There came a point, I think it was around the Spring of 1987, that I noticed that I always kept falling into the same hole, and that I was not having any success in making my situation any better. I was on medication for much of the time since I was diagnosed, and although it provided some relief, I did not feel that it did much to make my life substantially better either. The symptoms weren’t so bad with the medication but I still experienced them and life just plain sucked in general.

I made a really important decision then. It’s the sort of decision everyone needs to make if they’re going to get anything out of therapy, and is one of the more significant turning points in my life. I decided I was going to see a psychotherapist and stick with it no matter what happened, that I was going to keep going even if I felt better. I was going to keep going until I was able to effect meaningful, positive, lasting change in my life.

(Simply deciding to see a therapist for a long time is not enough. You have to decide that you’re really going to change, and to face up to the work it will require and to face the fear that it will arouse. Lots of people see therapists for years, even decades, and never get anything out of it beside a little temporary comfort. I know some people like this and I find them incredibly vexing. These people don’t want to change, and quite possibly will never change. They may even feel that they’re good little therapy patients because they attend regular therapy for so long. However they must be very frustrating to their therapists who spend years trying to get their patients to face themselves only to have every effort deftly deflected.)

It’s important to pick out a good therapist that you can work with effectively. I don’t think nearly all therapists are all that enlightened – I’m sure almost all learn a lot of important theory in graduate school, but I don’t think any amount of theory is going to make anyone an insightful human being.

Even if you find a therapist that’s good in general, you may not personally be able to work with them. For that reason it’s best to shop around. And that’s why it’s best not to wait until you really need help to find a therapist – if you feel, as I did at first, that psychologists are only for crazy people, then likely you’re not going to see one until you are crazy. When that happens it’s hard to take the time to shop around, and it’s also much harder to pick up the pieces. If you think you’re ever going to need to see a therapist, it’s best to start when you’re in a strong enough position emotionally to see one on your own terms.

At the time I made my fateful decision, I was getting by OK. I was desperately unhappy, but life was manageable. It was not like when I first saw a psychiatrist at Caltech, when I was ready to climb out of my own skin.

I got a very poor impression of the first therapist I saw. Her primary concern was whether I had the financial means to pay for her sessions. She was really quite shrill about the money, and kept emphasizing that she did not offer a sliding scale. I had a good job at the time, and would have had no problem paying her fee, but in the end decided she was just not someone I cared to be around.

The second therapist I saw was someone I rather liked. I’d responded to her ad in The Good Times offering New Age therapy. (Santa Cruz is a pretty New Age kind of place, one reason I decided to stay there after living in the urban Hell of Southern California.) She seemed like a pretty happy and enlightened woman, and was quite pleasant to talk to. She seemed to like me at first too.

But when I explained my history to her – mania, depression, hallucinations, hospitalization and finally my diagnosis, she said she wasn’t competent to deal with someone as troubled as I. She said I should consult with someone who specialized in challenging cases. I was really disappointed.

She gave me the names of several other psychologists. One of them was someone I’d seen at the County Mental Health department who I thought was competent enough but I didn’t want to see anymore because I did not feel that she cared for me as a person. The next one on the list was the therapist I ended up sticking with.

All told, I saw my new therapist for thirteen years.

That’s a lot of head-shrinking. I made a lot of changes during that time. Aside from my emotional growth, I got my career as a programmer started and built it up to eventually become a consultant, dated several women and eventually met and got engaged to the woman I am now married to. I also got my B.A. in Physics from UCSC and started (but unfortunately did not complete) graduate school.

Life certainly hasn’t been easy for me as a consultant, especially since the economic downturn, but despite that I’ve been doing well mentally and emotionally for quite some time, and I credit that to my work with my therapist, not to any medicine I might take. The only professional help I require is a brief appointment with a doctor at the local mental health clinic every month or two to check my symptoms and adjust my medication.