One of the biggest things recommended for coping with a mental illness is going to see a therapist. Talking therapies are considered a gold standard, and many people consider those who aren’t going to therapy to not be trying.
Hi, I’m Virginia. I don’t go to therapy. That doesn’t mean I’m not trying my hardest to take care of myself.
You see, I’ve been exposed to counseling and therapy most of my life.It started when I was five or so, when another girl in my neighborhood began acting out her sexual assault on myself and my sister. I didn’t think anything of it — it was just playing as far as my brain was concerned. But when my parents found out, they dragged me to… someone. I don’t know who. I know that she wanted me to pay attention to the dolls she had, but I wanted to play with the Finger Paints. I couldn’t, because they were dried out, and that’s what I remember about that event — not that the adults were panicking and fretting and worrying about the ramifications of kissing another girl on the butt, but because the Finger Paints were dried out and unusable.
My (step)father contracted HIV in 1986, so I was told from then until 1994 that he had ‘stomach cancer’, and was going to die. Want to know what my brain savvied of that? Well, I’ll tell you — I spent a couple of years being vexed that I kept getting pulled out of class to see the counseler for reasons I didn’t see a need to be chatted about. Dad was going to die, and I had made my peace with it pretty damned quickly. I actually got in trouble for hurting my parent’s feelings in that regard when I was nine — I told Dad he didn’t need to stay around in pain for us, and that we could manage. I didn’t mean it cruelly — I was trying to tell him that I loved him enough that I didn’t want him to suffer. I couldn’t tell you anything that went on in those counseling sessions, because I frankly didn’t care to be there, nor could I see the point.
When my parents admitted to dad’s AIDS in 1994, we started in on the rapture that was family counseling. This happened on and off over the years. In earlier years, I shrugged and would play with the play kitchen. In latter years, myself and my siblings were dumped off in a group for teen children of parents with AIDS. I recall how quickly that failed for me — I was ever amenable to trying new things, but having one of the counselors express shocked amazement at a 17 year old being intelligent, articulate, and philosophical quickly demonstrated to me that we were not going to find any common ground.
The next time therapy reared its head, I was four years into my Air Force enlistment. I’d been moved into a job that I didn’t get on with, and as my job *had* been the only thing keeping me sane in a town I hated full of people I loathed, my depression took over pretty hardcore. I was bullied into seeing the therapist, who was a genial old fellow. I did do my best to take advantage of him, but:
A. Crying about mommy problems isn’t cathartic, or solve any problems.
B. I ended up his therapist.
To be fair, he was a smart fellow, and he was trying to find a method to draw me out and help me. But also, to his favor, there were a lot of things I felt I couldn’t talk about, because I didn’t want to risk going to jail, or sending members of my family to jail. But it would have been the same result — crying because things still hurt and I had no idea how to let go, and knowing that absolutely nobody in my life gave two shits.
So, of course, I thought there might have been a better result when I had a support base. After my daughter was born, I realized just how bad I was, and that I needed help to be better for the entire family. I called and connected with the talking therapy folk, and went in for an initial interview. They told me that all appointments were telephonic in spite of me explaining my severe issues with phones, and told me the date. I sat by the phone for two days, only to be told I was wrong and that it had been in person. Um, okay, you TOLD me phone, but whatever. And the information they had handed me to prepare between appointments was useless to me — it was things on goal-setting. I know how to set goals — I graduated from art school, successfully completed a term in the Air Force, and managed to immigrate to another country with no issues, and to establish myself as a citizen. I wrote a novel last year, for Pete’s sake! I *know* that if I want to do something, it requires practice and establishing steps. I was pulling out my hair over it, because I DID want to try and show that I gave a crap, but that fell through to the point where they won’t even acknowledge me anymore. *shakes head*
Through all of this, I’ve been applying cognitive behavioral therapy, and a stiff dose of cheer. While a few people have noticed that I wasn’t okay over the years, most people just wrote me off as weird or socially awkward, and left it that. I am a victim of my own competence, which definitely makes it harder to get some folks from the history of my life to accept that I’m not okay, and have never been (there’s probably some residual guilt issues on their part too, but I try to not speculate or attribute things to people unfairly or unknowingly). I’ve succeeded in my life. I have held jobs, formed relationships, and started a family, so I’ve been doing *something* right. With diagnosis and medicine a part of my life now, my quality of life has gone right the way up, and I’ve been more of a boon than a burden to my family (in my own head; I’m sure I’ve been less of a burden than I think I was).
Now, I’m not saying that therapy is a non-option for everyone. I can’t remember where I saw it, but I read once that 20-30% of people don’t respond to therapy. I think there’s a similar percent who don’t respond to medication. Whatever the case, people are different from each other, and respond to different things differently. So why is it okay to suggest someone like me isn’t trying because I don’t have a therapist in my life? That would be like me saying that someone who doesn’t respond to drugs isn’t trying hard enough because the meds available don’t help. I would NEVER say that to my friends who I know have drug resistances, NEVER.
And, I think, my regular readers would agree that I must be doing something right if my wilder mood swings have been tamed, and having reached a point of calm stability rather than hypomania (knock on wood, I think that’s the case!). Were talking therapy to be thrust at me again, I would certainly suck it up and try to give it my best for the nth time… but you’ll forgive me if I don’t think that it’s going to start working suddenly.
I hope everyone out there is doing well.