Therapy, and the pursuit of happiness.

Last week I made my return to therapy. Although the circumstances between my husband and I demand it, the mere thought of being back in counseling makes me twitch. I am no stranger to the therapist's couch. I started going as a teenager, when my parents were proceeding with their own divorce and signs of my eating disorder started to crank up. My early experiences weren't exactly positive. I was belligerent, and caustic, and occasionally hostile. I answered questions monosyllabically. I watched the clock and counted the ceiling tiles and made grandiose bargains with my mom that I would do anything, ANYTHING, instead of going to the therapist, such as all household chores - including cleaning my brother's room, which smelled like sweat socks and hormones and stale Dr. Pepper festering in Big Gulp cups.

I remember my first therapist. She had bad hair. Really, really bad hair, the kind bleached to a jaundiced shade of yellow and shellacked into place with Aqua Net. She wore a lot of scarves and her office smelled like patchouli. I called her Herr Doktor.

We sat. She took notes.

"What are you writing?"I asked.
"Well, thank you," I said, voice dripping with disdain. "Notes on what?"
"Observations of me?" I screeched.
 She stopped writing and looked at me.
 "Is it important to you, how people observe you?"
"Not particularly," I said, which was a bald-faced lie.
"Elise," she began.
 "Does is  upset you that I mispronounced your name?"
I started at her blankly.
She kept writing.

I studied my cuticles.

It wasn't until I was in treatment for anorexia that I warmed up to therapy. In the beginning of my stay I didn't have the strength to avoid communicating with my assigned therapist. In treatment, you see a therapist four to five times a week, whether you like it or not. You sit in endless group therapy sessions. You do "homework," assignments dictated by your therapist on subjects such as what staying in your eating disorder causes you to lose. You cry a lot, and journal, and get good and angry, and make bargains to get out, and occasionally toss your dinner across the dining room table. But eventually you relent, either because you'll do anything to get out or genuinely want to get better.

I wanted to get better.

So I talked. And talked, and talked, and talked. I talked about my mother. I talked about my husband. I talked about my father. I talked about my dreams. I talked about food, and how I hated it. I talked about my body, and how I hated it. I talked until my throat was sore and didn't think I had anything else to talk about, until I went to my next session and discovered I had a lot more to talk about.

After I left treatment I saw a therapist for awhile, until I relocated from Des Moines to Dallas and decided I had "graduated" from therapy. Mind you, I came to this decision completely on my own. I crowed to my husband that I was cured. I didn't need therapy anymore. I was Over It.

And now I find myself clutching a Kleenex box on a therapist's couch. Even worse, I'm being given eerily similar homework assignments to the ones I had in treatment. This week I had to make a list of things that I want, that will make me happy, with no regard to the wants of my husband, family and  friends. I'm finding this to be a lot harder to do than it sounds. Perhaps it's because I can't even ask my husband to change the station on the radio without worrying that he won't like the music I select, and then get angry at me, and then stop speaking to me. So I say nothing, and sit there feeling guilty for even thinking about changing the station in the first place.

How can I figure out what makes me happy when I can't even change the radio station?

I wonder if I'm the only one struggling to determine what I want. A simple Google search on the pursuit of happiness reveals over nineteen million results. That means millions of people are offering advice and asking the same questions I am. Honestly, it isn't realistic for me to even consider a life path without regard to the needs of my children. But really, what do I want for my own happiness? If I could do anything, and live anywhere, and make my home look exactly as I dream it to, and work anywhere, and do anything for fun? What the hell do I want, anyway?

It's a little daunting to think about.

For today, I'm not thinking about the big things. I've decided on sushi for lunch.  And new green capris with a chambray shirt for tomorrow's outfit. And New Girl on TV tonight. Because, for now, those are the things that I know will make me happy.

It's a start.


