Mary Beth Writes

Tapestry by textile artist Apanaki Temitayo M. Born in Toronto, raised in Trinidad and Tobago. 

For those who are new here - This year I am writing to topics, in alphabetical order, that were suggested to me by readers. Sometimes this is hard! 



Possibly I need more therapy. I’ve been working for weeks on “T is for Therapy” and here I still am. I’ve given up on introducing the topic via a short survey of Indigenous-White relations at Hudson’s Bay fur trading posts in the 1600’s - the point being that humans have evolved through generations of exploitation, loss, violence, and racism. Being neurotic is not illogical.

In the Christianized heritage in which most of us were marinated, the solution to life’s challenges was to obey someone further up the food chain. Other religions have this same dynamic but I think it’s fair for me to stick to the one I know.

Did you watch ‘Shiny Happy People’? One of their practices to “train a child to respect authority” is this. As soon a baby is strong enough to sit up (around six months), the infant is set in the middle of a blanket on the floor. The mom tells it to stay on the blanket. If the baby crawls off the blanket trying to get to the mom or anything else, the baby is reprimanded and “lightly” spanked and put back on the blanket. In this way, they say, the kid learns to obey authority. The abuse of this is breathtaking.

This “obedience fetish” is a philosophy that underlies much of militarized, Christianized culture. There’s always someone to obey and if we don’t, we can be punished. Obey parents even when they have massive issues of their own. Obey teachers, even if they are stupid or abusive. Obey cops. Oh yeah. Obey the boss. Obey racist, anti-woman, anti-immigrant laws that say some people are less worthwhile than others..

How do we get free from this?

In the big picture, laws and social structures have to change.

In the small and personal picture – we have two ways out. Education and therapy. We’re here to talk about therapy.

I remember back in college feeling a bit envious of kids who were going to “counselors.” I sometimes wished that my lack of confidence was as worthy as their important and crazy experiences. Then I moved into the city and encountered genuine crises - being held up at gunpoint when I was a bank teller was traumatizing, truly bewildering relationship issues, being paralyzed by trying to figure out what career I was going to pursue. I knew of a Christian counseling center so I went to a guy and yes, it was scary making that connection for myself. One of the things he made me talk about a lot was why I thought my being unhappy wasn’t “important enough” to deal with.

Therapy begins when we, against our inclinations, take ourselves seriously and begin to regard the question, “In what life were we going to look for happiness?”

Not all therapists are worth the paper they are printed on. Usually, it’s helpful to go to a person you don’t know, who is more or less your age, who matches your gender identification, and in whose presence you feel respected.

Therapists don’t tell you much! You spend all that time, effort, and money and what you get is a person who listens about as well as your dog. Yeah, sometimes they might ask you to try something weird like setting up little toy figures and animals in a small sandbox or keeping a dream journal. But mostly they will ask you to talk about what’s been going on since the last time you met. And what sticks out in your mind about your recent encounters. And what do you think about that? And why did that person bug you so much? Who do they remind you of? I bet a lot of the best therapists are also good at untangling knots. Just keep gently but persistently pulling.

Therapists don’t ask you to obey. They might ask you why you think you obey some people and not others. They might ask you why you are afraid to not obey. They might make you go back and remember a person who didn’t respect you when you were a kid and how that lines up with how you relate to certain people in your life now.

Good therapists are good at finding out how you felt a lot of the time when you were young. What was a prevailing emotion of your childhood? Do you see the links to how you have spent this much of your adulthood putting yourself back into the particular uneasiness of your youth? Not because it was happy, but because it is familiar.

Some people have experienced great trauma. War and accidents. Strong family trauma. They’ve witnessed death and mayhem and loss (I’m thinking of families on Maui now). Many try to handle thier wounds by trivializing them or by being really busy so they can concentrate on something else. Addictive substances work great at obliterating the memory of pain. For a while. Block haunting memories during daylight hours until the awful experiences come back in dreams.

Therapists accompany victims, young and old, back to and through what happened- in order to give them language for the life they are in now. You may have already experienced some of this in your life. Our culture has given us words for traumas we had no language for when we were young. Verbal assault Sexual assault. Date rape. PTSD. Dysfunctional family. High functioning alcoholism. Do you know that moment when you realize, “that awful event didn’t happen to me because I was a disobedient kid, it was ….”

We get a sense of what happened. We acknowledge what we have passed on to others. Being human is often a really hard slog. We do better with words than monsters.

Therapists don’t ask you why your partner acts the way they act. They ask how you relate to that behavior and why you put up with it and why are you so comfortable being this frustrated? They bring it back to you, every damn time. It’s really tedious to end up always being responsible for your own choices and behaviors.

I’m laughing. Ruefully.

Yes, therapy is damnably expensive and inconvenient. So is addiction and sorrow and unhappiness.

