Spoiler: I am in therapy.
After returning from an entire day dedicated to graduate student orientation and a therapy session, I drove to the grocery store and then drove home to make dinner with such wild abandon that I accidentally doubled the amount of garlic in my stir fry, causing my house to smell like Van Helsing’s stronghold.
I can guess what you are thinking — what anticlimactic event of my day led to this flurry of activity and, eventually, me passing out in my room with the lights on? Discovering that your eyeliner melted onto the top crease of my eyelid? Wearing dress pants for the vast majority of the day? Learning how to navigate an online grading system that I already knew about because I was an undergraduate student here? Nope, nope and nope.
My therapist told me that I had to drive and listen to music, by myself, for ten minutes and with no other purpose.
Let me back up a little here. I have been meeting with my therapists since January of this year — I’m going to call them Béla and Márta, because I was watching a documentary about the Károlyi’s on NBC at the gym. I was formally diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety in December of this past year, and it took a lot for me to admit that 1) I needed long-term therapy and 2) that needing medication to manage my symptoms was necessary and good. Mental illness is not a part of many conversations in my life, but it is becoming increasingly relevant and I do not feel that it should negatively impact my experience with other people. Is it inherently relevant to my advisor in graduate school? Not currently. Is it relevant to my general interpretation of the world around me? Yes. I challenge anyone to tell me that this disclosure of my mental illness is any different from admitting a different chronic illness like Crohn’s disease or seasonal allergies.
Yesterday, only Márta was at my session. (I’m assuming Béla was in Brazil or something, being a mustachioed vision of Olympic glory or something.) After catching up with her about my current state of being, I informed her about my activities of the day before, which consisted of not leaving the house at all. Instead of going to the gym, I started making an incredibly thoughtful gift for my boyfriend, completed online CPR/AED and First Aid training, and watched an entire season of Teen Titans. That’s right, I’m starting graduate school in less than two weeks, and I couldn’t stop myself from camping out on the couch to find out if Cyborg was going to stay with the Titans.
Márta looked at me with her usual inquisitive face, thoughtfully absorbing my general feelings of disappointment that I didn’t exercise or leave the house. To make a long story short, she helped me realize that I have serious hang ups about doing things that have no other purpose than being a relaxing activity just for me. If I can justify my leisure as serving some other meaning in my life, then it is fine — reading to learn more, watching TV to spend time with other people, working out at the gym to fight the anxiety that I feel about my body, it is all motivated by my need to provide purpose to everything that I do. And then, like any good Romanian gymnastics coach (my therapist is not Romanian), Márta challenged me to identify an activity that I find relaxing for no other reason than that it makes me feel good. Anything involving other people was out the window, and anything that ultimately had a justification other than personal entertainment did not count.
That activity turned out to be driving and listening to my music. I’m a dedicated sing & dance & drive enthusiast, and it’s a very fun and private time for me. And then, Márta told me that I need to try to do it for 20 minutes, without running errands, traveling anywhere, or anything else other than enjoying my time to myself.
I tried to negotiate with her — “What about driving to the library? I like the library?”
“No. Just drive. If you remember that you need tampons from CVS, you have to keep driving.”
*At this point, I have wrapped myself around a pillow and am sitting sideways in my armchair. Márta cannot see my face, and I am contorted and twisted physically as much as I feel mentally.*
“Just drive? What about when I drive to see my boyfriend? Does that count?”
*Realizing that I am not going to win this one, I unwind myself from my intestine-shaped ball and literally slide out of my chair and onto the floor. Márta is laughing, because this is pretty funny, and the chair almost falls onto me because I am obviously a professional comedian. I am now sitting on the floor, practically writhing with the difficulty of this assignment. Don’t worry, I’m fine. This is a funny sort of event; I’m not actually in a state of panic.*
I agreed to Márta’s terms, and promised to attempt this once before our session next week. She also got me to admit what was really at the heart of all of this for me: I fundamentally believe that if I am not busy or doing something valuable with my time, I also lack value. My accomplishments are very important to me, and losing time to accomplish things is terrifying to me. I’ve spent so much of my life motivated by many incarnations of my anxiety that I don’t really remember what it is like to do things for the sole purpose of wanting to do them for myself. Even writing this blog, while it is for me, helps me attain a certain amount of value with my time.
I will only say this: I’m learning that not everything I think about myself is true. I have watched myself change in the past eight months of therapy, and it has convinced me that I can jump this next hurdle of mine. And even if my therapists expose these new hurdles for me, at least I am seeing them for what they are.
Ever your Lady,
Challenged as F–k
P.S. If you are dealing with mental illness or have dealt with it in any capacity, I’m with you. Plain and simple. Your value lies in your being, past, present and future.