My therapist returned from her holiday recently and we greeted each other over the phone, wide smiles in our voices like the old friends we are not. It is a beautifully structured relationship. I know that it is peculiar to be so fond of a woman I do not know beyond a full name, hair colour, and dainty sense of style. Judging by the ring on the significant left hand finger she is married. And I could not tell you more. Except that when I entered her office sixth months ago I had a heart arched in pain and could not suffer her concern. That I hated the reasoned sympathy in her voice, and that in my first session she made me rehearse my hurts for fifty minutes before sending me home. It was not the relaxing experience I had seen on TV. I did not recline on a sofa although she did take notes. And relieved as I was that she is Asian – and would therefore comprehend the nuances of culture – and a woman, I had no faith in cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). I told her that I did not want to change my mind, I wanted to change my circumstances. “Why should I think differently about the horrible things that are happening to me?” I asked. She spent the next six months answering.
It was not easy getting me to therapy. Culturally (working class and Jamaican) I was conditioned into stubborn suspicion of the therapeutic process. My friends spent years urging me to seek help, consoling me in my misery, praying me through my despair. It was as though I was born with hell at the bottom of my soul. I lived everyday with heat so stifling it choked my dreams and clouded my desires with black smoke. I could write a lament of a thousand words. Synonyms of sadness for each day of the week, but that would be no good to anybody. So the story goes that I quit my job after three months, went to bed and did not leave. When pentecostal prayers, olive oil and casting out demons did not summon me into joy, I saw my GP.
Dr Nyugen was an especially frank man. After assessing me he said ‘well the only thing left is for you to commit suicide’. Since the intonation is missing I should stress it was more a prediction than an instruction. He said I needed an intervention faster than therapy alone could provide and I started on antidepressants. As he had cautioned they made me sick for two weeks whilst my body adjusted, and then I began to awake in the mornings feeling…okay. Not happy. But an inexplicable freedom from the oppression I had known and thought was normal. I could not believe that others had been living like this – able to breathe.
I was told I could wait at least three months for an appointment with an NHS therapist but in reality it was two weeks: certainly evidence of divine graciousness and perhaps also an indication of the extent of my illness. We met weekly and actively tackled my depression: mind maps, depressive cycles, mood diaries, morning activities. Patterns, charts and challenges. I gained perspective and learnt boundaries. I wept over the wreckages that had injured my spirit. And then later I laughed, frequently, and joked about my successes in changing.
One afternoon my therapist brought in an extract from a book on perfectionism – an ideal I am learning to release. It was a simple sentence really: “I was reading this and I thought of you,” but it was one of her many expressions of concern. Out of it all, it was witnessing how she delighted in caring for me that brought me the most healing. My parents expended the best of themselves in my childhood and now we find that they are incapable of loving me in any meaningful way. When they quit and left me, one and then the other, I felt as though my value had expired. So I set about loving myself in compensation for the love I could not trust in others. But here was this complete stranger so openly invested in my well-being. I had not earned it (except through taxes). I did not have to present perfect grades, or church attendance, a spotless home, deference or endure any assortment of abuse. I had asked for help and she had given it.
I am attached to her it is true. Now that our time has come to an end I feel the mixed appropriateness of the loss. But I am not dependent: Whilst she was away and I’d been happy I had another collision with hell. It wrenched me out of hope and it was so ugly and fast that at first I did not feel. And then I erupted in cramps and tears and my body convulsed with diarrhoea for a week. With time I felt like a tomb, a brown house of death with eyes of despair for windows. Both the best friend and co-d remembered their stations of devotion and I mourned the life of laughter and the hope that met me in the morning, now exchanged for teal skies – cold and still. I missed my therapist on some of those days but I remembered her lessons. So I went out into the sun with some girlfriends. And when I cried at a bus stop and was wrapped in the arms of women who did not know me so well, I was not surprised at their love because I have learnt to trust the unknown depths of new hearts. I feel one hundred times the woman I was just months ago. And to my therapist who raised my head above dashed hopes, I am eternally grateful.