Am I The Only One?

I have a confession to make.  In this day and age, it may be rather shocking, but here goes.  I’ve never been in therapy.  Ever.  I’ve also never been on any kind of medication for anxiety, depression or other type of psychological condition.  Were you to ask my sister, she would tell you that is because I am not “sensitive” enough to have those kinds of emotions.  She would, however, be wrong.

I know I’ve been clinically depressed several times in my life.  There were times when I do not know how I managed to get out of bed to go to work, to nurse my child, to do anything.  Nearly 11 years ago to the month, I seriously contemplated suicide.  What stopped me is a blog post in itself.

So, why haven’t I landed on a therapist’s couch?  I don’t know. No, wait, I do know.  The main reason I haven’t ever gone to therapy is because I always needed to spend the money it would cost on something else.  Honest.  That would probably be the main reason.

I did actually go to a counselor once.  I was trying to change jobs when I was working for the Marriott.  I desperately wanted out of the hotel business and I was finding it a hard transition.  I went on interview after interview and got so many rejections that I was seriously beginning to wonder what was wrong with me.  The company offered an EAP (employee assistance program), so I thought I would just go and see if someone could give me some tips on how to deal with the stress, etc.  Immediately, the guy wanted to delve into my past–the typical (or stereotypical) stuff; how was my relationship with parents, etc.  I was like, dude, I just want a new JOB, okay? Can you give me some help with that?  I guess the biggest problem I had with that was that I felt like he completely did not listen to me. I asked for one thing and he was determined that I really needed something else. Perhaps I did, but at the moment I wanted to address the immediate problem and he wouldn’t hear of it.  For some reason, it aggravates me when I feel unheard.  Free or not, I didn’t avail myself of that service again.

Despite the above, I am not anti-therapy; in fact, I’m a lot more “therapy-friendly” than I used to be.  I understand that many people do not learn healthy coping skills in their early lives which makes it harder to learn them later.  I get it that sometimes one needs some outside guidance from a “disinterested third party”.

But I’ve had friends who were in “therapy” for YEARS for the same problem, the same behavior with different people, etc.  repeating the same patterns over and over.  If it was that obvious to me, why wasn’t it obvious to the therapists?  Where was the help?  WHAT was the help they got from therapy?  I didn’t get it then and I don’t now. Obviously the therapists benefited from being paid over the years, but what did my friends get out of it? What is the difference between therapy and what I call “scab-picking”?

I understand that sometimes you have to dig deep into things that you’d rather not talk about or even think about to uncover the deeper reasons for patterns of behavior and I understand that a therapist can help with that.  But at some point, doesn’t the therap-ee have to stand up and say, “Okay, thanks, you’ve given me some great tools.  Now, I’m going to use them and re-build my life?” At what point does “analysis” become counterproductive?

Is that that we just always want the “quick fix”?  Got high BP? Take a pill.  Elevated cholesterol? Oh, another pill.  Feeling lousy? Pick a little, talk a little, cheep, cheep, cheep, take another pill.

Please understand that this post is not about “dissing” people who are in therapy and really trying to work out serious issues in their lives.  I have the utmost respect for people who TRY, regardless of method.

But therapy, I’m on the outside looking in. In my work, I do a lot of psych reports and some of those diagnoses, whoo boy!  Seriously, “adjustment disorder”? Sounds like you got a wedgie. “Oppositional/defiant disorder”?  Yeah, you got a teenager, that’s what they do, oppose and defy.

It’s like no one can have any kind of emotion that’s outside an increasingly narrow “norm”. We can’t be just “sad” over something, we have to be labeled “depressed” and put under a microscope and given seriously head-twisting medications and watched for the rest of our lives.

Heaven knows I’m far from perfect. I know there have been plenty of times that I have not handled my emotional upsets well.  Again, this post is not about judging the people who are trying to get themselves healthy–if anything, it’s a criticism about the mental health PROVIDERS who seem to want to see a “disease” in every kind of behavior and somehow fit what may simply be one person’s normal coping skills into their DSM-IV book of “diagnoses”.

So, what about it? If you’re in therapy, has it helped? Or have you been going for years and just whining about the same thing over and over and nothing has changed except your bank balance?  Seriously, I’d like to know.

