How my therapist helped me gain the strength I needed to break up with her
My hand was shaking while the phone rang. I wasn’t even sure what to say when someone picked up. Luckily, voicemail answered and I left a tearful message with my name and number, shakily asking for someone to call me back.
I was looking for a therapist. I’d been emotionally distraught for almost a year, and had finally reached a point where I could barely find the strength to get out of bed. And if I did find it, it was simply to put the same clothes on as the day prior (and the day before that one) and to muster up just enough energy to make it through my work day and return to the safe haven of my quiet apartment.
My professional situation had led to dealing daily with casual as well as blatant sexual harassment, I was still coping with the remnants of an emotionally abusive relationship and I was having some health issues. All of these things had crowded my brain to the point where it was bursting and I was internally screaming but had no idea how to ask for the help I needed.
I broke down crying one day and knew that keeping everything to myself and simply hoping to feel better wasn’t going to actually accomplish anything. I had to take action. I looked up therapists in the phone book, online, and asked friends for recommendations. Just the process of finding one was exhausting and nerve-wracking. What if I didn’t like them? What if they couldn’t help me? What if NO ONE could help me feel better? What if I was destined to always teeter between feeling devastatingly depressed or just blank and emotionless, canceling plans because I couldn’t bear to leave the sanctuary of my bed.
I took my time, interviewing them as much as they interviewed me. But I found one. A good one. I call her “Dr. Olsen” in my memoir. Dr. Olsen pushed me every week to face my pain. Give it a voice instead of keeping it quiet. To explain, sometimes haltingly and through massive amounts of tears why there was a solid ache in my chest every morning and how to figure out ways to make it hurt less. We talked about everything. I told her how small and powerless male co-workers constantly made me feel. How I couldn’t stop running to see my ex-boyfriend, who did terrible things to my mental and emotional state. How I was terrified that cervical dysplasia made me completely unappealing for any future potential romantic partner, or possibly unable to have children if I decided I wanted them.
Almost a year into our time together, I found that I was no longer desperately killing time in between our appointments. That I had found glimmers of positive emotions again. Balance seemed possible. Positive balance. And when we did meet, it felt more like I was giving her a recap of menial details of my life, rather than having our usual soul-searching discussions. I had learned to wake up feeling more optimistic. To leave the house for reasons other than work. To take pleasure in getting dressed in something other than a questionably clean hoodie. I left one day, struck by a strange thought. How do you know when it’s time to break up with your therapist?
The thought almost sent me into an anxiety attack spiral. I needed her, didn’t I? I was doing well now, but what if something terrible happened again? Would she take me back? Should I just keep seeing her in case something unexpected and awful occurred in the unforeseen future?
I tentatively raised the subject at our next appointment, and to my surprise ,she beamed at me. She told me that every week she writes reports on a patient’s progress and she felt that I had made huge leaps in confidence and stability from the weeping girl who knocked on her office door a year earlier. She explained that I could always come back to her whenever I needed, but that it was also okay to trust that I learned the tools to better manage my emotions and anxiety. That the point of seeing her for all of our sessions was to feel increasingly capable of facing the unexpected, the difficult or the painful. But that being there with her had taught me that I know when I need to ask for help and seek it out, and that I can make choices without checking in with her.
So I did it. I broke up with my therapist. It was odd at first. On the days of our regularly scheduled appointments I first felt a little strange not being in my car heading to Dr. Olsen’s office. She was part of my routine, part of my self-care — and even though I was feeling better, a whisper of doubt echoed in my head. “What if this feeling is only temporary?”
The biggest thing that therapy taught me was to trust myself. Trust that I could make the right decisions for myself, and that it’s not a matter of strength or lack thereof when I need to admit that I’m not okay versus when I am. Whether or not I’ll need to start seeing her again, I know that I made the best possible choice finding her in the first place and when I left that was again what worked for me at the time. But we’re all different, and therapy will always be a very intensely personal experience to each individual. Some people may never feel it’s time to break up, and there’s nothing wrong with that either. I know that when I needed to part ways, the fear of missing my connection with her was outweighed by the fact that I felt like I had begun to look at her as a crutch for my emotional wellbeing rather than a resource. Initially, I needed her because I was not okay at all on my own. Then, I was afraid that being okay couldn’t possibly last without her. But that’s the great thing about our break up. I’m the one who gets to decide on its permanence. And I know that I can trust myself to know whether I need to rekindle the relationship.