I’ve had many therapists over my lifetime. I remember something about them all, though not always a name.
Clothes, an insight, a physical gesture repeated over many sessions.
I was given gifts by them all; gifts I carry with me when I meet the world every day.
I’m fortunate to have this grab bag; each contribution is as unique as the person who bestowed it.
My first. I was 4 or 5. She was heavy and always wore tent shaped floral dresses. Her breathing was labored as she walked down the long corridor to her office. I loved her.
I was 6. He had a beard! We played catch with one of those balls you used to be able to buy at the supermarket. Also ‘Chutes and Ladders’. All those reversals of fortune and redemptive climbs!
I was 17 and she had red hair and glasses. Her office looked like almost every other therapist’s office I’ve ever seen: ethnic art to indicate what? Cultural Competency? She was the first doctor to tell me I needed medication. I believed her.
I was 19. He was a pharmacologist. He told me I could make a living in Pharmaceutical Sales. I was handed medication samples in volume and given an ADD diagnosis. For the first time in life, I could concentrate for hours.
I was just shy of 25. He was the youngest doctor I’d ever had. I learned how productive strict adherence to a clinical framework could be. He was unmoved by all my games, gas lighting, and straight up bull**it. From that safe center, I learned to trust.
I was 34. He was a social worker. His office was near NYU and I hated that. Though he always wore a tie, he skipped the shoes—often he put his feet up on the chair. I’m all for relaxing the rules but this felt uncouth and distracting. With pants bunched too tightly around the groin, he’d rock back and forth while pulling on his tie. My conviction that mental health professionals are an odd bunch found final confirmation.
I was 35. He was a Priest. His office was on a very high floor in the financial district and I felt dizzy looking out his window at all of lower Manhattan. He was from Texas and made me comfortable enough to cry.
I was 37. He gave me a book of his own poetry in the first session. I didn’t go back but I look at the poems from time to time. It was my very own Dr. Leo Marvin moment and I treasure it.
I was still 37 and I came back to the young doctor from my 25th year. And now we weren’t so young anymore. From this work, there are more gifts than I could ever name.
And it’s not the end; that’s not the nature of therapy. It’s a book written jointly by people who care about each other enough to travel long distances.
If life is analogous to a Milton Bradley board game in which a player’s upward progression is complicated by unforseen free falls, you are my ladders.