Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Shrink wrapped

Going to psychotherapy is an interesting experience, on which I have several years' worth of ruminations. At first, it's quite pleasant, there you are, going on about your childhood, your life now, all the minutiae of your life that no one else but you cares a whit about, and they sit there and actually LISTEN, prompt you for more detail, maybe even take notes. It's flattering in a way. You tell your story interspersed with wry comments and little quips, and you are quite the entertainer. But if you keep going, sooner or later you run out of anecdotes and jokes, and before you know it, you are talking about things that make you hurt, make you cry. Your therapist probes more deeply into the whys and gently but firmly steers the talk to how you feel, what you think about all this, goes over how you dealt with it then, what you might do differently, how you can cope with it now. It's painful, to have an utter stranger know these things about you, things you haven't even admitted to yourself. You find yourself looking at your childhood, for example, in the cold clear light of adult understanding, and find that you know things you didn't know you knew. Some of them are unpleasant, and some are devastating. Some make you feel lower than a rock, and you finish your session feeling wrung out and hung up to dry. It takes all your resolve to keep going back, week after week, that and the memory of the awful space you were in that drove you to seek therapy in the first place. If you stick to it, you will eventually feel better, lighter somehow, more sure of what the past really held and how you'll deal with the future. You'll know the kind of person you really are down deep, a survivor of neglect, maybe, or of indifference, even cruelty, and having survived, become stronger. Maybe you will learn not to sweat the small stuff. Maybe you will learn that small stuff leads to big stuff if you ignore it too long, and how to nip problems in the bud. One thing for certain, you will have a profound respect for the mental health professionals who do this work day in and day out, often for only modest compensation and the knowledge that they are doing good for some otherwise messed up people.
I have two therapists who have seen me through hell and high water these last few years, and they are a tribute to their profession. I literally couldn't have made it without them, even when things were the bleakest and I was in the hospital, I will always be grateful that they stuck with me and with my family, sure that in the end I would be OK. And you know what? They were right. Knock on wood.

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