I was talking to a friend the other day, and he was telling me the reason he avoided going to therapy was because he felt therapists would try to judge him and force him to fit into some cookie-cutter person that would erase his idea of what made him unique. This kept him from getting the healing he wanted. He felt no therapist would really understand him. He worried that therapy would turn him into some sort of drone that would lose all what makes him him.
This bothered me, not because I thought it was false, but because I remembered feeling the same way about therapy before I started going to it. I was concerned they would say, “Steve, you really are screwed up and what you’re doing is not normal.”
Let’s face it, not all of us want to be the person that works the 9-5 job they secretly hate, have a house in the suburbs with 2.5 kids and all the other things society tries to label as “normal.” Healing doesn’t mean changing into something you are not. It’s often more about removing what does not work for you and never truly should have been absorbed into your character.
I’ve found that the most treasured people in my life are the ones that are very much their own person, yet they still struggle with life just like everyone else. The last thing I’d want to do is remove what makes them special.
Many of us at times have felt like we are outsiders to whatever our society thinks is “normal.” Some of us are quite happy to go against what popular opinion says. Perhaps we never really fit in with other people. Or maybe we can, but it still feels like a lie or that we are wearing a mask to blend in. I have found that there can be an enormous strength in our differences that should be encouraged, not suppressed.
For those of you out there that have been labeled as freaks or odd in a way that others don’t really accept or are threatened by, it can be very tiring and stressful to live authentically. Some therapists seem to want to label our behavior as wrong, acting out, or otherwise unhealthy. I strongly disagree with that perspective, unless of course the lifestyle is truly causing harm. The gifts that make us unique can also make life difficult at times. The key is to find out where they are making things complicated and manage ourselves without betraying who we are and also not be enslaved by our habits.
For example, perhaps a person is anti-authority. There are times were it is important to stand up to oppression, bullying, or other abuse. However, this may not be the best behavior if our boss makes responsible demands on us. It would be to our advantage to know when resistance to those who have power over us is a good idea or a bad idea.
Artists, bikers, musicians, counter-culture enthusiasts, or just people that admire those lifestyles sometimes can struggle with above average life stress. A therapist should, in my opinion, be an ally and not a symbol of society trying to fit something into a box that makes others comfortable at the expense of your own true self. Ideally, I would like to help you explore what is working and what is not. We can change for the better if we know ourselves and what drives our behavior. It starts there and then requires an honest effort on our part to make the changes to improve ourselves.
A lot of people struggle with being condemned for being different and not liking what popular opinion says we should like. If you want an alternative therapy style that won’t want to change the unique parts of who you are, but still helps you heal from troubles in your past, I want to hear from you.
Lastly, I would like to add that may of the greats in our world’s history have suffered from what today would be called a mental illness. These people brought a lot to the world. Courtesy of The National Alliance on Mental Illness, here are a few examples.
Robin Williams – Suffered with bipolar disorder and addiction. In August of 2014 he was lost to suicide. He was one of the most influential people in stand-up comedy as well as a recognized actor. He also helped raise money for charities including Comic Relief.
Abraham Lincoln – The sixteenth President of the United States suffered from severe and incapacitating depressions that occasionally led to thoughts of suicide, as documented in numerous biographies by Carl Sandburg.
Lionel Aldridge – A defensive end for Vince Lombardi’s legendary Green Bay Packers of the 1960′s, Aldridge played in two Super Bowls. In the 1970′s, he suffered from schizophrenia and was homeless for two and a half years. Until his death in 1998, he gave inspirational talks on his battle against paranoid schizophrenia.
Ludwig van Beethoven – The brilliant composer experienced bipolar disorder, as documented in The Key to Genius: Manic Depression and the Creative Life by D. Jablow Hershman and Julian Lieb.
Gaetano Donizetti – The famous opera singer suffered from bipolar disorder, as documented in Donizetti and the World Opera in Italy, Paris and Vienna in the First Half of the Nineteenth Century by Herbert Weinstock.
Robert Schumann – The “inspired poet of human suffering” experienced bipolar disorder, as discussed in The Dynamics of Creation by Anthony Storr.
Leo Tolstoy – Author of War and Peace, Tolstoy revealed the extent of his own mental illness in the memoir Confession. His experiences is also discussed in The Dynamics of Creation by Anthony Storr and The Inner World of Mental Illness: A Series of First Person Accounts of What It Was Like by Bert Kaplan.
Vaslov Nijinsky – The dancer’s battle with schizophrenia is documented in his autobiography, The Diary of Vaslov Nijinksy.
John Keats – The renowned poet’s mental illness is documented in The Dynamics of Creation by Anthony Storr and The Broken Brain: The biological Revolution in Psychiatry by Nancy Andreasen, M.D.
Tennessee Williams – The playwright gave a personal account of his struggle with clinical depression in his own Memoirs. His experience is also documented in Five O’Clock Angel: Letters of Tennessee Williams to Maria St. Just, 1948-1982; The Kindness of Strangers: The Life of Tennessee Williams by Donald Spoto, and Tennessee: Cry of the Heart by Dotson.
Vincent Van Gogh – The celebrated artist’s bipolar disorder is discussed in The Key to Genius: Manic Depression and the Creative Life by D. Jablow Hershman and Julian Lieb and Dear Theo, The Autobiography of Van Gogh.
Isaac Newton – The scientist’s mental illness is discussed in The Dynamics of Creation by Anthony Storr and The Key to Genius: Manic Depression and the Creative Life by D. Jablow Hershman and Julian Lieb.
Ernest Hemingway – The Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist’s suicidal depression is examined in the True Gen: An Intimate Portrait of Ernest Hemingway by Those Who Knew Him by Denis Brian.
Sylvia Plath – The poet and novelist ended her lifelong struggle with clinical depression by taking own life, as reported in A Closer Look at Ariel: A Memory of Sylvia Plath by Nancy Hunter-Steiner.
Michelangelo – The mental illness of one of the world’s greatest artistic geniuses is discussed in The Dynamics of Creation by Anthony Storr.
Winston Churchill – “Had he been a stable and equable man, he could never have inspired the nation. In 1940, when all the odds were against Britain, a leader of sober judgment might well have concluded that we were finished,” wrote Anthony Storr about Churchill’s bipolar disorder in Churchill’s Black Dog, Kafka’s Mice, and Other Phenomena of the Human Mind.
Vivien Leigh – The Gone with the Wind star suffered from mental illness, as documented in Vivien Leigh: A Biography by Ann Edwards.
Jimmy Piersall – The baseball player for the Boston Red Sox who suffered from bipolar disorder detailed his experience in The Truth Hurts.
Patty Duke – The Academy Award-winning actress told of her bipolar disorder in her autobiography and made-for-TV move Call Me Anna and A Brilliant Madness: Living with Manic-Depressive Illness, co-authored by Gloria Hochman.
Charles Dickens – One of the greatest authors in the English language suffered from clinical depression, as documented in The Key to Genius: Manic Depression and the Creative Life by D. Jablow Hershman and Julian Lieb, and Charles Dickens: His Tragedy and Triumph by Edgar Johnson.
Carrie Fisher – Well known for her role as Princess Leia from Star Wars, she has spoken about her struggles with bipolar I disorder.
So now I ask you: Should you still be ashamed to be different? It’s our struggles that can help define us and drive us to something greater. But you don’t have to go it alone.