I got onto the office elevator to descend for the lunch hour when a guy about my own age joined a floor later. In the crook of one arm, he held a stack of folders and a couple of thin books; evoking a prep school boy with disarrayed dirty blond hair, charming grin and navy suit coat. I pay no mind to these details as I have an involuntary response to books and my eyes laser beam onto the spines. Who or what are you reading? This is what concerns me. To say that we were both in for a surprise, well I couldn’t read his mind; only his facial expression. It is startling to be found out.
The author’s book he holds speaks volumes, speaks of a vulnerability; either the holder is coming upon it or in the throes of it. The book is by a local psychologist in Dallas –one not without fame nor notoriety. He no longer takes on new clients. When I announce my familiarity with the book and that I own it as well, the stranger’s eyes bulge in what I take as embarrassment, shame? In the next second, my familiarity means I’ve been in his shoes; I’ve seen the therapist. He does that half-laugh of relief, shifting gears, relaxing.
I can sum up the book is one sentence ‘Ignore the mental demons, and get out of your own damn way!’ Well, obviously. Who needs to be told this?
I didn’t spend any real quality time with this therapist; I was actually gifted a few sessions by a mutual friend who’d had an evolution of self. He was too excited about his transformation to withhold it. He wanted his inner circle to give it a go. Get into the weeds, pull them up, clear out the bush, wipe the slate clean –all the metaphors needed to be your best self. But on my own dime, it was too costly. The preliminary paper work was a daunting task of self-evaluation on its own. I wasn’t ready to roll my mind through the rolodex of the peoples and the pains. Or even to categorize them in such a way. I’m naturally joyous, optimistic, and grateful. I couldn’t get myself to do the work. But for the one big switch I made after my introductory experience, it was like tasting a new flavor and never returning to vanilla. I completely get the thrill of taking real responsibility and getting the best out of life; losing the victimhood and excuse making. I also get the resentment of the idea to even go to therapy or the depressing imagery of reading a self-help book. How dare one suggests.
Circumstances change. We change. As the seasons do…
After the year we’ve had, the same boat we’ve all been sailing in; after the collective tragedies and mental fatigue; after our homes switched from being a place of refuge to prisons of confinement; the loss of loved ones and the loss of livelihoods…We can only ‘stiff upper lip’ so much.
Next-level conversations amongst the tightest of friends has been the only panacea for most. Talk therapy. As is often the case, the advice we give is what we ourselves need to hear. Lightbulbs go off when internal dialogue becomes spoken word. A way out presents itself, often, just from taking it out of the mind. Worries weaken, difficulties defuse.
I think about seeing a psychiatrist, counselor, or therapist in the same way I think about people who’ve been married and then gotten divorced. At least you tried. You did something maturing. The imagery of lying on a couch and talking about your feelings is too cheesy for many; or the idea of reading a self-help book is depressing in itself. It’s not that. It can be, but it’s not. It’s closer to surrender, the vulnerability that comes with it. To expose the worst of our thoughts is frightening and feels repulsive, and this is subsequently rooted in the fear of repulsing. Sorry to break it to you, none of your demons are new. No one is immune to the range of emotions associated with the human condition. On the other hand, the truth is, therapy doesn’t work for everyone; it only makes them angrier. Because they have pulled up the weeds; they’ve run fingers through the dirt; and now they’re being asked to crawl on all fours through mud. Some things are better left alone and long ago forgotten.
With the weight of this last year and the entire world commiserating, it’s worth considering how well you are really doing. It may seem like a privilege, but the accessibility and the affordability are improved. The reasons to see a therapist are as numerous as the number of inhabitants in New York. Non-coincidentally, NY has the highest number of psychiatrist per capita in the US. It’s ok to not be ok.