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21 May 2023

After two years of therapy I have decided that where I am is good enough

There have been few dramatic revelations; it has all been rather gentle.

By Pippa Bailey

I broke up with my therapist today. That makes it sound rather more fraught than it was. It was a mutual decision and a warm parting. For now, at least, our arrangement has reached its natural close. I can’t in all confidence say I am finished with therapy. I will, no doubt, be back – as I warned her, only half joking, in our last session. But where I am is good enough. I have weaned myself off antidepressants, and now the other stabiliser has come off: it is time to try riding alone for a little way.

When a friend I haven’t seen in a while recently asked how I was over WhatsApp, I replied not with the usual, “Fine thanks, you?” but: “You know, I feel better than I have in years.” I know that sounds smug, but it’s true – so true that I surprised myself by writing it, a revelation even to me.

Parting with my therapist is, in a way, a relief: a relief to be well. A relief, too, to have a few hundred pounds extra in my bank account each month.

But I am surprised, leaving her office for the last time after nearly two years of working together, by how sad I feel. Given I know almost nothing about my therapist except her name, I feel affection for her. She has, after all, been through it all with me in that room – more closely than anyone else: my mother, my best friend.

How to say goodbye? “Thanks for everything,” I say. “See you around” – though I undoubtedly will not, and it would be hugely awkward if I did.

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Speaking openly about therapy was once taboo because it wasn’t done. Today, I cringe from doing so for a different reason: it has become a performative, self-care-signalling cliché. The wellness influencer Instagram post is easy to imagine: welcome to the corner of the internet where we go for therapy, set boundaries and nurture our inner child…

I am not the person who proclaims that everyone should have therapy – not least because it is an extraordinary privilege that many cannot afford (and I barely could). Nor will I evangelise about how it has healed me. There is no neat line to be drawn under the past, much as we might like there to be. We are never as we were. There have been few dramatic revelations; it has all been rather gentle. In fact, I would struggle to recall most of the content of our conversations. Time has done its thing – aided by the kindness of friends and, I like to think, my own resilience – but it has done it a little quicker because of therapy.

I once complained to a colleague, when we were discussing the TV adaptation of Dolly Alderton’s Everything I Know About Love, that all female protagonists in the post-Fleabag era have to be messy: “Where are the women who just go the gym, go to therapy and go to bed?” I asked. And there, she replied, is the title of your memoir.

[See also: Your therapist shouldn’t be on TikTok]

My timing, however, leaves much to be desired. Having been 8,000 miles across the world when my father was diagnosed with leukaemia, I managed to catch a cold two days before his stem cell transplant and therefore couldn’t be at his bedside as I had planned this week. I fear he is starting to take it personally.

I spent the day I had booked off for the occasion moping, surrounded by tissues, and feeling rather useless. Things looked up when M— arrived, with flowers, and rather generously joined me in playing with the children for a few hours before bedtime (theirs, not ours). Duplo lightsabers were built, and the game of Flip Flop was invented, in which a DIY stress ball (an uninflated balloon filled with flour) is hit back and forth with Dorling Kindersley encyclopaedias.

Once our competitors had gone to bed, I introduced M— to Race Across the World, a TV show I have recently (slightly late to the party) become obsessed with. In it, teams of two race by ground and sea to their final destination – London to Singapore; Mexico City to Ushuaia, the world’s southernmost city – without their phones or credit cards, for the price in cash of flying between the two. I have long wanted to visit Japan, and to drive the west coast of the US in – impractical, I know – a 1960s muscle car, but now I have added to the list the entirety of South East Asia, and Central and South America. And, of course, a Bali do-over.

The trouble is that, though I may not have got the Christmas trip I had envisioned, I still paid for it. And so I resolve to put the money previously spent on therapy into a travel budget.

[See also: What online discourse gets wrong about therapy]

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This article appears in the 24 May 2023 issue of the New Statesman, The Tory Crack-Up