After scrolling through a hundred therapist ads, I couldn’t tell what help I needed anymore. Pychotherapy? Art therapy? I made a spreadsheet of female therapists who had kind faces. Google says I should ask for a phone consultation, where there are 20 questions you should fire off.
The first therapist I speak with on the phone says, “What is the issue you are struggling with?”
She is a stranger that I’m supposed to open up to? But these problems are her job. It’s like, a wart is disgusting for everyone, but to a doctor, they are a job to be done.
“I just moved to the city, so it’s a big change and I feel lonely.”
“A lot of people feel this way when they first move.” But this is not my problem. My problem is not a normal problem that normal people have. She is minimizing my problem into one sentence – that I feel lonely because I’ve moved.
I tack on phrases like “a little bit” or “kind of” to soften the blow for two minutes. This is my two minute prologue for why I need help. I have to need help but not sound crazy.
She asks, “Have you ever had thoughts of suicide?”
We just met, for goodness’ sake.
“Uhm,” I say. “Not recently.”
She tells me what she can’t and can do for me. Her voice sounds so kind. She could be a classmate from university, she was so easy to talk to. She can’t diagnose me for autism, but I can come back for treatment if I ever got diagnosed. Or we can work through my issues first and get diagnosed later.
She understands my issues, yes, they are real issues that a lot of young women struggle with. She’s had hundreds of clients just like me over the years.
Opening myself up with a stranger in the middle of my day is so draining that I’m too tired to repeat this routine with the five other potential therapists.
So, I walk into my local health clinic.
“I’m looking for a therapist.”
“Therapist for what?” The nurse fiddles with the laptop and never looks at me.
“For mental health,” I say.
“What for?” She looks up and stares at me.
I think about what I might do at with a therapist. “For talking to,” I say. Or, get myself fixed. I look at my hands.
When the doctor comes, I don’t know how to ask for a therapist again, so I talk about the bump on my arm. Then I forget about the therapist.
Who’s going to be the next person who would look at me like I’m less than?
The other day, I caught myself saying to a live audience, “I’ve only played this piece four times in total, so it’s a bit rough…”
But it is much more interesting to hear the music, than hear someone talk about why they can’t play. We forget that for most people, these things aren’t a competition. We forget that most people have impostor syndrome and get through by pretending they have what it takes.
Maybe we use two minute prologues to explain why something is broken or wrong, but we are nearly always the first to judge ourselves.
There is one therapist who recommends that I go for assessment at the university. She tells me that I should look for a neuropsychologist or neurologist. She gives me a name for the person I should go to first.
This is the equivalent of going to the music store for recommendations from people who know what they’re talking about.
It turns out that we are rarely alone in facing problems that we think are earth shattering. Look, I read this piece of writing aloud to an audience and my voice was almost shaking.
I had rehearsed a two minute prologue in my head – about how I write a music blog so that’s why there’s music stuff here, I don’t know if the writing is any good, I use the fancy mic that I teach piano with so I won’t be able to hear anyone talk when I’m reading.
“So this is what you look like,” the moderator says. She ogles me and I see that I have spots on my chin. “Grace and I have been talking for years and we’ve never met. Are you from Hong Kong?”
“No,” I say. “I’m from Canada.”
“Don’t be racist,” someone from the audience says.
I decided that Grace from Canada didn’t need a prologue. My writing is my prologue, and if you didn’t understand it, then it wasn’t very good. I’m writing this bit to say that I’m following my own advice.
If you think that you are going to give a two minute prologue to justify why you are the way you are, you might as well memorize a script to say the right things. A majority of those conversations are the same topics but recycled. People who nail those conversations largely get off on the right foot.
Don’t apologize, for example. That would be a good start. You are not wrong for being the way you are.