By Tanya Kini
I’d seen them in American movies and TV shows — the bespectacled person sitting across the main character (who’s inevitably lying down on a couch) with a notepad and pen in front of them and a benevolent expression on their face. Like every other teenager with teenage friends I wondered — listening to other people’s problems is what they do all day long. How does it help?
The first time I understood what therapy meant was when my sister was studying a subject called Counselling Psychology in college. She is the one who explained the difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist.
My next experience with a therapist was at age 21 when someone asked me if I knew a therapist they could go to. I was stumped. No clue how to go about searching for a ‘mind doctor’ in a country where the conversation about mental health seems to be decades behind the rest of the world. Forget having a conversation, it’s rarely acknowledged that mental health is actually an issue.
Another day, while chatting with a few friends, one of them piped up, “Yeah I go to a therapist.” No one else heard but I looked at them. Not a look of “Ha! You must be crazy!” or “Really? So weird!” but “Why?” But the conversation moved on.
That friend would tell me two years later to go see a therapist because of an issue that had resurfaced from an old relationship that affected me greatly in 2014. She would keep bringing up the topic (subtly and not at all in the nagging sense) but every time I thought about it, my first response continued to be “Why?”
“It’s not that expensive.”
“Don’t give a fuck about that. Why?”
I could never get that question answered beyond “You need to talk to someone besides your mother and your sister or even me.” Another friend was brutally honest. “You’re honestly sinking and none of us are equipped to pull you out.” Or something roughly to that effect. But I couldn’t bring myself to make an appointment and actually go see someone.
First, I don’t like doctors and hospitals. Second, I don’t trust doctors and hospitals. Now they wanted me to go to someone I don’t trust and basically tell them all of my deepest thoughts — minus any alcohol or outside stimulant? Thank you, but no thank you. I’d rather be wallowing in the well of depression than see a judgemental look from someone who I’m paying a bunch of money.
But the thought continued to nag — should I try it? Yes, what happened after that situation was tough and wrecked my life for a good three months. I definitely wasn’t the same person after that. But did it warrant me going to a complete stranger and spilling thoughts that I didn’t even want to admit to myself?
I explained the whole situation to my sister who simply said, “Go if you want. I’ll be there for you.” My mother tried her best to understand and even though she didn’t, I didn’t hold it against her. Hell, even I didn’t understand why everyone kept saying I needed to go.
Come 2017 and a new job and a new focus on life — working out, writing more and (trying to be) focussed on a new project. Friend no.3, who resembles the side of my personality that is two parts high-society and two parts no filter honesty, has been told to go to therapy by their mother. “My mother thinks I have issues and she wants me to sort them out before I leave (for her Master’s degree in the USA).” Verbatim. I laughed. Not right then but two weeks later because my friend couldn’t see it herself but I could see it. There was a slight change. Yes, she stopped going to therapy after three sessions because they were moving abroad but still — the difference was there. She was more aware of the issues she was dealing with and speaking to her now, the issues are more like wispy ghosts (think Nearly Headless Nick from Harry Potter) that surface once in a while rather than invisible chains (think any soul from Bleach, the anime) that keep her ghosts bound to the earth.
And that was when I decided — let’s give this therapy thing a shot.
My first appointment at 11 am at an actual hospital devoted to psychology and I was 20 minutes late. The first thing the doctor says when I enter their room — “You’re late. You know the session will end by 12pm, right?” I’m taken aback by the slightly cool tone of her voice and then the lack of a couch. Damn! There were a couple of semi-comfortable chairs in front of a desk — almost as if I was applying for a bank loan and not a dissection of why I think the way I think. Also, I’d come straight from the gym and I was highly aware that my body odour wasn’t the most pleasant. Well, at least she had a notepad and a pen in front of them and there was AC.
The session started off very normally, a regular conversation. What do you do, your life right now, just random stuff. Then she came to the first trigger — what made me come here? Stuff had happened in my life over the last eight years and I don’t seem to have moved past it. I was asked to elaborate and once every five sentences, she would ask me a question. Just a simple question but it opened the floodgates. No, I didn’t start crying, not yet. But talking about one of the two incidents that really affected me — my father’s death — made me uncomfortable. I’ve talked about it before but with people who know the context. Also not when someone is staring at me for a good portion of 20 minutes. From there, it moved on to the ‘particular incident’ and how my reaction to both was connected.
I like talking. Ask anyone in my life and they will tell you, I cannot shut up unless someone tells me to explicitly keep quiet. And even then, I’ll find a way to talk. Hell, I even talk to myself sometimes when I’m alone. I’m always having a conversation — in my head, talking to the TV, my friends, family, the dog I see on the street, my electronics. But in that one moment, when I was recounting old childhood memories and opening raw wounds, I didn’t want to start talking but I couldn’t stop.
The questioning was extremely subtle — I barely noticed. From generally talking about my current living situation and how I ended up here to my life back in the Gulf and the first time I experienced a close family member passing away. Half an hour in and I’m telling this stranger, things that I’d never thought about in nearly eight years. Little incidents that will only get a couple of sentences in my future memoirs became difficult for me to recount.
I could feel the sob collecting at the back of my throat and I barely made eye contact with the doctor because I didn’t want to see her expression. It was all too overwhelming.
Then when the session ended, the therapist said they were moving to another hospital and for the next session I’d have to see another doctor and explain the gist of what I just told them to the other doctor. I then remembered something the receptionist had told me when I entered the hospital, which I’d forgotten in my nervousness and hurry to get there — they forgot to tell me that the therapist with whom I’d booked the appointment had actually asked for me to be reassigned to another doctor because of them leaving that particular hospital. And yet, the therapist decided to continue the session despite knowing I wouldn’t be able to continue with them.
When I reached home (I’m still in my gym clothes at this point), I crashed on the bed and essentially stared at the ceiling until my grandmother called me for lunch. I didn’t have any energy, mental or physical, to even lift a finger. I was that exhausted. My mind was racing with all the details that I’d revealed to a complete stranger only for them to tell me that I’d have to do it all over again in the next session. To another person.
Um. No. Fucking. Way.
Two days later, I got a call asking me to confirm the next session. I booked the second appointment a week later. A day before the appointment, I cancelled it. I regretted cancelling it for exactly two seconds. I’d rather be flailing in the lake of depression than go through all the torture of recounting the worst/best moments of your life over and over again. That was two months ago. I pass by that hospital every day on the way to the gym and I do think about that session. But ask me to go back and start the process all over again, I’d shake your hand and run the other way. One time was one too many for me. Thank you, but no thank you.