I hesitate to share the following story because it will force me to out myself regarding something that I don’t really want to talk about in such a public setting. On the other hand, I’m pretty sure that this story bears telling.
I have a certain disorder. It’s nothing new; I’ve had this disorder for as long as I can remember, but it comes and goes. If I’m really busy or stressed out, the disorder gets worse. I’m masterful at covering it up, and, frankly, I really don’t like thinking or talking about it. Why give myself over to it and have this little disorder define who I am? I’m generally a pretty happy person, but being happy is work, people. I work damn hard at it.
Anyway, just for the sake of this blog post, let’s say that I have a severe phobia of Pat Robertson. (Chris is president of his fan club, by the way).
Note: I do not really have a phobia of any sort. It’s just an example, and being afraid of Pat Robertson is better than being afraid of velvet theatre curtains. I’m looking at you, Billy Bob Thornton.
So, lately, my PR phobia has gotten increasingly worse because my job takes up so much of my time—time that I would normally use to keep my PR phobia in check. I need lots of time alone and only small doses of stress in order to keep the PR phobia from taking over everything and making me very unhappy.
Recently I decided that I should seek professional help because, hell, this PR phobia is a lot of work. Recall that I had to call my insurance company and get names of potential professional mental health workers from Six-Dollar-An-Hour-Sally. After almost a month of dealing with my insurance company, I finally visited Therapist Thelma this week.
Thelma began by giving me a test, and that was great fun because I LOVE tests. Naturally, I was determined to outscore everyone, including the woman in the waiting room who told me that she collected lint.
After telling Thelma about my PR phobia, she handed me a whiteboard marker and told me to start doing some equations on the whiteboard. She asked me to estimate how long I’ve suffered from the PR phobia (since the beginning of time) and how many days per year I estimated that the PR phobia kept me from doing what I want/need to do (um, way too often). After much calculation, I came up with a number of days. She then asked me to calculate how many days my life span will encompass.
She then ran to her bookcase and began pulling giant textbooks off the shelves. She read off how many pages each book had and made me add up those numbers on the white board. When I finished all those calculations, she had me stack up the number of books which metaphorically equaled my entire life. Next to that stack, she had me stack up the number of books which metaphorically represented the number of days I’ve spent consumed with PR phobia. When I saw the stacks, I stared dumbly until she pointed out that I’ve spent almost as many days with PR phobia as I have days left to live. At that point, I started to bawl.
What exactly was Thelma trying to prove to me? Duh, I know that this PR phobia eats up my life. I know it’s a bad thing. I know it’s something that I need to change about myself. That’s why I was at Thelma’s office!
The session got worse after she made me sob uncontrollably. She told me a story about another client who suffered from the same PR phobia. Thelma explained, “Michelle—that’s my client’s name—has this exact same problem. When Michelle has an ‘episode’ she calls her parents and they come over and make her dinner, do her laundry, and take care of her. What are you getting out of your PR phobia?” When I told her that I honestly don’t know what I get out of this—I’d gladly relinquish this disorder in a second if I could’ve done it alone before this—she assured me that everyone who has a PR phobia gets something out of it. She asked me to think about how I’m using it to manipulate people. Honestly, I’ve only told about three people in my whole entire life about this; Awesome Man is wonderfully supportive, but it’s not something we talk about regularly. He knows when I’m having a PR phobia attack, but he doesn’t treat me any differently than normal. I don’t want him to treat me any differently.
Thelma then asked me to explain a typical PR phobia attack. I explained the details of it and then added, “I’m perfectly aware that none of this is rational. I know that if I think about this logically, it just doesn’t make sense. Still, I can’t seem to keep myself from having this reaction” I think it’s pretty clear from that statement that I know my phobia of PR is not rational. Thelma asked me to close my eyes and then asked me a series of questions: “What are you scared of? Will that really happen? What if it did? Then what? Then what?” This is exactly the process I take myself through when I’m having a PR phobia episode. I told her this as I answered her questions. At the end of the Q&A, Thelma said, “There. Now you’ve taken yourself through a logical set of questions, and you’ve concluded that there’s nothing to be scared of.” Thelma, did you not listen to me?!? I know I’m being irrational. If it were that simple—admitting that this is a ridiculous phobia—I wouldn’t be sitting in her office staring at the breathtakingly frightening statue of Jesus perched atop her desk and blowing my snotty nose on generic Kleenex.
She gave me mental health homework and told me to come back next week with a list of ways that my behavior is similar to my mother’s. And also to think about how I use this phobia to manipulate people around me.
But you know what really illustrates that I have a problem? I made another appointment so that I wouldn’t hurt her feelings. And I cried all day long because my life is almost over, and I’ve spent most of it being afraid of Pat Robertson.
I’m not a mental health professional, but I’m pretty sure that Thelma sucked. During our session, she talked about herself multiple times, answered the phone, and discussed other clients (at length) who had problems completely different than mine.
Here’s what I revealed about myself during the session:
* My marital status
* My age
* My job
* My phobia
That’s it. I didn’t tell her anything else. You want to know what I know about her? Here’s what she talked about:
* Her recent surgery
* Her general health conditions
* The ages and professions and mental disorders of her children
* The deaths of close family members
* Her brother’s tour of duty in Vietnam
* Her computer malfunctions (in detail)
* A few anecdotes about her mother (all of which sounded like email spam stories)
* An unpleasant experience with a professor in graduate school (in detail)
* Her GPA
* The reasons she became a therapist
I’m not used to sharing my mental problems with anyone—let alone a mental health professional—but is this normal? Is it normal for the therapist to talk more than me? Is it normal to leave feeling like she knew nothing about me or my problem?
Sadly, the whole experience has turned me off of therapy. I’d rather deal with my PR phobia by myself than put up with this. Alissa, my racist hair stylist, provides better feedback than this!