The first time I sought therapy was as a student in a small liberal arts college in Texas. I had high hopes the school counselor would be able to untangle my messy life (I had to, considering that I was majoring in Psychology).
I told him the sordid story—I was dating my housemate’s ex-girlfriend, and she cheated on me, with him. Now I was trapped in a painful jumble of regret, resentment, and despair. Plus a very uncomfortable household.
The therapist, a gentle, bearded man, said he understood perfectly and countered with his story: He, too, had experienced romantic trouble as a college student. He had been dating a woman and fallen in love, when she, without any explanation, broke up with him. Heartbroken, he would walk by her dorm at night and look up at her window to see if it was lit. A couple of weeks later they got back together, and eventually they married. They had now been happily married for ten years.
Insulted by his irrelevant story, I decided to stop seeing him immediately.
Someone recommended another therapist—one who happened to be the husband of my college advisor. That was a little awkward, but I figured in such a small town social overlaps were almost inevitable.
I should have reconsidered my choice when on one of the first sessions he told me he, too, had been cool in college. “I had long hair just like you,” he said (I had hair down to my shoulders then). It was a weird thing for him to do, but I confess I was a little flattered. The following week he brought me a black and white photo of himself sporting long hair and a very uncool hat.
I got a bit nervous when in a later session he informed me that my name often came up at the dinner table because not only was his wife one of my instructors, his daughters attended the child care center where I worked. I was personally connected to his entire family!
The last straw came when he told me something he’d heard about my girlfriend from her therapist. I didn’t quite trust that he wasn’t passing any information back, so I quit. I never paid him for the last few sessions.
These experiences didn’t stop me from getting a Bachelor’s in Psychology, but they may have influenced my decision to apply to the University of Houston to study art.
I didn’t know anyone when I arrived in Houston. I moved into an apartment with no phone, no television, and no furniture except for a futon and a beanbag (and the Internet was still a few years away). I had applied too late to take any studio classes, so the first semester I only attended large lectures where there was no interaction with other students and everyone would scatter at the end of class. Having little human contact and no distractions in my apartment quickly led to panic attacks.
Desperate, I called a suicide hotline from a payphone. I explained that I was distressed and miserable. The person I was speaking to recommended I take a hot bath.
“A hot bath?”
“Yes, it’s very relaxing,” she said.
“Excuse me for asking, but do you have any training to give advice?”
“No,” she replied breezily. “I’m a volunteer, just a regular person like you!”
I hung up on the volunteer with the slight hope it would instill a little distress in her and decided to find out whether the University of Houston offered better counseling than my previous college.
This school therapist seemed very professional, but there was a small hitch: He suffered from a severe speech impediment. He would get out a couple of sentences without a problem and then get stuck in the middle of a word.
“And when did you staaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa…”
I gamely showed up for a second session, but it was torture. I told the therapist I felt much better and that I’d let him know if I needed his services again.
Around that time the ex-housemate I had been in a love triangle with (who now lived in Austin) introduced me to a girl who had also just moved to Houston and didn’t know anyone. She and I started dating, and it was only after a couple of weeks that she confessed that she had been involved with my ex-housemate when we met. Predictably, she then cheated on me, with him. The only difference from the previous triangle was that this time I decided professional help wasn’t worth the trouble.
Next: Neurotic in New York