I sometimes think I’m done. Eight years with the same individual therapist, hundreds of hours spent emoting and exculpating, and I am finished, polished, complete. After all, things are going pretty well compared to eight years ago. I’m a licensed therapist myself now, engaged in the world, professional and (generally) successful, so different from the isolated, depressed stay-at-home parent I was when I started. I am more self-accepting and grounded, able to ride out the occasional depressive patch.
But four a.m. wakeups eat away at me. Worries about inadequacy erode my self-respect. This job requires my absolute attention. Metabolizing and containing the emotions of others leaves little emotional space for socializing. Family time, already altered by the boy’s teen life, suffers. The responsibility of it all, keeping not only clients’ psyches in mind but often their families’ psyches as well, is an impossibly delicate business. Being a grounded psychotherapist means being comfortable with ambiguity and imperfection. That can be tough on this insecure perfectionist.
Therapy is an art informed by science. Most of the time, I feel good at it, both skilled and intuitive, and love the work, ambiguities and all. But things happen. A potential client declines to work with me, someone disappears, a complicated and murky situation becomes even more fraught. I become overwhelmed with responsibility. Sometimes I feel like an absolute fraud, a public, obvious failure. Combine this insecurity with episodic insomnia and an overscheduled professional life and, on occasion, thoughts of the sweet relief of non-existence emerge.
It is one of my strengths that I can tolerate these thoughts and the feelings around them. I am comfortable occupying this place, a stuffy, dimly lit room that smells of alcoholic sweat and unwanted tears. These thoughts and feelings do not require action. They are a shout out from a place without language, heat emanating from a furnace of uncontained, disavowed need. Still, giving these feelings a voice, indulging them in words, feels like a potentially dangerous business. Take this knotted mess inside of me, give a pull to one end of the tangle, and what will happen?
A stultifying room, a consumptive need, a knotted mess. . . all I have to make sense of these feelings are metaphors. Maybe that’s enough. Life is doubt and ache, surety and song. Nothing is absolute. I tread carefully along my mossy path, feeling my way through the gloaming, through the fog. I stumble and slip. Look lively! Be careful. Stumbling is to be expected. There will be blood and bruises. There will be discovery and joy. I get up. I fall down. I get up again. Today I write to you from the forest floor. But tomorrow? Who knows.