Happy Monday, Goose Army! And welcome back to Das Goose!
Okay. Let’s cut the shit.
I like to tell friends the story about how–when I first started going to regular therapy (back when I was regularly going to therapy)–I got fired by my therapist for being a complete lost cause. But I never tell the whole story. Sure, I include the details about telling my therapist that he was useless and writing, um, that inappropriate check, but I never tell people the true catalyst for having a mental health professional tell me to not come back. Ever.
I mean, do you know what kind of jackhole you have to be to make a therapist say: “We can’t see you anymore”? Well, he didn’t even say it–he made his receptionist do the dirty work.
Anyhoozles…so, a little over fifteen years ago, I decided that my mental health was at a point where I needed medical/therapeutic intervention. I’d been living with anxiety and depression–as well as a plethora of self-destructive habits–for a very long time. I was at my breaking point.
I had one suicide attempt under my belt and was seriously considering revisiting that option to see if my skills in that field had improved.
So, I sought out my first therapist and visited my medical doctor at the time. My medical doctor immediately put me on a sedative and an SSRI (which caused me a considerable amount of shame, at which he just scoffed). A week later, I was attending my first individual counseling session. When I went into my therapist’s office, filled out the paperwork, then went into the inner office and sat down with the therapist, it immediately became clear that this fella loved psychotherapy/talk therapy. Old school psychotherapy. He basically just wanted to stare at me for forty-five minutes while I tried to think of what I should say. All I could think to say was: “Look fucker, I’m paying you fifty bucks after insurance, and if you expect me to pull some monologue out of my ass on the spot, you’re not really going to help my anxiety.” Yes, I had taken my sedative that day, so take that as you will.
Anyhoozles, after a few sessions like this, I realized that if I didn’t talk, my money was just going to waste. So, I talked. And in the course of my talking, my therapist picked up on the fact that I was worrying about things outside of my realm of control. I’m no expert, but that might be why my doctor had put me on Xanax? My therapist told me that I cared about so many things, why didn’t I make a list of things I didn’t care about as homework and bring it to our next session.
So, completely disgusted with this fucker who thought he was Freud reincarnated, I went home and tried to make a list. For a week, I tried to make this fucking list about things that I didn’t care about. When I went back for my next appointment a week later, all I had managed to jot down was: “This goddamn list“. I handed him the list with a look similar to this:
My therapist didn’t really care for that item. But…that was all I had. And, that was pretty fucking honest, in my opinion. I cared about everything but making that dumb list. Needless to say, he was pretty put out with me. Then, when I gave my weekly monologue, in the middle of talking about two people in my life giving me grief, I asked him who was right in the situation. His response was, “I’m not here to assign blame or take sides, and…”, I cut him off and said, “Well, what the fuck am I paying you for then?”
When I left his office that day, his receptionist told me that they would not able to see me anymore because I was, “resistant to therapy”. So, when I wrote out my fifty-dollar check, in the memo line, I wrote: “For Sexual Favors.” Yeah. This was back when “checks” were a thing.
The check cleared the bank, don’t worry.
So…I ended up having to find a new therapist. And, unsurprisingly, the therapist who fired me hadn’t given me a referral. It’s important to point out that, at this juncture, my medical doctor was feeling pretty put out by me. Word travels in the medical world, and I was bitching and moaning about the Xanax and Paxil. They made me sleepy, they made me hungry (okay, hungrier), they made me not give a damn about anything–yet I was still anxious. Figure that one out. They made me more depressed than I was before. Bitch bitch bitch bitch bitch. It’s who I am as a person and the pills just intensified that aspect of my personality.
A few weeks after being fired by my first therapist, I begrudgingly went to another therapist. I was his last appointment of the day. It ended up being another dude who dressed like and put off an aura of someone who thought he was the 21st century Freud. As a bonus, this man also had the age and haircut to match. He was precious. But…my medical doctor was flustered with me, so I sat down in this man’s office and decided to just have the damn appointment. His first question was about why my last therapist had “fired” me.
I told him that I wrote, “This goddamn list” on the list about things I didn’t care about, told the therapist he was a waste of time, and even told him about the check memo field.
And the fucker didn’t stop laughing for two minutes.
Okay. So, maybe this new therapist wasn’t such a bad fellow. When he finally settled down, he asked me why I had written that I didn’t give a damn about the list. So, I told him that I thought it was stupid and I didn’t see how it would help my anxiety and depression and I was tired of feeling like I was just talking to a wall when I went to therapy.
This therapist looked me square in the eyes and said: “Who said you had to think it was a smart idea? No one told you that you had to like writing the list. No one told you that you had to understand how it might help.”
Well, fuck me sideways. That never occurred to me.
Of course, I responded with: “And I don’t like the pills my medical doctor prescribed. They are actually making me more anxious and depressed. And they make me care even less about everything. But he won’t listen to me. He just wants to quick fix my problem and be done with it.”
And then I started crying.
This man sat with me for an hour-and-a-half, long after his end of the day, and talked to me about a “Battle Plan”. I wasn’t required to say a damn word. He explained to me how no one therapy works across the board. Not all people with depression and anxiety need or interact well with medication. By the end of that hour-and-a-half, he suggested I try cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), get weaned off of my medication (though I’d only been on it for about a month), and learn to just do the work involved in getting better, whether I understood it or not. He explained that anxiety and depression are often lifelong issues for people who are diagnosed, but it was completely realistic to believe that I could learn the tools for learning to cope with these disorders.
All he made me promise was to come to my sessions, do the work assigned to me, and tell him immediately if I ever felt overwhelmed to the point that we were approaching a crisis. Other than that, I had complete control over my therapy.
He told me that he could tell I was the type of person who liked to be challenged. So, maybe it was time to start challenging those voices in my head. He told me that my first assignment was that when my brain told me something bad, I had a list of five questions I needed to ask myself, which he wrote down for me:
“Is this thought true?”
“Where did this thought come from?”
“Is this a narcissistic thought?”
“Is this something I can change?”
“Is there an outside force that might have caused this thought?”
I told him that was stupid. He agreed. So, I agreed to do it. Then he told me to do the “5 Things Exercise” when I was anxious:
5 Things I Can See
4 Things You Can Feel/Touch
3 Things You Can Hear
2 Things You Can Smell
1 Thing You Can Taste
I told him that was stupid, too. He agreed. So, I agreed to do it.
The one thing I didn’t do that he told me to do was to get my medical doctor to wean me off of the Xanax and Paxil. When I left his office, I just flushed them and immediately went about finding a new medical doctor.
I saw that therapist 2 to 4 times a month for over a year. And, to this day, while I don’t go to therapy anymore, I still use the tools and tricks he taught me–as well as other CBT exercises taught to me by other professionals he referred me to. I deal with anxiety often and depression from time to time–but I’ve only felt like I was in a crisis once in the last 7 years. CBT doesn’t work for everyone, but it does for me.
Most importantly, I learned that the doctors and therapists I chose mattered more than anything else in learning to cope with and live with my mental health disorders. I needed to find people who “spoke my language” and listened and didn’t assume that they knew me better than I knew me. I needed professionals who were my partners in dealing with my issues, not professionals who wanted me to surrender everything over to them and trust them emphatically with my well-being.
Some people need medication. Some people need medication and therapy. Some people do fine (or even great) with just therapy. Some people need one kind of therapy while other people need another kind of therapy. A good medical professional and a good mental health professional understand these things.
Those professionals are out there. You just have to find them.