“I am not going to cry in therapy today,” I think, as I calmly and confidently talk about quitting my job. I feel in control for the first time in a long time, talking about my plans to extend my group therapy, return to school, and find part-time employment. I feel like I might finally be starting to exert some control over my unpredictable mental health.
But that feeling is not going to last long.
We talk about possible employment options, and my confidence level drops as difficult questions arise. Why has work always been so anxiety-inducing for me? Why do I feel so trapped by an eight hour workday? I don’t know the answers, I just know that not feeling in control of my time is terrifying.
“When was the last time you felt like you were in control of your life?,” my therapist asks.
I think back to the end of high school, when the future was clear: I knew where I was going to college and what my major would be. This period of certainty was short-lived, though. I feel like my therapist is digging for some big, dark secret, but I can’t pinpoint a singular traumatic event that would have caused me to lose my way.
My thoughts jump forward to my post-graduation travels. During this time, I was literally plotting my own course. I change my answer.
“This was the last time I felt in control.”
But I don’t elaborate much about the accompanying details. I don’t talk about how I flew to Europe to avoid coming out to my family. I don’t share the details of my sexual assault abroad (or how I have only recently been able to call it that in my mind). Instead, I sit and silently contemplate the possibility that this is where some of my deepest pain lies, but that I am too afraid to pay the emotional toll of exploring this darkness.
This is only our third session, and we are still getting to know each other. With other therapists, it has taken me months to even allude to some of the more sinister shapes lurking beneath the surface of my mental illness. But something about this woman makes me say things I’ve never said to anyone else. She seems to be able to see right through my outer layer to the things that are trapping me in an extended cycle of anxiety, isolation, and depression.
With further prodding, I say just enough to trigger a sudden reaction. The tears come quickly and involuntarily, but I still can’t open all the way up.
“I feel like we’re just talking around a lot of things,” she says. “You are so young to feel this way for so long. I know that you can feel better, but we have to talk about it.”
All I can do is sit there silently with tears and snot streaming down my face. I have never been pushed so much to talk about THE THINGS before, so I assumed they must not be that important. Surely the traumas I’ve experienced aren’t bad enough to be preventing my recovery for all of these years? Am I so sensitive that these things I feel I should be able to deal with have broken me down and trapped me for so long?
She assures me that I don’t have to talk about everything before I’m ready. But we need to start working towards dealing with these things. We make a plan for our next appointment, and I leave feeling more than I’d like to. I feel guilty for avoiding my problems. I feel a sudden sense of just how long I have been carrying these burdens, followed by an overwhelming grief for all of the lost time.
But I also feel a little bit hopeful for the possibility of a future made lighter by the exorcism of old demons. Time to fight.