The Real Illicit Affair: Therapy

Recently I’ve started going to therapy because I’m all too conscious about my own life and the things going on around me. A statement that will warrant a, “yeah, obviously” from anyone who truly sits down to talk with me about something other than small talk for more than 10 minutes.

I’ve had two therapists before, both for very short times. The first one couldn’t remember anything about me from one session to the next and when I told her that sometimes my hands didn’t feel like my own, like they were disconnected from my body when I looked at them, she told me that I should take the hair ties off my wrists because they might be cutting off circulation. I don’t remember much from the other therapist, other than she used to make me close my eyes and imagine my “happy place”. It always made me snicker while doing this because I imagined she was staring at me or pulling a wedgie or picking her nose when my eyes were closed. Then she would tell me to open them and describe to her what my happy place looked like. I would make something up quickly on the spot, and she would then tell me what my happy place said about my personality. Which made me giggle even more, because I wonder what my real thoughts would say about my personality. Probably that I’m all too conscious about my own life and the things going on around me. And if I already know that, why the heck am I spending my Monday evenings sitting in a therapist’s office?

Blakely is a psychology major and is heading to the military to be a military psychologist. Blakely tells me that I don’t need talk therapy, I need cognitive behavior therapy. One, because I’m not that big a fan of talking, especially about myself. Two, because I’m a very private person. And three, because I’m all too conscious about my own life and things going on around me that I don’t need someone else to explain to me why I am doing the things that I do and feeling the way that I feel, I already know.

Even though I’m private and don’t very much like talking, I’ve always been able to open up more through writing. Something that’s apparent if you’ve been here for a while. I always want to make sure my words perfectly display what I actually mean, and doing this is far easier for me through writing than speaking. Even though it is the same brain that writes and that speaks, I stumble over my words and get tripped up and forget where I was going. It’s like the thoughts get lost when they go to my mouth, but when I’m holding a pen or typing on a keyboard they know the route. I tried to tell James this, subliminally pushing for a relationship solely based on letters we send back and forth. Either he didn’t pick it up, or he truly believes “talk therapy” needs to have talking. Either way, disappointing.

Admittedly, even just uttering the word ‘therapy’ can be difficult for me sometimes. Like when you’re 13 years old and you realize that you can start saying ‘shit’ around your friends, but you still say it in a hushed tone just in case there are any adults you know lingering around. I have an inside joke with myself that therapy is my own little “illicit affair” in pure Taylor Swift fashion. I know that people don’t generally see therapy as a ‘red flag’ (they might even consider it a ‘green flag’), but it’s not typical for people who are perfectly content with life and everything surrounding it to need therapy. I want everyone to think I am perfect, and perfect people do not need therapists. I do not give myself that kind of grace, which is probably another reason I am here in the first place. Two weeks ago, the girl in my econometrics class that I’ve been trying to befriend saw me walking into the university therapy office (CAPS). We made eye contact and when she saw I was opening the door into therapy she gave me a little smile. I like to tell myself that I returned the smile, but in reality I probably shot something back that resembled the look of a deer caught in headlights. Of all the people you could run into walking into therapy, someone you’re wanting to impress and be friends with is near the bottom of the list. No matter what the logic part of my brain says, I still treat therapy like this thing I must do in secret that I don’t want anyone to know about. On my Google Calendar I simply write “busy” at 1pm on Tuesdays, I wear a hoodie, I look both ways before opening the doors to the student success building.

I have never mentioned this affinity to therapy to James, and I don’t intend to as I feel it would open a whole new can of worms for him to dive into. James and I already have a multitude of things we disagree on (one being the validity of carrier pigeon therapy) so I don’t need to bring in another topic for us to have seemingly passive aggressive arguments. Admittedly, I do most of the quarreling – like when I told him I wanted to see the control group of a study he showed me before I believed it or all the times I tell him he is wrong about something even though he is a professional and I’ve only taken AP Psychology my junior year of high school. On Tuesday I mentioned to James that my mom likes to describe me as “stubborn and opinionated”. He scoffed and told me he knew.

