My First Therapist

Lately, I feel like mental health is all I think about. Since the pandemic began, managing my mental health feels like a full-time job.

Where do I even start?

Child of Divorce

My parents separated when I was seven, and their divorce was final a few months before my eighth birthday. After that I remember losing my temper a lot as a kid. I even remember wanting to calm down, but it felt like then I’d have to admit I was wrong. It was like the thing I was angry about would no longer be valid if I let my anger go.

Did anyone every try to validate my anger–or the emotion underneath it? Or was I too far gone to notice if they did?

These outbursts (understatement) mostly happened at home with my mom. Sometimes it would happen with my dad, but it was usually more of a quiet defiance with him. He would sometimes call my mom, and when she arrived I would usually calm down.

I don’t remember what would spur the anger in the first place. Mom says we–my sisters and I–would have a lot of behavior issues for the first day or so after coming back from our dad’s. That sort of transition was really hard on us.

So, I starting seeing a therapist. I think I kind of liked it. But I also remember telling my mom I didn’t want to go anymore. I guess I sort of wanted to punish my mom somehow. Like I didn’t want her to feel good about me going.

Gabrielle, maybe.

I think her name was Gabrielle. Maybe it was Gabriella. I remember thinking her name was long and beautiful. In my mind she was tall, thin, tan, wore lots of pink, and had wispy bleached-blonde hair. I picture her in a fuchsia dress with ruffles on the sleeves, a v-neck, the fabric a little too stiff, and it’s obvious how thin she is by how the fitted dress isn’t quite tight. Matching lipstick. Her hair was kind of big on top and the sides, then long. A little bit like DJ Tanner from Full House.

There were dolls and crayons. I think maybe I drew something once, but usually I just talked because I was too mature for toys. I’m not sure if I knew why I was talking to her. I get the feeling I did. I didn’t tell my friends about going to therapy. Did I go once a week? It feels like I only went once a month. Did my sisters go? I don’t think so, but I don’t know. Weird.

I remember picking fights with my mom when she’d pick me up and take me. Sometimes we’d also shop or stop for lunch. I think I sabotaged it.

It’s funny that now, over two decades later, I’m embarrassed to admit that I was self-sabotaging my relationship with my mom. Of course I was handling things badly. I was eight and my parents got divorced!

I have three memories of what I talked about with Gabrielle. (Gabriella?) One was after I’d been seeing her for a while and my mom and I had a misunderstanding right before arriving.

Memory One

Mom said I could pick out a gift for myself at the store. I was searching and searching. Then, Mom said, “How about this?” and I said “Yes.”

So, to my mom, that was my gift. I don’t remember what it was. We were at Michael’s or maybe Hobby Lobby. If I knew exactly what the object was, this story would be better. Specificity. Should I lie a little for the story’s sake?

Anyway, to me, this was a random thing my mom was getting me, and I hadn’t chosen my gift yet. The gift I would pick out would be something that I picked out, not something my mom suggested.

So. I pouted. I took a long time to communicate my feelings clearly. I wish this didn’t sound so much like something I still do to this day. But you know where it comes from? I believed that if my mom WANTED me to pick out my own gift, she would have let me. She picked out my gift, so obviously that’s NOT what she wanted. So, even though I was disappointed, why bother talking about it? She had already made herself clear through her actions.

That’s how I feel a lot. Yikes.

I told Gabrielle about the misunderstanding, but without the insight of 34-year-old Sarah. She pointed out how my communication helped my mom understand and us come to a resolution. She suggested I do that in the future “without hesitation.”

I remember because I’d come across the word “hesitation” in chapter books, and it was the first time I’d heard it in real life.

Memory Two

I was telling Gabrielle, “He threw me across the room. Well, he says he didn’t throw me because he didn’t pick me up and throw me. I guess he pushed me.”

Gabrielle, “Did you feel thrown?”

You know what? Yes. Yes, I f*¢king did.

Memory Three

This one is the least distinct. I was sitting in her office. I picture it dark with lots of dark brown. Maybe a coffee table between us. Mom and I seated on a couch. A white couch?

We talked, and I was feeling really good that day. I seem to have been saying nice thinks about my little sister, Cory. When I conjure this memory, I also remember thinking of Cory with her short, blond bob, very tan skin, and wearing red overalls or something like that.

So, I was getting along well with my sisters, it seemed like. I guess I hadn’t had an angry tantrum in a while. This was my last appointment with Gabrielle.

My therapist smiled and said, “I think we’re done here.”

Ha. If only.

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