I can practically hear the Mission Impossible theme song as I stealthily observe my surroundings, Jackie-O sunglasses obscuring half my face in case I run into anyone familiar.
The coast looks clear, so I reluctantly depart the safe-haven that is my car and make it across the parking lot in two bounds. Wait a sec — that probably wasn’t so breezy. I make a mental note to walk like a normal person and not a total spaz to avoid bringing attention to myself. One would think I am about to do something like rob a bank, which actually sounds like a less-intimidating alternative than my current situation: going to therapy. I debate canceling the appointment for the hundredth time, as I’m sure that talking about my anxiety will surely just highlight it and make it worse. Best to stuff those thoughts far back in my mind, like the too-small college jeans in the corner of my closet that definitely do not spark joy but questionably survived the Marie Kondo flurry of 2019 nonetheless.
But I can’t cancel minutes before the appointment, as tempting as that sounds, or else I’ll get charged for it anyway. This makes me loathe the idea of therapy even more. As I slink into the office, I mentally brace myself to encounter a Freudian-eqsue octogenarian in a tweed jacket with elbow patches, repeatedly asking “and how does that make you feeeel?” while taking notes as someone ugly-cries on a tufted leather chaise lounger. In a straight jacket.
Instead, the waiting room is empty and quiet, aside from the noise machine in the corner murmuring ocean melodies in my direction. While sinking into one of the cozy chairs, I catch myself thinking: this is kind of … pleasant. My thoughts are then jarringly interrupted as I glimpse someone striding through the waiting room door out of the corner of my eye. OH MY GOD what if it’s someone I know?! I quickly slouch behind a copy of National Geographic while pretending to read intently about ancient human civilizations. Peeking over the yellow magazine border, I exhale as the normal-looking person sits on the other side of the room, outside another therapist’s door. So far there isn’t a jacket of the straight or tweed variety in sight. Progress from what I envisioned.
Now the song stuck in my head has switched from 007 to “Let It Go” after watching the movie Frozen last night with my two young daughters. I think of the characters Elsa and Anna — now THOSE are two girls who could probably benefit from therapy. Their parents die and they are isolated from each other, while I never went through anything nearly as tragic. Come to think of it, most Disney princesses endured some sort of trauma. Cinderella was forced to be a servant in her own home under constant emotional abuse. Snow White’s step-mother tried to kill her, so she lived in the woods cleaning up after seven men as a better alternative. And don’t even get me started on Rapunzel, who was kidnapped as an infant by a crazy lady and kept in solitary confinement for 16 years.
Maybe the key to being mentally fit isn’t therapy, but just breaking out in song. Tra-la-laaaaa.
I really don’t think I even need therapy. That’s for people who are going through something really heavy, like one of the Disney Princesses and their blood-thirsty step-mothers. Although I have some nagging anxiety and moderate Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder tendencies, those are a thorn in my side I’ve learned to live with. Plus, I have Google. And meditation apps. I’ve even grown accustomed to my anxiety, like a sock with a hole in it that is a nuisance, but not bothersome enough to throw away just yet. (It also appears that I’m woefully bad at Marie Kondo-ing.)
I hear my name being called and I see my therapist, a friendly looking woman with a warm smile. She invites me into her office, which is calming and inviting. I wonder where she got that cute couch. Initially I had envisioned complete and total awkwardness. I had tried therapy once before, with a woman who spent the first 20 minutes chit-chatting about her cat’s sleeping habits, small-talk that was costing me more money by the minute. But this person seems like a good fit for me. I immediately feel comfortable and at ease, without any cavernous silences filled with one of us saying “sooooooooo.”
In fact, the hour flies by.
I am fascinated to hear about what exactly is happening in my brain to cause me to feel anxious while learning about ways I can control it, rather than succumbing to anxiety. She nods and listens, interjecting at just the right moments. She challenges me in a supportive way about thinking patterns I had grown used to and need to let go of, Elsa-style.
As I leave her office, I feel so much lighter. My mind is clearer, my confidence is stronger, and I am actually looking forward to the next appointment. As it turns out, a handful of sessions was all it took to get me feeling like myself again, but I do go back for the occasional “tune-up” if I need a little help processing a particularly stressful situation. I was also pleasantly surprised to see that insurance significantly helped with the cost concern.
There are so many struggles and sorrows that we may encounter in life: our biological make-up, hard childhoods or adolescences, bullying, insecurity, difficult relationships, troubling experiences, grief, trauma, abuse, neglect, poverty, violence, and so many more. Identifying an emotional wound is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of strength for wanting to heal and not limp through life with a permanent injury, as severe or minor as it may be.
“Therapy, to me, has been branded all wrong for a long time. It was set up as, ‘This is where you go when something’s wrong with you.’ And it’s really not what’s wrong with you, it’s what’s right with you. That you would take a deep dive on what parts of your narrative aren’t serving you and the people around you and try to become a better version of who you are.” – Miles Adcox, CEO of Onsite
I used to view emotional hurdles as a concrete barrier to living a full and flourishing life, but it’s very possible that past negative experiences — when processed in a healthy way — can help you become a wiser, stronger, more empathetic version of yourself. For me, therapy was like polishing a clouded lens I hadn’t even realized I was wearing. Finally, I could see my life in a crisp, clear perspective, which helped me become an improved version of myself for my loved ones.
My only regret was not starting sooner.