– – –

Before each session, everyone has to take this survey that asks questions like, “my mind is racing” or “I feel out of control when I eat”. There are about 30 that you take every time, and every time my answers remain about the same. I told Blakely I was going to slowly improve my numbers so that I could ‘graduate therapy’ even though I don’t feel like my thoughts are racing any less than when I first sat in this chair and took the survey. She told me that I definitely shouldn’t do that because there’s no such thing as ‘getting an A in therapy’, and the mindset that I can ‘win therapy’ is another thing that landed me here in the first place. Despite the survey being slightly annoying to do every week, I realized that James really was looking at the answers when he told me, “you mark exceptionally high in anxious thoughts.”

In one sense, not exactly something you want to hear. On the other hand, there is something comforting about the acknowledgement. I’ve always been taught to put an emphasis on knowledge, and I do this the best through quantitative data. There’s nothing quantitative about mental health. It’s like a blob mass that floats around without a permanent shape, it can’t be measured or weighed and sometimes it can’t even be explained. But here I am taking this survey, and it’s quantitative, and there are average scores, high scores, and exceptionally high scores. So even though I am in the outlier category, it makes sense. I can pick out a dot on a dot graph and say, “that is me! It makes sense!” This is one thing that makes James and I argue subthreshold. He tries to convince me that mental health as a whole could never be put into a graph or chart or explained through logic. He also tells me later in the session that I shouldn’t use the word ‘never’ when describing my life, I tell him he needs to take his own advice.

Being marked as “exceptionally high” also alludes to the idea that life is not supposed to be like this, that I’m not always supposed to be this conscious and tense. That maybe, with the right help, I can slowly move my dot over closer to the median, like how the little car moves towards it’s destination on Google Maps. It’s almost like James and his little survey are opening the door to my brain and saying, “You’ve been living like this?” even if I’ve only opened up the door for him to see the foyer. It’s kind of like when my parents come to visit me after I’ve had a rough week. There’s dirty dishes in the sink, probably no clean silverware, and my mom always finds at least three expired items in my already scarce fridge. I’ve been in therapy for five weeks now and James has yet to pick up the cleaning supplies and get scrubbing. That’s one of our major differences. I want to take action and start cleaning, I just need a little help from an outsider of my brain. Someone to connect their phone to the Bluetooth speaker for music and hand me the broom. James thinks the first step is to sit down and talk about it, maybe that’s why he’s only allowed in the foyer. Even if he puts the detergent in the dishwasher on accident, at least it would be an actionable effort.

The problem is, unlike a GPS, there’s no steps for directions to get that dot to move. Instead of following a set of calculated steps to get me to my destination, it’s more like playing “hot or cold” with your five year old cousin who keeps forgetting the location they chose to be hot. Sometimes I feel like I’m at the median, burning up with victory and other days I’m back to being an outlier, stranded in the Arctic. James knows about my affinity for things that do not have specific steps to take in order to achieve. He once asked me, “How does it make you feel that there isn’t a quantitative checklist you can follow to instantly feel better?”

I hate open ended questions like this. You know they want to ask, “Does it make you uncomfortable?” but they were taught in school not to ask yes/no questions, so they change the beginning a little bit to prompt you to speak more. I don’t like to make things easy for James, since he’s not making things easy for me. I responded, “Bad.”

We sat in silence for a few minutes as he waited for me to say more and I played with the rings on my hand. “Anything else?”


– – –

Up until recently, the study gave me a unified peace of mind. It was quantitative, gave me specific knowledge about the parts of myself I needed to work on, and despite being somewhat of an extremity, there were other dots near my dot. Dots that equate to real people out there who, no matter their background or ethnicity or gender, have something in common with me. There are others with a face and body and families and friends and hobbies who also have exceptionally high anxiety, they aren’t just dots and neither am I.

