Fucked up… but in a good way?

About a year ago, my father wrote me an email. “You should get some therapy,” he said. “You really need it.” (He said some other stuff too, but we won’t get into that again.)

Of course, I dismissed this as a fake entreaty, bitter retaliation for a Whatsit post I wrote about growing up a child of divorce/s, which unfortunately included a number of confessions that clearly shamed him. I figured it was comforting for him to categorize me as, well, fucked up, since he could then dismiss my apparent discontent with my own childhood without having to acknowledge his own culpability in my supposed fucked-up-ness.

But although I’ve never actually been in therapy, the idea that I should be has always resonated with my adult self. I’ve often wondered, would I benefit from some professional help? In fact, is it possible that I actually need such help? Am I really and truly (or even barely and slightly) screwed up? More specifically: am I a bad son (certainly), a bad sibling (definitely), a bad potential mate (hmmm… maybe), or even a bad friend (god, I hope not)? (Actually, a close friend recently made me wonder about that last one, about my friendship skill set; apparently I’m half nice-friend, half mean-friend, though I did manage to negotiate her up to 60-40.) Worse yet, though, is the fear that I might actually be a bad person… well, whatever that means.

Which leads me back to what my father said. And the question: would it help me to talk about my “issues” with a trained professional rather than just dumping everything onto this-here wonderful blog?

After all, I certainly have my share of potential issues. For instance, I am a 35-year-old adult male who doesn’t talk to his father, who has a skewed and entirely pessimistic (and yet somewhat contradictorily romanticized) conception of “family,” and who actually doesn’t mind being alone and hasn’t been in a committed relationship for awhile. Does this all point to a fucked-up person? Or, conversely, does this suggest that I’ve successfully managed to leave petty family squabbles behind, to distance myself from the gambling and substance abuse and suicide on my mother’s side of the family, not to mention the post-nuclear disjointedness of my father’s side? And is it healthy to actually feel content just being alone, to believe that it’s fine to wait and wait for the “right” potential partner, even if that means never meeting anyone at all–and being kinda, sorta OK with that? (Yeah, yeah. The answer is no, none of this is healthy—I’m completely, totally, 50% convinced of that).

These days, therapy has lost most—if not all—of its stigma. Personally, I tend to romanticize the idea of therapy, not to mention psychological damage… after all, really cool people are always totally messed up (and if nothing else, I’ve always wanted to be cool). Plus, people in therapy seem to me rather enlightened, willing to be introspective, even painfully so, yearning to explore their own dark corners. My father, child of a completely different culture and generation, must’ve thought this was a huge insult, claiming I need therapy, second only to his other major zinger—that he makes a lot more money than I do (two things I almost take pride in, actually).

Nonetheless, the truth is: I at least feel really quite happy. I like my life and am consistently, if not constantly, content. But that’s what screws with my head—should I really be content? Shouldn’t I be totally distraught that I don’t talk to my father? Shouldn’t it bother me that my mother is my only family member with whom I’m close? Shouldn’t I be clamoring for a wife, a kid, a family of my own—or at least an actual girlfriend? (Just kidding, potential girlfriends! I totally wanna be your boyfriend, seriously!) By the time he was my age, my father had already divorced his second wife, had worked his way through his second family and was very close to embarking on his third. Sometimes, it’s hard for me to imagine starting my first, though I do at times think, well, maaaayyybe, if I met the right person, naturally, though it’s becoming increasingly suspect whether there is such a person…

So, isn’t this all going to catch up with me? Perhaps this is just evidence of my own arrested development, or maybe I’m too detached from reality to even see that, deep down, I’m really unhappy. Perhaps I’m some kind of robot, unable to feel all the real-life human emotions that I’m supposed to feel and that, someday, my human side is going to reboot and I’m going to be all, yikes, it’s too late, all the other humans are dead! Indeed, I’m beginning to think that my own contentedness is actually a symptom of some deeper psychological problems. Is that crazy?

The fact that I have so many questions about the state of my life suggests that I really do need a therapist to help me work through some answers. (And that I’m in the midst of writing the most self-indulgent post of all time which is, of course, always my goal.)

