When what needs to be healed is your head
I wasn’t sure I wanted to go to therapy. Did I have the money? Did I have the time? I wasn’t miserable, after all, but was I happy? Well, not exactly.
What started the debate was a relationship on the rocks. I’d been seeing a guy for a bit over a year, with about a month and a half break somewhere in the middle.
The relationship had been going fine, but I had been feeling conflicted. There were days when I resented his attention. Whole weeks, sometimes, when I really didn’t want to see him at all. A year ago that would have been all the warning I needed to cut ties and move on. But I really liked the guy, even if I didn’t want to see him every day.
So I had to ask myself, did I want to stay in this relationship? And if yes, what was I prepared to do to stay? Therapy seemed a good place to start—and a good place to sort through a few issues of my own, too.
I’d been feeling increasingly alone over the past few years, even with a steady partner in my life. Not depressed, just lonely. Wishing I had more people to share the joys and sorrows of life with. I’d been scavenging off the same pool of friends since first moving to California a decade ago, a pool that had steadily dwindled as folk married, moved out of state, or became otherwise unavailable. I missed them, wrote them occasionally, but never replaced them.
Instead, I just tried to be very good at being alone.
I’m not someone who either wants or needs a large group of friends to feel my life is one of value. But I would like to feel as though, if I wanted, I could share more of it with others. I used to host dinner parties. I stopped when it got too difficult to fill up the table.
In addition to making life less exciting, loneliness carries its own health risks. Loneliness has been linked to health conditions including heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke. It’s also associated with a higher risk of mortality. The problem has become so pronounced that in the UK, Prime Minister Theresa May recently established a Minister of Loneliness to address the social and health problems of social isolation in that country.
So, if not for the sake of my current relationship, then at least for myself I wanted to see if I could do something to fill up that dinner table again.
The first therapist I found wasn’t the right fit—she preferred a method called “dramatic therapy”—but I wasn’t deterred.
The therapist she referred me to at a separate practice felt more comfortable. I was expecting the kind of therapy I’d seen in countless movies and New Yorker cartoons: the therapist behind a desk, me on the couch. And we dissect my thoughts, emotions, and why I can’t move on from the past. I went in for a free consultation. Although I sat on a chair instead of a couch, it went pretty much as expected.
It didn’t take the therapist long to identify that the main reason I have trouble maintaining friendships and romantic partnerships: I view relationships as obligations.
I make myself feel responsible for their fulfillment. Those feelings of obligation create resentment. Which means I actively avoid making new connections so I can preserve my personal and emotional freedoms.
That’s not necessarily a problem, the therapist suggested, so long as I found it fulfilling. But seeing as I was sitting in his office, he was willing to bet that I did not.
He was right.
He set me up as part of a group that meets once a week for two hours on Thursday mornings. There are four of us total. We each do a short check in on how we’re doing, if we would like to respond to someone else’s share, and then if we need more time to discuss something we can come back to it once everyone has checked in.
I’m a little intimidated. I wasn’t physically abused. I wasn’t sexually abused. And while coming out was a very long process for me, no one has ever made me feel ashamed for being gay. All that to say I sometimes feel like an imposter sitting there, listening to other people explore their very real and lasting traumas. A tourist to someone else’s pain. But even though we’re just starting, it’s already been incredibly useful, and I’m excited for what more I can learn.
Even if I don’t come out the other side feeling more able to share my life with a partner, I at least want to feel I can be aware of how I share life with myself, and perhaps be more comfortable inviting others in.
I may just be starting a path that will get me there.
San Francisco support groups & other services
San Francisco AIDS Foundation provides community groups, harm reduction services and engagement activities for people of all ages. Find out more about Bridgemen, a social group for guys who volunteer; Positive Force, a social and educational group for people living with HIV; DREAAM, a community group for young African American men, trans individuals & gender non-binary folks; and the Elizabeth Taylor 50-Plus Network, for people over age 50. Get more information about these programs and groups.
The Liberation Institute is a non-profit mental health organization offering professional counseling and psychotherapy plus other services such as yoga and meditation classes. Services are offered on a sliding scale and are open to anyone and everyone. People are not turned away for lack of funds. Call 415-606-5296 x102 for information or appointments or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Positive Resource Center offers people living with HIV and/or mental health concerns comprehensive benefits counseling and employment services. Read more or find out how to access services.
Premium aged, naturally aromatic, produced in a facility that also uses soy, nuts, dairy, and gluten: these are the words that might be used to describe Cirrus Wood. Or they may just be something he read off a bag of basmati rice he had in the pantry because he didn’t know what to write here.
Cirrus Wood is a freelance writer and photographer, fine art model, bike messenger and, occasionally, adult film actor. His writing has appeared in the Bold Italic, California Magazine, UC Berkeley alumni journal and other publications.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author alone. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of BETA or of San Francisco AIDS Foundation. BETA serves as a resource on new developments in HIV prevention and treatment, strategies for living well with HIV, and gay men’s health issues. Our goal is to inform, empower, and inspire conversation.