In July 2013, I opened a brand new notebook and wrote, “I am losing my mind.” Two days earlier on a cold Los Angeles morning, I’d quit my job as a personal assistant to an actress in Hollywood. Swallowed up by the beast of anxiety and depression, I’d set off for work feeling lost and confused, knowing I had to change the course I was on. But I never made it there. Instead, I drove for miles in a torrential rainstorm with tears washing down my face, and the radio turned up loud. I had no destination, but I knew I had to find a path out of the darkness.
Three months later, I sat in the office of a shrink I’d found on Yelp—a petite woman with wild coils of auburn hair and delicate bird-like features. I needed her to piece together the fragments of my mind that lay scattered on the sofa, but I had my doubts. I’d been collecting therapists for seventeen years, and there was a definite chance she would end up in my couch doctor hall of fame.
I thought back to my last therapist who began each session with the bong of a Tibetan singing bowl and a moment of awkward silence. During one memorable visit, he suggested I roar like a lion.
“Roar like a lion?” I said.
“Yes, don’t worry, no one is listening.” He gave me a supportive smile.
“I don’t think so. I’ll feel silly,” I pleaded but he stared back until the air between us felt thick and uncomfortable, and all I wanted to do was bury myself under the stripy blanket that hung neatly over the armrest.
“Right then, I’ll go first.” He lifted his square chin into the air, widened his mouth and then roared—loud and deep like a lion singing baritone in a choir.
I flinched, unsure what the default response is to a middle-aged man making lion noises on the tenth floor of an office block near Beverly Hills. Our relationship ended when I didn’t show up for my next appointment. He texted, he emailed, and he left me a voicemail as a last ditch attempt to reel me back in. I ashamedly ignored them all; I think they call it “ghosting” in the dating world.
Now here I was, sitting on the edge of another couch in another office, scanning the shelves stuffed with personal trinkets, art books, and a desk oozing chaos and disorder, wondering if it would be different this time. My new therapist perched on a worn green chair, sweeping twists of hair from her face. She leaned in and smiled, breaking the stillness that rested on the lavender-scented air between us. I raised my head and let out a deep breath—like the breath of a thousand men exhaling all at once—and then told her my life story as though she were watching it in a flipbook.
That day, she saw something that all of the other therapists had missed while they were busy rehashing my past—the years of anorexia, bulimia, depression, and anxiety I longed to leave behind. She sensed a desperate need to create and the beginnings of self-discovery. I scoffed at the idea of “finding myself” as an idealistic cliché, recalling the many self-help books I’d purchased only for them to become twenty dollar coffee cup coasters. But the more she spoke of creative exploration, the more it all made sense. Years of anguish had left me wedged in a dark crack in my mind, unable to blossom.
Throughout my childhood, I’d imagined life with a pencil and a blank sheet of paper. I sat with my legs crossed at my grandparent’s kitchen table and scribbled for hours, trying not to mark the crisp white tablecloth. At school, I wrote fearlessly, finding joy in a tale where electrical appliances ruled the world, reading my story aloud to fidgeting classmates. Now I had permission to embrace self-discovery with all its cliché-ridden concepts.
My journey began with just a few paragraphs as I wrote myself some wiggle room and soon found there is therapy in words and the gift of our imagination. I didn’t care if it made any sense; my ramblings were an amalgamation of what had gone before moving me forward. But, moving forward is never easy.
On a humid LA afternoon, I slumped on my therapist’s couch questioning how far I’d come. “Therapy is like piano lessons” she replied. “You take it with you and practice.” On my drive home, I sipped an iced coffee and sat bumper to bumper on Melrose Avenue as life gifted me a moment to think about what she’d said. I’d learned to acknowledge my creative dreams and to write my way out of the shadows, exploring prose as a form of change.
A year after my first session, I signed up for a four-week online writing course. I fretted over my first 250-word assignment on the balcony outside my apartment with a strong pot of coffee and birdsong in the trees. As I found the words that felt right to me, I realized writing is a comrade that drags me out of enemy territory when my mind is a battlefield. When I excavate challenging narratives from my past, I truly exist in the present, a rare and sentient place. Sometimes, I hit upon an uncomfortable story—events I would rather forget—and I struggle to commit these stories to paper, so I’ll make a third cup of coffee and think about why.
I’ve found the answers amongst the beats on the page, and I have begun to recognize the lies I tell myself to make sense of the past—like roadblocks on the way to authentic discovery. Each day, I am figuring out how to put those narratives to paper, and for now, I’m sticking with my therapist and her self-discovery ideals. I’ve created my path, and it sure beats roaring like a lion any day.
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