A woman walks into a psychologist’s office…

May 13, 2011

And hopes there won’t be too much awkward silence.

Yeah. Not much of punch line. Sorry about that.

I had my second experience with professional counseling yesterday. I think it was good for me, and, unfortunately, I think it was necessary. I’m doing all right in many areas of my life but there are a few in which I’m just not functioning well, and I think some of my less thoughtfully developed coping strategies are now doing me more harm than good, particularly my mastery of self-distraction and my avoidance of, well, anything involving leadership.

It took me three months of staring at the phone to call and make the appointment. The very helpful woman on the phone asked me if it was an emergency, and when I said there was no hurry, booked me an appointment for the following day, which, in retrospect, probably kept me from thinking up an excuse not to go. My university offers up to five sessions per employee, after which they offer referral services, so I don’t expect a long-term relationship with this psychologist, but I’m grateful I saw him. The last time I sought out counseling services, I was in graduate school in Chicago, feeling lonely and isolated and stressed out. I saw a counselor who reminded me of my grandfather and I was completely unable to connect with him. I never went back, partly because I found my circle of friends just a couple of weeks later, but partly because, at that point in my life, if I wanted a lot of awkward silence leading to nothing in particular, I was able to get that just by sitting next to the wrong person on the El.

Dr. S., the psychologist I saw this week, didn’t sit silently by if I was struggling with what to say. His questions were pointed, but I had the definite sense that he wasn’t looking for answers so much as helping me to find some of my own. He is blind, and mentioned that losing his vision was one of his connections to grief and loss, which made a lot of sense to me. It also reminded me of Milton’s sonnet that begins, “When I consider how my light is spent…” And while I’m not attached to anything else that Milton wrote (Paradise Lost falls into the category of books I can appreciate but don’t really like), I love that sonnet. And thinking of it helped me relax. And knowing that Dr. S. couldn’t really see me also helped me relax, strange as that seems. I could concentrate on voicing my thoughts, and before I could tense up or shift into “I’m fine. Don’t worry about me” mode, I was telling him about Teddy, about trying to come to terms with losing him.

I’m going back.

I feel almost sheepish that it’s now, over two years out from Teddy’s death, that I’m feeling broken enough to seek this kind of help. But that’s also why I’m writing about it here. For all the times that I’ve spent telling myself that grief isn’t linear, that I shouldn’t feel pressured to stick to any arbitrary time line, clearly I’ve been thinking that I should be “better” by now. And the truth is that in many ways I am, but in some ways I’m not. In a couple of select ways I may even be worse.

And that’s not a wrong reaction to what’s happened, even though I wish I didn’t have to cope with it. I think I needed someone to tell me that, too.



  1. Glad it went well!

    So after the 5 sessions with the psychologist, will you just go to a counselor (like an MS)?

    Here, three years out, I don’t even know where I am anymore. Definitely not linear and no map. And no time to really think about it either.

    • In some ways seeking help later rather than earlier makes a lot of sense to me.
      Glad it went well, hope it helps as you continue.

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