Don’t be shy; consider it free, anonymous therapy.

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18 thoughts on “Am I The Only One?

  1. free, anonymous therapy? don’t tempt me, GG!

    As for therapy, I’ve never been in it, but I’ve written three notebooks full of angst. And I’ve wished I had a real person I could actually pay to listen to me. And I know someone who has been tremendously helped by it. so yes, I don’t knock it, I wouldn’t pay for it, and I will hang on to notebook no.4

    and I am never again going to hear ‘adjustment disorder’ without grinning.

  2. Dear, Chicu…journaling is the ultimate therapy, truly. I’ve been journaling since I was 12 and I really think that is what got me through some tough times. A journal is great–it’s practically free and you can whine as much as you want and it never talks back. BUT, if you keep the journals, you can sometimes go back and see how utterly silly all your moaning and groaning was. I say that because I’ve done it. Then it all somehow gets into perspective and you see how you can handle the next round. By all means, hang on to notebook #4!

    Oh, and…..adjustment disorder! 😉

    GG

  3. Good post. Very interesting. I’m not a fan of therapy for myself, but I will go in order to get the drugs, the quick fix.

    And I also have to say that after looking for answers from my PCP and Cardiologist regarding physical symptoms, I found the label from the Psychiatrist. PTSD. I had NO IDEA! I had to ask him what that stood for.

    Ok, so some things had happened. A murder that I witnessed, a dead body while jogging…I was an emergency responder for a gas co and had been on the scene of a couple horrible explosions, fires, carbon monoxides, etc. But I am a talker. I always felt like I talked these things out.

    I did not know, but I am beginning to realize the physical toll that the symptoms can exact. The startling is the worst. At times, the least little sound can feel like a dagger in my heart. Insomnia, because I have to get up all night long to see if everything is ok. I guess that was ok when I was younger. At this age, it’s not feeling too good.

    Retirement helped. Exercise helps. My old standby, talking, helps. I go off of Prozac, but run back to it when symptoms reappear as they did in the wake of the San Bruno gas explosion and anniversary of 9/11. I am very grateful for the drugs. Perhaps the easier softer way, but I’ll take it.

    Thanks for the chance to talk it out!

  4. Peg, thanks for sharing this. Yes, you see, sometimes it’s helpful to go to therapy simply to find out WHAT is wrong. Then you can work on dealing with it. My G has PTSD, too, and I think many people have mild cases of it for throughout society for various reasons. I do believe knowledge is power and when you know what it is you can be aware and anticipate things that might otherwise knock you back. G’s symptoms are much, MUCH better since I met her, and she understands the triggers better and the reactions are less and take less of an emotional and physical toll on her. She is also on medication, but has self-adjusted it to the level she is most comfortable with. The docs want her to take about 3 times as much as she does, but that makes her feel awful and of course, they won’t listen to her. I guess that’s the biggest beef I have is that they’re supposed to be there to HELP you, but yet won’t LISTEN.

    Thanks again!
    GG

  5. I think there are a fewl issues at play here.

    One is the question of medicalizing EVERYTHING. Is it necessary? No. Is it done? Yes. And all sorts of people put up with all sorts of diagnoses because of a sort of societal agreement that this is how we are supposed to understand ourselves. It’s a much larger issue than the mental health field – the whole question of basing our healthcare system on health INSURANCE (gambling with a company that has way more money than I do) rather than stepping back and looking at true wellness and how to get there – that’s huge. Huge. We think of it as just how things are, but it’s only one way of looking at health. And, going by how rich we are as a country and how poor our health seems to be, it’s not a terribly effective one. By the way, my therapist is fully trained and licensed but chooses to work outside the insurance system, so she can work with people as she sees fit rather than according to the DSM-IV. For me, that’s a relief.

    Another issue is what people do in therapy. Some people want short term assistance; some people want long-term processing; some people want something else entirely. Using myself as an example – I find therapy most useful when it’s NOT short-term assistance, since I like to talk about things over and over and most people in my life are really not up for hearing it, ha. At the same time, I tend to gravitate (relationally speaking) toward people who probably wouldn’t go to therapy at gunpoint. LOL I’m not sure folks like that wouldn’t be more harmed than helped by the kind of therapy that keeps my mental/emotional gears running. I am not eager to force what helps me on anyone else, and in fact I really like people who have very different approaches to living their lives and understanding their heads.

