Did you miss Part One? Read Part One here.
My first round of therapy happened during my last year of college. As a kid, I would try to befriend the new kid before all the other established social groups could. While many social groups were established things, I would wander from friend group to friend group, eating with them at lunch and talking to them in class but rarely getting invited to birthday parties or even to hang out after my many extracurriculars. In high school most of the friends I did hang out with on a regular basis were older than me, and by junior year most of them had graduated, leaving me in the socially awkward dust.
This behavior continued through college, and by fall of senior year my emotions had caught up. I talked about this with a couple of good friends and finally decided to take advantage of the mental health services on campus. I sat down, we talked for a few minutes, and when we started talking about friend groups and being social, I burst into tears while trying to make sense of what was going on my brain.
That was the real problem: I had no idea what I wanted to get out of these sessions, but whatever it was, I didn’t want to go through these tearful appointments and struggling to figure everything out while sitting on a couch. Sure, I usually felt better after these sessions, but some of the emotions weighed on me for a few hours afterward. Writing would be better, not that I had much time for my paper journal. A few weeks later, I stopped going altogether after forgetting to reschedule a session.
I was much more prepared for the second round of therapy. It was early 2013, and the guy I had been seeing for the past couple of months had called it off. He was the first guy I had dated since graduating from college several years before (coincidentally, around the same time as Therapy, Round One). He pointed out that I was really bad at deciding things, like where to eat or what to do for the evening. I explained how I was really bad at making decisions and initiating things. He said I needed therapy.
He wasn’t wrong. A few weeks later I did research and walked into my first therapy session.
My therapist got straight to business, even giving me homework after each session. My early assignments included observing my interactions with others and taking note of what my body does. This is stupid, I kept telling myself. Why should I be paying attention to things like my breathing and heart rate and headache? I already worry enough about aches and pains. Is adding more stuff to pay attention to even necessary?
As a result, I wouldn’t put much effort into these assignments, thus disappointing my therapist. Months passed, as did many tearful sessions. Something happened as the time went by, though. The tearful sessions decreased in number and frequency. I started noticing things: the perma-headache that liked to hang around longer than necessary, the feeling of wanting to cry all the time that often accompanied the headache, the way I took deep breaths to counter the tightness in my chest.
Every week my therapist asked me to fill out a questionnaire rating how I did on certain things. The specific items on the questionnaire were topics I expressed interest in improving: making decisions, making plans, initiating things with others. Rating myself on the questionnaire was the hardest thing I did some weeks. What was a four? What about a five? What if I was somewhere in between–what rating would that get? And what kind of scale was this, anyway–linear? Logarithmic? I tried to maintain a consistent scale in my head, but some weeks I failed at this miserably.
A couple of things happened as time went by. One, my self-rated assessments did improve to the point where sometime the following summer, I ran out of things to talk about without going over the same stuff over and over. And two, I finally saw the meaning of all those exercises my therapist gave me in the beginning and therefore was ready to cope with them on my own.
I was ready to take on my worries with these newly developed skills. And if I ever needed to, I could always come back.