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Janie said it could be the beginning scene of the indie movie about my life that, if you ask me, will probably never be made. On my first day of therapy three summers ago, I walked into the front room, confused by the lack of official-looking-person who was to tell me what to do. Couches. Doors. A vase of flowers. Peaceful noisemakers drowning out the sounds of tears and sorrow (I couldn’t imagine then that laughter might be an option). But there was no front desk, no greeting. I sat down on the couch. I stood up. I walked down the hall, but the rooms with open doors were empty and the ones with closed doors? There was no way I was going there.
I returned to the front and joined the only other person in the room. He was maybe eight years old with blond, scruffy hair, glasses, and he didn’t look nearly as uncomfortable as I did as he sat on the couch across from me reading a book. I leaned in for a second. “Excuse me?” I whispered. He looked up, surprised. “What do I do? It’s my first time.”
“They’ll come out for you. You just wait here,” he said. Just the simple facts. I sat back, comforted. I knew what to do. And so I waited.
It felt like I didn’t have much of a choice about being at the counseling office at that point. Well, of course I did. I drove myself and all. But I had let the anxiety go too far unchecked and I knew it and my body knew it and it seemed all the cells that knew it revolted against me, making themselves known as though saying, “We need help. Please don’t ignore us anymore.” I heard them this time, loud and clear, unmistakeable.
From the reference of a trusted mentor, I made the call for an appointment. “What in particular is going on?” the woman on the phone had asked. “Definitely anxiety. Perhaps depression. I’m not really sure,” I whispered the words because they didn’t seem real, not in reference to me at least.
I don’t remember much about the specifics of that first session, except that my therapist commented on the quietness of my voice and used words for my feelings that I would have never afforded myself. She asked a few questions and I mostly cried and sometimes tried not to cry and told her why I thought I was there. She gave me tissues and prodded gently. Over the course of the next few months, I reconsidered ideas I had never once questioned. It was disorienting and dizzying and everything felt new, like I was a learning how to do the very basics again, like walk and talk and tie my shoes.
Sometimes it is as simple as that I learned to tie my shoes one way and that way isn't working as well as it used to and I'm tired of tripping over my own feet.Kelsey Miller
And truthfully, for me, that’s what counseling ended up being. For the most part, my counselor Melanie and I would sit there and I would talk and then she would look at me and say, “Have you ever considered a different way of tying your shoes?” She never said that exactly, but the sentiment of that: noting with gentleness that I have been operating under some assumptions for so long that I never considered there might be another better, healthier, perhaps sometimes easier, way. There were those first few weeks of dizzying disorientation, but as time charged on and I along with it, it became less dizzying and in fact, it became a place of orientation, a place to practice my new walk in my newly tied shoes.
We all have weird habits and ways of being with varying degrees of wonkiness and sometimes the best thing we can do is laugh about them, call them funky, and then move forward differently. Often, those closest to us are so privy to our own ways of tying our shoes that it takes a truly third party to note the particularities. That is where therapy came in.
“Have you ever considered that you don’t have to apologize when you cry?” “Why is ‘hurt’ always the last emotion you’re able to name?” “Has your voice always been this quiet?”
I guess I write this to say that even those of us who lived largely dreamy childhoods and have suffered relatively little still didn’t make it out unscathed. This is not to say that I am a tortured soul, but just to say out loud with confidence that I am a human being with a story that has included joy and sorrow and pain and love.
Those of us who need counseling are not only those who are particularly sensitive or sufferers of abuse or those with a mental illness. For me, I was, and am, a human being who was finding it difficult to be a human being for a time. It is no more important or dramatic than that. Sometimes it is as simple as that I learned to tie my shoes one way and that way isn’t working as well as it used to and I’m tired of tripping over my own feet.
And so I went and kept going even when I thought I might die if I had to say that one thing I hadn’t ever told anyone before. And in the process of telling my secrets and sharing my wounds, I recovered pieces of my heart I was ready to throw out with the cold bathwater and it is truly God’s grace that they were saved in time. And though I am still tripping over my feet over here, it doesn’t feel as fatal as it used to. Maybe that’s the real gift of it. Tripping, falling, and finding myself on the ground laughing at the newfound view. It’s so much more beautiful than I remembered.