My sister’s wedding is in my hometown of Seattle in May. It’s where my Dad lives. He’ll be there, of course. I’ll be there too—and, most likely, I’ll be staying in a hotel in my hometown for the first time ever. So, come May, I might very well need some professional help.

So… does anyone know any good therapists?

38 responses to “Fucked up… but in a good way?”

  1. ssw says:

    If you think you could benefit from being in therapy, there’s a good chance that you would. Lots of people have strategies they use for dealing with life’s challenges but sometimes the methods we were given just don’t work, and it can be helpful to reach out for new ideas. The key ingredients of a good therapist are trust, respect and good communication (I’m sure there are other qualities but these are basic and universal). It can be really scary to face the unknown, and lots of people are afraid to look inside themselves because of the fear of what they’ll find. The good news is Literacy is that you know yourself best, and sorting through what you want to keep and what you may want to change, building in space for self-acceptance and gaining some new insights about yourself could be liberating. You probably have decent health insurance, which is a great start. One simple road to figuring it out is to ask your Human Resources about whether or not you have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). You can go to an EAP where you meet briefly (once or twice) with a consultant who acts as a bridge between your situation and offering you a set of referrals of therapists. It’s a step where you can try to be specific (male/female, certain types of training/background, the person needs a great sense of humor, you want someone who enjoys dream work, geographic location, etc.) about your preferences/needs, and then you have the additional step of interviewing therapists too, to find a good fit. What do you have to lose?

  2. Marleyfan says:

    “Literacy”, most people can’t or won’t recognize their own problems (while pointing pointing everyone else’s), and make little attempt to change. Knowing that we have some things to work on, and making steps (or even seeking out help) is admirable.

  3. Marleyfan says:

    that was supposed to say pointing out

  4. A concerned friend says:

    L- I’ve found that the best part of therapy is the hour that you get to spend just thinking about what’s in your head, and why it’s there. But it seems that you already spend plenty of time with this endeavor. Besides, the only thing therapists ever say is, “and why do you think you feel that way?” Or, “you know, I can’t solve that problem for you.”

    You know why you have the problems you do, but these things we call problems are what make you one of the more compelling and charming people that I’ve ever known. Besides, “white” people are supposed to hate their parents.

    Of course, my opinion of therapists changes if they are licensed to give you drugs.

  5. A White Bear says:

    This post felt really familiar to me, Literacy, and echoes a lot of the issues I’ve been facing w/r/t family history and relationships and therapy. The ways I’ve narrated my life to myself, since I was a kid, have always included a causality drawn between the fucked-up things I had to deal with since I was a kid and a lot of things that I actually like about myself. I’ve had to learn to be very independent, wary of close relationships with others, totally devoted and intimate as a friend but extremely cynical about romantic relationships. Those things are a major part of who I am. My parents have also read some of these accounts of mine, and it’s something we discuss–often angrily–when they’re asking why I can’t just be normal already.

    I have never really dated in earnest, because the people I date seem to want something from me that I can’t give, whether that’s universal validation of their self-worth (can’t they do that for themselves?) or a romantic trajectory that will inevitably lead to having kids and being each other’s go-to person until death. Every time I find myself in a longterm relationship, I feel like I’m slowly drowning. I’m not polyamorous or trapped by a need to fuck around; I’m just totally trapped by feeling like my partner wants to take up all my resources for emotional intimacy.

    I did therapy for a short time, and I think it was helpful, in a way. It didn’t change me, or make me want what I don’t want. And it was hard because my therapist and I could never get to a point where she convinced me that there was anything I needed to change. I’m happy, in my way. I love my work, and I tend to find very loving friends, and (though less often these days) lovers. It’s very hard for me to want to change who I am since it’s my sense of my own hard-won independence and self-worth that allows me to take great risks and do things that I want to do in the world.

    I often think that one of the things that keeps me from wanting the traditional relationship is that everything I value about myself is stuff I got from being pretty badly emotionally abused as a kid. How could I ever have kids if it’s so hard for me to imagine a happy childhood leading to an independent, intelligent adulthood? I know this causality is fallacious, because I see happy, wonderful, independent, intelligent kids all the time, and I also see kids who went through childhoods like mine who can barely function in the world. But it’s hard to let go of that weird sense of pride about it.

