If I weren’t feeling like crap at the moment (thank you, head cold, thank you, pre-adolescent children), I would write a post for Bell Let’s Talk Day. I would write about therapy, because in a recent comment on my website, someone said, “And if I do need a therapist or whatever, how is that going to make me happy just talking about it? No one will know exactly how I feel and what is making me this way.”
So here’s my experience. I’ve had various therapists over the years since I was first diagnosed with depression, and the main thing that they’ve done for me is to help me see myself better. They’ve helped me make connections between things that I never thought were related. They’ve pointed out where I’ve been lying to myself through my thoughts. They’ve coaxed out my feelings and validated them. They’ve seen through my verbal dodges and held up the mirror so I can see my blind spots.
And seeing myself better makes me happier. The schism between who I think I am and who I really am gets smaller, which is another way of saying that I am being healed / made whole. Seeing myself better provokes compassion for myself, sometimes even a wonder and delight at the intricate logic of my psyche.
And when I see myself better, I make better choices, because I’m making them based on the reality of who I am, rather than a distorted outdated approximation.
My depression returned last year, and part of my response was to find a new therapist here in Vancouver. I hadn’t been seeing anyone since we left Ottawa four years ago. Why not? Because it’s hard to find a new therapist. It’s hard to justify the time and expense, especially when I’m not actively mentally ill. It’s hard to prioritize my own needs when there are other family demands. And also, I had a writing project. For almost four years, I had Pilgrimage of Desire. Writing a memoir was a kind of self-directed therapy.
Thankfully, I had been discovered the website of Alison Crosthwait, a Toronto therapist who was writing deftly and honestly about the process of therapy. We had corresponded a little, and in July I reached out to ask whether she could recommend somene in Vancouver. Alison quickly and graciously sent me a list of names and some suggestions about who to reach out to first.
So I’ve been seeing Annie since October. I’ve been going almost every week, which is new for me. I like that schedule because the ideas stay fresh and we can pick the conversation right up where we left off. So far we have not been problem-solving. She doesn’t give me homework. There are no tools or strategies. We are just getting everything out on the table. We are going over all of my stories, and she’s pointing out how my body reacts unconsciously to the things I’m saying. We’re finding metaphors to describe what I’m afraid of and what I believe. These are not necessarily brand-new revelations. The same themes have come up many times before, but we are noticing how deep and pervasive and real they are, and we are charting their course through new stages of life: turning forty, raising school-age kids, living far away from my parents and siblings. We are uncovering and remembering the truth and beauty of me, Alison Jean.
And what’s made me happiest is that therapy is urging me back to my writing. Since I finished Pilgrimage, I haven’t known what to work on next. I’ve done a little journalling, started an essay, re-read an unfinished children’s novel, but nothing has seized me. Now I’m feeling the tug toward my short fiction. I have a few finished stories, a few more drafted, a list of possible topics. Short fiction suits my time and attention span these days. So my last few nights at writing group have been devoted to digging up my notes and manuscripts and letting things marinate.
I like that this reawakening didn’t come from my therapist saying, “Are you writing? Maybe you should write more. Doesn’t that feel meaningful to you?” It came as a natural consequence of sifting through this material, doing a detailed character sketch of myself. It came from wanting to carry on the conversation outside of therapy. It came from my mind being alive and following what feels good.
Alison Crosthwait has published a book called What It Feels Like to Change that collects her online writings, which I recommend to anyone who is engaged with or interested in the therapeutic process.
(And that is how one tricks oneself into writing a blog post, with a head cold, at 10 pm at night, on the fourth day of your husband’s trip out of town.)
P.S. Pilgrimage of Desire the ebook is celebrating its one-year anniversary! I am so thankful that it has found its way into the hands of hundreds of people. To mark the occasion, I’ll be donating all of the proceeds from January 2016 book sales to the Mood Disorders Association of BC.
I also have Pilgrimage bookmarks! Leave a comment on this post and I will send you two: one for a friend, and one to keep.
Wishing you well, friends. We’re all in this together.