The Duality of Therapy: I'm Better, But I'm Not

The Duality of Therapy: I'm Better, But I'm Not

The Duality of Therapy: I’m Better, But I’m Not by Mia Sutton. Read more at

I sat in the parking lot, trying to calm my nerves. I was early, too early, like always. The radio was on, but I was only half-listening. The wait seemed too long and also too short. I could still turn around and go home. But I knew I wouldn't.

I entered the building, desperately hoping not to run into anyone I knew. I sat in the waiting room for what seemed like a really long time. My mind wandered. I shivered in the too cold A/C. Finally, she appeared.

"Hi there. I'm Theresa. Follow me, my office is down this hall and around the corner."

When I sat down on the couch, I took in my surroundings. There was an Asian flavor to the decorations and furnishings. It was very zen, but it reminded me of my mother and I got twitchy. I barely glanced at Theresa when she introduced herself, but now I took a long look. She reminded me of a combination of Sally Struthers and Reba McEntire. Short, stout, with fiery red hair. When she sat down and got situated, she looked at me. Her eyes were unwavering. Everywhere I looked, I could see them. I didn't know what to do with her attention. I wanted to speak, and I also wanted the floor to swallow me whole. Her voice was very soothing. She asked me questions. She waited patiently for my answers. She passed me the box of tissues when she heard my voice break. She offered suggestions.

And I still hated every minute of it. I hate talking about myself to other people. I would say "Well, my husband thinks..." or "My dad says..." and every time she'd stop me: "They're not here. Tell me what YOU think and how YOU feel." I'd cry every time.

She'd ask me questions about my mother. Prying at wounds that still fester. I'd get irritated. "I'm not here to talk about her. I don't want to talk about her." The angrier I'd get, the more I'd spill everything out in a rage. "That's it! That right there. Say it again!" She'd beam at me with pride, like I'd somehow made some kind of progress.

I resented her. I silently judged her. She was very forgetful. She'd ask me for my insurance card to make a copy every time we met because she'd misplaced it from last week. I don't think she ever actually filed anything with my insurance because I never got a bill and she never asked me for payment. I thought, "How can this person help me? She can't remember anything. This is a waste of time." Every appointment felt like our first one, like that movie 50 First Dates. It was weird.

And yet, I still felt lighter. It felt good to talk to someone. It felt good to be able to say anything. I didn't have to hold back or censor myself. There was no pressure to be FIXED. I was a flawed, messed up human. And that was 100% fine. She made me feel better about myself, but I couldn't articulate why or how.

She referred me to a psychiatrist and said that she thought I'd benefit from consulting one. So I went. I was told that I had a textbook case of depression and generalized anxiety disorder. When I reported this back to Theresa, she just smiled and said, "Yes, that's what I thought, too." For some reason, that bothered me. I wanted to blow out the candles she lit at the beginning of our session, just to be spiteful. She saw me looking at the candles and smiled some more. I wondered what she was like in her normal life. I wondered if she went to a therapist herself. If she talked about her patients. If she told them about me and how I glared at her candles in silent rage.

And then one day, I didn't show up for an appointment. Well, that's not true. I pulled up in the parking lot and just sat there. I didn't want to go in. I couldn't describe why. I just didn't feel like crying that day. I didn't want to dig up those old hurts and old memories. I debated with myself for a few minutes. Finally, I decided to just go home. She called a couple of times and left me a message. "Hi, it's Theresa. We had an appointment scheduled for today. Give me a call back if you'd like to reschedule. I hope everything is OK."

Everything was not OK, but yet it was. The duality confused me. I briefly thought about calling to apologize for not showing up. But then decided I would never see or speak to Theresa again. And it wouldn't matter because she probably wouldn't remember. I could be a person who went to therapy and then didn't anymore. I felt better. Sort of. I went back to my psychiatrist who was much more businesslike and less smiley. I decided I liked her a lot. She would listen quietly and ask me how I felt about certain things on a scale of 1 to 10. She felt like a "regular" doctor, who could give me medicine and was more clinical, whatever that meant.

And then I felt better. Not healed, but better. I stopped going.

It's been almost exactly 5 years since then. I feel like I'm right back where I was before. But I also feel like I'm in a different place than I was. I'm fine, but I'm not. These conflicting feelings never seem to end.

Here we go again.

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