By Tom Travis
Twice a month I drive 20 minutes to sit on a long leather couch, long enough for about five people. From that couch I look out a big bay window and I spill my guts. Or, as my therapist says, to get “psychoanalyzed.” I tend to be very private and have found it difficult to share with friends when I’m struggling.
Over the years I’ve seen about four or five different therapists, counselors or clinical psychologists. I’ve never been diagnosed with a mental health issue by a professional. I’ve self-diagnosed myself with depression and anxiety. I often find solace and discover new mental health tools for my tool box when I see a professional. Those tools will ride with you through the journey of life and I can pull them out when needed.
Going to a therapist is a serious “self-care” task to take on. For people of meager incomes therapists can be pricey so you better be serious. When I went to see a clinical psychologist about 12 years ago I sat on his couch and the very first thing I asked him was, “About how many sessions do you think this will take?” Without missing a beat he said, “ten.” I’ve come to learn that’s what they all say. I asked the question in a snarky way and was kind of annoyed by being there. I eventually got with the program and realized I actually really did need to be there.
Some cheaper methods of self-care are taking a walk on a regular basis – one of those good, brisk, long walks where you get lost in your thoughts, break a sweat and even run out of breath. Or perhaps, listening to some favorite music, watching something that makes you laugh hard. One of my favorite self-care tools is to deep clean my bathroom or bedroom. Even with the generous supply free and inexpensive self-care methods, sometimes we need a professional, not a friend, not a confidant, but a trained professional to help us navigate this human life.
Honestly, I’ve confessed to my current therapist I’m not exactly sure why I sought him out. I explained to him I think through the languishing pandemic, months of shut-downs and overall demise of the fabric of our society I found myself in a place where I needed a professional. Every friend I talk to about the PTSD we’re all sharing from the pandemic say they’re feeling it too.
Each time I go to see a therapist I wonder, “Am I losing my mind?” My present therapist hasn’t put me in the hospital yet but I am beginning to see so many loose strings and disconnected things in my life. He’s helping me uncover things no other professional has even addressed with me. I’m feeling good.
Whenever I write a personal essay like this I wonder how the reader will judge me, if at all. For being a ‘private person’ writing about some fairly personal stuff for thousands of people to read can be a little fretful. So to dissuade those thoughts I offer this reminder; Senator John Fetterman (D-Pennsylvania) remains hospitalized after he checked himself into Walter Reed Medical Center for treatment of clinical depression. Fetterman, who stands 6’9″ and is a strapping embodiment of masculinity, checked himself into the hospital to be treated for clinical depression.
He’s remained hospitalized for several weeks and it remains unclear if he still is hospitalized. Maybe 20, 30 or 50 years ago Fetterman, due to social pressure, would never have checked himself into the hospital or admitted he was struggling.
We’ve come a long way baby! Naysayers exclaim that our society has become a bunch of softies and pansies. I say, “Nah.” I don’t think so. I think we’ve become more authentic. Remember when Oprah often said in the 80s and 90s on her iconic talk show, “We have to talk about it.” True, but be careful, “talking about it” [your personal life] is an art form within itself. This artform of learning how to talk about your personal life involves knowing to whom you tell things and where you tell things.
I remember over a decade ago, recently divorced, I was at the office of the local gymnasium signing up for a membership. The clerk helping me was the motherly, sweet and gentle type. She asked me what had compelled me to join the gym. I started pouring out my guts to her and within earshot of everyone else in the office, dumb decision. She just stood there kind of glassy eyed while I revealed far too much of my personal life. I apologized. She took a big swallow and just smiled and continued with my matriculation, silently. Wrong place and wrong time. We live and learn.
Back to that big comfy couch. I’ve walked into counseling sessions with nothing on my mind and actually have told the counselor that I have nothing to talk about today. Of course, the counselor, in their professional and expertise ease ask one simple question or say one phrase and it’s like the bursting of a water balloon. (One of the reasons we pay them big bucks.)
In my recent sessions I’ve noticed that when I’m talking to the counselor I stare out the beautiful picture window while I’m babbling on. But when he speaks to me I look directly at him as to not miss a word. From time to time I’ll glance down at my notebook to write down things he suggests or phrases he uses.
That picture window is just wonderful to me. All I can see out the window are shrubs and trees and the edge of the river bed. There’s only one human-made object in view a canopy of a bank’s drive-thru. That couch, that window, they beckon me, calling me to be reflective, peaceful, safe and to share what’s on my mind. I feel like asking if, before we begin, can I just stare out the window in a way to center my mind.
EVM Managing Editor Tom Travis can be reached at email@example.com.