I’ve got something heavy that has been weighing on my chest so let’s get this out of the way right now. I’m ga..seeing a therapist, a behavioural therapist to be exact. His job is to help me process my stress in more constructive ways before it translates into anxiety, depression and/or anger. This is much easier said than done.
For years, I had resisted the idea of getting help. I’m a man, and as a man I always subscribed to the notion that I was supposed to shove all my fear and anger deep down inside myself. Also, the name of their profession is literally the-rapist smushed together which made me more than a little distrustful. Seriously though, I didn’t think I needed any help, I was doing just fine. Was I miserable? Of course, I was. I assumed that everyone else was miserable too and that it was simply a part of life. Why would I want to sit on some smelly old couch and pay some stranger to pretend to give a shit about my problems. In my ignorance, I firmly believed that these people (therapists/psychiatrists) had terribly invasive jobs and could offer me nothing.
As it turns out, I was only half right. Therapy itself is not invasive (you only share what you want to) but it truly does not offer you anything on its own. I have come to believe that you will get nothing from therapy unless you decide to offer yourself something first. You have to try to make a difference and that is something I hate doing. I prefer having things handed to me with little to no effort on my part.
Therapy is about you working on you, endeavoring to change the things about you that are causing you harm or distress. Don’t expect your therapist to hold your hand, either. A good therapist won’t tell you what to do, so much as they will point you in the right direction. I’ve found that my therapist has become a guide, my Gandalf, on the journey to discover myself at the Mount Doom of my psyche. He has taught me that merely going to therapy and simply going through the motions won’t help. I have to make a legitimate effort, day in and day out, to make any changes.
All of this meant that I would have to make some changes. I would have to open up. Speaking to a stranger about personally sensitive matters can feel very awkward. The first time I met my therapist, let’s call him Dr. Beard to keep things simple, I walked into his pleasant and inviting office and I saw none of it. All I saw was a place that I did not want to be, a place where I would be pulled apart and diagnosed with some terrible social malady.
Contrary to my expectation of a cold and disinterested money-grubber, Dr. Beard was warm and inviting but not so much as to invite friendship, or even familiarity. Instead, he kept me at a respectful arms length. At first, this bothered me because I wasn’t sure I how was supposed to talk to him. Gradually, I grew to appreciate this relationship. By keeping himself somewhat anonymous, I was able to view Dr. Beard like a boulder in a river. I could vent and spew my fury and fear like a raging torrent of water and Dr. Beard would simply sit there, unconcerned and, most importantly, without judgment. My pain washed around him. Occasionally, he would ask me a question but say little more. More often than not, I found myself slowly finding answers to these questions on my own.
While I may have not always liked the answers I found, I discovered that the clarity that came with them helped me discover new ways of thinking. With these new paths of thought came a new focus and an enlightened understanding for the world and my place in it. Even when I feel particularly crazy and I have difficulty reorienting myself, Dr. Beard explains emotions in a simple and meaningful way that ensures that I recognize that there is nothing wrong with me. As he explains it, “we all have emotions, just like having arms and legs. You wouldn’t hate your arms, would you?”
It isn’t perfect. Sometimes, it can get weird for me. There are occasions where I will say something and I will perceive an almost imperceptible twitch in Dr. Beard’s face. The deconstructive part of me flies into a tail spin of anxious hysteria when this happens. I am terrified that I may have said something monumentally stupid and his twitch is nothing more than him fighting the urge to smother me with his bare hands to safely remove me from the gene pool. Other times, if I am feeling positive and happy just prior to a visit with Dr. Beard, I will try to think of really horrible things that get me down just so that we can have something to talk about. The last thing I want to do is sit for an hour with nothing to discuss. Anxiety is funny like that.
The point of all of this? Well, according to Service Canada’s website, the number of psychiatrists and therapists has risen over previous years due to increased demand and yet, I rarely hear open and frank discussions from people about their therapists. Why? We talk about other professions built around helping people. We have all had a friend who said, “let me give you my mechanic’s number, he fixed my car perfectly and he gave me a good price too.” Or perhaps, we had a neighbour hand us a slip of paper with a plumber’s phone number scrawled on it, “Steve is the best,” the neighbour says. “He cleaned the shit out of my pipes.” Isn’t a therapist or psychiatrist just a mechanic or plumber for your brain? They roll up their sleeves and get down to the nitty gritty details, the places that no one else wants to go. You can’t be healthy if you don’t get the occasional tune up.