Crazy Shit I’ve Done in Therapy (Episode 1)

Has anyone else met with a therapist and thought, “What?  You want me to do WHAT ridiculous thing?”  Because I have.  Many times.  That’s why this post is called Episode 1.  I already have at least three episodes in mind of weird object lessons and crazy “homework” assignments I’ve had to do in therapy, and they’re worth taking a moment to laugh about.  You see, laughing is healthy (says my therapist), so I’m going to take you down this road with me.

To be fair to my therapist, she’s really good.  We’ll call her Meg.  She’s the first in a string of therapists who I think actually cares about me and has said things that make me think and make me analyze things in a good way.  Even with a good therapist, though, there are times that I’m just like, “Uhhh…no.  I’m confused at the moment as to who is crazier – you or me.”

One of these times was a few weeks ago when I walked into her office and she had sand and seashells laid out on a table.  It was the middle of winter.  I gave it a strange glance, thinking maybe she’d decided to create a “peaceful space” for herself or whatever and gone a bit overboard.  There was also a framed picture of some kids (her kids, I think) running along the beach.

Side note: the most profitable thing I got from the exercise I’m about to describe to you is to find out where Meg bought that SUPER CUTE frame.  I must have one.  She said Marhsalls, but I’ve yet to investigate.  Is it weird to buy a frame because you liked it in your therapists’s office?  Not weirder than making your clients play with shells, that’s for sure…

I largely ignored her weird beach display for the first half of our session.  Meg’s kind of quirky, and I didn’t want to be nosy.  Being nosy is what I’m paying her to do, right?  Finally, though, she addressed it.

“I bet you’re wondering about all of this beach stuff,” she suggested.

Yep.  Genius insight, Meg.

“I want to try something a little different today,” she said.  This always means I’m in for something completely bizarre.  Meg went on to explain to me that she wanted me to read a book, and while I was reading it she wanted me to hold some of the shells, run my fingers through the sand, and listen to the beach music she was going to play on her phone.

THE BEACH MUSIC ON HER PHONE, PEOPLE.  I COULDN’T MAKE THIS UP IF I TRIED.

I said okay (because what else are you supposed to say to your therapist?).  She handed me the book.  It had a shell on the front.  Cool.  I see the theme here.  She put on her beach music and turned to take some notes.  I briefly wondered if this is like when teachers don’t feel like teaching so they just assign some random reading or pointless essay.  Did she not want to talk today, and this was her way of filling time?  Whatever.  I figured I’d better start reading the book or I’d be in contempt of therapy or something.

The short book, I’m sure, is inspirational to some people.  It’s about this old woman who likes to walk the beaches in North Carolina, and she always used to look for perfect shells.  Then one day she decided to look for broken shells, because broken shells are beautiful in their own way.  They’ve gotten dashed on rocks and not fallen completely apart.  They’ve sustained injuries and still made it to the beach.  That fact, claims our North Carolina beach walker, is beautiful.

Okay.  Fine.  If you feel inspired by that, great.  I can ask my therapist for the book so you can look at the pretty beach pictures.  Unfortunately, I don’t think I was properly inspired.  I think I may have rolled my eyes (behind the book, of course, because I didn’t want Meg to see).  When I was finished, I halfheartedly poked through a few of the shells on her sand table.  Notably, they were all perfect or near-perfect.  This seemed against the point of the book to me, but hey – I’m no therapist.

I told her I was finished reading, and she asked how I felt about it (because that’s what therapists ask about everything, right?).  I said I thought it was a dumb metaphor.  She laughed because I’m always really honest to the point of maybe being rude…but I think lying to a therapist is really counterproductive.  She asked why the metaphor was dumb.

I wanted to say it was because I felt FRICKIN RIDICULOUS playing with a table of sand and reading picture books like I was in kindergarten.  That’s not a good defense against the metaphor, though.  I’m a literature teacher.  If a therapist wants to discuss the veracity of a metaphor with me, game on.

“The metaphor is fine at first glance,” I started, “but extend it at all, and the entire thing falls apart.  What are shells for?  They provide safety and covering for sea creatures.  They’re exoskeletons.  If a shell breaks, it is literally good for nothing.  Even if it makes it up onto the beach, it’s going to be passed over by every other beach comber besides this one weird lady who decided to pick up a couple of broken shells.  YOU don’t even want broken shells – there are none on your table.  A broken shell is completely pointless.  If you want me to see this as applicable to me; that I’m a ‘broken shell’ overcoming some tough times, then I guess I can agree with you…  It’s just that your metaphor, applied to my life, renders me worthless to society and completely incapable of fulfilling my original purpose, which, you know, seems a bit more depressing than helpful.  Hence my general rejection of the initial premise.”

Meg looked a little surprised and then started laughing.  “Okay then,” she said.  “Not exactly what I was hoping for out of that…but you bring up some good points.”  She made some notes on her notepad (oh what I would give to see the stuff she’s written on that notepad, ha ha…), and then we chatted a bit longer before my session time was up.  She offered to let me keep a shell to remember the metaphor.  THANKS, Meg.  You’re a gem.  Remind me how I was once potentially useful and now am a loser to everyone except Granny Broken-Shell.  Instead I think I will go home, break some crayons, and then remind myself that broken crayons can still color.  That metaphor seems a lot more hopeful.