    When my therapy ended (eight-session free trial period thing through work), my therapist recommended I find another and stay with it, that I obviously had more to do. But I chose not to. All those defense mechanisms are still very useful to me, or seem to be. The one benefit I can see is that I’m a lot more careful with people who aren’t like me. I am less likely to hurt people in relationships, because I avoid them more. I’m often lonely, but not unhappy. It’s not a bad life.

    At any rate, we are who we are, at least for now. In the future, we might change. But it sounds to me like you’re coping with who you are as well as you can, but finding that other people are bothered by your choices? Not sure if I’m over-reading that due to hyperidentification.

  6. Ruben Mancillas says:

    Literacy, I’m sorry but I can’t get past how well written and honest this was to offer much else right now.


    For what it’s worth coming from my own damaged self, I like you and think you’re super cool.

    But let the record show that I am staunchly pro therapy and think that psychologists are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.

  7. Godfree says:

    Well played Mr. Mancillas.

  8. Di Kotimy says:

    And it was hard because my therapist and I could never get to a point where she convinced me that there was anything I needed to change.

    The best thing, for me, about therapy was coming to the point of feeling comfortable that I didn’t need to change so much, that I’m actually quite okay as I am.

    I’m also a big fan of the blog as confessional/therapy. Cheaper than a shrink, but often the insights and input are just as helpful.

  9. Bave Dee says:

    I’ve never done therapy, either, although I can rattle off a dozen fucked-up areas in my life that I should probably be working through with some professional help. Perhaps ironically, I love reading Freud and other psychotherapists, and like you, Literacy, have come to romanticize the process of therapy.

    My own feeling of fucked-upness waxes and wanes, and I become comfortable with the idea that I am odd but mostly functional, maybe as functional as most of the normal-seeming people around me.

    On the other hand, feelings like “sometimes I think I’m like some kind of robot, unable to feel real-life human emotions,” can really be an indicator that you want change, and you can use these feelings as a tool to force change. Freud has convinced me that we’re not at all transparent to ourselves, and that we can be wrong when we think we’re doing fine.

  10. Bave Dee says:

    Also, the ssw/Marleyfan family seems to be full of just about the most supportive people imaginable.

  11. Cynthia says:

    I think too many of us wait too long to really think that therapy might help. I applad you for seeking out guidance that can help. I too was a child of divorce and my step-father was a true dr. jekel and mr. hyde. I can relate. After several years of therapy and aceepting myself flaws and all. Also remember as cliche as it might sound that money does not buy happiness and as long as your happiy. Besides I’m sure there are many people around you such as friends and even some of the students you teach that appreciate you for who you are. I know your sister’s wedding might be difficult with the friction with your father but there also has to accept who you are and what makes him happy. does not mean it will make you happy. I applad you also for being so honest and open about what you are going through. Remember you do have a lot of people here who care about you also.

  12. Demosthenes says:


  13. shrin2 says:

    Literacy, I really admire how personal and insightful your post was (which I might add, are two excellent indicators for success in therapy). I think you’re super cool too, both professionally and as your friend.

  14. LT says:

    Oh goodness, Literacy. If it was me as that friend who negotiated the 60/40 nice/mean split, I want to amend that it’s more like 80/20– and that the 20% parts of you have so much to do with why I truly completely love you. Besides, that “meanness” is more accurately your ability to be totally and directly honest, dammit.

    As I think you know, I also do not talk to my father (haven’t in over 5 years– and he wasn’t invited nor present at my wedding) and therapy simply validated that I’m okay with that. If you’re good (as can be) with the current status of your relationship (or lack therof) with your dad, then perhaps therapy isn’t for you. But it’s really helped me in more ways than I can count.

    If you want an only-somewhat realistic picture of therapy (with a heavy dose of engrossing drama), you can stream the first three weeks of HBO’s In Treatment for free. I was hooked.

  15. Ep Lee says:

    As someone who recently started therapy for the first time, my two cents is that it can’t hurt to go for a while and see what comes out. In my case, it’s been about 3 months, and while I think it has been helpful, I’m not sure I’ll continue as it was mostly intended to address some “transitional” issues. I do feel pretty content most of the time, which seems a silly thing to sit and pay someone to listen to. But on the other hand, am I feeling so content now because I took the step to start talking to a therapist when I didn’t?

