Monday, April 26, 2010

Experiences with talk therapy as a child.

When I was about 8 years old, I started to see a therapist. My mom thought it would be good since my parents were in the middle of a divorce and neither of them had a lot of extra time or attention for me. They both worked full time and we lived in the busy Brooklyn, New York. Also, it was the 80's, and the thick of the Iron Age.

My therapist was pretty and nice and we sometimes played games or made paintings, or I told her about my life. She had a big fish tank in her hallway waiting area. Her face was kind, and she frequently used the word "loveable," in telling me that despite my pain, or frustration with my parents or fears of not being liked by other kids I was "still loveable." This did not impact me all that much, since the concept of being loveable or not had never occured to me. Maybe it was too advanced for my immature brain. It was a spiritual idea, that ones' loveability is inherent and can never be decreased, but that level of consciousness did not reach my soul. It only made me think how nice my therapist was, how perfect and ideal she was. I once asked her if she believed in God and she answered, "Yes."

This therapist, who I will call Marie, let me call her at home when I was in a crisis. This happened very frequently in my home and I would call her crying hysterically during a fight with my mom that felt so very unfair. And was. Sometimes Marie would talk to my mom, who was so furious at me, or so stressed a lot of the time. Marie described my life this way, "It is like you are carrying a boulder on each of your shoulders and you cannot carry anymore." This was generally how it was. I told her secrets about my family that noone else knew, and about the sadness I felt when my best friend did not care, or did not show interest. She spoke to my father about an unconscious perhaps, but harrassing nonethless action of his I was terrified to mention to him, something I was too scared to tell anyone but her. I begged her not to call him at first, but she kindly insisted it was important.

I continued to see Marie on and off through my teenage years. When I was around 15, she suggested I take anti-depressants. I strongly resisted at first, asking her if there was any other way I could be happier, anything else I could do. I was already an avid reader of spiritual books and I believed there were other choices. I also felt that her suggestion meant she had given up on me, that she saw me as hopeless and pathetic, a failure. The idea that someone would need to take a pill to make themself happy seemed to me like the ultimate "failing at life." She said that maybe once I got to college and connected with a group of people similar to myself, I would be happier, but until then, the only way she could see me feeling better was to take Prozac.

This began a slow decline of our relationship. I tried anti-depressants but ultimately found different ways to feel happier that resonated with me much more, and I stayed in contact with Marie throughout my college years. She made time to talk to me on the phone when I was a lonely freshman, miserable, and had my first heartbreak. I drank my salty tears readily and hunched over in the phone booth on my dorm room hall while she listened and gave wise suggestions.

When I had a complete meltdown accompanied with spiritual breakthrough and physical breakdown, she again saw drugs as the compassionate response. She told me that her sense of compassion is that if someone is suffering, she wants to give them relief. In some cases, a pill does that immediately. There were times when a pill gave me immediate relief, just to do something, to acknowledge that something needs to happen, but later it always backfired and caused me more problems, fatigue, anxiety, or other unwanted effects. I was almost 21 when I sat in her office and she told me this view of compassion, but I remember I felt differently about her than I had before. I saw her and I felt my own presence, and I knew we did not see eye to eye. I knew that my ideas of compassion were much more patient and involved much more faith. Fearful as I was of my life situation my own isolation, I had tasted a lot of fearlessness. I had also by now tasted a lot of bliss, joy, happiness, liberation, most of the tastiest flavors of spiritual nectar. I knew that more was possible and that a pill of any sort would lower the ceiling of how good I could feel. I knew this. I knew it is every cell in my body and I said to her, "We see life very differently," and that was that. I never spoke to her or heard from her again.

I remember her with gratitude now, though. The way she witnessed me as a child, the kindness she imparted upon me, the time and listening over so many years. I still feel that we see life so very differently, and I still wonder if her views ever changed. And I still wonder if maybe she knows me better than anyone else in the world.

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