  1. You have hit a nail on the head with your question-for so many of today's women. So. Many. We try to make our friends happy before we are married. Our parents before that. Then we marry and try to make our partners happy. Then we make babies and try to make them happy. Somewhere in the mix we forget (entirely, sometimes) about ourselves. We feel guilt when we feel pleasure about going alone to the grocery store. Or having a girls afternoon getting pedis and drinking sangria. I think some of this is our nature and some of this is society. I know I find myself DVR-ing my favorite trashy reality shows and soapy evening dramas to watch when I have time to myself so I don't have to interrupt what my spouse or son want to watch. My friends do similar things. Why are we this way? Last summer I was crippled with horrible bouts of anxiety-worse than I'd experienced in any part of my life. It took that for me to start demanding equal parts making my family happy and myself happy. It isn't easy, but I try to find that balance. Your baby steps are just where I began. It is such a challenge to say "this is just for me, and that is okay." Sigh. Being a girl is so hard sometimes.

  2. You are not the only one struggling to determine what you want. Me, for one. I'm a year out from my decision to divorce, and I still can't walk through Target without thinking about what he'd think of everything.

    I went to buy washcloths for my new place, and had 20 minutes of indecision -- should I get the white ones because they're clean looking, or is that his rationale for why we've always had white ones and I'd really prefer a different color? (In the end, I bought the white ones. I still don't know if that's what I wanted or not, but I needed to wash my face.)

    If you can figure out what to wear, and what to eat, you're doing pretty well. Hang in there.

  3. Therapy homework is the worst. I never did mine, maybe because it felt silly and I thought I was waaaaaay too cool, but probably just because it's uncomfortable to answer those questions. Thanks for writing about it, and good luck!

  4. Small steps can cover great distances too, so keep up the positive thinking and the baby steps girl. And I had a very similar experience with therapy, so you're not alone. : ) I hated it, mocked it, avoided it, only to find it did help me and I often think of going back.

  5. Thanks for being so brave & talking about your experiences in therapy. I have been in & out of therapy since I was pretty young, since chronic depression runs down one side of my family.

    It has had everything to do with my life getting better, & better, & better. I have to say to anyone, if your therapist isn't working for you, like Herr Doktor, keep looking! There are so many venues for therapy, you'll find someone you click with who can really help you change your life.

    My current therapist of about 6-7 years has helped me so much, AND my partner. Neither of us has had a depressive episode in YEARS, and I didn't even think that was possible! And this is after over a year of being his being unemployed, thankfully over now! We are actually to the point that we are able to stop going for a while, knowing that we can go back whenever something comes up we want to work through. I feel that stable. & Happy.

    I wish more people could talk openly about these things. Then more people would get help when they need it.

  6. This is hard hard work, but it's work you can do. You know, of course, that a healthy you is the best you can offer your children. There are a lot of us out here cheering for you; more than you'll realize, probably. Wish I could say this better. I'm continuing to hold you up in prayer.

  7. My first therapist was awful, too. I never made any progress with him because I didn't trust that he wasn't repeating everything I said. I've come a long way from his couch, but there are still hard days. I applaud you, Elissa, for being willing to go back, admit you need to make progress, and be open about it here. Going back is hard. I know, because I haven't been able to make myself go back yet. I know confronting my issues would be so much work and I don't even know if I'd recognize myself on the other side. I'm just happy that I'm stronger than I used to be. Good for you, for being willing to pursue "best" instead of just "better."


  8. Perhaps knowing what you want is important, because it helps you decide about lesser things. I am struggling with a different sort of decision, but have not had the courage to be quite so vulnerable about it on my blog. I admire the courage you are showing in being this vulnerable. Have you heard of Brene Brown. You might want to check out her TedX talks.

  9. Yes and no. Having been there with a 2 year old during divorce, I really could not think about my needs separate from his. On the other hand, I did need to think about myself apart from parents, spouse, child and job. It's a balancing act that is so difficult to do. Hang in there and believe that it will get better.

  10. You're a brave woman Elissa, a brave woman. I wish you the best, one. day. at. a. time.

  11. Mmmm sushi, sounds like a good start.

  12. Oh, but Elissa! It seems to me that you are *already* doing things to make yourself happy: starting this blog about fashion (a passion of yours that makes you happy) + writing and publishing your book, AND ending a relationship that presumably has been making you unhappy. You have a strong sense of self-preservation that is pushing you towards the things that matter to you--keep following those instincts and I think you'll be ok!

  13. I'm proud of you for going and opening up about it. Thanks for being my friend. Can't wait for our next sushi outing. :)


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