    I don’t see much of a downside in going for a few sessions, anyway. You never know what’ll happen. And if you decide you don’t need it, you can stop.

    Also, for the record, I love you too, Literacy. You’re da bomb.

  16. ssw says:

    I just wanted to add that I agree both about people waiting so long to seek help and think they’re doing fine when they’re not, although I still think any given person knows best for themselves what may work or not work, when navigating their life. We all need a sense of ownership and control over our actions (even though this can sometimes need to be modeled by therapists because people feel so helpless and hopeless about their life, but this is extreme).
    Just admitting that you aren’t doing well, or that you have feelings to work through takes courage and you have to find a safe space to work them out or else it may not work (it would be interesting to hear more about whether or not people find public/semi-public spaces responsive and affirming as a mechanism for personal growth and change).
    I see lots of people who drink, smoke, have affairs (including with prostitutes for a timely example), YOU NAME IT, rather than face their feelings and address what they want their lives to really look like. Often crisis or tragedy becomes the wake-up call, unfortunately. I would say if you sit with/live with, a great amount of internal conflict, this can also be a signal.

  17. Dess Oubleyou says:

    I think this post is amazingly self-aware and brave. I’d take 60% of you being a good friend over 100% of a lot of other people I know. And, you know, sometimes you even beat that percentage! (I WAS KIDDING!)

  18. With Bave using his unfogged handle in the comments thread here, I’m afraid I may need a therapist myself.

    Oh, wait. I’ve been in therapy most of my adult life. And I have a hard time wondering how people negotiate life without it.

    I wonder why the comments thread here is so invested in the “should he or shouldn’t he see a therapist” angle whereas AWB’s comments thread on her companion post is about whether or not one needs a stable romantic relationship. The easy answer is that that’s how she framed her snips from LHD’s post — but I wonder if that discussion could be usefully imported here, too.

    I like you, LHD, just the way you are. Same goes for you, AWB.

    ssw, if I weren’t married to you I’d want you as my therapist.

  19. A White Bear says:

    I’m so glad I read this today. In comments to my companion piece on my blog, I finally figured out a way to name my parallel intimacy issues. Blogs are neat.

  20. anon. says:

    FWIW, I once tried therapy for a very specific purpose (having difficulty finishing something and equal angst about not finishing it). I was advised to go by someone in a position of authority over me. I gave it a go for maybe seven or eight sessions, then quit under the assumption that therapy was not EVER going to work for me. In retrospect, I think perhaps my expectations were too high, and I tried too hard to control it. I was unwilling to go down certain paths (all of which related to my family fucked-upedness, something I am very reluctant to divulge to many, let alone a stranger) and so I probably stymied any possibility of getting positive results from it by shutting down certain lines of discussion. (My therapist must have thought me a real jerk, or a potential volcano.)

    I guess this is to say, if you do decide to give it a trial, as so many have suggested you might, I would encourage you to approach it with a greater spirit of investigation than I did. I have no idea if I will work up the courage to try it again, but if I do, I hope I will heed my own advice and resist the urge to control it. Perhaps you’ll eventually write the post that will inspire me to give it another go. (hint hint) We can probably all benefit from a little self-indulgence of this sort.

    Very best with it all. Your family issues ring so close to home.

  21. A White Bear says:

    For me, it’s not that I think it’s possible that I need a stable relationship, but that I need a language for explaining to people why romantic relationships are not healthy for me (or why they make me depressed and paranoid). And I think I sort of figured out a way of naming that problem today on my blog.

    The naming/narrating angle is obviously part of what therapy offers. It’s not necessarily a door opening onto the normal, but it can provide one with a way of being able to negotiate the world as one is, by shaping one’s experiences with language. As it turns out, I was often better at doing this on my own (or on a blog, or with friends) than I was with the help of my therapist.

    Where I quit therapy was when she wanted to refer me to someone who would help me do more than narrate, to help me change my behaviors. And frankly, I don’t want to. I want to get better at warning people about who I am and what my limitations are. I don’t really want to abandon my limitations.

  22. A White Bear says:

    That said, I want SSW for my therapist, too. Every time I talk to her, my mind bursts open a little.

