Ex-therapist sees a therapist

About two months ago, I posted that I was depressed, but I didn't want to see a therapist.


I don't make a habit of deleting posts, but that time I succumbed. A few days later, I was rid of it.


Looking back, I'm not sure if that was right. No, it wasn't a happy post, nor was it encouraging, nor did it reflect the healthier headspace I was in a mere two weeks later. And yet: at the time, it was true. Others might have related, might have at some point felt similar, might have found relief in the shared experience.


And worse still: What if I had lost the post to Shame? What if it were Shame herself egging me on to delete it in the first place? When I first started blogging, I swore I wouldn't listen to Shame.


Maybe one day I'll un-delete the post. Regardless of whether it reflected a truth beyond my experience in that moment, the state of mind was important. The state of mind was that of someone who had been brought to her knees. Bottoming out is universally important: You need to be pretty damn tired of feeling this way.


Two months later, this dispassionate and depressed ex-therapist has seen a therapist three times, and a couples therapist another six. Neither one of these therapists were smarter than me, and neither one knew more about depression than I do. And yet, what can I say? I'm feeling better.

They say that therapists make bad clients. From my brief tenure as a therapist, I'd like to revise that. Humans make bad clients. Humans are ambivalent, dishonest, and manipulative. Plus, they have all kinds of secret incentives to stay sick, which makes it particularly hard for therapists intent on getting them well.


All that to say: I am a bad client, but I am not an exceptionally bad client. I am asking all the questions that my clients asked of me.


As a therapist, faced with a depressed or anxious client, I was rarely in the position of delivering brand-new information. Sure, sometimes clients found relief and solace in psycho-education (e.g., "here's what depression is"; "here are the symptoms of PTSD"), but for the most part I was repeating things that clients already knew.


For the most part, clients knew that they weren't actually worthless and unlovable. They knew that many of the things they most feared would never happen. They knew that their parents were flawed, and that they did the best they could -- even when their best wasn't good enough. They knew that food was their problem, or alcohol was their problem, or sex was their problem, or that the need for problems was their problem.


Intellectually, we all sort of knew what was going on. But knowing it is entirely different than feeling it, embodying it, believing it. And this is where most clients - myself included - want help.

Take, for example, my most recent therapy session: I am in the middle of planning a virtual conference for work. I am acutely afraid of failure, and I fear that any glitch in the proceedings will reflect poorly on me.


Two days ago, my therapist attempted to rescue me. "You know you're a good employee," she said. "You know there will be mistakes. Most of the time, mistakes are invisible or acceptable, and virtual conferences go just fine."


(Incidentally, the IT guy at work said the same thing: "People tend to have no problem with Zoom. That's why we like it." Privately, I remembered the sea of zoom-bombings I've witnessed in AA meetings, the screen-shares that have become shares of one's entire inbox, and the probably enlightening speeches delivered on mute. For the IT guy, I bit my tongue.)


And plus, since when was the goal to go "Just fine?" Or to be a "good employee," for that matter? If my attendees weren't writing letters home about this transformative virtual conference, if I wasn't receiving actual fan mail in its aftermath, then I didn't want to play.


The better-adapted part of me knew that what my therapist was saying was most likely right. Things are usually fine. This will be fine. Fine is enough.


But still: I didn't feel it. I didn't believe it.


"Ok, you're right," I told her. "I know you're right, technically. But how do I feel it?"

A therapist typically has at least two options: Do I answer the question, or do I address the reality behind the question?


In this case, my therapist opted for the former. She told me that feeling it takes time, suggested I put an affirming sticky note on my second monitor, and described a few physiologically calming exercises for when I'm sure planning a conference will actually kill me.


She told me to imagine ice water running over my hypothalamus. I pictured my hypothalamus to be the tiny and fiery innermost circle of hell, the way all scientifically-stunted philosophy majors must.


If my therapist wasn't going to address the far sadder reality behind the question, then it was up to me. Regardless of whether work falls apart, regardless of whether I plan the best conference ever or, more likely, a fairly standard virtual conference, what does it matter? What would it really mean? What value am I giving it? What would it mean to be a person doing a pretty okay job at work? Can I bear it?

In the short term, I took my therapist's advice: I made the sticky note. I stuck it to my second monitor. On it, I wrote this: I can't wait until I don't believe this anymore. Because, intellectually, I'm there. Emotionally, I'm excited to get there.


I don't need a reminder that conferences normally go fine. I don't need a reminder that my past performance at work indicates I will continue to perform well. I know that I am not a weak human who is simply phobic of conferences and deadlines and writing e-mails. I am afraid of losing my very worth.


If you have one ounce of spiritual belief, or at least a belief in something bigger than you, then you already know your worth is not a function of your performance at work.


I know it, too. And personally, I cannot wait until I believe it.


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