Tuesday, December 3, 2013

My therapist and me

Have you ever been to therapy? If not, you might not understand this. Not that your previous experience with something should decide whether or not to read about it, but I do think that some things are best experienced in reality rather than in text. Still - because of how I felt today, walking away from my first-ever therapist and thinking about the past few weeks of pouring my heart out - I wanted to write about it. Maybe you'll connect, maybe not.

A few months ago, I wrote a blog called "How I feel before letting it all out." This was a really important blog for me - and even though it was fairly cryptic and didn't say much - it involved one of the biggest changes in my life.

Up until now, I've always felt like a very strong person. I have been able to tackle all my problems by myself, nothing has kept me down. When I was 11, my mom had a stroke. I was able to withstand the unbearable pain. At 15, she passed away. I was heartbroken, but I got through it. I skidded past the horrible years of high school awkwardness, hours of spending too much time on homework, feelings of being an outcast in my little upper middle class suburban society.

Well all those trials of youth couldn't have prepared me for the intense identity crisis that would take place in the past couple of years. It had nothing to do with school, nothing to do with friends, nothing to do with family. Honestly, as trivial as it may seem, it had to do with boys. And it made me feel incredibly ridiculous that I was going around shouldering all the anguish of a troubled life prior, yet a little thing like a break-up could run me over the edge. I was getting anxiety attacks, I was feeling depressed and lonely, I was purposely alienating people I loved.

So I finally decided to seek help. And I had high hopes, I really believed it would change me. Which is why I wrote that blog in October.

And it did.

After two months of sessions, I think I finally know what it means to accept myself.

That isn't to say I have accepted myself. That's an on-going process, and one I'm sure I'll struggle with for the rest of my life. But for the first time, I see that I'm not a bad, stupid or ridiculous person. And that even though falling in love and being broken-hearted could make me feel like less of who I was, I had the power to bring myself out of that.

All of this thanks to once-a-week hour-long sessions that, in the grand scheme of things, might seem like a small blip on my timeline. Yet they were more significant than many other things in my life, even the relationships and break-ups that inspired them.

I don't know if most people have as wonderful an experience as I did with my first therapist. At first I was surprised to end up speaking with her - when I think of going in for psychological help I immediately picture a older man or woman in a white lab coat with a chaise lounge in a dimly lit room. That wasn't how my sessions were at all. My therapist was young, she wore really smart clothing and always looked really pretty too. The sessions themselves were engaging - face to face in upright chairs - requiring me to be present. Not that that's difficult for me anyway. Instead of being intimidated, I felt free to be open. The space in front of me was mine to inhabit and there was someone on the other end listening.

And I was thankful. Because the listener was someone with a calming presence, someone who in my moments of intense emotion could show me that she cared without making me feel like I was expressing too much.

Every Tuesday I'd go in with my list of grievances from the past week. I'd build them up, worry about them and then put them aside, knowing that there was a space to let them go where I could actually make sense of them rather than let them burrow into my heart. It felt good to let even the most detrimental of thoughts turn into something worthwhile and positive.

I would often find myself on the verge of venting to my friends and family, and then stop for a moment and say "this is something I'm going to bring up in therapy." It wasn't a defensive move, though, it was just my way of saying I shouldn't be worried about this. It can be worked out, and I know who can help me.

Moving forward I realize that while my therapist was the person I meant, that person who can help me will eventually have to be me. Even if I continue to go to therapy with another counselor, or talk to friends and family about my problems, it will always come down to how I deal with things.

But leaving behind this chapter in my path toward personal understanding wasn't made any easier knowing that I was being left to my own devices - even though I know I'm capable of handling them better than I ever have been before.

I walked away from that last session with my first-ever therapist feeling really happy that I'd had the luck to be given someone to talk to for a few months who could provide me with just the right perceptiveness, just the right tone and just the right perspective to make me feel safe and actually let the counseling take me somewhere good. And even though I cried to myself and wished that the person I'd spent months detailing my past to could be my best friend and confidante, it was a good kind of crying. Because unlike losing people in the past, this was leaving behind someone whose presence was nothing but good, but whose absence might even empower me to be stronger.

That isn't to say that I'm happy about not getting to meet with my therapist again. In my heart, I do wish that this could continue and I'd never have to stop, just so I could retain the feeling of comfort that I felt after leaving each appointment. And if permitted, I would certainly keep in contact however possible.

The reason, though, that I wrote at the beginning of this blog how this is a feeling some people just might not understand is that it's a really strangely bittersweet experience. I'm leaving behind someone who has made the most positive impact on my life as of late, and the emotions around that are two-fold. They're positive in that I'm glad that I can even say I've had a good experience, and they're negative in that I don't know that I'm fully ready to move on. Losing anyone is something I have and will continue to struggle with for the rest of my life.

So maybe you've felt how I feel, or maybe you haven't, but what anyone can understand is how wonderful it is to know that there's someone you can trust in the world - someone who respects you and listens to you and will give you their honest opinion in a way that never makes you feel trivialized or stupid.

That's what a therapist should be. That's what a friend should be too. And I feel like I had a friend in my therapist, even if it was only for a short time. So this is my thank you to her. Your presence in my life has been indispensable and I'm sad to have to do so now.

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