therapy rules

i figured something else important out the other day…



Big shouts out to Lizzie for becoming a new patron this week, thank you friend, love you lots. My name is Callie Wright and this is Queersplaining

I think everyone should have a therapist.

Like, culturally, it makes sense to us that everyone should have a primary care doctor. Someone you see occasionally who can take care of the every day health stuff that everyone runs into. I’d love to see us get to the place where we think that about therapy too. Everyone should have a primary care therapist. Someone you can do regular mental health check ins with. Learn some coping techniques, get referrals to specialists for more specific things and so on.

Of course this comes with the giant caveat that that system would need to be ACCESSIBLE where our current system is not. And also doesn’t quite address the horrifyingly large number of bad therapists out there.

But in my fantasy world, everyone would have easy access to competent mental health care, just as they would have access to competent care for all of their other health needs. 

When I first started therapy, I’ll be honest…I didn’t think I needed to be there. I started therapy for exactly one reason, to get letters. I knew I’d need a letter for hormones. I didn’t know about informed consent and I’m not sure there were any places offering it around here at the time, and I knew I’d eventually need letters for surgery. 

I didn’t go into therapy with any specific problems to solve. All of the mental health issues I’d identified were related to being trans. And transitioning was the solution. It was pretty straightforward to me.

I got off to a bit of a rocky start. I went to see this therapist who’s name I’d gotten from a local support group. When I called her, I gave her my dead name because that was my legal name. And I figured that’s what I should do. And I hadn’t fully decided on Callie yet. When I did see her, I’d picked a name and decided to start dressing more femme, and she told me she thought I was moving too fast. She lectured me about upending my life, and how I needed to take more time to understand what I was getting into. I didn’t see her again. Asshole.

But the second therapist I tried, I liked a lot. I got along well with her. And mostly I just sat in her office and talked about life with her. Struggling with the fact that I had to stay in the closet at work at the time, being nervous about hanging out with people in public. I still had lots of questions about what this was going to mean for my life. 

Eventually after seeing her for a year or two, she told me she didn’t really think I needed therapy. She didn’t boot me or anything, she just said that I seemed pretty emotionally aware and healthy. She said she was definitely there if I needed anything and I could call to schedule an appointment whenever I felt like I needed it. But that she didn’t think I had any particular acute need for therapy. So I stopped seeing her. 

I went back a few times to get my surgery letter for bottom surgery. And she was a member of our local queer community so I’d say hi when I saw her at events and stuff. But that was the whole of my first real therapist relationship. And it felt pretty good. 

I talk a lot about having anxiety. But something I don’t know if I’ve mentioned is that I’ve not always been an anxious person. My ex and I actually used to get into fights about it. For awhile I was a pretty “good vibes only” type of person. I almost never worried about anything. I can say a lot of bad things about my ex. But she was right to be mad at me over that one. 

Coming out is what changed that for me. The stress of worrying about being in public, the stress of being in the closet at work. That stuff built up over years to turn me into the giant ball of anxiety I am today. I didn’t realize this was happening through my time with that therapist. That constant low level stress hadn’t really flipped the anxiety switch yet. It didn’t start really affecting me until later. And it took me even longer to realize what was happening and why.

So in therapy the other day, I was talking through this with my therapist. And that’s what led me to figure out something pretty big about my problems. 

See, I’ve never really thought of myself as an angry person. It honestly takes a LOT to make me legitimately angry. I get annoyed and irritated kinda easily, but anger? Its pretty rare. 

And I was talking through these feelings with my therapist. I was telling her about some of my anxiety about getting back out into the world over the next few months after getting vaccinated. I still plan to wear a mask for the foreseeable future. But given what we know about how well the vaccine works, I feel safe to do some traveling, and toward the end of the year there’s a convention and an outdoor concert I plan to go to.

And because its what my brain does, I’m worried. What if I get overwhelmed? What if I don’t FEEL as safe as I intellectually know I am. What if I go and do these things and I end up miserable? All of the anxiety brain questions run through my head non stop. When I’m able to calm down, I just make a plan. Figure out where the exits are. Know how to get outside if I feel overwhelmed. Make sure I have meds with me. Remind myself that I have tools to deal with all these things.

Okay brain, I have a plan for these contingencies, Can you fucking chill now? And of course the answer is no. Anxiety brain spirals, like it always does. Intellectually, I know I’m safe as I can possibly be. I also know that I have solid workable plans in place for if things get out of hand. That’s the right and responsible thing to do. But so much of my anxiety isn’t rational. I’m rarely able to just *think* my way out of feeling that way. I have to just go do the thing, and the feelings will hopefully eventually subside. That’s how it usually works anyways.

I’ve never really been so anxious that I’ve stopped doing a thing altogether. What it does do is make things FAR more difficult than they have to be. Its a joy killer. Often instead of positive anticipation of an event before it happens, I get to deal with being worried about all the things that can go wrong. And that upsets me. It makes me sad. 

And here’s the connection I made the other day.

This was done *to me*. My mental health problems are not a product of random happenstance. Its not an uncontrollable, unforeseeable quirk of my brain chemistry.  I’m anxious because the world I live in IS actually dangerous for me in a lot of ways big and small. And so my brain flips that switch as a defense mechanism. I’m not sure that I’ve ever processed the anger from that. Because anger is not how I normally respond. I usually just get sad. But the fact is, when I think about this, and I think about the fact that my brain doesn’t HAVE to work this way, I DO get angry. Because I think about the joy that’s been robbed from me by my anxiety. I think about all the worrying and fretting that I’ve done. Worrying that I didn’t HAVE to do. Worry and fear that is SO far outside of what should rationally be there. It makes me sad. But it makes me ANGRY too. I’m not sure I’ve ever truly felt that before. So I’m not sure I’ve ever been able to properly work through a period of anger, and processing, and mourning, and recovery. 

I’ve never been one who says that anger is bad or unproductive. I think a lot of good can come from embracing it. 

But because I’ve always had this vision of myself as “not an angry person” I think I just glossed right over that part. 

My therapist asks me where and how I feel my anxiety. She asked because she says some folks report is as like a whole body feeling, some people its mostly thoughts, and some people are in between. And for me, anxiety is definitely a thoughts thing. I don’t really feel it in my body until it turns into an actual acute threat. And she asked me the same question about when I get angry. And I had to think for second. Because again, my usual reaction is just to be sad. And I thought about it and realized that on the occasions when I do get actually angry, its a body feeling. 

So she asked me if I’d ever felt that about this situation. And I said no. That was such a lightbulb moment. I think I needed to get angry and really embrace it before I could work it out. And I did. And sitting there on Zoom with my therapist I went through some of the more acute joy stealing moments I could think of. Before, when I would do that, I’d get sad. But this time I got angry. 

I cried. I don’t think I’ve ever cried from anger before. And I felt that full body shaking feeling. This was DEFINITELY anger. I’m fucking mad. I’m fucking MAD that I live in a world that made me this way. And I just let myself feel it. It was an ugly feeling. I hated it. But it was raw and it was real. And when our appointment was over something just felt different. It felt like I uncovered a very important piece of myself that day.

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