A couple of years ago, when I was at my worst with my health, I finally stumbled across a fabulous GP who diagnosed me with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. The relief of discovering you're not crazy, depressed or a world class hypochondriac is priceless.
This GP's wife had the same mysterious illness and he'd made it his priority to know everything about CFS. Not just to help his wife, but also the countless others who would stumble through his door with no answers and even less hope.
One of the things I loved about this GP was that he was pretty clued on to the psychological impact of CFS -- the fact that people who have it can become angry, frustrated, misunderstood, depressed and grieving for the quality of life they once had.
So this GP made all his patients do a compulsory six sessions with a psychologist to work through all that emotional stuff. I figured it couldn't do me any harm, and Lord knows I'd be a psychologist's dream, so I went ahead and made the appointments.
The first appointment was all very perfunctory, the usual meet and greet experience. She asked me to go home, write out my life story, post it to her, and we would discuss it at my next appointment. "Well this should be swell," I thought to myself.
The next week, 32 handwritten pages were sent to her office. Thirty two pages of my gut-wrenching, tear-jerking, woe-is-me, bleeding heart. Because if you're going to bleed anywhere, it might as well be to a shrink. Or so I thought.
I walked into the next appointment with trepidation and took a deep breath. She began the session by telling me what a great writer I am and how much she appreciated the honesty in my story. I began to relax. But then she went on to tell me that whilst I seem to have quite a gift with writing, I also seem to have quite a gift with exaggeration. Not that she didn't believe the events that occurred in my life, of course. But that there was simply no need to be so dramatic.
"For instance, my dear, you say here that you were overwhelmed and felt out of control. Now, was that really the case? Or were you just feeling a bit anxious that day? And here, you say you were utterly exhausted. Again, I'm sure you felt tired, but utterly exhausted is perhaps taking it a little too far, don't you think?"
I sat through the rest of the session with a clenched jaw. I nodded politely in the right places and tried to make it look like I was listening. In reality, all I was hearing was the deepest fear of my heart being confirmed. That I am just too much. That who I am is more than most people know how to deal with, and that I need to take it down a few notches, water my character down, tame my personality a bit more, make myself more palatable to those around me.
That session felt soul-destroying (or perhaps I should just say that it felt a little upsetting or something equally as non-dramatic?). I felt small and ashamed of who I was. The hour finally ended and I flung myself into the cold August night, thankful for the slight drizzle of rain to cool me down. I ran from the far end of the street back to my motel. In high-heeled, knee-length boots, no less.
The run -- and the knowledge of the mini-bar that awaited me -- worked well for me, and I was calmer by the time I reached my room. But still, I was unsettled for the rest of the night as I pondered the things she had said. She was the psychologist with all the degrees on the wall to prove it, so who was I to question her?
I went back a month later for my next appointment -- because I always try to give everyone a second chance to pull their head out of their arse and redeem themselves. However, some people obviously don't have the capacity to be redeemed, and this was another shocker of an appointment whereby her conclusion of me was that I was simply a bored housewife who was far too intelligent to bake cakes all day.
The solution to my life's problems? A university degree. I looked at her incredulously. I thought "I have sent you 32 pages of my life story and you think my problems are a result of being a bored housewife? And you want me to get a university degree when, at the moment, I am incapable of even reading a chapter of a book to my five-year-old daughter?"
She spent the rest of that session career-counselling me. I spent the rest of that session adding up how much time and money I had wasted. Because, at $160 an hour, I had kind of hoped for more than just someone to tell me I would be a better person with fewer letters in my writing and more letters after my name. I walked out of there and have never gone back.
I spent many months rocked by this experience; unbalanced and unsure of myself. I chose to put it out of my mind and live life according to my rules. Then, out of the blue a few days ago, this shrink incident came back to mind. And I finally knew without a doubt: she was wrong.
I could have followed her advice. I could have become a lesser version of myself. A less real, less honest, less feeling, less bleeding version of myself. One that chose to only write about shallow things that made people happy. God forbid I write things that make people think or feel or love or hate or cry or laugh.
But if I had done that, I would've taken the essence of who I am and traded it for a cheap imitation. In doing so, I would have missed out on the calling in my life to embrace humanity in all its extremes... to live, observe, be part of, explore... and go forth and write about the hard things.
If everything in life is an experience from which to learn from, I know the time I spent with that psychologist wasn't wasted time. Because if nothing else, I am more passionate than ever about being the person I was created to be.
So grab hold of everything you are, embrace it, and let it radiate from the core of your being. There is a french phrase, "raison d'être", which literally means "reason for being". It is your soul's essence, an intangible force which dictates your being. It is the reason you commit yourself to survival and endure life.
Never let anyone take that from you.
Find it. And live it.
You can find Kathy Parker on her website, This Girl Unraveled http://www.kathyparker.net