I’ve fired four therapists in my life. I’m zero for four. Formal therapy can be really awesome, and it helps a lot of people, and I’d like for me to be one of those people, but so far, no such luck.
My first therapy experience came in fourth grade. My mom, younger brother, and I were victims of an armed robbery home invasion. A contractor who helped remodel our home knocked on the door one day. My mom recognized him and let him in – he said he needed to make a phone call and use the bathroom. I wandered off, and when I returned to the kitchen, he had pinned my mom to the wall and was holding a knife to her throat.
I ran to my room and hid behind the door. He followed me and grabbed my arm, which gave my mom a chance to grab a jewelry box and lure him to the front door. It worked – she ran out the door and across the street to call 911. He followed her, jumped in the get-away car with his trashy girlfriend, and sped off. The police caught him that night. He’d committed another armed robbery that day too – robbed a bridal shop and tied up the owner.
I was completely traumatized and couldn’t sleep for a year. My parents put me in therapy. I don’t remember many of the details of therapy other than it didn’t work. The only thing that cured my fear was time – just aging another year.
This guy stayed behind bars for his max sentence because of all the trauma he caused me. My parents moved to a new neighborhood shortly before his release. They weren’t scared of him. But maybe they sort of were… And there was a drug dealer named Rocky living in the seedy rental a few houses down. And a convicted rapist had recently moved to the neighborhood, so it was a convenient time to leave.
With this story, I’ve made it sound like I grew up in East St. Louis. Quite the contrary – I grew up in an average, middle class neighborhood in a town of 40,000 people.
My second therapy experience came just a couple years ago. We were building a custom home, and the stress of it all was eating me alive. It didn’t help that we’d hired a criminal to tear down the old house previously situated on the lot.
Turns out, criminals who have been sued 98 times and lost every single case can still achieve an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau, so it’s always best to check the county court records prior to executing a contract. But hindsight is always 20/20… Needless to say, this guy was a bad dude, and he added to my stress.
I was willing to try anything, so I randomly connected with this therapist… She was about 90 years old, or so it seemed, and super crotchety, and she gave me the creeps. And her office was in this weird building that was straight out of a horror film, or an episode of Pretty Little Liars – long, dark, weirdly quiet corridors, flickering lights, creaky floors, nasty carpet, outdated wallpaper, random sightings of people who looked to be insane…
And this creepy old lady hissing at me, “Yes, it is a completely legitimate fear – that this psycho will put a fraudulent lien on your home. But you cannot stress about things you cannot control.”
Thanks, that was really helpful.
Seemed like “A” could jump out at any moment and murder me.
And with this anecdote, I realize I’ve come out of the closet – I watched Pretty Little Liars on ABC Family until I was like 29. And I read a couple of the books, because sometimes I have shallow interests, and I wanted to know who “A” was. But now I realize that was so. freaking. lame. of me. Oh to go back to the simple days, when my biggest problem was a mentally unstable criminal who wanted to, unjustifiably, sue me for $10,000…
My third therapy experience came after we lost Matthew. Someone referred me to this therapist who apparently specializes in my “situation”. Mark wasn’t interested, but he came with me anyway, because he’s supportive like that. I think I saw her three times, and it was a disaster. I didn’t like her, and I think the feeling was mutual.
It had only been two weeks since my tragedy, and every time I’d express a thought she felt was not productive, she’d ask me in her snide, condescending tone, “And how’s that working out for you?”
She also pushed the drugs hard core – like, she could be a drug dealer, and it’d be so much more lucrative for her. I have absolutely no problem with depression meds, but it had only been two weeks, and I wasn’t ready to make a decision yet as to whether I needed them. “I wish I would have died too,” I’d say.
“Have you tried Xanax?” she’d reply.
“Yes, I took some last night.”
“Did it help?”
“No, I still want to die.”
“Well, how many did you take?”
“Take more next time.”
“Is it possible to OD on Xanax?”
“Not really. You’ll be fine. Take as many Xanax as possible, and here’s a prescription for Zoloft – it’s most effective if you mix it with alcohol, and perhaps some heroin, cocaine, or crystal meth.” She didn’t really say this last part, but you get the picture…
She scolded Mark for scouring the internet in search of statistics and research related to the cause of Matthew’s death, even though he’s very analytical, and this was part of his grief journey.
And she promised me that there was no way this sort of tragedy would ever happen to me again, because that would be like being struck by lightning twice.
The good news is the lifetime probability of being struck by lightning is one in 12,000. The bad news is that stillbirth is rare, but far more common than we’d all like to believe… It’s far more common than being struck by lightning – one in 160, or 26,000 pregnancies per year, end this way. And last I checked, experiencing one tragedy in life will not make one immune to experiencing another – all it takes is a quick internet search to find that one out. But let’s be clear – I hope and pray each day that we’ll never, ever experience any tragedy close to this magnitude ever again.
So I found another therapist, because all my friends told me to. This was my fourth therapy experience… It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great either. She was extremely nice, and her office wasn’t creepy – quite professional, actually. But she was only about five years older than I, and I got the impression (granted, it could be false) that she hadn’t experienced much in the way of tragedy, which diminished her credibility in my eyes.
And by that point I felt I’d aged 20 years, which made me older than she. She was a great listener, but didn’t add much value. So I did what any other reasonable person would do – I told her I’d be back, and I never returned.
Occasionally a friend will realize I quit therapy and encourage me to go back. I know these friends are well-intentioned, but it can also be unsettling to be adamantly told you need therapy. I may take another gander at therapy, if and when the time is right – we’ll see.
I recently watched a movie called Love Happens. It’s about a man who lost his wife. As part of his grief journey, he writes a book about how to heal, not expecting that anyone will ever read it. But much to his dismay, the book falls into the hands of a publisher, he becomes famous, and develops a cult-like following. The big secret (spoiler alert) is that he doesn’t actually practice any of the tips he preaches, even though he sees others benefiting from those tips.
After watching this movie, it dawned on me – whether or not I’m in therapy, I’ll still need to decide whether to practice the things I know, or I’m told, will benefit me. There will be days when I have the strength to practice those things, and there will be days I do not. And that’s okay. Because grief is not linear.
So right now, I’m not in formal therapy. I’m lucky enough to have a few people in my life who’ll listen to me voice my complicated feelings – I try to spread out how much I dump on each person, so no single one gets too sick of me.
I also continue to do things I think might heal me – I read, write, do yoga, run, walk on trails with friends, walk in nature, work out with a personal trainer, plan weird days full of distractions, scour internet baby loss forums, and attend support group meetings. No matter how someone chooses to deal with grief, it’s a brutal journey. And there’s no right or wrong – there are different paths to the same summit that is finding peace. And the tools I’m using to move myself along the path could change at any time.
Have you had good or bad experiences with therapists? What kinds of healing things have you found to help you in addition to, or instead of, therapy? Leave a comment.