I remember the day very clearly. I was in my early 20s dealing with IBS (back then, there wasn’t a name for it), extreme PMS, and migraines. But underlying these physical issues was depression; chronic, clinical depression. I couldn’t really remember being totally happy; there was always a tinge of sadness.
My doctor (who was ahead of his time in many ways – he referred me to a naturopath) thought, rather than give me antidepressants (this is pre-Prozac), I should see a therapist and work my way through my mental health issues. He suggested I see Dr. XYZ, so I made an appointment.
I was nervous; I had never really talked to anyone about the darkness that lay just below the surface. So, I babbled about feeling down, how I could burst into tears at any moment, blurted out about an experience that had made me afraid of being alone at night. I stopped to take a breath, and the therapist cut in.
“There is nothing wrong with you that being active in sports wouldn’t cure. You have the thinnest arms I’ve seen someone in their 20s. Join a team sport like softball, and you will feel better.”
Easy for her to say; I was thin due to the IBS and recovering from an eating disorder. I was active in that I went for long walks/hikes. Previously, I had played recreational softball, but when the league became too competitive, I quit. Within a short period of time, she had defined me, confined me, and pronounced her decision. Easy for her to sit in judgment and proscribe. Hard for me to take anything of value away from the session.
Fast forward 30 years (that’s how long it took til I thought I could be in the same room with a therapist). I was dealing with circumstances truly out of my control and by then, in addition to the IBS, I had chronic pain and other health issues. Antidepressants, as usual, were only barely keeping me from hours of inconsolable crying. So I tired therapy again. I explained the situational depression as well as the chronic depression. I discussed the steps I had taken, suggested that I wasn’t looking for answers, but for ways to cope with the never-ending stress and sadness.
I saw the therapist weekly; she took notes, asked questions. We were getting no where, and I had to go back into my family caregiver role (which was one of my issues). She sat back and said, “Since this is our last session, I’ll tell you what I think.” Once again, it was easy for her to say: “tell your mother she has to listen to you and do what you suggest for her own good, and then go get a job.”
A stroke and dementia had turned my original mother into my “other” mother; telling her she had to listen to me was NOT going to result in her agreeing. If said something was blue, she would reply, “No, it’s red.” Finding a job was hard when I was spending half my time trying to keep my mother’s life in order (and she lived hundreds of miles and a country away), now had health issues that made employment more difficult, and had been doing extensive job searches and applications with no success. Perhaps if I had super powers or pixie dust, these goals might have been achieved. I was looking for how to deal with the realities of my life; she really hadn’t listened and was tossing out what she thought were easy solutions to my hard problems.
This isn’t meant as a tirade against therapy. There are excellent therapists out there. Instead, it’s a critique of how easy it can be for some one to tell you to just do X, then Y will happen without them understanding or considering just how hard that is for you to do emotionally, physically, spiritually, mentally. Folks with invisible illnesses hear these easy for you to say solutions to their health issues on a regular basis. Perhaps folks are trying to help. If they tried to understand, that would be so much better. Easy for me to say, “Try and understand my situation, health issues, predicament, realities.” Hard for people to do so.