    Then there’s the question of whether or not people are using therapy to avoid personal growth or change. I suspect we human beings use all kinds of reasons to avoid personal growth or change. At the same time, who knows? Who knows another person’s headspace? We can’t really say if what seems like constant whining about the same thing might be an improvement in that person’s mental state over how they would be if they didn’t have somewhere to go whine on a regular basis.

    So in conclusion, I do think there is cause for skepticism if not outright concern over the medicalization of our bodies, our brains, and our emotions. At the same time, I also believe different ways of pursuing our own truth work for different people, and for some of us therapy is a part of that pursuit. And we can’t really see inside of each other’s heads to say what we all need. Just like the insurance company diagnoses are often absurd, so it might prove unhelpful to replace those diagnoses with a similar cookie-cutter approach to self-understanding. Variety is the spice of life, as your garden would attest.

    Very thought-provoking post. Good one!

    Also, everybody go vote for Granny on the Medium Raw contest! Just a few more days!!!

  6. I just read your comment about G’s doctors and prescriptions, and I’ve had similar experiences with feeling unheard by those who prescribed medications. It’s not unique to the mental health field at all – I found it most appalling when I was undergoing infertility treatments.

    Also, I think it’s useful to distinguish between kinds of care providers.

    EAP (Employee Assistance Programs) don’t provide job counseling. They just don’t. They get a person started on dealing with what is likely to be a longer-term course of therapy. Though they may not tell you that. But you can’t go to an EAP and expect job counseling. They work for your current boss, after all.

    Therapists don’t prescribe medication. They do various kinds of talk therapy. They may be trained as psychologists or social workers, and they may have some knowledge of medications, and they may work in connection with the doctors who prescribe medications. But they don’t prescribe, or work on doses, or do anything related to medication.

    Doctors (psychiatrists or other medical doctors) prescribe. They do not do therapy, because they generally see patients in five minute increments throughout the day for the purpose of diagnosing and treating (medicating) something. That’s a huge whopping generalization, but getting a doctor to listen to your issues with a medication, as in G’s case, is a very different animal than getting a therapist to listen to you describe your internal processes, and that in turn is completely different from seeking job counseling.

    If you wanna talk about doctors who don’t listen, pull up a chair. I have a book about it. But prescribing physicians are not therapists, and if one is masquerading as one before G, it’s time to call him/her on that charade.

  7. MS – the EAP trip was long ago, probably back in 1989. Still, the guy could have told me what you just did–no job counseling. Yes, I was feeling stressed out about the whole job-seeking process, but had he said, “We don’t offer assistance with that sort of thing.” I would have understood and been out the door. The total disconnect was really off-putting.

    G gets ALL her care at the VA. Her 100% disability is for PTSD, so she sees a psych doc (MD) on a scheduled basis for med review, etc. She also sees a counselor who does NOT prescribe. She also has about 70% disability because of her various physical injuries. Psych doc and medical docs apparently NEVER speak to each other (easier to understand in this case since the psych doc is in Pueblo and the other specialists are in Denver). Still the lack of communication, real, TRUE communication, when you are dealing with someone’s LIFE, is amazing. Lives are not just on the line on an operating table. These people just look at their treatment “algorhithms” and if you don’t fall within those, they simply do not have a way to deal with you. It’s like those predators who don’t see the prey unless it moves.

    I agree 100% with you on the “medicalizing’ thing. When did we become such a bunch of whining, sickly, snivling babies. “Health” and “health care” are 2 very different things. In fact, I’d say if you want to keep your health, stay AWAY from health “care”. They will “care” you into an early grave!

    GG

  8. I’ve never been to therapy or taken an anti-depressant. I’ve had low moments in my life, but none so low that I’ve felt the need to seek medical assistance. I’m not against it, I think therapy can be a great thing for those who need it and will truly work to benefit from it. The pills, I’m a bit more biased against. Again, for those who truly need it, I believe they are necessary. Like you, I think we’ve become a very medicalized society…take a pill for everything and feel “all better”. However, if you don’t get to the root of your depression/anxiety/etc., a pill is only going to be a band-aid…and who wants to wear a band-aid for the rest of their life?

