Possible Side Effects

This morning I went to therapy for the first time in about six years.

I’m a person who is very hesitant and wary about therapy and therapists. Some of this is my family background–I have people close to me who are inwardly and outwardly skeptical about the entire profession, and I’ve clearly internalized that attitude. Some of this is my baggage from past experiences with counselors. I saw a child psychologist when I was eighteen, and all I can remember about him is that he consistently mispronounced my girlfriend’s name, and that he seemed hopelessly new-agey to me at the time. I saw someone much more helpful when I was nineteen, but she was still more or less a stranger, and one I didn’t want to be seeing.

This time around I went out on a limb and asked for help from a friend. I happen to play basketball once a week with a psychologist, and I called more or less in tears on Saturday and asked if maybe she could recommend someone. At the very least, it’s a whole lot more comforting to have someone you’ve had a beer with recommend a therapist than to more or less get blindly handed one when you’re just a poor college student having anxiety attacks.

My new therapist described her job in a way no one has ever talked about therapy with me before, and I liked it. She said her job is to create a relationship with me that only exists in her office. She wants to get to know me, to hear me talk about my life both so that I can hear the things I have to say–as these thoughts sound differently out loud than they do bouncing around in my head–and so that she can get to understand my point of view. This way two of us can start seeing things the way I see them.

This can be better, she said, than going to someone who already knows everything about you, because then all kinds of things can get in the way–their opinions, love, fear. It feels fantastic to have someone on my team who just wants to see things the way I see them.

A few things about this morning’s session:

I have goals for therapy. That feels sort of wonderful. I like goals, and having them for therapy is comforting because it gives me the impression that I won’t have to be in therapy forever. (That’s one of the things that scares me–the notion that I’ll forever have to have outside help to live my life. I think this is the same thing that makes me dislike medication so much.)

One of my goals is to get myself a little more stable. Lately I’ve been feeling really emotionally volatile, like I’m constantly in crisis mode. And apparently when I’m in crisis mode, I cry a lot. I question whether this would be particularly helpful in a crisis like a burning building.

On the one hand, this kind of emotional state is a little bit comforting to me, because it tells me I might not actually be getting depressed again. Because for me, depression has been numb. I do have some of my depressive symptoms–mainly fatigue and some issues with my appetite–but the fact that I can feel, even if what I’m feeling is usually really unpleasant, is pretty heartening to me.

My other goal is to try to stop making my decisions based on what I think will or won’t hurt others, and move toward thinking more about what I actually want for myself. This one is going to be pretty hard.

I’ve been walking around with a sort of personal first do no harm ethic, and I don’t think it’s working. Expecting to never hurt anyone would be like expecting my cat to never step on anything. And yet here we are, me paralyzed by the knowledge that I have the capacity to hurt people I love, and hurt them deeply.

Anyway. I went to therapy. I’ll go again next week.

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