Reflections is a series of essays embracing the power of introspection, taking on personal topics and rooting out what is just below the surface.
Getting to this point in my late twenties without addressing any of my deeper issues has felt somewhat like a drawn-out, spot-popping process. Although, from the outset, I’m averse to the term ‘deeper issues’; it conjures for me an identical essence to that of Redditors who psychoanalyze one another in the comment section of a relatively ordinary confession.
“I don’t like it when my partner keeps his socks on in bed, should I do something?” is immediately followed by, “Yes, dump him. Go to therapy immediately. You clearly have unresolved trauma.” There’s something icky about it, something melodramatic and overindulgent. Meanwhile I’m over here writing articles about my own internal psychoanalysis in no less a melodramatic form, so perhaps what gives me the ick is in fact my own participation, but we’ll wait to get into all that.
“Sometimes I’ll find a particular experience flavoured by the thing, or it will pop up in an unexpected place and I’ll think: ah, there it is. It does bother me.”
To begin with I felt barely any pressure at all. My growing up years were like a doughnut: sweet and full but missing a little something at the centre. I knew there were aches and pains that might later grow more painful, but for now, what did I care? I was resolutely fine, unbothered, graduating my teenage years into a heady blend of boys, kissing, rosé and £5 taxis. Whatever internal complications were brewing were to be left to ‘later’, that indeterminable time that feels so far away when life is just beginning.
Slowly, slowly, the pressure grew. The question became ‘when will this spot pop?’ rather than sitting around, wondering whether it would. I feel compelled again to clarify that my mid-twenties were a happy time. The potential of painting myself as pained is an uncomfortable one, and I assure you, I was fine, genuinely fine, not the type of fine you say in an argument with your significant other but the kind of fine which means only what it says: not excellent, not terrible. Quite happy, very happy at times, though acutely aware that certain subjects made my throat feel tighter.
Now I’m at the point where I can no longer ignore the thing. It isn’t a huge obstruction – I could go the rest of my life without ever addressing it, and it’s quite possible that I will – but it does narrow the natural flow of things, a weir in the propulsion of my contentment. Sometimes I’ll find a particular experience flavoured by the thing or it will pop up in an unexpected place and I’ll think: ah, there it is. It does bother me. But as soon as I’ve acknowledged it I’m moving right past it, keen to avoid dipping into emotions that I can’t control.
“I’m mostly fine and the mostly fine part of myself doesn’t want to talk to a stranger about the knot that isn’t.”
So later has arrived; later is now. Lots of my peers have engaged in counseling and found it valuable, whether that’s through the pragmatic approach of setting goals or simply having someone impartial to vent to. All types of therapy are now openly discussed and in the process of being collectively destigmatised, by a generation of participants who have all found some benefit, no matter how tricky it is commonly confessed to be. “It isn’t easy”, we’re told, “but it’s worth it.”
Talking to someone would probably help iron out my personal tangles and if not that, at least illuminate them, liberating them from the internal box that orders ‘do not open’. And yet I can’t move beyond the ick. I’m mostly fine and the mostly fine part of myself doesn’t want to talk to a stranger about the knot that isn’t.
“There’s a slice of fear that by going to therapy, I’m opening a can of worms that once addressed only magnifies in significance.”
Firing up Zoom and chatting to somebody who has just come from washing the dishes or browsing social media to then listen to me unload the parcel of emotional baggage that I find, quite frankly, gross is something I don’t want. I don’t want to do homework on my feelings, either; being instructed to do so in private seems jarringly indulgent. Then it wouldn’t be for anything.
I fully support every person seeking counseling or therapy for self-improvement and beyond, I just don’t support it for me. I know it isn’t a big deal, that booking an appointment to speak to someone isn’t a passive declaration of fault or failure. But I just… can’t. And if I endeavor to look inward in the same way that counseling would likely require, it’s fear talking.
If I portion my hesitancy up into a pie, there’s one slice of stubbornness; of wanting to be unaffected by being in control of what hurts me, one slice of embarrassment, the concern that I’m over exaggerating, being melodramatic. And then there’s a slice of fear that I’m opening a can of worms that once addressed only magnifies in significance.
“I suspect we’re all navigating life with some degree of ongoing avoidance for the pain that has prodded us and kept its dirty little thorns in our side.”
That’s a relatively common apprehension, isn’t it? That therapy will make things worse than they were before. It’s one thing to recognise the existence of an issue and another entirely to keep raking at it in an attempt to unearth some kind of resolution or healing.
I’ve spent years expertly avoiding these deeper issues, enacting all kinds of mental gymnastics to skim over or skirt around them, deploying self-effacing comedy as the balm for triggering topics. I can continue this way forever (or however long my forever lasts), can’t I? I suspect we’re all navigating life with some degree of ongoing avoidance for the pain that has prodded us and kept its dirty little thorns in our side.
And that certainly is true: we all have our own shit. Our own baggage and hangovers from a life so far lived. Perhaps there’s another portion to my hesitancy pie: why me when other people have it so much worse? It’s a trite observation to make and one that has been oft-repeated and dispelled by both those who engage in therapy and those who offer it, but still, there’s a nugget of something genuine in there.
In the grand scheme of things, my silly little problems that sort-of-but-not-really affect my silly little life are so insignificant. If I can lead a happy existence – perhaps tinted by the thing but not stained by it – then what the hell am I really complaining about? Am I simply seeking victimhood in a life of great privilege?
This is where I’ve ended up, in a stalemate with myself. Aware that talking to someone would most likely be helpful but too scared to rock the boat to actually do it. And really, why should I? After all, I’m fine.
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Reflections with Chloe Plumstead is illustrated by Amy Wain.