I Faked My Way Through Therapy and It Backfired
Two years ago, my divorce burned a swath through my mental health in ways I wasn’t prepared for. I was absolutely ruined. I underestimated how something I knew in my heart I wanted and knew was right could destroy me so much.
When I asked for a divorce, I thought I would feel better. I would be on a path toward changing my life into what I wanted it to be. It required sifting through the rubble that remained to do that rebuilding. I didn’t have it in me and ended up staring at a mess instead.
Emotionally, I was totaled. I cried every day for months. Every damn day.
After what felt like a monumental breakdown, I took advantage of our employee assistance program and went to see a therapist. I realized it was no time for foolish pride. I just needed to stop crying.
At first, it was wonderful and cathartic and I felt stronger. It was an initial release of the breath I had been holding in for ages.
That feeling wore off fast. I couldn’t even figure out how to do therapy right. It didn’t seem like my thing. I wanted to be good at it, in the same way, I’d love to be good at yoga but I’m not. My brain is too noisy.
I am a horrible over-thinker. There are times when I let ideas, fears, and insecurities occupy way too much space in my brain. For me, therapy didn’t seem to make that space smaller. Spending an hour talking about something and over-analyzing it and then having somebody else analyze it made that space bigger. It gave it too much power.
I wanted to feel good about my therapy but quickly realized I was going for the wrong reasons. I thought, “Oh, look. I’m in therapy. I’m totally together.” It’s really easy to fool yourself into believing that.
I’d cherry-pick things to tell my therapist. The easy stuff. It wasn’t hard to pull off. I could leave out anything that I deemed too difficult to work on and only focus on the things that didn’t require much effort.
I can make this easy, I told myself. I’d spend an hour that I was paying heavily for and dance around the hard issues. She’d listen, give advice as best she could based on what I told her, and task me with work to do until the next session. In theory, this sounds perfect.
But, when you manipulate your therapy and you game the system, you don’t even have to do that work. You can fake it. You can lie and say that you did that wonderful journal entry, but you don’t.
Suddenly, I was back in college participating in a discussion of a book I never finished reading. Hell, if it worked back then I could make it work now.
My therapist didn’t know what was in the back of my mind. But I did. I could hide all of the worst from her but I couldn’t hide it from myself. Eventually, it caught up with me.
After I couple of months, I had burned through the trivial stuff and dealt with the low hanging fruit. I had spent hundreds of dollars and felt no better. I was tired of feeling like hell. I had run out of places to hide.
I had a choice: remain miserable or roll up my sleeves. I made a list of everything I hadn’t addressed but needed to. I prioritized it and brought it to my therapist. She took one look at it and said, “This. This is something.”
My therapist is the gentlest purveyor of tough love I have ever met. She would not accept my negative self-talk. She asked me to confront it in straight forward ways. She pushed me to be kinder, stop judging myself and recognize my worth.
Some days, that was easy. Some days, it was hard as hell. I had to stop planning my therapy sessions during my lunch hour because I was emotionally exhausted and had to sit and process everything.
It got to the point where it was effortless. I learned triggers and how to avoid them. I began standing up for myself. For the first time in my life, I set boundaries. All of this was a set of coping mechanisms I desperately needed.
Ironically, the harder I worked the less I had to go to therapy. Once a week turned into every other week and then to once a month. At this point, I go when I need to. What I really love is that I can recognize when it’s needed. Being that honest and accountable to myself and my own mental health feels amazing.
*If you liked this, you might enjoy my other forays into attempting to be a whole, normal human being:
When You’re the Emotionally Unavailable One
Figuring out your share of the blame is eye opening.