I told James this once, which gave him ammunition to bring up something that I could tell he had been sitting on for a while. He has other patients who rank around the same numbers as me for anxiety, “but they present themselves very differently than you.” James says that with all of his other patients, he can tell they have high anxiety by just looking at them. He has helped them write drafts to their professors asking for extensions, he has waited through deep water with them, a passerby could tell they are struggling with something. I’ve never had trouble with being called ‘different’ but there’s a different connotation to it here. Not in the way he said it, but in what ‘different’ is referring to. Like I’m not doing anxiety correctly, like I really am swimming out in the Arctic all alone and nobody understands how I got there or that there are some weird ocean animals swimming underneath me.

If my econometrics teacher told me that the answer I got was ‘different’ than the rest of the class, that would most likely mean that my answer was completely wrong. Does this mean I’m therefore failing therapy? What do these other people look like? How are they getting their teachers to give them extensions? 

I carry one other mindset with me all the time as well. My brain tends to switch between two different thought groups, insecurity or God-complex. There’s rarely an in between, and sometimes the Queen (of Insecurity) and the Goddess (of Complexes) go head to head in the boxing ring at the same time. The Goddess would take the same scenario, but spin the result. There’s no reason everyone would get the correct answer but me, I was probably the only one who got it right. I’m on the data set as exceptionally anxious, why are they the base group and not me? Why aren’t they the ‘different’ ones? Why can’t I be the poster child for exceptional high anxiety?

In either one of these scenarios though, I am still the outlier, the one who is ‘different’ from the rest. The outlier among outliers. Those dots who used to bring me comfort because they were people just like me, maybe even people I passed on my way to class, are now not that much like me after all. Therapy is supposed to make you feel heard, make you feel comforted and like you’re not the only one who feels the way that you do. We’re told that the more we talk about mental health with friends, the more celebrities open up about their struggles in interviews, the more books and movies and plays we write where characters have mental illnesses, we will all feel less alone in our own struggles. Because with all of these mental health stories coming forwards, there has to be one that you relate to. But sometimes there isn’t, and sometimes sharing and consuming those stories just make you feel more isolated, more ‘different’. James tells me, “wow, you have a lot of intense stressors on your plate” but he does not remember that he is only in the foyer. It makes you want to consume less, hear less about mental health, go to therapy less – where ignorance is bliss, tis folly to be wise.

That’s why I have a bad reputation when it comes to ghosting my therapists. I treat it like a class and give them the answers I know they are looking for so that I get it ‘right’. If you know you are ‘different’ and seemingly isolated and there is nothing you can do to change that, the least you can do is convince the people around you that this is not the case. As soon as they start to catch on that maybe I’m smarter than they first expected, they get ghosted (which, for the record, isn’t the best thing to do). I’ve been better about not ghosting James though. One, because CAPS makes it really hard to do so, and two, because I feel as though my five-year-old cousin has been yelling out “COLD” for quite a long time, and I can’t quite figure out which direction to go for some warmer weather.

I can’t quite tell if seeing him for an hour every Tuesday has helped me at all except for giving me more ideas for the satirical monologue of my life I give to Blakely as we walk to the gym every day. However I promised my parents that I would continue going even if I don’t see any plausible results. If I want him to get the broom out of the closet and make an actionable effort even if it is the wrong one, then I have to as well, even if it doesn’t help initially.

When I was the little five-year-old cousin always trying to beat my cousins and older brother in games, they probably were under the same impression that I was cheating, picking a different spot as winner every time they got close. But I always had a game plan, even if I had picked an extremely tricky and specific spot so that I had more probability of being able to crown myself winner.

Since there’s not much else I can do at this point except continuing to see James, eating healthy, sleeping enough, and exercising daily, I’ll just have to roll with the idea that whoever is the one yelling out “hotter” and “colder” in my life has a game plan as well.

Yours truly,



One response to “The Real Illicit Affair: Therapy”

  1. […] you in your life. It doesn’t know what it really feels like to interact with boys on dating apps, go to therapy, move abroad, miss your friends, be depressed, and it really doesn’t know what it’s like to […]


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