My spouse, who had long noticed a shift in my mental state, in my moods—in how I began to react to stress—talked to me one night about getting therapy. But as one would expect, I was not fascinated by the idea.
“Talk to some stranger I know nothing about?” I asked, leaning into a sitting position on our bed.
“Not really a stranger,” She said. “A psychotherapist.” She said the word ‘psychotherapist’ as if it were the name of some god, one meant to calm my nerves and open me up to this then-unwelcome idea of talking to someone I have never known. “They are trained for this kind of stuff. Know how to help, I promise.”
“Good for them, then.” I turned away. “I’m not going.”
I had not expected Mirabel not to bring up the idea some other time, even though I hoped she would not. But, I know her well. I knew some more talk concerning therapy was on the way—and I was right.
There were three more talks, but one opened me up at last:
I had just returned from the office that day. I remember that there was a ton of work at the office, so I worked overtime and was very stressed out. My eyes were hurting as I sat on that sofa, my neck sore, my tummy rumbling. I was on edge, bitter about something I couldn’t quite figure out. Irritated.
When Mirabel walked past me, and I thought she did not say hello even though she had done so, I yelled at her. I could spot her flinch, her eyes widening in unbelief.
It is unusual for me to yell at her; at anyone, in fact. I almost never yell at anyone, you see. But, she looked at me, smiled, and walked away.
When we sat to talk later that evening, she explained that my bad moods, whatever their source, were beginning to get the best of me.
She explained that if I let things go on in my head the way they are without seeking help, I just might get myself into some trouble sooner or later.
“It doesn’t make you weak to seek for help,” She said. “When we don’t understand stuff, as don’t.”
The following week, she would have talks with this lady who would go on to be my therapist.
“Your therapist is a clinical psychologist, babe.” She told me. I smiled.
“Okay, when do you begin?”
“Not yet. At least not a physical appointment yet. You have to be prepared. That’s what she says. She says she’ll call you one of these days.”
The preparation, I got to figure, had to do with opening me up fully to the idea of getting therapy, and bringing me to the realization that I really did need help.
The first time my would-be therapist called me, I was surprised at how easy it was to talk to her. Over the phone, her voice was soft and welcoming. She sounded as though she had known me since forever—or as though we had been close friends in our past lives, haha.
“Mr. John, my friend.” She said, “Your spouse says such amazing stuff about you. She says you’re tall too.”
“Oh, I am tall, alright.”
We spoke at length about the most random of stuff: about my work, my education, etc. So comfortable I was that I had to pause mentally and question myself at some point during the call. Was this really me? Speaking to a stranger at length over the phone?
“You know what?” She asked after a while.
“Therapy may not be that bad?”
Laughter. “That might count, but that’s not what I mean. I mean, before our first physical meeting, you have some work to do for me. Just some tiny work. Call it some kind of preparation for your first appointment.”
The preparation procedure sounded simple: I was going to look out for times in the day when my mood was low when my mood was highest, what triggered my low moods, etc., and I was going to report to her after a couple of days. But, as days passed, I came to realize the procedure wasn’t so simple in reality.
Self-discovery is not so simple, and that’s exactly what most therapists will demand that you do before the first physical therapy session. They’ll tell you to ask yourself some questions you might want to avoid on normal days and find out the things that trigger you.
They do this because they want to fully understand the kind of person you might be, develop a bond with you, etc.
It took days to realize the cause of my constant irritation was just a dull ache in my neck from working for hours and some hurting in my eyes, which was from staring at some computer screen for too long.
It took even longer to figure out that I had been trying too hard to impress my new boss. The older boss had been transferred, and his replacement was a lady who seemed too strict.
This new boss yelled at everything and everyone as if we—her workers—were some kids or something. She would often make threats about laying off workers who performed poorly. And so, I worked too hard trying to impress her.
Another source of my ill moods was my wife’s constant nagging. She meant good, I got to figure later on, but her nagging threw me off.
I would write my findings in a journal, just as my therapist suggested that I should do.
My journal was three pages long on the night before my first therapy day. Over the phone, my therapist and I talked about what I had written. Casual talks. She was a funny woman and made a lot of jokes.
“Goodnight, John.” She said just before ending the call. “Don’t be anxious. Tomorrow is just going to be a normal day.”
That only helped a bit. I was anxious. But I knew I’d get better.