There’s always a couch and a lamp and a plant of some sort. Across from that will sit one or two chairs with plush arms and pillows to hold onto. Next to the chairs will sit a small end table. On the table will be a box of tissues and a few ballpoint pens.
The walls are painted with colors called Soothing Sage, Rising Yeast, or Lady of Wheat. Ingredients for bread rather than pigment on plaster.
I’ve sat in those rooms before.
I’ve been in therapy off and on since elementary school. I never felt embarrassed about the need for professional help. My parents knew their limitations and sought wise counsel for our family. I did play therapy, learned how to collage, and how to identify my feelings and emotions. These sessions connected my family as we tried to understand how the labels from the DSM given to family members would influence dinner table conversations and morning routines.
When I was enrolled at an idyllic liberal-arts college, I went to therapy again seeking mental health services at the crummy on-campus clinic. There, I sat in chairs with worn upholstery and wooden arms with flecked varnish. As I sat nervously, I picked at the arms, creating little piles of old polish on the speckled grey carpet. Instead of pens on the side table, a jar of small, colorful lollipops sat next to a big fishbowl full of condoms. I couldn’t sleep or focus. I was unsuccessful at making new friends and I hated the rain.
Eventually, I dropped out of the idyllic college and came home to attend State school. I found myself in another room with a warm counselor. Sitting across from me in an upright wooden chair, she’d sweep her shoulder-length grey hair out of her face and nod along calmly. Her kind eye-contact made me feel safe. She helped me learn how to sift out my voice from the communal Christian “We” and started asking my heart how to soothe the aches it encountered in a world pulsing with hurt.
Time passed. I graduated, had a few jobs, and got engaged to the man I first kissed when I was only nineteen years old. I started therapy with another former family therapist to calm my anxiety about a stunted career, a postponed engagement, and the shaky steps I was taking as I began to embrace adulthood. This time our meetings were on the phone, and the white-walled room I sat in was my own in my first apartment shared with a boy whom I loved.
And then, a few years later, in a very different room, my dad passed away unexpectedly at the age of fifty-eight.
I was just twenty-seven years old.
In the months following his death, I spent time sitting in more rooms. I wandered down grey hallways with flickering lights to candle-lit rooms where other bereaved people gathered for support. I’d try to focus in my awful mustard-colored basement where I was working remotely. When I could muster up enough energy, I’d drive the twenty minutes to my mom’s house and hunch over on rickety chairs my dad built with his hands in her turquoise kitchen.
My tears and deep breaths would grace those rooms. I’d blow my nose loudly and curse as I tried to make sense of what the heck we were supposed to do next.
I did not want to be in a therapist’s room.
I spent too much time in my own head already. I had low-stress employment and open evenings while my husband was playing softball. I didn’t want to pay someone to listen to me talk about the pain swirling in my head and pounding on my heart.
It’s been three years now. I have a new job. We traveled to Europe. I have glimpses of healing and think to myself, ‘Perhaps the raw skin on this gaping heart hole can tighten and we can all laugh again.’
As I continued to sit in new rooms, I started to feel desperate for an outside perspective. I kept hurting as I negotiated changes in our family structure. I’d get triggered from cell phone voicemails, crowds in baseball stadiums, and friends telling me they were pregnant. Life, it seemed, kept moving on. Drawing on lessons taught from my therapist in college, I realized it was time to ask for help again.
I needed guidance as I began to put new words to the magnitude of my loss from someone not so entangled in the collateral shreds of our collective family grief. Perhaps a therapist could help me answer thoughtful questions and see my situation from a different perspective.
I started to research which therapists’ rooms I could sit in. I conducted mini-interviews and asked questions of style, training, and modalities. Things like how do you approach healing? Are compassion and grace common terms you use? What’s an ideal client? How does spirituality inform your practice?
Do you take insurance? No? Oh, well this is coming out of my pocket and I’m worth this investment.
Then I made a selection.
Funny, looking back, I realize I did not ask about the couch situation.
Just this week, I walked through a new therapist’s door into a room painted like a hot dinner roll. There was a couch, two chairs, and a small end table; a box of tissues was waiting for me.
In this room I will process my loss and my life. It is time to take the swirling out of my head, turn it into words, and speak them aloud to a caring outsider. I’m ready to be in this therapist’s room.
Katie Huey is a writer, marketer, and administrator. She believes in the power of story and the beauty found in sharing personal experience. Her freelance writing has appeared in Invoke Magazine, Conscious Company Magazine, and Hello Humans. She lives in Colorado with her husband Dylan and rambunctious puppy Olive. You can follow more of her story on her blog 52 Beautiful Things.