Therapy and Me Are Going Steady

I’ve been in therapy for 10 years.

It’s all right, I know from the looks people give me when I reference my decade of therapy that they’re a bit uncomfortable with that statement. Uncomfortable, but interested. Like they want to know why, but they really don’t want to know why, just in case it’s too confronting.

Whatever your expectation, I’m probably going to disappoint you, because I have no medically diagnosed issue. No Catherine Zeta-Jones bipolar II. No Gwyneth Paltrow post-natal depression. No Lindsay Lohan substance-abuse issues (except perhaps an addiction to lasagne).

No, I’ve got a First-World problem called Who Am I?, combined with a touch of They Don’t Like Me, and a smidge of Narcissism. It’s a complex constellation of problems that many people would address with a simple “build a bridge and get over it”.

And to a large degree I support that. It’s a great self-indulgence to pay someone to listen to you bang on about yourself for an hour every fortnight. I mean, who would have thought a breakfast radio host would need to find another way to make it all about her?

But it was this very profession that first sent me in search of the black couch. I had turned 30. I had the job of my dreams. And I didn’t want to stuff it up.

I also was confronted with performance anxiety, paranoia, writer’s block, intense self-criticism, suffocating stress, and egos the size of Uluru. And that was only my first day! I had trouble sleeping. My relationship was strained. And I kind of cried a lot. Like, a lot.

So I trotted along to a lovely, gentle, motherly woman recommended by a friend, thinking I just needed to learn to be a bit happier, and that I’d be done in four weeks. Ten years and three therapists later (two have retired – they haven’t given me up as a lost cause!), I’ve tried pretty much everything.

I’ve done emotional freedom technique, kinesiology, cognitive behaviour therapy, meditation and mindfulness. Hell, I would have used a Magic 8-Ball if I felt it would lead me to further understanding of myself and the world around me. And while this all probably sounds as batty as a Bette Midler movie to you, I’ve learnt so much. In fact, I owe my career, my marriage and at least one of my tattoos to the work I’ve done in the counselling room.

Allow me to impress you with how wise I am now. These are just some of the things I know because of therapy. (There are a lot more than this, but you’ll have to wait for my pocket book of wisdom to come out. I’m just sourcing the perfect baby-animal photos.)

Firstly, I’ve come to terms with the fact that anxiety is a part of life, and when it hits you, you can’t fight it. But you can manage it by acknowledging it and being kind to yourself. Kind of like a mental bout of the flu, slow down, listen to your body, take care of yourself, and, yes, stock up on tissues.

I’ve made friends with my self-defeating shadow, a frightened and critical version of myself. I no longer give her power. I hold her little hand and comfort her, and then she is silenced. I am at my most happy and fulfilled when I focus on the now, rather than dwelling on the past or fearing the future.

This can be easier said than done, and meditation is a great way of learning this discipline. Unfortunately, I’m a failed student in this subject. Most of my meditation is spent thinking about how uncomfortable every chair in my house seems to be.

But fortunately, there is no end-of-year test, no end goal. It’s that clichéd journey so frequently spoken of in reality TV. Every lesson learnt is learnt many times over. So many times over that therapists are surely the most patient people in the world. It’s commendable they don’t end up throwing their hands in the air with, “This again? We’ve been through this a thousand times!” Or even, “Listen, I’ve got a patient who can’t leave the house without turning the light on and off 16 times. Do you really think you’ve got problems?”

But my therapist tells me she considers going on my journey with me a privilege, which is generous given I imagine my journey is as exciting as a school bus trip to Canberra.

Regardless, I am excited each fortnight to settle into her peaceful office to discuss life, the world, and, yes, more about me. I feel fortunate that I can afford to spend the time and money on my own welfare, and I know I’m a product of 10 years of introspection.

In that time I’ve experienced and worked through real grief and loss, marital challenges and crippling existential crises. I’ve howled and sobbed and snorted and snotted. And I’ve laughed and enjoyed great light-bulb moments that have inspired me and sent me off with a spring in my step that could have bounced me over Everest.

I still have trouble sleeping, and I still cry a lot. I’ve realised that’s just me. But now I know what to do. Thanks to therapy, I’ve gained an emotional intelligence that has made me better at my job, better at being a wife and mother, and, well, better at being me. And that’s better for everyone.

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