  9. Never had the therapy, unless self therapy like writing or painting counts. Had a doc once that put me on Zoloft and then left me to swing in the breeze dealing with what that crap did to my innards. Not too fond of docs or drugs anymore as a result.

    I think therapy is kinda like our previous brief discussion of cancer research and treatment – it’s an industry. They don’t want to cure anything, whether they know it or not. It’s all about expanding the customer base and keepin’em coming back for more.

  10. Jay, I agree 100%. People want to make a living, obviously, and for doctors it’s in THEIR best interest to have a lot of sick people. Find me a doctor who says we’ll work together to insure I don’t have to come back, then maybe I’ll be less reluctant to go!

  11. My gf and I have been going to counseling for a few months and it has been an enormous help in fixing the communication problems we were having. It has also brought to light some other issues that would be triggered by various things we did to/around/for each other.

    All in all, it has been a very positive experience for us. Will we continue forever? No. But here and now it is making our relationship better.

  12. e – I look at couples counseling entirely differently. There, a couple sees that thinks may not be going smoothly or they may have difficulty communicating or whatever, but they see a problem and want to fix it, so get some help for a while. As you say, you won’t continue forever. Plus, unless one or both of the members of the couple is already on medication, couples counseling doesn’t usually involve drug therapy, and hopefully the counselor also sets an “end” goal of not always coming back for every little thing.

    I could go on and on, but I won’t. 😉

    And I’m very glad the counseling is helping you. Excellent!

  13. I thought I started therapy this summer because I wasn’t navigating my life very well anymore, but it has opened up a lot of surprising closed doors I thought I had left behind years ago, just like everyone always says it will. To be honest, I did it because friends kept pushing me towards it, but I still put it off for months because it felt silly and self-involved and a waste of money.

    But, in the end, I found a butch therapist who was open to the long distance poly weirdness in my life, would honestly listen to me, and would allow me to step gently into something I really wasn’t sure about. Even with all the latitude, I had to quit for a month because it’s just really difficult to share my thoughts and feelings with someone I only met a few months before.

    The good part of therapy has been working out reasons behind some of the quirky things I say and do, and starting to learn to stand up for myself. It’s a conversation rather than a lecture, but it’s still hard to get used to sitting in a room with another person and talking about just myself for an hour. The other hard part has been facing up to the difficulties in my life – for me, getting through them meant minimizing them, and seeing the look on her face when she sees me talk about them is sometimes terrifying. Apparently I’m a bit more fucked up than my calm, joking exterior ever let on. (And, no, she’d never say that – that’s just me making light of the situation. She honestly does keep a straight face and doesn’t judge my situation.)

    Some days I leave shaking, some days I’m smiling. It still always feels awkward, although I’m getting better at telling her when I want to put something off for another day (she should’ve thought about that before she encouraged me to learn to stand up for myself, huh?) It’s really hard to have someone paying so much attention to the things I think and say, and I honestly don’t know if I’d keep going if it weren’t for the support of my lover – she believes in all that talking and emoting and feeling stuff as much as the therapist. (And sometimes I imagine they’re in collusion, coming up with new and more bizarre ways of making me feel stuff I really don’t want to feel.)

    All in all, it’s changed me a lot. It makes a lot of things very difficult because the new me isn’t fitting into my old life the way I used to. (They didn’t mention that part in the glossy brochure.) It makes some things easier, and I’m told that will get better as we go along. There are a few things I can tell you I’m too stubborn to give up so easily, so I may need therapy for a long time to work through all of that – if I choose to. I didn’t used to see my actions as choices like I’m starting to now, and I didn’t used to be aware of the voices that lead me around. My idea of absolute truth has been shattered and I’m working on building up new truths for myself. She never tells me I’m wrong or broken – she’s clever enough to just ask why, and let me talk it all out.

