High Alert

I spent a lifetime viewing therapy as medically-legitimized whining. And then, one day, I realized that I needed help.

I met with a therapist today. Not a psychiatrist — a therapist, and specifically one specializing in cognitive-behavioral therapy. What CBT is, essentially: an intensive, results-geared 12–18 week course of therapy during which you learn specific techniques that you can use to better cope with your anxiety (or depression, or whatever it is that brought you in).

I sat down on the therapist’s couch next to a little machine bubbling lavender-scented steam into the air and gave him my best “Look at how happy and okay I am!” smile (because, as everyone knows, the most important part of therapy is convincing your therapist you totally don’t need it. …Right?). He asked me why I was there, and even though I knew this was a pretty unhelpful way to begin the session, I told him the truth: that I didn’t know.

It really was true; these days, I feel more or less…fine. Great, actually. My anxiety is under control; my insomnia has virtually disappeared. I’m stressed about various things, of course, but they feel like things I probably “should” be stressed about, like travel and mortgage payments and such. I only booked the appointment in the first place because the psychiatrist who I see about once a month to check in on my medication suggested it, and so while I paid for that day’s appointment at the reception desk I also scheduled a new one with his colleague. And then all of a sudden it was a month later and there I was: sitting in a therapist’s office and talking about feelings.

Look, I’ve obviously been meaning to explore the idea of therapy for a long time. And I should have been doing it for far longer than that.

I was six months pregnant with my daughter when I started pushing back against the belief system that I grew up with — the one that saw therapy as, essentially, medically legitimized whining — and started thinking that I might not just benefit from it…I might actually, really, seriously need it. There were years of buildup to this, of course — years of sleepless nights during which I spent endless hours wandering the rooms of my house, hunting for a magic something to silence the noise in my brain — but it was a single incident that finally pushed me over the edge.

What happened was that my first book came out. And with it came a deluge — and I mean an actual hailstorm — of this-is-the-worst-book-ever reviews posted to my Amazon page. A couple of days earlier, as it turned out, Amazon’s moderators had taken down a couple of reviews that they had deemed personal attacks (which apparently they don’t permit as a matter of policy; you can say “this book sucks,” but you can’t say things like “Author X is a huge slut” — basically, you’re totally allowed to hate the book, but you have to stay on-topic about it). I expected my share of crappy reviews, of course, but when I saw that a couple of them had been taken down I started to panic…because that’s like Lesson 1 in Life On The Internet: do not try to prevent people from writing whatever they want to write about you, because all this does is piss them off in a major way, and then they will make it their life’s mission to prove that they CANNOT BE SILENCED.

Basically: don’t feed the trolls.

When these reviews were taken down — the day before I turned 33 — that’s exactly what happened. I spent my birthday in a state of absolute hysteria, believing that my life as an author (or as a writer, period) was over. Every time I clicked over to my book’s page (which of course I couldn’t stop myself from doing) I saw a new diatribe or ten about just how terrible of a writer (and a person) I was. Let me be clear: I get how the Internet works and by now have developed what I think is a relatively sane attitude towards “haters” and such, but writing a book had been my dream since I was four years old, and this particular incident hurt more than…well, more than almost anything I’d ever experienced.

I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep, not even for a minute. I felt like there was a huge crowd of people standing in a circle around me screaming FUCK YOU into my face over and over and over. So I called Yale (where we were insured while Kendrick attended business school) and booked an emergency mental health appointment for the very next day.

The next morning, I dropped my son off at daycare and then drove two hours to New Haven to meet with a psychiatrist. She suggested CBT, but a weekly trip to New Haven didn’t seem possible to add to the trips I was already taking for prenatal appointments. I stopped looking at Amazon (mostly), the incident faded into the past, and my anxiety went back down to its regular (not-so-phenomenal, but at least not completely paralyzing) level. And then I gave birth and went on medication, and have been stunningly (well, stunningly for me) even-keeled ever since.

So earlier today, when my therapist asked me why I was sitting in his office, I really didn’t know. Then we started talking, and he asked me what I was scared of.

The idea that my career might fall apart and I won’t be able to support my kids the way I want to, I told him. The fact that the people I love might die tomorrow, and will die one day. The fact that my children are getting older every second, and here I am missing moment after moment after moment.

“Why are you living in the future if it’s such a negative place?” he asked me.

That one I know the answer to. I’ve known it since I was in high school, when I developed the belief that the only way I would do well on a test would be to convince myself that I had absolutely bombed it. And I mean depths-of-my-soul convinced myself; we’re talking tears and wailing and oh-god-my-life-is-over. That, I thought, was the only way to ensure that I would get a good grade. And get into a good college. And have a good life.

This is obviously crazy, and yet I believe it still: that if I relax my vigilance for even a second, forget to identify every potential tragedy that might come my way…boom. That one slip-up will blindside me, and everything I’ve worked to build — everything I love — will fall apart. So I worry. I worry because it feels like a penance I can pre-pay to ensure my family’s safe passage into wherever it is that we’re going.

I know that I can have a healthier, calmer mind. I know I deserve that, and that my family deserves it. And I also know how to take further steps towards achieving this: I have to learn to meditate. To be mindful. To exist in the present not because I’m being willfully ignorant about the harsh realities of life but simply because it is a brighter, more beautiful place to live.

I know all this, and yet I’ve avoided therapy for years. And today, I discovered the reason why: I don’t want to learn how to do these things. I don’t want to get better. Because way deep down in the part of me that was built before I even took my first step in this world lies the certainty that if I stop being afraid, I leave the door open for disaster.

“I really am fine,” I told the therapist. “I honestly don’t know why I’m here.”

Except I do.

Read more on my blog, Ramshackle Glam.