If my phone is recording and analyzing everything I say all day long and is capable of running reports on content, you would see a recent uptick in sentences that begin with “my therapist said.”
I spent a good portion of my youth complaining about math. Maybe I just wasn’t stemmed hard enough or stem didn’t exist yet or I had too many people encouraging me to do exactly what I wanted in my life. And, I mean, who really really really wants to do math? (I know some of these people, we’re constantly at odds.) My deep hatred for math began when I almost got held back for not being able to learn subtraction. I remember very clearly having to stay in at recess and after school as the teacher tried to explain the concept to me.
Teacher: How many pens are there?
Teacher: (takes away two)
Teacher: How many pens are there now?
Me: FIVE. THERE ARE FIVE PENS.
Teacher: No. Right here. How many are right here. In front of you.
Me: There are three pens here but there are five pens YOU JUST HID THEM BEHIND YOUR BACK. Why are we ignoring the fact that there are still five pens. They didn’t disappear. They’re still here. I can actually see them. Red. Blue. Green. Yellow. Purple. Five colors, five pens.
You can imagine my disgust when I was forced to learn imaginary numbers.
The neuroscientist who taught me subtraction
It wasn’t until I signed up for an advanced neuroscience course I had no business being in that I learned a very rudimentary concept. We have to learn math because it develops a part of our brain that would not develop if we were not forced to think in that way that math makes us think. I failed neuroscience but I did learn why subtraction is important so it was probably worth the thousands of dollars I spent that year.
There are a lot of things that we have to learn growing up. Some lessons come sooner than others and some never come at all. Like how to do our taxes, how to navigate boundaries in relationships, how to find the g-spot, and the very super secret reason people actually have sex. It’s not to make babies like my health teachers said all those years. If only we’d known.
We also need to learn about how to communicate our feelings internally (to ourselves) and externally (to others). We talk about our feelings a little bit in school, but it’s kind of in a super secret closed door way. Like when your 7th grade teacher sees you writing a suicide note and sends you very publicly to the counselors office to talk. (This is a true story. It didn’t happen to me, but it did happen to a girl in my class.) Therapy is more or less shamed from the moment you first hear someone you know is going to therapy. They’re in therapy. They’re attending therapy. They’re being analyzed. We shouldn’t think about therapy in this “OoooOOooOOOOoh you got called the the principals offfiiiiiiiceeeee” kind of way. We should think about therapy more like, uh, downloading an app to our life that makes us better people. Therapy is like yoga for the brain.
Going to therapy doesn’t mean you’re broken on the inside, or: we’re all broken, actually.
Due to the assumptions about therapy and the fact that it’s a little terrifying talking about yourself to a stranger, a lot of people don’t go to therapy until it’s too late. Too late is sort of a wishy-washy way of saying that people usually go to therapy after they’ve hit a max of what they can handle, or something has happened and they are in crisis.
So you’re in therapy and you’re talking about this horrible thing that is going on in your life and then you realize that after a few weeks you’re starting to make progress on this one thing. At this point you can segment this one horrible thing off from the rest of who you are as a person, or you can admit to yourself that this one horrible thing is a part of a much larger picture of who you are. And you keep going. And you keep going, and you keep going. This is what I call maintenance therapy.
Crisis therapy: I’m going to attend therapy until I feel like I can tackle my crisis.
Maintenance therapy: My whole life is basically a crisis tbh.
So I started going to therapy so long ago that I think I can quantify it in months now. And though I feel like I did go for crisis, or a particular reason, I honestly can’t remember what that reason was. As soon as I was there, the importance of having some uninvolved third party to talk to became super apparent. So I just kept going.
Attending Couples Therapy even if you don’t have to: YTMND
Then, one day, and I don’t know why I always put the point of my post at the bottom, but I brought my partner to therapy with me. I had been to couples counseling before, but I had only ever been to couples counseling in crisis. We sat in the waiting room together and my therapist welcomed us in. Here’s the thing, here’s the spoiler about long-term relationships: never fool yourself into thinking you know everything about your partner. Never fool yourself into thinking there are no surprises left.
First: You can know someone very very well but there is always something you don’t know. Second: Never tell your partner that you know everything about them because this is basically transmitted as “there are no surprises left, you could not surprise me.” Which is, kind of, y’know, a bummer. Thirdly, if you’re in a relationship that is dynamic and thriving and changing, your partner will be meeting new people, learning new things, and will be growing and changing as an individual. I believe a sustainable long term relationship requires falling in love with slightly different versions of your partner over and over and over again.
Like any other couple there are things we disagree about or we aren’t super clear about and it was helpful to be able to just have another person in the room helping guide us through a conversation. I learned some new things about him and he probably learned some new things about me too. This is the new kick I’m on. Maintenance therapy for couples. Just be wary, because if you go into therapy thinking you know everything about your partner and sunshine literally comes out of your asshole, you’re probably in for a rude awakening.
Finally, and this is important, but you can skip it if you’re in a hurry: I want to be better than the person I was yesterday. That means that I have to come to terms with the face I make when I hear the word math or chemistry. I made a promise that if I had children I would not recoil in fear when I saw a spider because I wouldn’t want to pass down my fear of arachnids. If I had children, I would also want to find somewhat honest enjoyment in math. So far this has been the most effective form of birth control. Don’t try to be better than anyone else. Just try to be better than you used to be. Attend therapy. Attend couples counseling. Write in a journal. Conquer a fear. Do your taxes before the day they’re due. Avoid that moment where your life becomes a crisis.
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