Therapy always seemed like a good idea to me. Perhaps it was because I grew up in the era of The Bob Newhart Show and thought the idea of laying on a black couch answering questions about myself sounded fun. I’ve always liked quizzes and have always been extremely competitive so I was sure that therapy was something I could excel at.
My first foray with therapy started when I was an undergraduate in college. My parents had decided to sell my childhood home and move from Maryland to Virginia, where my dad had been working for some time. The commute was hard on the family since he was staying in Virginia and would only come home on the weekends. Or every other weekend. Or sometimes longer.
As my parents were preparing to move in the summer after my sophomore year of college, I decided to take a surprise trip home from Cleveland to help them pack up and move. In my mind, it was going to be a joyous occasion full of warm embraces at the surprise of seeing me. Instead, I walked into a family nightmare that was only beginning.
After the move, I learned that my father would not be moving in with the family, a separation that would lead to divorce two years later.
Even though I was nearly 20 years old, my entire childhood foundation had been rocked. My home was gone, my dad was gone, and we were living in a house that made me, for lack of a better term, very uneasy.
I returned to school and found that normal activities didn’t come normally to me. I couldn’t listen to music – the sound of it made me nauseous. And I experienced a very uneasy feeling that I couldn’t explain and now have come to call anxiety.
I signed up to talk to a counselor at the school and expected to lay on the couch and spill out my entire life. Instead, I sat every week with a very mousy graduate student who was seemed to be working under the technique of let me sit here silently and the patient will fill the void with everything she needs to say.
It was not the Bob Newhart experience I was hoping for.
A few years later, I was taking graduate courses and found myself experiencing a different symptom: anger. I was angry all the time and at the urging of my boyfriend, I went to see another college counselor. This time, it was a wise old woman who knew just when to ask the right questions and when to give me a few simple words of wisdom.
She ultimately taught me that therapy isn’t about fixing your problems. It’s about develop the right coping strategies to deal with them.
A few decades passed and I married and had my son. I ended up going down a terrible path of depression and when I hit rock bottom, I talked to a therapist who told me that my head was screwed on straight but that my brain was chemically unbalanced. A few prescriptions later, I ended my sessions with her and went about my life.
Only recently did I start to feel those uncomfortable feelings again. I felt anxious and angry and frustrated. I was pretty sure I knew why but didn’t know what to do about it. So I ended up sitting in a counselor’s office again.
She was another wise woman who seemed to ask a lot of the right questions and give me words of wisdom when I needed them. I spent every week dissecting whatever I thought needed dissecting. Most of the time was spent talking about my husband and our marriage. Sometimes I’d drift into the territory of my mother or father. But a lot of it was spent talking about my feelings of being stressed and overwhelmed and overcommitted and guilty.
I felt better and then I felt worse. It was a rollercoaster ride until I took a trip to Disneyland in April.
While I was away from the drudgery of every day life, I realized that I didn’t want to go to therapy anymore. I didn’t want to talk about life. I didn’t want to focus on my daily frustrations or the people whose actions I couldn’t change. I wanted to stop talking about life and simply start living it.
Since then, I’ve been happier and lighter. I’ve always been a pretty deep thinker. I’m able to step back and look at the bigger picture. I know when eating a cupcake is simply eating a cupcake or when I’m eating my feelings. I know that I can’t change the past or the people in my life. All I know is that I can make choices every day to get closer to living the life I want.