When I was first introduced to therapy, I was thirteen or fourteen years old. The basic idea was, “You are sick, and you need to get better.”
Back then, my main issue was an eating disorder, which took its toll on both my mind and body. I did not like going to therapy, and I didn’t think there was anything wrong with me. A few years later, I found myself in an adolescent psychiatric hospital after expressing suicidal thoughts to my parents.
One of the standard questions people are asked in the ER before being admitted to a psych unit for suicidal thoughts or actions is, “Do you have a plan?” I don’t know how it is for other people, but once I had a plan, I never really forgot it. In high school, the thought of suicide was always in the back of my mind whenever I got overwhelmed.
These days, thoughts like that are more annoying than anything else. They will probably always be there, but they’re not a particularly useful solution to anything. It’s sort of like a dialogue with an unwelcome guest. “What if you painted the walls maroon?” says the guest.
“I’d rather not,” I reply. “I like them the way they are.”
“Oh, but maroon would be such a nice color!”
So, I go round and round with this unwelcome guest who cannot be made to understand that I do not want suggestions on how to decorate the interior of my home (and mind), nor do I even like maroon as a color.
I can be as morbid as I am self-critical. I think about the natural cycle of life a lot. Someday, I will be old and grey, and by that point, I hope to be a renowned author, whose journals will be of interest to a sea of readers. Recently in one of my classes, the professor indulged in a tangent about journaling, something many of my classmates had never tried. Many of them reported not having the motivation to follow through with it; they’d write for a few days or a week or so and then forget all about it. Others said they wouldn’t know what to say. I mentioned that I’ve kept a daily journal for over ten years. My professor said something about my “dedication,” to journaling and asked a few other questions, and we moved on.
Yesterday was one of those “down days.” I spent a good bit of the day fighting with the depressed part of me and had a big, long, dramatic cry on my couch. I was frustrated because I have, once again, found myself in group therapy. I felt sort of pressured into it, and agreed to give it a fair shot. I keep going back and forth with myself, “There’s nothing wrong with me… I need help… There’s nothing wrong with me…” Ignoring my problems isn’t going to benefit me. As I was telling my mom recently, the reason (at least, the only reason I can identify) that I’m stuck in these self-defeating practices is because I am still in pain from the trauma I have gone through. My mom pointed out that I’ve been to trauma treatment twice, which is true, but doesn’t necessarily mean that I am 100% healed. In fact, I think I am more distracted than anything else. I don’t do well when I’m not busy, but I also struggle when I take on too much and spread myself too thin.
As my brain was telling me all the ways I am a worthless person and that nobody would miss me if I didn’t wake up tomorrow, Archie’s ears perked up. He was in a deep sleep, but when he heard me crying, he lumbered over to me and started head-butting me. All I could think of was that if I wasn’t around, Archie would never understand why. Then, I felt silly, prioritizing the cat over family and friends who have done so much to keep me in their lives. But sometimes the reasons we use to keep moving forward aren’t always the obvious ones.
An excerpt from a recent journal entry:
I do want to feel better. But I am scared. I’m scared that I’ll either find out that I cannot get better, perhaps I’m an entirely defective human and that’s why I’ve been so unsuccessful in past rounds of treatment. Conversely, I am scared to give up my unhealthy coping skills. I am scared to like the person looking back at me in the mirror, let alone be at peace with my own interior monologue. I don’t know an internal-Katherine who treats herself well. It’s almost like I’m meeting a stranger for the first time.
Although I am not happy with my mental state a good bit of the time, I am comfortable here. Beating myself up (both physically and mentally) is normal to me, and change is scary. I had made up my mind that I didn’t want to do this group therapy and that even if I did, I wouldn’t get anything out of it. I am still skeptical, but I at least want to try.
This is a page from a textbook titled Crafting the Personal Essay. Many of the things I’ve read this semester instruct budding writers to write “shitty first drafts.” I have always been a writer. That is one constant, core fact about who I am. And as a writer, I have to accept that a lot of my work should never see the light of day. Conversely, quite a bit of what I write is worthwhile whether it is intended to entertain or inspire.
Sometimes I forget that as a student, my primary reason for being in college is to learn. In all of my classes, we are at the workshopping stage. I’ve had to read my work aloud to my classmates and let them tell me which aspects of my pieces are strong and which are not. I was very anxious about this and I told myself there was no way I was bringing a shitty first draft to critique.
Receiving constructive criticism from my peers was pleasantly surprising. No one picked my papers apart or told me that I should be banned from using the alphabet. In fact, in one of my papers, my peer group picked the paragraph I thought was the weakest as their favorite.
As a writer, I must constantly practice if I expect to grow. I need to learn to take suggestions, but also see them for what they are. Just because something works for one writer doesn’t mean it will work for me, but I must be willing to try. Similarly, on the firs day of my DBT group, the counselor running the meeting said that we will be given lots and lots of coping skills. Some of them will work, some of them won’t. That’s the beauty of the human experience. We’re all on different paths with different destinations. Some of us will walk part of the way together, and others will intersect with us from time to time. For me, the most important thing is to never abandon hope.