Therapy Surprised Me

“I’m not here because anything is wrong”, I began. The puzzled look on her face eventually gave way to curiosity. I studied psychology as an undergrad, and at one point considered a career as a therapist. But I had never physically planted myself opposite a therapist’s chair. A few hours prior, I had delivered a presentation to finish up the requirements for graduate studies and had started a full-time position a month before that.

No boy problem. No skin problem. Life was great. I could not pinpoint one negative reason as to why I should be where I was at that moment.

The podcast, Jesus and Jollof, had me hooked all week long. The hosts were Yvonne Orji– actor, writer, and fellow Igbo babe and Luvvie Ajayi– best-selling author, blogger, and culture critic. I was enthralled by their humour, honesty, and humility. On one particular episode, they mentioned how instrumental therapy had been to arranging their lives and making sense of their personal journeys. They shared that having an unbiased third-party to ask them questions that challenged their default ways of thinking helped them understand themselves better.

I knew that their reasons were valid. But they were their reasons, not mine. I settled on two: I wanted to become more self-aware, and I wanted to add more to my toolbox for navigating this new adult phase. I was not sure of what to expect, and even if I was, those expectations would be informed by the experiences of others and may have been disappointing for me.

I arrived about half an hour before my appointment, long enough to eavesdrop on the conversations of those who congregated in the receiving area. My therapist appeared a little while later. She was about my height and some years older. Right away, she seemed friendly and trustworthy.

When we began talking, one thing I did not expect to happen was for me to cry. But I did cry, and I was surprised. I am not much of a crier, although I feel emotions deeply. The tears came when I talked about my parents and how much I did not want their sacrifices to go to waste. How little they had when they grew up. How minimal their examples of mothering, fathering, and living were. How grateful I was for how far they had come.

She said that I did not have to defend them and that she would take whatever I told her as the truth.

Two separate but connected topics had brought us to this point. Earlier, I mentioned that with my parents’ challenging circumstances when they were young, their goal was for their children to do better, live better, and have access to opportunities they lacked. This goal did not come unattached with expectations. The expectation that we were so capable of greatness and so eager to take up opportunities that came our way felt heavy, at times.

We would say that we were tired and the response would be, “of what?” We were chauffeur-driven in cars, attended good schools, and ate good food like most middle-class Nigerians. According to them, what was there to be tired of?

The other topic was my tendency to think of things as an equation. That is, if I do X, Y will happen. While this is true in many circumstances, it has often led me to think of myself as the problem in the equation if things do not work out as I hope they do. My father has always said that some mistakes may take a person a lifetime to recover from. Even now, I think that is true.

The pressure was harder to shake off because I knew that it was grounded in both truth and good intentions. I also knew that I could not hold it against my parents because it had paid off in my life. Lofty as they were, those standards had become mine. So, how could I speak ill of something that had served me so well?

At the end of the session, I came away with the understanding that even good things could cut; like a double-edged sword. The way water can hurt when it becomes a flood. The way trust can hurt when it becomes blindness. The way heat can hurt when it becomes a wildfire.

We may not all see a therapist, but asking ourselves the questions that challenge us and creating time to dig deeper and answer these questions may mean the difference between existing and living.

photo via Annette Gallo