I've long said that Dr. Harriet Lerner is my favorite psychologist. Not my personal therapist, but one whose books have helped me immensely. She's the author of one of my all-time favorite books The Dance of Anger. My friends speak of their favorite actors, their favorite chefs, their favorite singers, their favorite bartenders, but no one else I know has a favorite psychologist.
When I was seventeen I had my friend David drive me to my psychotherapist. The whole thing felt very grown up because I'd made the appointment without the knowledge of my parents. That therapist was the one who recommended I read The Dance of Anger. The first therapist I saw was when I stopped eating and my medical doctor referred me to Tri-State Mental Health where I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa. I was eleven. My parents were involved then and the whole experience fattened me up but left me squirmy. I wanted it to end as soon as possible. Sitting in that room with my parents, who didn't get along, was so stifling I began eating again just to make the sessions stop.
I began experiencing anxiety and depression when I was about four. I didn't like to talk about it too much. I didn't want to worry my mother, who was prone to depression herself. I didn't want her to have to go back to the hospital where I had heard tales that she received electroshock therapy--twice--in the Sixties, before I was born, when she was still married to her adulterous husband, before she married my dad.
So I learned to dissociate. To binge eat or starve myself til I felt lightheaded and outside of my body and away from the pit of emptiness I carried inside. I also drew pictures. Tons and tons of pictures. Elaborate plots and never ending stories and sequels and do-overs. Then I moved on to Barbies. They were like puppets to my friends' and my elaborate plays. DIY play therapy. When I was in my early teens I put away my play things but I could not stop storytelling.
I began to write. I took a writer's workshop class in ninth grade. My teacher told me I had a lot of talent but I lacked discipline. I reminded her of her college friend who ended up waiting tables and never published a thing. I think this was some kind of English teacher's version of Scared Straight!
It didn't work, of course. I'm still undisciplined. I don't seem to have it in me to write about publishable topics. And yet I still write. I can't seem to help it. It's like running. If I go a day without partaking I feel like crap. Writer's high.
But sometimes I feel as if I'm writing in place. It's not going anywhere. I post my thoughts. Sometimes people comment, but often not. And that's that. I don't feel like I'm getting enough feedback. The nice thing about selling a book, I suppose since I've never sold one, is the validation that comes from earning royalties. If someone pays to read your stuff, they must think it's worthwhile. Unpaid blogging on the internet feels like I'm calling out my thoughts through an intergalactic megaphone while I sit out under the stars alone.
Which is scary, but not disadvantageous. It's both social and introspective. It reminds me of what Dr. Lerner said at a lecture I attended years ago. She said whenever she's talking to a group of public school kids she likes to pass around her diary from when she was their age so they can see how writers are real people too. When asked why having people read her diary doesn't embarrass her, Dr. Lerner shared this beautiful wisdom:
"When you reach fifty, your life is no longer embarrassing, because you realize that everyone's life is embarrassing."
I feel that way now, about this blog. When my brother died and I turned forty, something clicked and I realized there's no shame in truth telling, an idea that germinated when I first read Dr. Lerner's books nearly twenty-five years ago.