Paris, Autumn 2017
I arrive 15 minutes early, as per usual. I mean, I’m British, I can’t help myself.
Taking a seat in the waiting room, I try to distract myself from my nerves by scrolling through my Facebook feed.
No luck. Image after image of everyone’s highlights in life causes my heart to race with feelings of both envy and inadequacy.
I switch to Huffington Post’s news app and instantly regret it. Stories of murder, climate change and politics make my head spin with anxiety.
I decide to put my phone away and stare into space. My mind is racing with thoughts like,
Why I am always so anxious?
What’s wrong with me?
Therapy’s not going to work.
Why am I even here?
I should just go.
At 11:00 a.m. on the dot, a woman bursts through the door, snapping me out of my daze.
“You must be Victoria,” She beams, putting her hand out in front of me.
“Um, yeah, that’s me.” I reply, shaking her hand and feeling slightly perturbed by her positive aura.
“My name is Dr. Harrison*. It’s wonderful to meet you!”
Dr. Harrison is strikingly attractive. About my age, with long blonde hair, and bright blue eyes, she’s dressed elegantly in an olive green silk blouse, black pencil skirt and nude high heels.
Compared to her, my appearance just screams discomfort and insecurity. Wearing my standard uniform of jeans, a basic tee and Converse, I feel my face start to turn a deep shade of crimson.
Honestly, I had been expecting more of an old-aged, unassuming Mother figure as my therapist, rather than this explicit reminder of my (perceived) shortcomings as a young woman.
As she continues to speak, I nervously fiddle with a few strands of my prematurely silvered brunette hair, berating myself for not having made more of an effort.
“Please Victoria, follow me.”
Inside her office, she directs me towards a quaint mid-century style armchair which is directly opposite her, but a good distance away.
Looking around her office, I notice that it’s small and cosy, reminding me of my family’s living room back in England, equipped with soft lighting and charming decor. The floor to ceiling windows draped in heavy muslin add to the ambiance, creating a comfortable and welcoming environment to be in.
And, no chaise longue à la Freud, I smile to myself. I’d half expected the cliché of having to lay down in order to bare my soul.
My body starts to relax as I place my bag on the floor and take my seat.
“So, let’s talk about why you’ve chosen to come here, Victoria.”
For the next hour, we talk about my main issue, which is depression and my background, with a little bit of time focused on her explaining her methods of treatment.
She’s a big proponent of mindfulness and meditation, which initially, surprises me, given the fact she’s a Clinical Psychologist, but then this is 2017 and times are changing.
At the end of the session, she asks if I have a pen and paper because she has a list of books she’d like me to read. Eager to please, I whip out my Moleskine notebook and flip it open to an empty page. Sensing her curiosity, I tell her it’s like the analogue version of my brain, going with me everywhere, always poised and ready to collect my random thoughts and observations.
She smiles and proceeds to name the book titles and their authors.
“Do you like to read, Victoria?”
Do I? Oh, if only she could see my bookcase at home, my ginormous “wish list” on Amazon and my beaten up old library card.
“I do, indeed!” I enthuse.
“Marvellous, I’ll give you an extra two for your list then.”
Deep in thought as I leave her office and walk towards the metro, I ponder my first experience.
Are all therapists like that? Or was I just lucky?
Honestly, I’m shocked that I had talked so openly to someone who, essentially, was a stranger. And it wasn’t nervous chatter to fill an awkward silence, like I am usually guilty of.
No, this was something different.
In fact, once I got started, I just couldn’t stop. And it felt weird, especially as it didn’t seem to bother her in the slightest. There wasn’t even one instance where I felt her wanting to jump in and interrupt me.
I know Psychologists are meant to “listen” but boy, did she listen. It actually made me feel important. Like she really cared. No looking around, deep sighs of boredom or judgemental comments. I literally had every ounce of her attention for the whole hour.
A couple of times she even closed her eyes and nodded her head as I spoke, silently encouraging me with her entire mind and body.
When she did speak, she was so calm, collected and purposeful. A complete contrast to someone like me who’s generally all over the place, thinking faster than I can speak. It was almost as if her energy was absorbing all my stress and anxiety and giving me back peace and tranquility.
It was amazing.
The sound of a group of boisterous teenagers laughing as they enter the metro cuts sharply through my daydream and brings me swiftly back to reality. Luckily, I haven’t missed my stop.
I suddenly feel exhausted. Like the high of completing a marathon has subsided, finally giving way to the effects of extreme physical exertion. But it’s not a negative thing.
It’s a relief.
Such a relief in fact, that as soon as I get home, I head straight for my bed and promptly fall into a delicious and deep sleep.
Over the next few months, I would visit my therapist once a week for an hour at a time.
In each session, we’d dive a little bit deeper than the previous one, slowly unravelling my problems and finding solutions. It was truly an insightful and healing process which taught me a lot about myself and why I think and respond the way I do to certain things.
Most significantly, I believe, was the knowledge she gave me concerning the concept of self-compassion. She explained that, amongst a few other smaller issues, I was mainly dealing with codependency and that developing more compassion for myself was the key to dissolving my clouds of depression.
I know, you’re probably thinking, what? Self-compassion? What kind of new age, egoic notion is that? Well, I do plan on writing about it in more detail, but for now, let’s just say, it’s not what you think.
And although I don’t go to therapy anymore, the lessons I learnt and the tools I was given continue to have a positive and beneficial effect on me and in my life.
However, if I could afford it, I’d probably continue to go to therapy every week for the rest of my life. Just the simple act of having someone listen to you unbiasedly and intently while you offload your thoughts, is a truly cathartic and valuable experience.
Ultimately, I think my experience is what gave me the confidence to open up about my struggles on social media:
Before treatment I’d never openly talk about it, which I think is normal for the majority of people. In a world that stigmatises mental illness, it can be hard for anyone to even admit they have a problem, let alone go into detail about it.
But, having experienced first hand the benefits of therapy, I really felt like I had to speak out. If through my stories, just one person gains the courage to seek help, then for me, that’s a success.
*Name changed to respect privacy.
Originally published at medium.com