(TW: This post and the book itself mention suicide, illness, trauma, and depression.)
“But life sucks and no one else has this problem and I’m gonna die alone so why even bother trying?” *plops onto couch in exasperation*
I’m sure we’ve said this to ourselves at some point. Well, a variant of it, at the very least. It feels true in the moment, right? That we’re so utterly alone and incapable of being “fixed” or “healed” or however we define feeling like a functional human again. Or, in many cases, for the first time.
Not quite. Lori Gottlieb, in her New York Times bestselling memoir, Maybe You Should Talk to Someone, debunks this myth. In the book, she shares anecdotes from working with patients in her LA-based psychotherapy practice.
In this witty, heart-wrenching, and brutally honest memoir, Lori gets to the root of what it means to be human.
Her caseload includes a terminally ill cancer patient, a narcissistic Hollywood screenwriter, a severely depressed sixty-something, and of course, a rambunctious millennial. Though they each present with different issues, Lori finds that at the root of it, they have the same problems. Repressed emotions. Grief. Dysfunctional attachment styles due to issues with childhood caregivers. And the list goes on.
Interestingly, Lori also takes us through her own journey. She starts out in Hollywood, then finds her way to Stanford Medical School, and finally decides she wants to work as a therapist. Her life has its fair share of trials, too. In her late thirties, single and aware of her diminishing fertility, she decides to have a child on her own.
Furthermore, her mid-40s serve her with a double whammy. She gets unexpectedly dumped by a serious boyfriend, and also hops from specialist to specialist trying to diagnose a mysterious medical condition.
Despite believing much of what happens to us is due to extraneous causes, we hold the key to our liberation.
Lori seeks therapy herself, falling into the shoes of a psychotherapy patient for the first time. And this not only helps her work through her personal dilemmas, but helps her better understand where her own patients are coming from. Her anecdotes are raw and vivid. But she doesn’t hold back from sprinkling them with a comical tone.
In this witty, heart-wrenching, and brutally honest memoir, Lori gets to the root of what it means to be human. She brings us into the therapy room with her. We see the times of sheer discomfort as well as the “A-ha!” moments. And through this, she shows us that growth, healing, and coming to terms with our lives can be messy. They can bring us through tears, anger, denial, self-destruction, and sometimes, the question of whether or not we want to continue living.
But once we tap into that pain and suffering that keeps us “caged in,” as Lori calls it, we begin to see what else is possible. That, despite believing much of what happens to us is due to extraneous causes, we hold the key to our liberation. We can stop putting ourselves in the position of victim. And we can rewrite the faulty stories we deem to be the absolute truth.
Lori drops a lot of hard-hitting wisdom. One of my favorite takeaways from the book was this:
“You can have compassion without forgiving. There are many ways to move on, and pretending to feel a certain way isn’t one of them.”
We spend a lot of time convincing ourselves we must reach a certain feeling. Whether that’s forgiveness, happiness, or productivity, we contort ourselves into positions that don’t feel natural. Lori’s book made the point that that’s okay.
By accepting ourselves as we are, and without judgment, we make space for growth, genuinely and in a way that’s best for our overall wellbeing. This can improve our relationships with friends, family, lovers, and — ultimately — ourselves.
Once we tap into that pain and suffering that keeps us “caged in,” as Lori calls it, we begin to see what else is possible.
Mental health books always leave me feeling a deep sense of clarity. And this one was no exception. Lori shows us that sometimes it’s the helpers who need the most help themselves.
While reading Lori’s memoir, I thought a lot about my own experience in therapy. Lori talks a lot about how therapy can make us aware of defense mechanisms or truths about ourselves that we don’t want to face.
And for this reason, it can be challenging at first. But in the long run, as we detach from these ways of thinking, being, and interacting, we begin to see that they perpetuate the very cycles we’re trying to break.
I could deeply resonate with this, as it was only after the objective guidance of a trained professional that I could step outside of these deeply ingrained habits.
Also, therapy can leave you feeling heavy and forces you to face your deepest wounds. I think, like many of Lori’s patients, that’s why I would succumb to unhealthy habits — people-pleasing, overworking — because of a fear. A fear of what might be possible if I no longer turned to these mechanisms to bury what I didn’t want to address within myself.
Though we often turn against one another, we can see that, at the core of it all, we have much more in common than we think.
By seeing ourselves more objectively, we can reach this compassion that Lori speaks of. We begin to see that a lot of other people’s negative traits — anger, narcissism, passive aggressive tendencies— are rooted in their own defense mechanisms. Which, at the end of the day, stem from unprocessed traumas and wounds, often rooted in childhood.
Though these behaviors should never be acceptable, we can see that they serve a purpose for that individual: protecting them from further pain.
Finally, Lori shares with us her own shortcomings and the fact that she is, after all, flawed. I think it can be easy to see therapists and mental health professionals as these all-knowing beings who can do no wrong. But they’re still learning along with us. They have their own weak spots, their own pasts, and their own ongoing stressors, which means they aren’t immune to slipping up.
The therapist-patient relationship is one of the most special connections out there. And by committing to it, we have the potential to be seen and challenged in ways that we wouldn’t be otherwise.
In the long run, this opens up the full scope of what we’re capable of — and many of us would be surprised. Though we often turn against one another, we can see that, at the core of it all, we have much more in common than we think.
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