How therapy failed me?

How therapy failed me: a side-view of woman sitting alone in a chair staring at the ceiling.

"Amidst the stark walls and impersonal questions, I realized how therapy failed me: I was alone, drowning in my pain, searching for connection, but left adrift in a sea of isolation."| Photo Credit: ©shintartanya / Adobe Stock

How therapy failed me

Hollywood's vision of therapy failed me

I took therapy every once in a while because it was the word of the hour then. Therapy saves, said one man on the internet. I believe it indeed is true. Anything that saves is medicinal, in fact. A comfortable couch, a huge room with enough air to not feel suffocated by our own emotions, and a therapist with a diary in her hand was how I imagined therapy to be. Of course, it is the romanticized version of what I have seen in the movies. But then, the protagonist always heals or at least has a happy ending. 

I wanted my therapist to be like the Dead Poets Society professor or the psychiatrist from Good Will Hunting. They were always helped. They were saved in the end. But when I visited the therapist for the first time after being told that I needed DBT urgently, I felt a wave of happiness surge through me. I was going to be saved if not healed. After all, I am the sole protagonist of my story, and we all win in movies and stories. But the therapist's room was small, with stiff chairs to sit upon and a large mirror where I tried to ignore my image. I am not beautiful, but at that time, I didn't need another reminder for that. 

"The romanticized version of therapy I had in mind, with a comfortable couch and a therapist like the heroes in movies, shattered when I entered the small room with stiff chairs and a disinterested therapist. That's how therapy failed me."

I sit, looking at my therapist, waiting to be asked about what brought me there. She, a middle-aged woman with fairly straight hair, reminded me of my English teacher, who taught us the art of writing essays. She was checking her phone when I entered. 

"What brings you here?" She asked the famous question. And I tried to summarize my entire experience of a few years in one sentence. 

"My doctor referred me to you." 

This wasn't the answer I was expecting to come out of my mouth. But then, who knows what answers our own tongues construct before the air through our vocal cords can. She looked at me momentarily, and I felt aware of myself. Was she looking at the box scars on my skin? Was she looking at the dark circles and eye bags under my eyes? What was she looking at?

When a therapist asks: "Tell me what happened?"

As I was immersed in my own thoughts, she asked me again, "So tell me what happened?"

The question I had answered so many times by then felt like a record on a loop.

"I was in my college.
I felt lonely.
I wanted to kill myself.
I got depressed.
I got suicidal.
I came here.
I don't want to go back."

She looked at me briefly, or perhaps the air around me, suddenly thick with so many judgments. I could see in her eyes the next sentence which every therapist I had tried by then had asked me.

"What else?"

What else? This question seemed like an interview question," why should we hire you?"

"Sir, I will be a good asset to your company."

"What else?"

But when one wants to kill themselves, the only question that should not be asked besides how they intend to do it is asking if there is anything else one would like to do.

What else? Maybe a trip to heaven. Boarding bus to hell. Sleeping on my way back. Or perhaps being left alone even after death. What else?

My aunt's dead parrot waiting for me. He and I were the same age. Or the dog who died of rabies was looking for me with happiness. Or the cow that was killed in an accident was finally thanking me for calling the vet who ended her misery and pain. After all, we all want to escape it. But then there is no concept of what else for a person who has decided to sort her life by not living it at all.

I proceeded to say," That's it."

But that wasn't it. I had a rage inside me that was eating me alive. I wanted to scream at the world, doctors who gave me medicines I didn't need, doctors who ignored my plea for help. Doctors who weren't considerate of my illness. Doctors who knew how treatment-resistant I had got and warned me that the only next step was to have ECT (Electroconvulsive therapy). Doctors who never picked up calls. Doctors who laughed at me.

My therapist replied," Look, there are people worse than you."

"Of course there are; how else do you think the world works? The world is full of people and statistics of people dying from depression. Of course, people have it worse. What do you want me to do about it? A person isn't measured by the depth of his miseries but by the depth of the heart that sank and failed to rise up. My heart was at the bottom. My heart was at the bottom. Aren't you listening? I cannot even hear my heartbeats," I thought.

The difference between good and bad therapy is similar to the difference between "Are you feeling okay?" and "How are you?"

Nobody wants to really know the answer to the latter. Everyone wants to answer first.

I decided to not reveal anything more. What was there to reveal besides saying that I didn't feel like living anymore. Perhaps when one talks about suicide, they mean the end of the sentence and not the beginning of it. They mean there is no new sentence after it. They mean there is no gentleness in night, no bravery in the day. 
What else?

I waited for her to complete her speech on how things weren't good in the world, how people were dying and surviving and dying again.

As she finished, she called my father, asking him to continue DBT thrice a week.

My father agreed. I didn't. 

I looked at the mirror one last time. I saw my defeated face. The couch I hadn't noticed earlier wasn't that comfortable anyway.

"In the depths of my despair, when I poured my heart out to my therapist, hoping for understanding and support, all I received was the dismissive response, 'Look, there are people worse than you.' That's how therapy failed me, by undermining my pain and failing to listen to the cries of my aching heart."

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