanding that therapy is helpful and necessary for many, I still didn’t think it applied to me. Though this summer’s bout of blues wasn’t the first (or even the worst) time I’ve experienced darkness, talk therapy seemed like an expensive indulgence that wouldn’t work.
See, I have lots of people in my life who genuinely care about me and listen to my babble. I talk to my sister daily, I have lifelong friends who understand me deeply. My husband isn’t so much of a talker, but with him there is no need to hide my crazy. Even if it was an objective opinion, I saw no need to sit on a stranger’s couch and talk about myself.
Only therapy is not that.
In the spring, a few things happened that had me in such a state, I felt like I had exhausted the listening capacity of my husband, family, and friends. These situations were at such an emotional peak, my anxiety was wreaking havoc on my sleep patterns and my daily ability to function normally. So, at wit’s end, I decided to try some counseling. I know now that I should have sought professional help sooner, that waiting this long is detrimental in the long term, but honestly it hadn’t occurred to me. Better late than never.
I contacted an acquaintance in my area who I knew was also a therapist. I could have asked local friends who they see, but I figured my best bet was to go to the doctor the doctors go to, if you know what I mean. The acquaintance sent me three recommendations, one right in my neighborhood. I called her the next day and left a shaky voicemail.
She didn’t call back, but I didn’t call the others on the list. I don’t know why. I had a better week than the last, or something, and, as I tend to do, talked myself out of pursuing it further. A few weeks later I was standing at the park with the kids when I got a call from an unknown number. Strangely, I answered it, and had an appointment with a therapist the next day.
The first few sessions were so painful, so hard to muddle through, that I know when I left for the lake (and into the drowning months) I was extra exposed emotionally. Just cracked wide open. If you hear nothing else, I want you to know: Therapy is not talking about yourself.
I mean, okay, sure. Factually, there is a lot of talking about yourself. The process is about who you are, where you came from, and who you want to be. The intent is to learn more about your motivations and the path to being more of who you want to be in relationship, career, family. But the therapist is not your friend, she/he doesn’t need to give you the same polite social graces others might, she/he is also not worried about how what is said might affect the relationship. In our second session, my therapist said something so true, so breathtakingly awful, about the way I communicate verbally, that I was spun out for days.
This isn’t a great sell, is it? Who wants to pay to be insulted? But she wasn’t trying to hurt me, she wanted me to see something reckless about the way I speak. And if it hadn’t rang true the moment she said it, I wouldn’t have been so hurt by it. I came home that day and told The Gorilla I was sorry I do this in tense conversations and that I want to learn to fight fair.
I’m still so early in the process, but my therapy sessions have been eye-opening. In some ways she feels like a mind-reader, filling in gaps where I know I didn’t and bringing about revelation in those cracks. But I don’t think there’s a magic to it, I just didn’t understand what therapy was. Fun and relieving though it might be, real emotional help doesn’t come through venting family frustrations with girlfriends over margaritas. I still do this - cried into my salt rim last week as a matter of fact - but I’m not sure that actually furthers your soul cause.
For now, rest and therapy are my treatments of choice. I’m shamelessly telling you about my evolution into a Los Angeles cliche because if I didn’t understand what therapy really was - and I live here - then maybe you don’t, either. And everyone could use some outside help, at one time or another. I wish I hadn’t waited so long to seek mine.