Monday, October 15, 2012

A Personal Therapy History (And why I want to invite my therapist over for dinner)

You'd think that because both of my parents are therapists that I always would have been open to the idea of going to therapy.  But I wasn't. 

It wasn't that I was against it per se, it was just that I saw it as an emergency measure.  I went to my first therapist when I was in law school.  I was having random panic attacks in the middle of class for no apparent reason.  Nothing I would ever let on to anyone else, but that feeling of your face going white, your heart racing, and the walls caving in - standard anxiety stuff.  After a few weeks of this I ended up in some twenty-something's office at student health begging for xanax.  Instead, she recommended some SSRI's and weekly therapy sessions.  I never took the pills, and I never went back. 

Fast forward three years and I found myself in another therapist's office on the twentieth floor of a high rise in Central Park West.  I was working at Skadden at the time, and was in such a state of flux that by 10am I was on the phone searching for someone, anyone, who would see me that day - the sooner the better.  By 2pm I was in this random therapist's office crying about how stressed I was and how I just couldn't finish this brief - I just couldn't.  I still remember his words:  "Fuck the brief."  But I didn't.  I went back to work and finished it.  It was my 28th birthday.  I never went back to him again. 

And then, two years later, I found myself in a familiar place.  Only this time I was in DC and it was more physical than ever - my TMJ was acting up and my jaw was actually clenched shut - as in I COULD HARDLY OPEN MY MOUTH.  I found a therapist on Pennsylvania Avenue and broke out in hysterical sobs the second I sat down on his couch.  Perhaps because of the physical manifestation or the pattern that was beginning to emerge, I actually stuck with this guy and went twice a week for a while.  But the fact is, I didn't really like him.  He was one of those silent therapists - where you go in and he basically just stares at you until you start talking and proceeds to stare at you the rest of the session.  I suppose it helped to talk to myself for a few months, but after a while I started dreading it, and then I stopped going. 

And then a weird thing happened.  I got pregnant and I got calm.  I got level headed.  My jaw unclenched and I entered a weird state of zen.  I realized that maybe it wasn't such a good idea to seek out a therapist only when I was on the brink of a nervous breakdown.  So 8 months into my pregnancy, I started doing some research.  I made some calls.  And I found Claire. 

What was so awesome about my initial meeting with Claire is that I didn't break down in tears when I showed up at her office.  I was happy.  I was "normal."  I went with the intention of just doing something good for myself - something healthy.  So that if I ever found myself in an anxiety, jaw clenched, emotional mess, I had a home to go to.  I took pride in the fact that in Claire's eyes, I had my shit together.  No breakdowns - no traumas - just healthy therapy talk about all the usual issues.  And she was a great therapist - she listened, she gave advice, she made me think. 

But little did Claire know what she was in for. 

For a while it was just that - normal therapy stuff.  I saw her pretty consistently, but would then take periodic months off.  When I was pregnant with Casey, I stopped going pretty much altogether, because life was hectic and babysitters were hard to come by and I was in a good place. 

But then came PPD, and I found myself back in her office, in hysterical tears upon my arrival. 

Lucky for me, Claire specialized in PPD.  I knew this from the moment I made my first appointment with her, although I didn't need it at the time (and it makes me wonder if I subconsciously knew it would happen to me).  And once this hit, I was no longer the "I got my shit together" model therapy patient.  I was unhinged, I was vulnerable, I was in desperate need of help.  And Claire came through and then some.  She was a rock, an outlet, a respite.  I am so thankful for her help during that period. 

And then, of course, as life tends to do, it normalizes, and I stopped seeing Claire regularly.  Until last February, when crisis hit and I called her once again.  She fit me in an hour after my call, and there I was again, on her couch in tears.  I have been going every week since. 

Therapy is a weird thing.  For one, it is by nature one sided.  I go in there and talk about myself for an hour.  It's a conversation, but only about me.  And every once in a while I feel that's a bit selfish.  Like, shouldn't I ask about Claire's kids?  Or about what books she's reading?  I have done that before, and she answers politely, and then shifts it all back to me.  She's a professional, after all. 