    Would I suggest it? Only to my worst enemy or to my best friend. It’s awful, it’s scary, it makes me cry and argue and turn all red and sometimes it makes me face something I sure as hell don’t want to see. It makes me question everything I know and wonder what the hell I’m doing. It’s expensive and time-consuming and did I mention scary?

    And if you find the right person to talk to, it’s still really good. At least so far, four months in.

  14. Roxy–I am glad you found the right therapist for you. Obviously, that is KEY. Plus, from your comment, it certainly sounds like YOU are doing the work on yourself, not expecting the therapist to just “fix” you. But, as you are discovering with any kind of education or awareness, once you pass a certain level, you can’t ever go back and what was working before often does not work at all going forward. I think that’s why a lot of people are resistant to actually making changes–they know deep down their lives will be different forever and that is really scary.

    I have not read back into the archives of your blog, so I don’t really know what all has gone on, but I do say kudos for finding someone who really listens to you and for doing the hard work of looking at yourself in the mirror you are holding up.

    All the best and I’m here if you ever need to vent in email!!
    GG

  15. Found your blog through Autostraddle, and wanted to comment on your post. 🙂

    I went to therapy for the first time this summer, as I was going through a nasty breakup with my girlfriend of four years. I didn’t realize she had built up a debt and gambling problem over the last year and a half of our relationship, and her addictions were wrecking havoc in both of our lives. I successfully “divorced” my therapist after about two and a half months, because it was a short-term thing… I needed someone who wasn’t a friend, who would tell me directly and force me to listen, and who could just listen, without my feeling like I was a broken record to friends and family. As a teenager, I went through some very nasty family stuff with a bipolar father, a very nasty divorce, and the unexpected loss of my best friend. Looking back, I think it would have been really helpful for me to have gone to therapy, just to have someone to talk to — because my friends and my mother were obviously not in the right place to really help. So, I think there is a time and place for therapy. For people with serious mental illnesses, I can see where long-term therapy and/or medication can be necessary. For those, like me, who just need help when they hit a speed-bump — it’s good to find someone who can just be there for a short-term.

    But do I think we medicalize issues that shouldn’t be? Yes. Do I think many people become dependent on therapy as a fix to all life problems? Yes. I’ve seen kids who are four and five years old dosed up on ritalin/adderol (and sleeping pills, because they don’t sleep due to the pills), and I don’t know if the kid is the problem or the schools that try to take young children and force them to sit still for hours every day. Kids have short attention spans; they need breaks and physical activities often. I’ve met many people who treated short-term depression with pills they became dependent on. So, maybe there’s a happy medium. But it’s pretty subjective — like you said, there’s a DSM code for everything. Ironically, you cant get insurance to cover therapy without a DSM code; so it’s a catch-22 — you might not need a diagnosis, but insurance requires it. But should we label someone for “grief issues” as if it’s a mental illness — since who doesn’t have a grieving response when they lose a loved one? Eh. I think the lesson is that the system is flawed. We’re taught if you get therapy, you must have a diagnosis — instead of saying that therapy is about healing people so that they don’t need a diagnosis.

  16. Even though you said you “weren’t dissing” people who go to therapy, you definitely made some judging statements. It sounds like you have the illusion that therapists are claiming to be miracle workers if you sign a check. Truth is, most of the greatest psychotherapists treat clients on a sliding scale fee because they honestly just want to help and believe that each human deserves happiness and balance in their lives.

    I’ve been to multiple therapists over my lifetime; some for anger issues and ultimately for rape counseling and family issues that I, as a damaged teen, couldn’t handle on my own. Nor could my southern family handle ME on their own. Therapists are helpers… therapeutic helpers who have learned coping skills that can assist in times of hardships and confusion. Would I have learned things about myself that literally SAVED MY SOUL after, quite possibly, the worst thing that can happen to a teenage girl if my parents had turned their nosea up at “balancing their checkbook” instead of committing to do the internal work of balancing my life?? No. I would probably be holding shame and anger and aggression in my heart instead of the love and compassion that I feel daily since going to therapy.

    With the right chemisty, the right committment and the right timing, therapy literally saves lives. And families. And souls. And it teaches you to handle yourself differently… Words can’t really describe how much it means to me to have my life back.

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