I made an appointment with a therapist. I'm telling you this precisely because I don't want to; because the whole idea completely mortifies me; because writing "I made an appointment with a therapist" reads to me like, "Well, I'm officially a complete failure. Soon I will live in a garbage can."
Like most people of privilege, I have a long a complicated relationship with therapy. My parents sent me to my first counselor when I was eight, which is something I will probably never do if I have children, because I found the whole process utterly demeaning and a big waste of time. Adults in general don't give children enough credit for what they understand about what's going on around them. I don't think I was supposed to know that my parents thought something was wrong with me, but I definitely knew it. They had fill out this blue survey the counseling agency gave them, about whether I fidgeted more than normal kids, or if I had suicidal thoughts. I saw this survey as something I could pass or fail, and, after secretly reading it when my mom was out of the room, was sure to say casually (while standing VERY still), "You know, I am not suicidal at all lately" at dinner.
The counselor made me play the most banal, tedious board games alone in front of her for what felt like hours, while she took notes on her clipboard. These games were too boring to occupy really any space in my memory. They had titles like "Feelings Mountain" or "Emotion Ocean," and you couldn't win them. You couldn't strategize. There was nothing good about playing them, and, although I was not suicidal going into therapy, I was somewhat more of that disposition when I left.
My mom made me go to therapy for probably four months, until she must have realized I was going to fake strep throat every Tuesday afternoon forever. I had learned my lesson, though. You don't ever do anything weird in front of adults. They will look at you with grave concern and make you sit with an old lady who thinks TLC is a mental health acronym and not an amazing R&G group. Noted.
Unfortunately, although I got nothing out of my childhood counseling sessions, I wasn't doing well as a kid. I had terrible insomnia, and I suffered from extreme highs and lows. I overate until I weighed 280 pounds. I didn't have any friends, and I wrote in my diary more than twice a day, because I considered my diary to be my best friend, next to my collection of Babysitter's Club books.
In high school, I discovered self-mutilation, which felt like a godsend. Any time I went into a deep sad place, I'd cut myself, and everything felt warm and normal again. I tried for a while to conceal it, but I was bad at that. Eventually someone reported me to the school counselor, who called me into her office and scolded me. I remember sitting there sobbing, begging her not to call my mom. She called my mom. My mom was pissed.
I had to go right back to the same counseling center where the old woman had made me play the inane board games in front of her. Now I had to sit with a new woman, who had no interest in anything about my life except for "the carving." She said, "Why are you doing the carving?" I said, "Oh, I was peer pressured. I've stopped." I had actually never been peer pressured to do anything in my entire life. I wasn't cool enough to be peer pressured to do anything. I also had definitely not stopped. The woman scribbled something in her notebook. "Yes. Peer pressure can be dangerous," she said. She seemed very satisfied with my answer. She told my mom she didn't think I needed more sessions after that one.
In college, I finally started going to an on-site therapist of my own volition. This made a difference in my receptiveness, although I never found a good fit. The first therapist I saw was this very old man who had a very messy office. He wore really tight khaki pants, and I couldn't stop staring at them. I wanted to say, "I feel concerned about how much I keep looking at your penis," but I couldn't. I felt uncomfortable talking to him about really anything.
And that was generally the story. I saw a handful of other therapists, but I never wanted them to think anything was wrong with me, so I mostly just lied to them. I could understand in a rational way that that I was completely defeating the entire purpose, but I liked going to therapy and bragging about how good I was at everything. Then the therapists would praise me, and I'd get a nice little dopamine kick from the praise. In short, therapy was doing more harm than good for me.
That all changed when I moved to New Orleans. Life was the worst. Seriously, name something that could go wrong, and it had gone wrong. My car (carrying all my worldly belongings) had crashed into a lake. Then my other car exploded. I got a job where students regularly brought guns to school and police officers dotted the hallways pepper spraying students. I didn't have any friends; my sister, who'd moved with me to New Orleans, realized quite suddenly that she'd made a huge mistake and left; I got bronchitis so bad I couldn't breathe, but had no access to health care or a hospital; there was a major hurricane. And then my boyfriend, who I was way too in love with, broke up with me.
I practically jumped out a window. Believe it or not, this was the first time in my life that I was scraping the bottom so hard that I felt I actually needed therapy.
Meredith was different than anyone I'd ever met. She was waifish and blonde but she sounded like a 90-year-old man. She smoked like a chimney and sat with me in her big Southern mansion drinking gigantic diet Cokes out of Size XL Big Gulp cups from the gas station. Sometimes she wore sunglasses inside. And she didn't compliment me. Not at all. Her feedback was tough and honest. At first I hated her.
But then I loved her. After six months, it was clear to me that she was the best thing that had ever happened to me.
I stopped seeing her after two years, because I started knowing what she was going to say before she said it, and also my insurance stopped covering her. I felt like I'd "beaten" therapy -- like it was the Legend of Zelda and I'd played it right to the end, rescuing the princess, and going on my merry way.
But for the last few months, I've been sad again. There are plenty of reasons for it, or there aren't any, depending on how you look at things. Since I have been through this before, I can recognize the patterns for the first time in my life: for a few days, I'm giddy, and all the flowers are SUCH BEAUTIFUL FLOWERS! And I LOVE KALE! And all my friends are the most wonderful people on earth; my family is beautiful; my job is holy; everything is a big glittery sticker shaped like a unicorn and nothing not anything not anything could possibly bring me down.
And then one day I wake up and I don't want to get out of bed. Nothing sounds good. I hate myself. I am bad at everything and no one loves me and I have failed at everything in my life and I have no reason to live. Does kale sound good? No. Nothing sounds good. I can't imagine putting any clothes on. I can't imagine going to work. The world is a bleak dark hole of nothingness and meaningless absence.
I don't want to need help. I hate that I need help. But I need help.
I am writing that I need help in this public forum (well, semi-public; I think my readership is officially up to two ) because I believe in writing about the scary, hidden things. And I think I know in my brain that there is nothing garbage-canny about making an appointment with a therapist, but I figured that maybe there are others out there who feel like they might need to make one too, but for some reason also feel like they can't. If that's you: you can. If it's not you: thanks for reading about how shitty I have historically been to basically all mental health workers. It's not an easy job, I know. BUT GOD: WHY DOES ANYONE THINK EMOTIONAL LITERACY SHOULD BE A BOARD GAME!? It shouldn't. IT JUST. SHOULDN'T.