by Stefanie Wilder Taylor
For my column this week I decided to give you all a chance to glimpse a bit of crazy from life in the form of a chapter from my new book It's Not Me, It's You  that comes out July 7th. I will also be on the Today Show on Thursday July 9th talking about the book and my ex-love alcohol. Join me won’t you?
HITTING THE BEE
I broke my therapy cherry at the tender age of seventeen. My first therapist’s name was Irma and she was maybe sixty? I wasn’t an excellent judge of age at this point despite the fact that Botox was years away –but besides the wrinkles I had a few hints; the woman was wearing bifocals and the most useless clothing item ever invented -a shawl - so that was a good tip off that she was probably eligible for the senior citizen discount. I worried that a woman in her sixties wouldn’t be able to relate much to a teenager’s problems but I tried to keep an open mind.
I was having “food issues” as well as “I hate my stepfather issues” not to mention that I could not go on more than two dates with a guy without feeling suffocated and things were not going well at home. I was a simmering stew of teen angst, anxiety and anger. My mother, who was a mental health professional, felt strongly that counseling could cure everything from multiple personalities to third degree burns. Maybe I should have known better than to consider her advice as gospel, considering my less than functional upbringing, but, hindsight is 20/20 and given the time I’ve spent in therapy, hindsight would have saved me enough cash over the years to be driving a Bentley Continental home to my own Malibu mansion. So my mother made the decision that I needed help –in fact, she made it a condition of my staying at home that I go talk to someone about why I couldn’t get along with my stepfather.
Besides being about five generations away from me and reminding me not so slightly of a cafeteria lunch lady, Irma’s bifocals magnified her eyes to such a cartoonish size that when she looked at me quizzically over the near sighted top half, it made me think of one of those creepy big eyed kid lithographs. It was disconcerting, to say the least. But the real deal breaker was that Irma was more than pleasantly plump and, unlike me, didn’t seem to be agonizing over it in the least. She’d long ago given in to the allure of polyester pants suits and who could blame her? The woman was probably not packing up after a long day of doling out compassionate nods and hitting the nightclub circuit, she was more likely going home to rearrange her Hummel figurines and knit a tea cozy. How was I possibly going to tell her that eating two cookies made me feel like I may as well get in the car and drive through every fast food joint within a five mile radius because fuck it I’ll always have a huge ass and no self control! without having to add, “Not that there’s anything wrong with it!”
My appointments were every Saturday morning and they usually followed a Friday night keg party which brought with it a mean hangover so most sessions I spent running back and forth to the bathroom or begging for Tylenol. Luckily, most of the time I saw her was during flu season so she didn’t think too much of it. But I didn’t start getting along with my stepfather any better either.
Once I turned eighteen I left the house and set out on my own thinking I’d feel relief starting fresh. But instead of feeling a whole lot better like I expected, my anxieties intensified and with them my incessant ice cream eating and I could barely tolerate dating at all. It seemed maybe I should give therapy another go. Seeing as I had no health insurance and my options were limited, I found myself a therapist straight out of grad school who agreed to see me on a sliding scale –like at the bottom of the scale. I don’t know if it was Ginger’s newness to the field or just a personality disorder, but, she was so friendly and eager she could’ve moonlighted as a Cocker Spaniel. I found myself spilling my guts to her right away –telling her all about my highly dysfunctional upbringing sparing no ugly details. Unfortunately, I quickly discovered she was way too huggy. Any sad story I shared caused her to pop up from her chair like a Jack in the Box and race around the coffee table that held her herbal tea and a tissue box to wrap me up in what she must’ve thought was a “safe feeling” hug. It was utterly horrifying and did nothing to help with my fear of intimacy let alone my food issues.
In order to distract myself from her aggressive boundary crossing I would flip through my mental rolodex of Ben & Jerry ice cream flavors and concentrate on which one I would be buying the second my session wrapped up. I forced myself to see Huggybear for another few weeks even though the more she teared up hearing about my past, the more shutdown I became until I realized I was deliberately keeping things light because I didn’t want to make her sad. I hated to admit defeat but it was time to move on before I pushed Ginger to the edge.
I went through a quick succession of metal health “experts”: one who made elaborate designs out of straws while eyeing a candy dish that sat on a table next to my couch as if the candy were in therapy and not me. Every so often she’d stand up without warning, reach across the table, make a grab for a piece of candy, sit back down, battle furiously with the wrapper until finally setting it free, she popped it into her mouth all the while saying, “Go on, go on. I’m listening.” It probably shouldn’t have come as a complete shock to me when she had to cancel a session because she’d somehow managed to scratch her cornea with a potato chip.
An honorable mention for weirdness has to go to Cowl Neck Sweater Queen who for some unknown reason, in every session wore an enormous cowl neck sweater. I diagnosed her with either OCD, terrible fashion sense or constant unsightly hickeys. Finally, I had a one-session-stand with a woman who listened to me intently for about then minutes, and then without saying a word, walked to her closet and came out with a stuffed bumble bee and a Whiffle ball bat. It wasn’t clear whether these were items she just had lying around the house or if it was a kit she’d specifically picked up at Anger Issues R Us but I didn’t like where she seemed to be heading.