  23. A White Bear says:

    …and, and, and I totally like you just the way you are, too, Bee-dub!

  24. Ivy says:

    I was completely paranoid about the idea of having therapy, despite having some really good, immediate and obvious reasons for going. I felt like it would pathologise what I considered to be perfectly normal feelings, albeit essentially negative ones. (Without getting into the tedious detail, bereavement was my most obvious problem.) I felt that the issues I was getting through were a big deal, but that I was managing them okay. Then someone kind and nice and sensible said to me that rather than making normal feelings into a sickness, it was, in her opinion, more about having some help dealing with perfectly normal human stuff. Like taking antibiotics for an infection.
    So I went into therapy. It is without doubt the single best thing I have ever done for myself. If nothing else, I get to think about and talk about myself with someone for a whole hour every week. Even though I think it is weird that I know nothing about my therapist and she knows piles of stuff about me, I don’t care. And the oppressive weight I was carrying about is now something external to myself on bad days, and close to absent on good days.
    As for whether it is bad to have nothing to do with certain people, I think that depends on them as much as anything. You can’t really expect to change people. You can try, but some people aren’t capable of being what we want them to be, no matter how unfair that is. If they are complete bastards, why bother with them? Life is too short. Sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself is cut your losses and move on. Acceptance, rather than repair, is sometimes the best outcome that can be hoped for.
    If you have peace with yourself, you are probably doing fine. We don’t all have to live in the same way, thank goodness.

  25. My only response to all this is to ssw’s first comment: The key ingredients of a good therapist are trust, respect and good communication (I’m sure there are other qualities but these are basic and universal).

    Well, I’m all that, so maybe I should be a therapist. Heaven knows that was my role in high school; I was the stable one. What’s the difference between a therapist and a psychoanalyst or a psychologist, anyway?

  26. Tim Wager says:

    LHD. So many lines in this made me LOL. If you do get some therapy, promise me that you won’t stop with the funny.

    Seriously, though, if and when you do start going to see a therapist, you won’t be crossing some weird line or signing on to the Dr. Phil nation or anything. You might find that it’s great to have a trained professional to talk to about what I can only term your possible problem with having no problem with what some people think are your problems.

  27. Godfree says:

    L- I think you’re just right, even when you’ve slipped into the 40% that’s no so friendish. As I’ve told you in the past, one of the things I like so much about you is that I always know that you want to hangout with me when we’re together, otherwise, you’d happily be alone.

  28. LHD says:

    Wow, thanks for all the kind words here. I hardly know where to begin.

    First of all, I wanted to respond to AWB’s incredibly thoughtful comment, especially the admission that “I’ve had to learn to be very independent, wary of close relationships with others, totally devoted and intimate as a friend but extremely cynical about romantic relationships,” which sounds pretty darn familiar to me, too. Your attitude toward romantic relationships really resonates as well, though I keep thinking (perhaps foolishly?) that if I just meet the right person, then I’ll be totally ready to “settle down” or whatever they call it. And, no, you’re not “over-reading” others being “bothered” by my choices–though it’s my family, of course, that’s most-often bothered. My friends just want me to be happy, although some of my couple friends also want to be able to go out on double-dates.

    I feel a little sheepish that this elicited so many I-like-you-the-way-you-are comments (although I’m not really!), but thanks–I think it’s really this support that I get from friends that makes me feel like therapy is sort of unnecessary. I mean, who better to point out (and help me correct) my flawed 40% than swells, LT, Godfree, et al.? (I know, I know–you were kidding!) And when you have pros like ssw, shrin2, and farrell around?

    So I’m gonna hold off on therapy for now. Oops, gotta go…more later?

  29. lane says:

    “I think it’s really this support that I get from friends that makes me feel like therapy is sort of unnecessary.”


    But then again, I’m a Utopian.

  30. PB says:

    “Nonetheless, the truth is: I at least feel really quite happy. I like my life and am consistently, if not constantly, content. But that’s what screws with my head—should I really be content?”

