I had this great therapist when I was 17. My parents forced me to see Ellen and I didn’t talk to her for about six months. I spent a lot of time asking what the point of therapy was and if I was doing it right (hashtag perfectionism). But then the whole therapy thing started working. Or, maybe it was working—I didn’t make any great strides to overcome the issues that got me there in the first place, but Ellen helped me keep my head above water. I think I may not have lived to my high school graduation if I didn’t have her support.
She encouraged me to try medication, but didn’t really force it. She encouraged me to eat, exercise, sleep, write, and ask for what I need. She encouraged me to follow my heart, listen to my gut, and come out of the closet. She encouraged me to talk about my family and cry and laugh and cut my hair and shave my head and grow it back and, amazingly, eat elbow macaroni (which to this day scares the shit out of me and I’m not really sure why).
There’s this nice little song called “Everything Reminds Me of My Therapist” on YouTube:
The first time I saw it I started sobbing because it reminded me of Ellen and I missed her so much. I mean it, this therapist was awesome. I saw her for about three years, and I loved her.
Unfortunately, we did not “terminate” well. I last saw Ellen over the summer following my sophomore year of college. It was the last period of time that I lived with my parents and I knew, therefore, it would be the last time I’d be able to see her. We dug into some deep shit during those months. So much family stuff I thought my head might explode. But things were so good. I was completely symptom-free from both eating disorder and OCD behaviors and my depression was noticeably absent. I was going off my meds, actually, because I was doing so well, and this was a decision that I had made with Ellen and my parents. We were all on board.
Unfortunately I crashed into a nasty depression within a week of being med-free … but if Ellen thought it had anything to do with going off the meds too fast, she didn’t say—and I sure had no idea. I have since learned there are strategies to going off meds in a more healthful way than I was instructed to do that summer, but that’s neither here nor there.
Then the summer was over and it was time to go back to college and I was In A Depression. My therapist didn’t realize our last session was our last session. It didn’t feel like a big deal at the time because I had stopped caring about everything. Nothing made sense. I left the last appointment, drove home, and proceeded to go a bit crazy over the next ten months. I am convinced that it was primarily due to suddenly stopping the meds, but I’ll probably never know. I spoke with Ellen twice on the phone that year out of panic and desperation, but I never saw her again.
Eventually, the crazy subsided. Spring in Vermont melted into summer and I began feeling like a real person again. Along with the peaceful joy of mental stability, I mourned the months lost to madness and pain and I grieved for Ellen.
Two years later I wrote her a letter thanking her for all of her help when I was in high school. I said that I don’t know what the future may hold in terms of mental illness, but I knew that there was no longer an eating disorder in the picture and I was not a prisoner of depression anymore. Ellen wrote back and signed the letter “with my deepest respect and admiration.” I cried.
I needed it to be closure and it was, sort of. But it was not a great end to our relationship.
Let me be clear: I have abandonment issues. I don’t handle change well. It takes a long time for me to talk about people I have lost. I am scared the pain will destroy me.
Interestingly, it doesn’t. I’m slowly getting better at being a person with emotions. Thank you, therapy. But I don’t know if I’ll ever not miss my old therapist. I wonder if memories of her will continue to impact other mental health services I receive, should I choose to use them.
I’ve seen other therapists since My First and have had really awkward termination sessions. Closure! Graduation! You’ve graduated therapy! You’ve learned skills! This is a happy ending! On most occasions, it’s felt like bullshit. I’ve never allowed myself to be vulnerable enough with any other person for the therapeutic process, or that type of closure, to feel sincere.
As of today, I’m currently without a therapist. I’ve seen several over the last five years, but usually only go back once or twice before deciding they are not the right fit. And this is okay: I am certainly not in a state of crisis and need support; I am confident that if I were, my need for support would outweigh any personal feelings I had towards the actual individual providing it. Ultimately, I know what the problem is. It’s not that other people aren’t a good enough fit or I am too picky and impatient. I have been searching for someone to replace Ellen and Ellen is irreplaceable.
I wish it were more okay to talk about mourning someone who is very much alive. I wish it were more acceptable to say Yes! I loved my therapist! She meant the world to me. And sadly, the reality is that I was not ready to say goodbye to Ellen when I did. While these days I can watch the YouTube song without crying, I still miss her. I love her, I miss her, and I will always, always be grateful to her.