Everyone needs to have their defenses broken down sometimes. It’s the only way to figure out what you’re really after, why you’re not happy, and whether you’re running down the path of life in the wrong direction with the wrong company. The problem is that we have defenses for a reason and most of us aren’t comfortable living unprotected. For me, therapy is a safe space where I can be vulnerable, own up to my insecurities, and admit my faults. My hour with Sarah is the only time when I feel normal at Harvard.
I’ve been seeing Sarah since late October. To be honest, I made a snap judgment the second she shook my hand at our pre-screening. I didn’t think we’d click. And at first, we didn’t. Our first meetings consisted of talking on my part and nodding on hers. There wasn’t anything particularly insightful I gleaned from the biweekly sessions. But recently, I’ve realized that what she says about my personality and inclinations makes sense. Maybe it’s because she’s making more accurate assessments with time. Maybe it’s because I’m more willing to listen.
If I were Sarah, I wouldn’t like myself very much. There is absolutely nothing to pity about my situation. No one died. My grades are fine. It’s not even like I can complain that much about my love life. I just can’t get my emotions under control when crisis strikes, boo-fucking-hoo. In my initial sessions with her, I pretty much gave a list of hang-ups and expected her to form an accurate diagnosis. Typical Friday morning inquiries would go something like: “So Sarah, what do you get if you combine an eating disorder, predisposition for addiction, impulsive behavior, alcohol dependency, promiscuity, and unhappy childhood with an overachieving, extroverted Type A personality?” I went in with the attitude that I was overachieving at life — whatever my problems were had to be chemically induced. I wasn’t particularly helpful, just demanding. Pills? Electroshock? Lobotomy? I was game for anything — just fix me in time for recruitng.
Obviously, I’m a handful. I’m no different when it comes to Sarah but that’s okay. With her, I unload all my baggage and I don’t feel guilty about it. My friends don’t have time to deal with my depression, but my therapist? It’s her job. So I let my pals finish their problem sets and let Sarah listen to my problems. Mental Health Services is highly underutilized, and therapy is highly underrated. Not unlike promiscuity, it is at once taboo and trendy. Thus, it’s easy to discount its real value. But even for me — someone whose writing depends on introspection — I find myself making revelations every time I go in.
The morning after I hurled something at Aidan’s head, Sarah asked me about my father. In the midst of my most recent heartbreak, I had never thought to ponder my first. My dad was the first man to disappoint me: divorce, neglect, irresponsibility … I could go on for days about what my father didn’t do and what he screwed up at.
“I know he loves me because he’s my father. And I love him,” I told Sarah. “But he was a man who just wasn’t very good at fatherhood.”
I started talking abeout my family dynamics and was in the middle of ranting when she cut me off to ask the obvious question of what this meant for my romantic interactions. Sarah wanted to know what I was looking for in my relationships with men. Though mid-tirade just moments earlier, I suddenly found myself at a loss for words. It was the first time since I started therapy that there was silence in the office. Several seconds after my prose broke off, I finally managed to speak.
“I just want to be loved.”
I said it quite simply and half-shrugged, shaking my head, my eyes welling up. It was a moment of clarity, and I was almost shocked. I didn’t expect to make any revelations — certainly not one as seemingly simple as this one. It was the closest I ever came to crying with Sarah.
Two nights later, I finished in my dorm room what I started in her office and cried in front of Aidan. It was appropriate. He was the only person other than Sarah that I’d been as honest with this fall. At the moment, I couldn’t stop sobbing and I thought that it was because he hurt me. In retrospect, it was 19 years in the making.
I am so far from perfect in a place where perfection is the minimal expectation. Yet I get the feeling that very few people ever meet that self-imposed standard and that perfection is a poor substitute for happiness. I don’t think I will ever quite be good enough, but for the first time since just about ever, academic performance and professional success are not what matters.
It was in therapy that I finally realized neither made me happy. It was in therapy that the void in my life stopped being something I thought Harvard could fill. And it was Sarah who stripped me down to the most vulnerable I’d ever been. It was her who saw that at the core of this ambitious young woman was really a girl who just wanted to be loved.