    Although the conversations as to therapy or not to therapy are interesting (I for one had a saving stint at a crucial time), I am particularly facinated by the issue of what we “should” be feeling at any given time. I have sat in situations a million times and thought, why do I feel OK with this? Lots of people would not. Yet I do? What is wrong with me? I call it the “butter effect.” My life was falling apart once and I found myself strangely distracted and even comforted by butter melting in a pan (you should watch, the clarifying process is really beautiful) and thought, as long as I can find lovely things in the world, I will be fine. Staring at melting butter could be diagnosed as denial at best, mildly psychotic at worst, and yet it was comforting in a get-up-and-face-the-day kind of way. It is often a battle between the desire to be as normal as (read same as) who we consider the majority and the deeper realization that our individual baggage, our inherent “coolness,” is inevitable and perhaps more desirable after all.

    As a parent I remember a seminal moment in my parenting career. I was rocking a new baby when I had a vision of this same boy at 25 in a bar, drinking a beer and telling his buddies how crazy his mother was and how fucked up his childhood was. I realized that no matter what I did, this was his destiny, all humans viewed their parents to some degree as the cause of all their issues. Some parents really max out in badness, some may not enforce flossing, doesn’t matter, my reputation was doomed. In that moment, late at night holding this infant, the panic of failing him faded and I set about just doing the best I could.

    All this is to say, therapy teaches you a lot of things, but your insight and self-awareness reveals less fucked-up-ness and more human empathy-ness that you may be giving yourself credit for.

    Spoken of course by one who watches butter and sees visions, what do I know?

    Wonderful post, LD.

  31. PB says:

    by the way, as to AWB’s comment #22:


    But then all TGW women crush on SSW, get in line.

  32. Natasha says:

    Happiness does not come from a therapist; it comes from a profound realization that everything in your life is really the way you want regardless of the societal norms. If you are truly happy being alone then be alone. On the other hand, if you want to try out a relationship for your own sake and not because everyone tells you that you should — do it. You have to remember though that if you expect to fail, you will fail, therefore you have to expect to succeed in whatever your decision is going to be. Life is too short, when you are on your death bed (drum roll) (sorry too dramatic), are you gonna wish you would have done something you didn’t do? Ask yourself what it is that you are going to regret and if there is anything, no matter how impossible, do it.

    All boys consider their fathers to be their role models therefore comparing yourself to your Dad, even now when you are all grown up, somehow makes sense. This is how your brain is wired. But the truth is, if he were an outsider you met at work or some other place, you would judge him objectively and realize that more than anything else you would probably feel sorry for this man and his obvious close-mindedness. If you rewire that connection, you can go to the wedding, avoid being uncomfortable around your Dad, be sympathetic, enjoy the food and drinks (hopefully good quality since your Dad’s rich), get drunk and dance the night away. As far as a therapist is concerned, well, they are great for those Eureka – ahaaaaa moments and valuable insights, if you have the time.

  33. Stella says:

    Fab post.

    It struck me that if we all lived in the ssw/waterman household we wouldn’t need therapy – every conversation from dawn to dusk allows everyone to process, observe, explore, understand in this wonderful free-flowing way that respects and validates all of us! So, as an alternate to therapy, book in for a weekend. I do.

    And I’m a big therapy advocate in the way that I’m a big yoga advocate. It’s a set of tools for living. Of course – you have to find the right therapist/yoga studio for you.

    Needless to say I’m addicted to In-Treatment and loved Tell Me You Love Me. But my therapy sessions are nowhere near as interesting, nor as combative, as any of theirs. It’s giving me a complex.

  34. It struck me that if we all lived in the ssw/waterman household we wouldn’t need therapy.

    ha, ha. unless you happen to be married to one of us, i suppose.

    hey — TGW = the new facebook: i’m heading over to mercury lounge to see frog eyes if anyone wants to meet me there. mood: tired, but still needing a little crazy canadian screaming to get me ready for bed.

  35. dave — when does TGW recognize daylight savings time?

  36. PB says:

    TGW lives in a timeless universe impervious to the feeble movements of human measurment.

  37. Dave says:

    Oh, yeah. Our blogging software is stuck somewhere in the Bronze Age and can’t update its own damn time zone.

    Have I mentioned my advocacy of permanent daylight savings time? It’s the public-policy issue I have the fewest doubts about.

  38. NP says:

    Hehe, BW I’ll look for you on Facebook, TGW has to be able to update time first before it gets into the “owned application.”