Before Tony died, I thought of therapy and anti-depressants the way a lot of people do. First of all, they were this dark, mysterious thing, much like the forbidden forest in The Wizard of Oz. They were unknown creatures. Second, they were not for me. They had nothing to do with me, and I wanted nothing to do with them. Admitting that I might need either seemed a weakness to me, although I certainly had no problem thinking that, for example, therapy would probably help Tony. I was, we all are, part of a society that has marginalized such things. Oh sure, there are little pockets where everyone has a therapist and talks about it proudly, but for most of us, that’s not the way it works.
Since I started blogging, I have had several indirect communications – people who’ve said these things to my friends or relatives but haven’t actually said them to me, here, on the blog – letting me know that these people think that anti-depressants are a crutch, therapy is a joke, etc. I also know from direct experience with Tony and from talking to others that there are many people out there who have never been in therapy or tried it once with the wrong therapist, and so they have decided that therapy cannot, under any circumstances, help them.
I want to reiterate, again, that the brain is a part of the human body. It produces chemicals like cortisol, serotonin, adrenaline and endorphins that help regulate how we feel. This is no different, NO DIFFERENT, than the way pancreas produces insulin. When a person’s pancreas fails to produce enough insulin to regulate blood sugar, that person gets diabetes, a medical condition that is treatable with drugs. Would any of us walk up to an insulin-dependent diabetic and pontificate about how the insulin that they rely on to save their lives is a crutch? For that matter, would any of us tell someone with a broken leg that they should throw away their crutch and just get on with it?
For me, therapy has been an eye-opening, life-changing thing. There are so many ways in which we do ourselves disservice. I wasn’t able to get out of my own way, and now thanks to therapy I can see that and I am beginning to see the ways I can change it. It occurs to me that therapy is the study of myself and my own behavior. Some might dismiss that as navel-gazing, but is it really? I would argue that it’s not. Why would we not want to know as much about ourselves and why we behave the way we do as possible? I can honestly say that my interpersonal relationships are better now than they have ever been.
The hardest thing for me about being in therapy (besides the occasional painful breakthrough) has been thinking about Tony and how insistent he was that therapy could not help him. That anti-depressants could not help him. That I should be able to, but couldn’t, help him. We have a long way to go in terms of how we view and treat mental illnesses, but there is help out there. It’s true that we can’t see these illnesses the same way we can see a broken leg, but we can’t see diabetes or congestive heart failure or heart disease either. Yet for those, we have no problem seeking help. Therapy could have helped Tony. Anti-depressants could have helped him. He could not get out of his own way, couldn’t see the forest for the trees, and couldn’t get past his fears about what other people might think if he said that he needed help. I wish, every day, that he had sought the help he needed. He didn’t, and I will never be the same.
What I hope, the reason I am taking these medications and going to therapy every week, and reading books by Brene Brown and Dr. Kristin Neff and Thich Nhat Hanh, is that while I might never be the same, I can become the best possible version of myself. I hope that I can take the tragedy of losing Tony and turn it into something that will help other people. I have to be honest – without therapy, I don’t think that would even be a possibility.
PS – I have to tell you that the day I got the idea for this title, I was lying in bed feeling quite pleased with myself. I decided to check on one of my favorite blogs, Woulda Coulda Shoulda, written by my friend Mir. I clicked over and the title of HER latest post was Teenagers and Travel and Moths (Oh My) and she assures me that this is because she and I share a Borg mind. I believe her. At any rate, you really should go over and read her blog because she’s an amazing writer and an even better person.