Therapy makes us more, not less
When someone says they're seeing a therapist, it's not a sign of anything missing in their life; it's an extra advantage on the path to happiness
After spending a couple of weeks in absentia from the art world, I decided to start stepping back into the arena. I was at a dinner in someone's home where I encountered a mid-career male artist who has been part of the scene for years, and whom I've mostly always met at openings.
He asked how I was, given that he was seeing me after a long time. I said I was doing fine, that I had begun therapy recently and was beginning to enjoy it, that it was becoming a transformative experience for me. His first response was, "Why, Rosalyn?" putting me in a position of having to justify why I felt I needed to talk to someone, making a decision that should have been my prerogative, suddenly seem abnormal.
"Don't you have friends?" he added. "Of course I do, but it shouldn't be their burden to have to deal with my personal issues," I countered. "Then you have shit friends!" he said.
"My friends are not shit, they're amazing people," I responded. Of course when I got back home I began to think of a hundred better comebacks to his deduction that I needed therapy because my friends were "shit". At the time I chose not to say anything because I've begun to feel that in situations like these, it's not helpful to be caustic or even to try to get another person to see your point.
I also have been really cautious about limiting the levels of toxicity I would like to allow in my life, as well as about moments when you feel the need to get defensive. I would prefer any retorts I make to come from a space of empowerment. What I should have said was, "I'm sorry, but I think you should reconsider your opinion of therapy because it seems to not be cognisant of the fact that there is a serious mental health crisis in this country, and your attitude only enables a bias against the act of healing." But the moment passed a long time ago, and I suppose I'm writing this belatedly in this column as a way of reframing the narrative, because his perspective is not unique to him, it is sadly shared by many.
One of the reasons I chose to mention that I had been seeing a therapist in my recent columns is to, in a small way, help alleviate the stigma around it. In my early twenties, my best friend and I had thought we'd never need to ever see someone professionally because we had each other. We committed ourselves to being each other's therapists. But since then, both of us have pursued difficult careers, and as independent, single women. That has come with so many battles, so much societal pressure, and with diminishing room for empathy.
As creative people, the biggest source of conflict has been the phantom of self-doubt. How do you proceed with your career, with your passions, when you always feel compelled to second-guess yourself, to distrust your intuitions, to feel like what you do doesn't matter enough? How do you learn to separate the fact that the reception of your work, whether positive or negative, sometimes has nothing to do with its quality? That sometimes it is just that we live in a world that is still controlled by male authority, and that misogyny runs so deep, you have to hope that your lens acquires a magnifying power in order to see through it.
When we were younger, it was easier to be optimistic about the future, because it was still something foreseeable. I always wanted to be a writer. In my mid-twenties, however, if someone at a party asked me what I did, I wouldn't ever dare to say I was a writer. Instead, I would say instead "I write." I'd internalised something about how you're only a writer if you are published, and you're only as good as the last thing you wrote. It was something a successful male writer said once, and I might have taken it as gospel truth. Even after I had a book to my name, if someone asked me what I did, I would say I was an art writer. Mind you, I rarely ever said art critic, and once, when I did, a male acquaintance took me to task for it, made me feel like I had to defend that stance, even though there was ample proof of my prolific art criticism.
A kinder male friend who was seeking dating advice from me recently said something rather lovely over a message. It read, "Well as the lord said: Always keep faith in your doubt". I didn't ask him which lord. It didn't matter. But I've decided to hold that dear. If I run into that artist again, I want to tell him that because I have such wonderful friends, and a therapist, my life is only feeling more enriched.
Deliberating on the life and times of Everywoman, Rosalyn D'Mello is a reputable art critic and the author of A Handbook For My Lover. She tweets @RosaParx Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
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