“I want you to take this bat and hit the bee with it.”
“No. That’s not really my thing. I thought maybe we could just…you know, talk.”
“Stefanie. You have anger issues. The bee is here to help release your rage in a safe way.” I was definitely having rage at that point; rage that she had the nerve to charge my insurance $125 dollars an hour for this. “Come on, pick up the bat and smack that bee!”
“Maybe I could just talk with the bee rationally?”
“Hit it!” And with that, she gave me a demonstration and whacked that bee so hard, so many times, I wondered if it would take out a restraining order.
“Your turn!” I barely made out her saying to me as I was letting myself out into the lobby.
For a while it seemed that maybe I could survive on self help books alone. I bought them up by the shelf-ful and tried to heal myself from my bouts of anxiety and depression. I read Feeling Good: the New Mood Therapy, Women Who Love Too Much, Struggle for Intimacy and Women Who Don’t Love Football But Are Unfortunate Enough to Love Men Who Love Women Who Love Football so They Have to Pretend. Some of the books did bring up some good points but $12.95 rarely bought the real change I was looking for –which eventually left me back with my old friend therapy. Sitting on a couch and talking about myself for an fifty minutes still sounded great in theory and I didn’t want to let a handful of bad experiences cause me to shelve the whole project but it seemed so far my luck with therapists was not good. I did have friends in therapy and, sure, I could have asked a few of them for referrals but a lot of my friends in therapy at the time seemed just as crazy as when they started.
My last head shrinker was named Thelma, another recent grad from a school that judging from her blatant disregard for professionalism was probably an online university. I smelled trouble from our very first session. She launched into a story about a case she was working on –tearing up along the way. I made a feeble attempt to comfort her while glancing at my watch seeing my session ticking away.
Usually in a therapist’s office, there’s a clock positioned conveniently behind the client’s head so the therapist can feel free to clock watch while trying to seem that they’re making eye contact, sort of like a newscaster reading a teleprompter. This way even if you’ve just worked up the courage to talk about the pivotal moment when your trusted high school drama coach asked if you’d care to witness his private performance of Puppetry of the Penis, when the clock hits the fifty minute mark, the therapist will say, “I’m sorry. We’re out of time today. How’s next Tuesday at four?”
I knew this wouldn’t be a problem with Thelma. She had a worse sense of time than a rock. An hour and a half crawled by before we both finally ran out of issues and I got to leave.
In my second session with Thelma, after the first twenty minutes discussing her problems, we finally got around to talking about me and she made a diagnosis: Turned out, according to her, I was hilarious and the only trouble was that I needed to find the right guy. And she just happened to know one right at the hospital where she worked.
“He’s in his forties, just got divorced and he has two kids. He’s a super nice guy.” No matter that he was twice my age, had kids, and, oh yeah, was her colleague. There are only like a hundred shades of wrong about that but maybe she was having Internet issues the day that class was taught.
“I don’t think I’m ready for kids yet” I said.
“Well, we can work on that.”
Thelma was obviously crazy as a crab cake but it was clear she needed me at this point more than I needed her. Maybe to prove to myself that I didn’t have commitment issues, I still stuck around for a couple more sessions.
On Valentine’s Day, I broke down in the middle of my session –possibly from the dismal feeling of being in therapy on Valentine’s Day, and not ringing in the holiday by pouring chocolate fondue over some lover’s private parts before soaking in the oversized Jacuzzi in our five star hotel room in Paris. In the midst of my crying jag I noticed a shadowy figure crouching outside the French doors of Thelma’s office. It was easy to see since the doors were only covered with a flimsy non-soundproofed set of gauzy white curtains.
“Someone’s lurking outside your office!” I said, trying to stop a possible murderer or worse eavesdropper. Thelma went to the door, opened it and then crouched down to retrieve something.
“Oh my goodness! What a sweetie pie!” she said walking back in with a huge bouquet of roses. “It was my husband. He dropped by and left me these flowers for Valentine’s Day. Anyhoo, you were saying how hard it is to find love and how sad Valentine’s Day makes you feel…”
“Yeah. Hmm.” Placing her massive display of flowers on her desk, Thelma began straightening and arranging them. “You know, my husband and I don’t actually live together. I really think that’s the secret to making a marriage work. Separate apartments. Are you surprised?” I couldn’t have been less surprised considering I found her difficult to be around for ten minutes. What did surprise me, however, was that I was now pulling out my checkbook to pay her! Except that while I was writing out the check, I had a realization –a breakthrough if you will. It occurred to me that in a long series of fifty-minute increments I had found out plenty about myself. I was simply not nearly as dysfunctional as I thought. I mean, just compared to Thelma I was way ahead of the game. I felt such relief at this realization that tears welled up in my eyes.
Suddenly, Thelma pulled out one long stem red rose and handed it to me.
“Here, Stefanie. I really want you to have this. You deserve it.”