I walked into the counsellor's office and sat down. I had been there twice since making the decision to talk to someone. The first session I did nothing but cry for an hour. The second, I provided an overview of who I was and what my life had become - deep unhappiness, constant crying and an overwhelming sense of worthlessness.
I bonded easily with the older woman who took my case. I call the counsellor "older". At the time, she seemed so far away from my age. Now, I can see she was not any older then than I am now. So much for the perspective of a 24 year old.
I felt at ease with her - more with her than with myself those days. We came from similar backgrounds: oldest child of a larger family, raised in a devoted religious group (who jokingly referred to themselves as a cult), living in constant fear of not being good enough and being unliked. The only difference was she was from the East, me from the West.
I unleashed years of sadness on this counsellor during those few months we met weekly. I poured out years of pain and hurt and the perceived agony of a girl in her early 20s. (Oh, if only I'd known what was to come.) She responded with patience, sincerity, understanding and tears in her eyes.
That day, she said she wanted to try an exercise with me. I can't recall how she referred to it - what name she gave the exercise - but I remember thinking it could not be real. It sounded made up and pretend and completely un-scholarly. It sounded... like hippy therapy.
She wanted me to wander my subconscious and see what came up. She would lead me through an image, a story, a daydream and we would see what my mind had to tell me. I worried about that. First, I worried it was hogwash and, people were right, I was wasting my time. Then, I worried it was not hogwash and I would see something I didn't want to see. Something I wasn't ready to deal with or didn't want to face. I wasn't sure with which scenario I was more concerned.
I closed my eyes and listened to her voice. I imagined a great forest standing before me. I meant to pretend to imagine it; pretend to follow instructions. But there it was in front of me and I was lost in the description. The trees loomed above me, not threatening, but huge. Moss covered the ground and took over the base of most trees. I swore I could hear birds chirping. It was peaceful and quiet. I was content for the first time in a long time. I could have spent days in that wood, just listening and taking it all in. Soaking up all the calm and comfort.
"Now, imagine a path in front of you."
I'll be damned. There was a path. Off to the right of me, it wound through the trees until I could not see where it went. The path was crushed gravel and looked man-made, yet not out of place at all. In my mind's eye, I stepped onto the path.
"Follow the path and tell me what you see."
There were a lot of trees. A couple of boulders rested to one side looking as though someone had placed them there specifically for weary travellers or hikers. It was so green, dark in places and light in other. There was a clearing just ahead. Sunny, but not too bright - not overwhelming, just sunny. Tall grass covered the clearing and waved gently in the breeze - a melodic movement of nature.
"Who do you see on the path?"
No one. Oh. Except her. A little girl with long, blond hair in pig tails. She wore a white eyelet dress covered in pink flowers and light green leaves. She looked thoughtful. Not happy, not sad. Just like she thinks too hard and knows too much. I know her. I've seen her before in pictures from family albums. Smiling for the camera to commemorate her first day of Kindergarten. I know her. She is me.
"What does she say?"
I shake my head at this question. I don't want to know. I don't want to hear. It is too painful to see this little girl who had so much faith in the world. So much faith that things would be the way they were supposed to be. I was not who she was expecting. I had not brought her dreams to fruition. Despite my refusal, the little girl spoke. "It's okay," she says, "You're doing your best."
I broke away from the girl and ran. Frantic and aching, I ran. Back to the counsellor's office, back to the chair. I sat, chest heaving with exertion and pain. I cried without sound for I could not breathe. Shudders ran over me, through me as I fought for control.