Original Link : https://medium.com/humungus/i-am-fine-b56b1da971d0

On therapy and acting like a man

Ihave been in therapy for eleven years. During that time I have seen four therapists. Two men, and two women. Sometimes insurance covers mental health, sometimes it doesn’t. There’s almost always a very high deductible for out-of-network shrinks. It is hard enough to find a therapist you connect with, whether or not they are in, or out, of the network. Usually, once I meet the deductible it can be months, in one case half a year, until I receive a check for the portion of the bill my insurance will cover. The bureaucratic process to get that check feels designed to crush the human spirit.

During the last recession, I lost my job and my therapist negotiated a lower bill with me so I could afford to keep seeing him. I appreciated it because I knew he had his own bills to pay. Therapists have to make a living, too. My point is: go to therapy if you can. There are ways to talk to someone if you’re broke. And if you do see a therapist and don’t like them, remember you can see another therapist.

I didn’t want to go to therapy. Not at first. I resisted even the suggestion of it for years. Men don’t go to therapy. Men are too busy being men to go to therapy, thank you. There is too much man work to do — shoveling and flexing and chainsawing — for any dude to waste his time trying to put into words distant pains and intimate sorrows. The male heart is a large lake. The kind of lake that looks like blue glass at night, under the moon. And beneath the still waters of that lake are hundreds and hundreds of emotions, their little feet stuck in buckets filled with concrete.

I come from a proud American tradition where men don’t go to therapy unless they’re one flew over the cuckoo’s nest. Broken. Lacking utility. Useless. Destined to sit in a rocking chair on a porch while real men drive forklifts. Talking about hard candy shells and milk chocolate centers and feelings to a total stranger for money is not how a man acts. This was my general understanding. I think I missed the big patriarchy orientation meeting where they outlined what it meant to ‘act like a man.’ I never saw the slides that said: “Real men don’t cry, unless their favorite sports team either wins or loses the big game.”


When I finally went to a therapist for the first time, I haughtily announced that I didn’t need therapy. I was fine. I remember a coworker bumping into me at a grocery store once. I was falling down drunk, buying boxes of sugar cereal, sobbing because a family member was very sick and would die soon, and I didn’t know what to do. She asked how I was and I said: “I am fine.” Those were the years when I would have said “I’m fine” even if there was a knife clearly sticking out of my neck.

So I told this therapist I didn’t need therapy. I was only there because, you know, sometimes I get angry, and scared, and kick mailboxes, and play the game “can I fit my fist in my mouth” while sitting in public bathrooms. Nothing really serious, you see? I am a man and I am defined by how much pain I can absorb. I am like that popular superhero. The one who has claws and can take a beating. Only that character doesn’t, in fact, have an emotional healing factor. I don’t know why men can never show weakness. Maybe, tens of thousands of years ago, saber-toothed tigers realized that the men who showed weakness were delicious.

I have refused to admit weakness to myself and my loved ones. I have refused to admit when the pizza has lost its flavor. When the future is a wolf at the door. When sleep is just a long tumbling fall into a dying star. I have kept it secret from myself and others. The thoughts. The whispers. The bad days and bad weeks and bad months and bad years.

I have felt so tiny, so subatomic, that I’m invisible to the naked eye and I have told myself “No one can see you and they still look happy.” And at that moment I have thought: what if I were invisible forever?

“I’m fine,” is what I told the therapist during my first session. His name is Bill. He was a sixty-something Irish Jew from Staten Island. He had a New York accent. A proper backroom card game New York accent, as if cigarettes could sprout from the corners of his mouth. He actually agreed with me. I was fine, he said. I responded with a joke. Something along the lines of, “guess I’m cured then!” I didn’t know, at the time, that I make jokes to hide fear the way an octopus squirts ink to escape a predator. He even said I probably didn’t need to see him. I exhaled. Yeah, I said, I probably didn’t need to see him.

Then he told me a story about the old neighborhood. A tough guy he grew up with who married well, had a good business, was popular down at the bar. There were months there, though, when he couldn’t leave his house. I rolled my eyes at the sad-sack story and asked Bill if, surprise, this “tough guy from the old neighborhood” was really him. Bill said no. That’s a dumb thing to say. So I asked what happened to him, this tough guy from the old neighborhood, and, I remember this clearly, Bill said “He got into therapy. Finally. Now he’s fine, except when he’s not. But at least he knows the difference.” Then our time was up.

I came back the next week. Bill asked how I was and I said: “I’m fine.” I came back the week after that. Bill asked how I was and I said: “I’m fine.” This continued for seven years until he retired. At our last session, I wrote him a check and shook his hand. He was worth every penny, even those pennies that I had to pry out of the claws of my insurance company.

Next Thursday at 1:30 I’m going to see Gary. I’ve been seeing him for a few weeks now. He’ll ask how I am and I’ll tell him “I’m fine.” And then we’ll talk about whether I am or not.