This video is the opening credits to Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. “I’ve been to paradise but I’ve never been to me” is sung by a male performer in drag. Awesome movie but I’m telling you what this song is before you click in. It surprises if you weren’t expecting it.




In my lifetime I have had four therapists over a period of 20 years--all of them were good and all were suited to who I was at the particular point in my life when I worked with them. Your description of the therapy experience is pretty much what I experienced. Well done!
Mary Beth's picture

Thanks very much. It's a tough adventure with interesting rewards.

I have been to therapists long enough to know a lot of good therapy jokes, and also long enough to know that what you say is absolutely, disappointingly true. Good therapists don't tell you, they help you get through the thing that you won't let yourself see. Which is a royal pain. I think that good detective stories are about a guy in a trench coat trying to solve a mystery. We're with him, we want him to see. Often we know the answer before he does, but in every case, it's that cool guy not doing anything to change himself, but having an answer appear in front of him. So easy! If only the therapist could provide such a service, instead of us doing all the work! Oh well. I am cranky. Thanks for a really good description of why it is so hard.
Mary Beth's picture

I watched three hours of Grantchester tonight and - yup. The bad guys are conflicted. The good guys don't know why they act the way they do. It is such a relief to have the conundrums be outside oneself, where it's a lot easier to see...

Due to encouragement from our mutual friend, Franc, I started therapy in May of this year. It's been beneficial, and, as you wrote, "[the therapist] brings it back to [me], every damn time." I'm improving and will continue to improve. Thanks for this wonderful article.
Mary Beth's picture

Laughing ruefully some more. These days when I get very angry at anyone who isn't a politician (because being mad at politics is sane) I stop and ask myself what's going on here and, in general, it's just more old frustration . I can address it without lashing out at someone I like or love. I guess we are finally becoming adults?

MYes indeed, a good therapist is like a unicorn, extremely hard to find.. I found mine over three years ago when someone I was dating back then had decades old rape issues that hadn't been delt with and had started to affect our relationship.. He wouldn't even think of seeing a therapist dispite having three degrees that said he was smart.. I found a rape counselor who helped me to not only deal with his situation and how it would affect the two of us (He dumped me) but how he had built emotional walls around himself for protection.. I lost him and gained her.. She got me through the lost feelings of helplessness, then she started with me.. I thought I was there for him but she managed to show me that I was actually there for myself.. She started from the beginning and picked away at my internal PTSD, and childhood trauma.. I've always been pretty open about it, but she was able to unlock secret doors and memories that had been long hidden.. I went through at least two boxes of tissues during our sessions.. She opened up my deepest, darkest secrets, and forced me to face my demons in ways I had never done before and brought thing's to the surface that I didn't know we're lurking deep inside of me.. We are still working on my self awareness and confidence in who I am, but it's been an amazing three plus years journey that I highly recommend to anyone with trauma of anykind.. MB, So sorry about not responding sooner but I had to really think this one out..
Mary Beth's picture

When there's a comment a few articles back, not too many others will see it - but I will. And it makes a big difference to me to know what I work at (occasionally VERY hard, like this one was) makes a difference to others, too. Therapy is hard, hard work. If one thinks it isn't, they haven't done it.

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Hot Weather Diary #3


Today was another hot one and right now, it’s still 93 degrees in my backyard.

Hot Weather Diary #2


“Time wasted at a lake is time well spent.”  (I tried to learn who wrote this; it seems to have arisen spontaneously on a Pinterest plaque for your cabin.)

There is an argument that civilization started on the banks of rivers, the oceans, and along the shores of the hundreds and thousands of lakes on our earth. Waterfront is where people and animals gather to drink, eat, cool off, and watch the youngsters while they play. Also, it’s where adults gather to chat, fish, breathe in beauty, and sometimes swim far out there where joints don’t ache and its quiet.

Hot Weather Diary #1


We all knew it was coming and here it is. A Hot Week! We are in the news! We are important! Humans around the nation, especially in the East and Midwest, will be living through a week with temps in the 80’s, 90’s and worse.

What the Dickens?

The photo is from Barnados, a childrens charity in London in the 19th century. 


Argh! I have a new phone because the old one stopped staying charged plus a few more foibles. My phone cost $400 five years ago so it makes sense that it stopped working reliably, right? If an appliance worked like this we would burn that manufacturer to the ground.

Swan Story


I’ve been reading a lot of other people’s writing lately and I have decided there is too much to read. Much of it is very good but there is JUST TOO MUCH!

So my goal going forward is to write shorter posts, more often, that might remind you of the glory, power, and goofiness of your life as well as mine.

So, let me say again what’s always very true. Thank you for reading what I write.


About My Memorial Day Story


Today my story ‘Memorial Day’ is posted at Substack. Read it here. 

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