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.