Celia Kramer is a writer living with debilitating anxiety. In her weekly column, Dread Journal, Celia will write about the horrible and hilarious world of fear, dread, paranoia, phobias, panic attacks, and trying to function as a halfway normal person. Some names and inconsequential details have been changed to protect the privacy of the people in her life.
When I was young, I used to look at the word therapist over and over until finally I couldn’t unsee it as the rapist. I don’t think this is significant, since no therapist—or anyone for that matter—ever raped me. But seriously, they couldn’t have come up with a better word?
In case I haven’t made it painfully obvious with tales of passing out, panic attacks, and fear of even the smallest confrontation, I am a person who needs therapy. Luckily, I have been in therapy on and off for most of my life, so you can tell that it’s really working.
I started therapy relatively young– I would have panic attacks at school or throw up every night because I was so nervous. I can’t tell you what I was nervous about because I don’t know and that’s not really how anxiety works. I was anxious about being alive. Living was scary.
I don’t blame my parents, but they had no idea how to deal with someone as neurotic as me. As a parent you hope for a happy, carefree child and not a high strung, dour little thing who regularly tried to set up appointments to install alarm systems in our home. And they were dealing with their own anxiety–imagine their horror when they realized that I was like each of them, but combined. Worse.
And so I went to therapy. Lots of it.
In college, I went to the Student Health Center to try and get a referral for a therapist in my college town. The counselor I saw had a grad student sit in on my three sessions, and I tried to keep my voice super level and calm when she asked if I was sexually active. Yes. How many partners? Less than five. Drink? Yes. Cigarettes? Yes. Drugs? No. I considered lying and saying that yes I did drugs because the grad student was pretty cool looking, but the reality is that fun drugs don’t mix well with my anxiety. My cross to bear. If you feel like you have to lie to your therapist to impress her, you may be seeing the wrong therapist.
Laurie was my first therapist. I don’t remember her last name because I was approximately 10-years-old and what I remember about being 10-years-old includes getting my ears pierced and learning how to have really boring cybersex with strangers from AOL from my friend’s older sister. I never wanted to talk because I didn’t really have the vocabulary to explain how I was feeling, so we played Jenga while she asked me questions about myself, which I saw through because I was a smart, precocious 10-year-old. I asked her when the last time the elevator in her building was checked. It seemed a little faulty, to me.
I would say that seeing Laurie had little to no effect on my daily anxiety level, and I knew it, at the time. But I made her laugh and I wasn’t sure if she had any friends so I kept going for a while, to keep her company on Monday nights.
I was referred by Student Health to a therapist who I never really got comfortable with, but because I am afraid that I would hurt her feelings, I kept going. This is an ongoing theme in my life. Once she farted during a session and it was the worst thing that ever happened to me in my entire life, because my life has been privileged and easy.
For a person who’s really into body acceptance, I surprisingly fall to pieces when any type of bodily function comes up. In my mind, here is how you’re supposed to handle farting.
1. Never, ever, ever do it. Don’t do it.
2. Make sure you are alone somewhere like your house or outer space or a ghost town.
If there is no alternative but to do it in front of someone else, have the decency to pretend it was your shoe or the chair. Here is how you’re not supposed to handle farting:
Acknowledge it by saying “excuse me,” and then expect your patient to keep talking about her anxiety and deepest fears. I clammed up because I am ill equipped to deal with humans and things that human bodies do, and spent the rest of the session making up fictional problems. How could I trust this woman with my actual struggles? She had just farted and expected me to forget about it. I don’t have a degree in psychology, but I got a B- in Freshman Psych 101. This tells me that I’m about 82% qualified to say that this is not acceptable decorum for a therapist.
Around age 15, I started seeing this woman who for some reason I remember being named Jane Seymour, but I know that’s not right. She was a lesbian and I remember wanting to appear really down with the gays so I mentioned my gay friends a lot, which is mortifying in retrospect. Pro tip: if you feel you have to impress your therapist with your liberal attitude instead of talking about your problems, get your head out of your ass and treat her like a person, and not like, say, a gay person.