My tenth year of therapy sessions came and went without fanfare. I spent the day walking in the park. My therapist was on vacation. Truth be told, I missed sitting in the leatherette faux-Sixties orange comfy chair and talking about myself. For ten years it’s been all about me — my symptoms, my discoveries, my frustrations, loneliness and fears; the core of talk therapy. It’s not a dialogue, it’s not designed that way, but I like it when it feels like one. Our sessions have developed a style that recreates an interchange, which is good for me because I don’t have the natural social graces required to sit down for a chat and have the exchange be a two-way street. Schizophrenia makes short work of that. With all my neurons firing at once, I’m like a trip to the electronics store, all the televisions blaring away on separate channels, me keeping track of every one and reporting back to you as if one breath was all it took to convey the longest ever run-on sentence. Of course, that was before being medicated. My chems do a fine job of pulling me out of the TV store and into la chaise d’orange. One thought follows the next now, like polite little ducks in a row.
I have to ask myself: how did I wind up telling a complete stranger my entire life story, the nuanced details of my innermost thoughts — and why on earth would I do such a thing? What would compel a person to offer themselves up like that, knowing that people talk? Humans naturally communicate about everything, verbally and otherwise —polka-dot shirts and lime green shoes, tribal tattoos, and placards on the Web. It takes a high level of trust to tell your therapist things you wouldn’t share with your best friend.
How and when did that trust begin? Not with the initial greeting at the door. That could just as easily have been a ruse. While I don’t claim to own the full property rights to paranoia, it is in my diagnosis as a defining character; I’m going to find a flaw in the trust module until I don’t. Perhaps you’re the same. I believe that trust begins to form the more that we open up in session. It starts when you drop the mic on something as honest as you can muster and watch as your therapist responds to you with kindness and understanding rather than the awful cold shoulder received by so many. To be accepted for who we are by this one person — that’s the key. To feel understood. To be understood.
It might be a professional trick of the trade; she might’ve learned some technique at a psychiatric symposium, or perhaps he’s been compelled to research your diagnosis further. Either way, they’re on your side. They know how best to support you because they’ve listened to you describe yourself on your terms often enough that they have your personal quirks committed to memory. Communication can become a two-way street, and isn’t that what we wanted from the get-go? Someone who understood what we were going through, where we were coming from, how confusing it all is, or how much it hurts? Something in our lives went missing, or perhaps was never there, some form of attachment, some reciprocal communication skills that never developed. Yet here’s this person you look forward to meeting weekly in the familiar safety of their office. It’s your private cocoon for the hour, a place to work out the kinks, talk out the hurt, forge a new approach to problems, or just be listened to by someone who’s come to know the real you because you let them in.
No other friend or family member knows you this well, and that’s your doing, you did that, you created this special exchange. Celebrate yourself, brave pilgrim! Filling in the blanks where medicine can’t go. Those chems are fine for the physical control of hormones, receptors, and neurological high jinks. This face-time with your therapist is the real world mini-model of how to integrate yourself back into the society that seems to linger on the outskirts of your imagination. Take it. It’s yours. A complete treatment package.
Enough can’t be said about balancing one’s chemistry — those pills are important. Equally important is the primary function of communication. Sharing your story with a professional listener is great practice for interfacing openly and honestly. Combining medicine and therapy can help you create a more complete version of yourself. Mental illness isn’t something nebulous; your brain is an organ that needs nurturing and maintenance, hence the need for meds and talking.
And remember, it’s never just some random conversation… It’s your conversation, the one that makes you you.
If I were more eloquent, I could have written this to my therapist. I must save this and show it to her.
Thank you, Sarah. Please feel free to share. Anything to get the conversation started.
Hi Henry- I have been reading your blogs for some time and have responded once in the past. I just love your authenticity and your high level of willing vulnerability in the pursuit of your own grounded affairs, and the ability to have huge impact on so many others who gain from this type of human validation. I actually just started to blog myself a few months ago, and recently left my work at Napa State Hospital, as an LCSW who wore as many hats, if not more, then the Mayor/Postmaster General/etc. on Petticoat Junction. One of those hats included being a therapist for adults of both genders; individually, moreso in groups, and with families at times. I love your comments regarding trust. Iread a great article once separating the difference between general trust and “clinical trust”. The depth that can be reached with an objective third-party with hopefully some skills is profound compared even to the love, support, and advice which we readily receive from our families, friends, and coworkers. I was always humbled when someone entrusted themselves with me in therapy sessions, and tried to certainly not add to the grief and struggles they were already facing. Genuine empathy is key. Real listening skills and reflection help the client know that they are really being heard and listened to with a keen and again, hopefully caring ear, and heart. I have been in therapy many times over the years as well; some better than others in achieving this goal. I am the better for trusting others to relay my life experiences with as I tried to cope with life on life’s terms. Thank you again for being so real with yourself and with everyone else as well. Btw, very happy for you that you have worked through the grief process regarding the necessity of psychiatric medications in your life, and the balance of increased clarity of thought and focus on the outcome that has been gained. Personally, I find your writing very creative and animated; entertaining to read regardless of the topic. The meds have not dulled your creative juices in my humble opinion. Take good care!!
Thank you, Marc. It is true that trust is key, and I like your contrast between “general” and “clinical” trust. That’s the rub for many, it seems, being able to spot the difference in their lives. I have had my own issues with trust due primarily to an inability to form attachments, but I am learning to sense when that’s the case and course correct when I can. I think it all comes down to being open, and for some that’s quite a challenge. I don’t have a problem there, thankfully, as I don’t have an argument with authority or professionals. Respect, it seems, is a building block some might miss. It’s vital.
As for the medications, I do earnestly believe that they are doing me some good (read my blogs from before the meds for contrast), but I am still struggling with their effect on my life. I’ll be exploring that further in upcoming blogs. My aim is to remain transparent and current to my story. I hope that comes across. Enough people do op ed pieces; I just want to tell my story in real time for people going through anything similar.
Thanks again for writing in. It’s a pleasure to hear from you. Take care!