By LARKR Co-Founder Jon Dabach
I used to hate therapists. I looked at the whole practice of therapy as some kind of con that people who weren’t smart enough to become doctors did to milk money out of people. I used to think of the profession as the easiest job in the world. I would reduce it to people just listening to you talking about your problems while they doodled on their notepad for $150/hour.
With this kind of attitude, you may wonder how I could have ever brought myself to marry a therapist, let alone help launch an on-demand therapy app. Well, when you’re in love, rationalization tends to take over for any problems that might come up. I figured if she was able to make a living conning people out of their hard-earned cash, then maybe that was the kind of aggressive attitude that was missing from my timid life. I also eased up a bit on my sanctimonious judgement of her when I found out that she worked with teenagers who were court mandated to get therapy. After all, how could you blame her if the courts were forcing them to see someone?
When the Switch Happened
Somewhere along the way, I switched my view of therapists. Not just a small shift either. I made a complete 180-degree turn on the profession. I went from belittling the practice to becoming one of its strongest advocates. How? Simple – I got to a point in my life where I don’t think I would have survived without the help of compassionate therapist. Let me set the scene for you:
Our newest child, Leah, had respiratory issues and her wheezing was getting worse. The gut-wrenching sound of your own child gasping for air through what sounded like a pinched straw is hard enough without your wife yelling at you to check on your other two children.
In those days, we lived in a tri-level townhouse and checking up on the kids meant traveling down one or two flights of stairs while battling to keep your eyes open at 3 a.m.You had to be careful where you stepped because there was always a chance that there was baby spit-up somewhere on the hardwood floor that someone forgot to clean. Such puddles were known to cause a nasty fall in the dark.
The hospital loaned us this noisy machine for Leah called a nebulizer, which created a subtle, medicated mist which helped her open her throat and lungs. We had to force her to breathe in this mist from this noisy contraption several times a night.
That night was the 21st day in a row where neither my wife nor I got more than an hour or two of sleep. We were constantly at each other’s throats. There’s something about lack of sleep and constant, incessant whining from small children that can make you lose your mind and start having horrible, violent thoughts.
Everything Started to Become Heavy
The financial pressures, the physical exhaustion, the lack of sex, the lack of affection, it all started to weigh down on me. The walls of our townhouse seemed to be collapsing in on me like I was stuck in a trash compactor. It was only a matter of time before I was reduced to a small square of garbage that would get neatly tucked into a mountain of other failed fathers and tossed into the landfill.
When the time came to get the kids up and ready for daycare or preschool in the morning, something shifted in my body and a razor sharp, acidic knife seemed to be jabbing me in my gut, right at the base of my ribs. I was rendered immobile from the pain. My lips turned white and I broke out into a cold sweat. Instead of the sweet, tender voice of concern I was hoping to hear from my wife, I got an earful of anger and speculation that I was faking it. I couldn’t blame her, though. If she were sick, I would have gotten mad too. I mean, what good is being married if the other person can’t share the workload, right?
The Trip to the Doctor That Changed Everything
Luckily, my mother lived close enough to give me a ride to the doctor, who told me within a few minutes of examining me that I had gastritis and if I didn’t take care of it, it would likely develop into ulcers.
“Great,” I said. “What is it? Something I ate? More exercise?” I still remember the doctors look of confusion as I recall the story now. To an outsider, it was so obvious.
“Stress,” he said frankly. I was in total denial and pleaded with him that it must be something else, but he told me in a nutshell that he could give me something mild for the pain temporarily, but if I didn’t get some therapy or help to sort out the emotional problems I was dealing with in adjusting to having a third child, I would like never get better. It wasn’t court-mandated therapy, but it was the next best thing. Therapy was the answer to my raging pain – that and I wasn’t allowed to eat spicy foods for a while.
I remember returning home to my wife full of embarrassment. I needed a therapist. In my mind, therapists were for people who tried to kill themselves or couples who were inevitably headed for divorce, but were making one Hail Mary pass to try to patch things up. It was for people with serious mental illnesses like Schizophrenia or Borderline Personality disorder which were life-long issues. Not for me. Not for a someone who’s just having a hard time adjusting to having a third kid.
After all, aren’t there tons of people with three kids in the world? Aren’t there are huge amount of people with more than three kids? They’re all fine. I was the one with literally a weak stomach who just couldn’t deal. I was ashamed. Of course, my wife was wonderful and kept telling me that it wasn’t a big deal. She even helped me find a therapist online who I thought I would connect with.
Finally Going to Therapy
Therapy was incredible. My gastritis went away after just a couple of sessions and the relationship I built with my therapist was so comfortable that it wasn’t before long that I really looked forward to my weekly sessions. After the initial stress subsided I started digging into other areas in my life that I thought needed improvement.
My communication with my wife got much better and my marriage became much stronger as a result. I had a new perspective on business and how to balance work with my family life without sacrificing either one. To top it all off, I suddenly had a set of tools that I had learned to use on my own for when things began to get hard again.
I was only in therapy for a few months before my therapist suggested that we could start slowing down the sessions, as I seemed to be doing better. I honestly don’t know how I would have survived that part of my life without help from a therapist. When I think of myself on that morning, bent over in pain, it becomes all too clear to me – the path I would have journeyed down without seeking professional help. That path was a windy road full of anger and resentment that would have made for a rotten life. A life that could have very easily led to self-harm.
What Therapy Really Was and Is
There was no judgement in therapy. There were no labels or embarrassing questions that made me feel violated. The 50 minutes I had with my therapist were for me. What did I want to get out of it? It’s amazing how much a trained professional with an objective perspective can get through to you in under an hour if you’re willing to listen.
It wasn’t long before I realized that if I had been seeing a therapist when I was a teenager, I would have avoided the vast majority of mistakes in my life that caused me lots of pain. In fact, I started thinking about how much better my life might have been if my parents and siblings all saw therapists. The dysfunctions in our family would have most likely still been there, but at least we would have had a vocabulary to be able to address the issues articulately instead of ignoring or dismissing them.
Of course, instead of dwelling on the past, I largely looked forward to the future. A future where I knew how to talk about what’s bothering me in a way that actually resonates with those around me. A future where I can build the relationships I want with my children, my wife, my parents and my friends. It’s been three years since I went to therapy for the first time and today, I’m proud to say, my gastritis has never come back, my daughter’s lungs are healthy and strong, and instead of a divorce, my wife and I had a fourth kid without any nervous breakdowns. To boot, I can frequently eat spicy foods without a care in the world.
Is Therapy Right for You?
If you’ve been on the fence about trying therapy or are nervous about the process, I can assure you that there’s nothing to worry about. Instead of burning another 50 minutes scrolling through your Facebook feed or checking out who posted what on Instagram, you owe it to yourself to give therapy a try. It’s only 50 minutes after all. You’re risking very little, but what you can gain from seeing a talented therapist can literally change the course of your entire life like it did for me.