Psyched Up

It took everything in me to tell my mother that I wanted to see a counselor. She was new to the profession, young. She had been in my sister’s graduating class. This, mixed with her clean-cut, fashionable, and preppy appearance made me uncomfortable. I could meet her in town at the Mercy building. I parked in a back lot and walked through a dirty alleyway to get to the main entrance. The office was run down. We talked twice like this and got nowhere. She said I could call her if I needed. I did, one summer night when it didn’t feel safe to go home. I sat on the swings down the road. Unsure of what to say, I asked if she got to go home at the end of the day. Confused, she told me not to call her unless it was an emergency. I never talked to her again.

In the weeks after I wrote that letter to my parents, they found a therapist for me. We never spoke about the letter. They wrote their own and found Rachel. My mother drove me to a nice office on the medical mile in town. She was young, too. I tried to talk to her about harming myself. So, they’re only superficial cuts? I stared down at my feet and began to wonder if I was making a big deal of it all in my mind. I answered questions about the panic attacks. But you really can breathe, right? Was it all in my head? I couldn’t begin to explain the nightmares. I shut down. After a few visits, I stopped going.

Years down the roads and several medication trials, I was referred to a psychiatrist. When I first met him, we talked briefly about life stressors. He was older man with dark skin and a thick African accent. He barely looked up at me as he took notes and didn’t ask me to elaborate on anything. After the first appointment, we only talked about medication and side effects. When the Prozac made me manic, he increased the dose and added a sedative to help with sleep. Appointments were in a nice office that he didn’t seem to care to decorate. The clock was off and stopped. His sock was inside out and pushed down. The walls were sparse, outside of his medical license and one boring painting. A thick scar presented itself on his right arm as he clicked away, making notes. When I asked, his face unchanged, he told me that he grew up in Uganda and had gotten into a gang fight. Silence hung for a moment before he laughed. It was an actually just a bike accident, he said. I couldn’t understand why he did this. My body tensed but he didn’t seem to notice or care. He wanted to increase the dose again. His dismissive tone carried on with suggestion of dose increases for months until I refused.

She’s great. I’ve gone to her, too. She’s great even if you just need a sounding board for things going on.

I started seeing Ainsley a few years ago. She wasn’t brand new to the profession. She wasn’t dismissive. The office was small with a noise cancelling machine outside. Toys and books were on shelves and a few inspirational paintings hung on the walls. She sat near her computer. I sat in the corner farthest from her. I was different now, too, older and I had learned how to better communicate. I began to unmask when I met with her. I let myself rock and fidget. I asked if there were any rules to this and she assured that she had no expectations for how I might act or what I would say. It’s okay that silences don’t bother me. She always has more questions. It’s nice to talk to someone every once in a while. There were times when things got to be too much, times I stopped going. She never brought it up when I came back. We settled back in. In sessions, there was no note taking, just talking one to another. Her memory was impressive.

When I first started going, she suggested I have a discussion with my parents about their behaviors. I did. It didn’t go well, but she was glad. She was right, too. At least now I knew where I stood. She clarifies things sometimes but doesn’t push. Mostly, she makes me feel seen and heard and sane. When my ADHD and autism testing came back inconclusive, she was disappointed with me. Her cancer diagnosis came just as COVID hit and telehealth was too much for me. I asked her about it in a session and she asked if I really wanted to know, as if I was just making small talk. Her hair was gone, covered with a wrap. I was glad to her that she was officially in remission.

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