If you’ve been paying attention, you’ve probably noticed a few times when I’ve casually thrown in something about therapy or my therapist. My most blatant mention was just a couple of weeks ago, when I wrote about specific advice my therapist gave me, and my intention to follow through on it. I know there are a lot of stigmas out there about therapy and people who go to it. The truth is, up until a few years ago, I kind of believed them. But now, I am one of those people and I realize that I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Shortly after my parents told me they were getting separated in the summer of 2008, my mom began occasionally reminding me that if I decided I needed to talk to someone, she would help me find the right person. For months, I shrugged it off. The idea of sharing my feelings with a complete stranger, opening up about the pain and confusion I was feeling, just sounded weird and unappealing. I know, I share a lot with the readers of this blog, but rarely do I reach that depth. I’ve always been some level of shy, and my natural tendency is to take care of others and help them with their problems. I’m an internalizer, a bottler. It’s bad, and I know that, but that’s just how I’ve always been. Plus, there was a part of me that didn’t want to be one of those children of divorce who goes to see a shrink to make everything better.
Finally though, I gave in. I told my mom I would see someone if she would find them for me, and come with me to the first appointment. She found me a social worker named Dorothy. I called her Dot…but not to her face. At first, my relationship with Dot was pretty awkward. I gave her the lo-down on what had brought me there, and then wondered what happened next. Slowly but surely, we delved into what was going on in my life. It turns out that when what you’ve known as your family for 20+ years falls apart, having an impartial observer to talk to can really help. That was also the same summer when I lost a friend at age 21, and my grandma passed away after several years of suffering from dementia. One of the key phrases used to describe what happens in therapy is that your feelings are validated. In other words, you discover that what you’re feeling is in fact totally normal, and not weird or crazy. It’s an incredible relief.
I took a break from therapy after Dot. We moved to the City, and I thought I was doing okay. Of course, things were still going on, but I kept putting off finding someone new. I think what held me back was fear. It had taken me so long to warm up to Dot and trust her. What if I spent the time to find someone on my insurance, who was taking new patients, who had evening appointments…only to find that I didn’t get along with them at all? That would suck, and I probably wouldn’t look again. Finally though, I got to the point where I really wasn’t happy, and I knew I couldn’t deal with things on my own anymore. I took a leap, and found a sweet older woman whose office is a five minute walk from my apartment. And she does appointments on Saturdays, a rarity. Her name is Joan, and I see her about every week or two. We talk about everything that’s on my mind. Some weeks are more productive than others, and there are days when I still have trouble fully opening up. But, I always walk away feeling like my burdens at least weigh less than they did when I went in.
Here’s what I’m trying to tell you…I’m a normal person. I have shit going on in my life, just like everyone else. What really bothers me is when people stigmatize therapy and they imply that it’s for the weak. I have to completely disagree. To not only admit that there are things you can’t handle on your own, but to ask for help and open up your heart to someone you don’t know takes tremendous strength. To be willing to listen to a trained professional and take their advice, to work to make things better for yourself, is incredibly brave.
We should all have people in our lives who we can count on, friends and family who are there for us no matter what. I have a wonderful husband, loving parents, and amazing friends, but sometimes I can’t talk to them as freely or openly as I need to because I know they’re biased. Plus, they’ve got their own shit to deal with, and I hate to burden them with my own. Therapists are trained and paid to help us, if only we let them. I’m sharing all of this today because I want everyone to know that it’s okay to be that person with divorced parents who goes to therapy. It’s okay to admit that you’re more than just sad. It’s okay to realize that you need help to heal. Let someone help you work things out. Life is too short to let your problems control you, and far too short to let stigmas and assumptions prevent you from fixing them.