Lesson learned by me in this episode: therapists try really weird stuff to get their points across.

Lesson learned by my therapist in this episode: don’t try to out-metaphor a literature teacher.

Driving West

It was past midnight, and I’d just sped out of my driveway like a NASCAR racer who somehow missed the starting gun.  I got to the end of my street and looked both ways.  I could turn left to go east, which would lead me straight into town, or I could turn right and go west, which would lead me out of town.

I drove west.

I didn’t really know where I was going; I was just driving.  I needed to get away.  I couldn’t be home anymore.  It wasn’t like I was in a fight with my husband or anything…I just needed out.  I was in a fight with my brain.  Unfortunately, my brain has a tendency to follow me no matter which way I drive, but that didn’t stop me from driving.

It’s probably for the best that there is no major airport near my house, or you can bet I would have driven there, even with no luggage, and said, “Put me on the first flight to anywhere out of here.”

Sometimes I need to escape, and what sucks about bipolar disorder is that I cannot.  There is nowhere to fly, there is nowhere to drive, there is nowhere that I can escape from myself.  Do you know how frickin terrifying that feels?

I kept driving west.

I drove fast.  Too fast.  It was past midnight, and the further I got from town the further I got away from any cops.  It probably wasn’t safe, but I also didn’t care.  Memories flashed in front of me like a highlight reel from a string of movies that I would give anything to forget: MRI machines.  Needles pulling blood six vials at a time.  The sterile environment of doctors’ offices.  That weird endocrinologist who was obsessed with osteoporosis.  The psychiatrist who wouldn’t listen to me.  The psychiatrist who did and got it wrong.  The therapist who made me work with seashells (SEASHELLS), like that was going to somehow fix things.  My husband’s cousin who tried to sleep with me.  The raccoon running in front of me.

Oh crap!  That was a real raccoon.  Not a memory.  Eeeek!  Don’t hit the raccoon!

Phewf.  The raccoon was safe in the woods.  I turned the music up louder to drown out my thoughts.  I didn’t know the song.

I kept driving west.

I probably should have turned around.  My husband didn’t know where I was.  I got a text from him a few minutes after I left asking where I had gone.  I didn’t text back. Texting and driving is dangerous, you see.  If I was texting him, I might not have seen the deer on the side of the road that was ready to run into my headlights.  Michigan is full of weird creatures trying to cross roads in the middle of the night.  Not a single car was out, but tons of animals were.  I tried to focus on looking for deer, my music was as loud as it could go, and still the tears came.  Still the memories wouldn’t stop:

There was the prescription in my purse that I refuse to go fill.   The empty orange pill bottles filling various drawers in my house.  SO. MANY. PILL BOTTLES.  I don’t know why I keep them all.  The pile of bills on my counter that keeps getting higher as I keep forgetting to pay them.  The secret.  The smiling faces of my students who don’t understand what a triumph it is for me to even get to work in the morning.

I kept driving west.

If you look at Michigan’s lower peninsula on a map, you’ll see that if you drive west for long enough, you’ll eventually get to Lake Michigan.  “Lake” is kind of a misnomer, as this lake is so huge it might as well be an ocean.  You can’t see the other side of it.  It would take fifteen hours to drive around it.  It’s not called a “Great Lake” for nothing.  Before I knew what I was doing, I’d arrived at the lake.  I was surprised, as I’d lost track of time while driving.  How could I possibly be at the lake?  Didn’t I leave the house five minutes ago?  Apparently not.  I drove through the sleeping seaside town, past the “no parking” signs, and all the way to the beach itself.  My tires were in the sand.  I didn’t know why I was there, but I had arrived.

I opened my car door and got out because I couldn’t drive any further.  The clouds covered the moon and stars, leaving the sky a dull black.  I pulled my jacket close as the January wind whipped my hair around my face.  I looked and saw the lighthouse lit up, giving me enough light to look around.  I bent down and let the sand run through my fingers, wishing for summer.  Last summer, before everything fell apart?  This coming summer, when I’ll hopefully be a little healthier?  I didn’t know.  I just wished. I looked all around and didn’t see a single soul.  To have the entire beach to myself was very strange, as usually in the summer it’s so busy that I can barely find a place to lay my towel.  I breathed in the fresh air and peered into the darkness that was Lake Michigan, but I couldn’t see the water – only a large expanse of blackness.  It felt like looking into my life; an empty, endless darkness with only question marks where there should be hopes and dreams.

The sound and smell of the lake was calming, but the darkness was creepy.  I don’t think there are many serial killers in Michigan, but I would have been perfect prey if one happened to be stalking the beach that night.  No one even knew where I was.  Finally I sighed, knowing that my sudden and impulsive mini-road trip was over.  I had to go back, solving exactly nothing, but there was nowhere west left to drive.