It's also weird because someone who is not a part of your personal life knows, intimately well, the cast of characters in your personal life.  She hears all about my husband, my kids, my parents, my family, my extended family, etc.  But she doesn't know them.  She doesn't even know what they look like.  It makes me want to invite her over for Thanksgiving dinner.  To show her what I'm talking about - See?  Did you see that?  That's what I've been talking about.  I've been right all along, haven't I? 

Every once in a while I'll get cocky in therapy.  There will be a day that I don't feel like going, because really, I don't have that much to talk about.  And anyway, what will Claire say that will enlighten me?  I know myself better than anyone else.  There isn't anything anyone can say that will truly help me. 

But Claire always humbles me. 

And I think that's the best thing about therapy - the honesty of it.  The fact that I have to go in there and if I've done something wrong, I have to come clean about it.  The fact that I don't know myself as well as I think I do - that there are still so many things to learn.  The fact that there are different ways of thinking and different ways to do things and that it isn't until I speak my truth that I realize this.  Claire seems to always bring that truth out of me. 

I think for the past couple of sessions Claire has tried to "break up" with me.  She's said things like, You're doing so well!  or We can cut down on to once monthly sessions if you'd like.

She's probably right, I could cut back.  But I don't want to.  Claire's become a true friend to me.  A one sided friend, a friend I have to pay, and a friend I could never invite over for dinner.  But a much needed friend nonetheless.  I'll stick with her for now.

On a completely separate note, this week is Growing Healthy Schools Week.  In honor of this cause, tonight the Eat Well DC Restaurant Group is running a restaurant fundraiser for DC Greens and the DC Farm to School Network.  Eat Well DC will donate 15% of all purchases made between 4pm and 10pm at any of their five restaurants: Commissary, Logan Tavern, the Pig, the Heights, and Grillfish.   I myself will be dining with some other bloggers (Not So SAHM, No Monsters in My Bed, and Kid Friendly DC) at the Heights - stop by to say hi if you make it out!


  1. One week I took my laptop with me to therapy and showed my therapist pictures of all the people I'd been talking about. The photos (just browsing through iPhoto) prompted discussions and it was a really helpful session!

  2. ohh, that sounds awesome! (dinner out, not the therapy.

  3. I totally have been there with therapists good and bad. The silent ones are so odd. It took persistent life crises to motivate me to find a good one. Glad to say I found a good one and now go only when I need a periodic check in to sort through some issue. It is nice that I get to set the pace. I would not be the same person without my therapist. Thanks for posting this. Also, everyone of my lawschool friends either married or in a serious relationship is or were in therapy at some point. The profession drives people and relationships crazy.

  4. I didn't realize that both your parents were therapists... My husband and I are both therapists, and I fear our daughter will be like Brenda from Six Feet Under... Any suggestions for us?

  5. I honestly can not believe that I stumbled onto this post today. I am so relieved (not surprised, I guess, but maybe a little) that I'm not the only person that walks and talks her way out of therapy, both because you don't like the therapist or because you get cocky about it, which is a bit of my forte, and keeps me from going in the first place. Because I'm sure I know what will help me without having to talk about it to a therapist, or anyone else for that matter, I just have to do those things. Or so I say, to myself, and then am disappointed in myself if/when it doesn't work or I don't get those "will fix it" things done. Thanks for the reminder that it doesn't have to be that way and sharing a story about finding a therapist you like, and being helped and humbled by it.

  6. Very nice post. I've never been to therapy and never been at the point where I've thought I needed to talk to a professional. But I also have always had a negative association with them. I don't know why. Maybe because I've never seen the good things they can do. Maybe because all my friends who go to therapy go for years and never seem to make progress- but how would I know, right? It's not my brain...

    Anyway, thanks for the positive spin on therapy. It was a tad enlightening to me.

  7. @ Wendy - I actually have never seen that show, and my mom hasn't practiced since I was very young. So maybe I was spared whatever fate you were referring to (or maybe I'm the perfect example). :)


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