Disease to Please

Brood – verb – to think a lot about something in an unhappy way


I began to feel a little better at the start of the year. I was opening up and began to know that vulnerability meant. Still, I felt like I was going two steps forward, one step back. I wanted to continue to progress because I felt like failure to do so might be a death sentence. I took a sick day from work and stayed home to make several doctors’ appointments. I had needed to do it for a while, but had constantly been putting it off. I was surprised that I couldn’t get in to most of the doctors for a couple of months due to scheduling.

One appointment that did schedule me in quickly was one to a therapist.

I have had a weird history with therapists. My family did not believe in mental health practitioners. You really needed to be psycho to go to one. I don’t think my parents believed that they even practiced medicine. The sad part of that was that both of my parents could have desperately used good counseling. My father came back from three tours of Vietnam with undiagnosed PTSD. My mother was definitely bipolar and had suffered sexual assault or abuse at some point in her life.

My sister was the first one to give therapy a try after the death of my mother. She was diagnosed bipolar and was put on drugs that definitely improved her quality of life. She inspired my first attempt to give it a try. I worked at a job that had an employee assistance plan that covered it.

My first therapist was a man in his forties who was randomly selected by the EAP service. I was miserable. I was 3 years out from my mother passing away and felt so lost. As I would describe the horrifically violent, emotionally abusive thoughts that went through my head on a regular basis, his comment was that I was brooding. Brooding? What the heck did that mean?

I think I saw him three times. He didn’t seem to like me. I didn’t feel I was getting much out of it, and work was getting hectic again.

Still miserable, I decided to try again a year latter. This time I was assigned a female therapist. She decided to focus on issues related around my bullying in middle school. To heal from the horror of that time, she wanted to put some electrodes on me to give me little shocks as I recounted the bullying as to desensitize my self to them. I think I ran away quickly.

I tried to work on myself be reading dozens of self-help books. I focused on my excess weight being the source of my unhappiness. I tried several programs to lose weight. Nothing ever really made me hate myself less.

After I was laid off from a job and returned to college to work on finishing a teaching certificate, I decided that I should try the free counseling service. It had been several years since the last mental health debacle, and I was ready to try and feel better. I was assigned an old hippie in his 50s. He was a biker, a smoker, and had recovered from two heart surgeries. I found myself in awe of him.

For my entire life, I tried so hard to be the “strong” one. I tried not to complain. I did everything I could to be a “good girl.” I went to church. I was a virgin for a long time. I didn’t sleep around. (I didn’t really have sex at all.) I went to church, served on the Session. I volunteered time at non-profits regularly. My main jobs were all in the service/non-profit industry.

Still, after my mom passed, as every year went by…. I found myself getting angrier and more withdrawn. By the time I had walked into this man’s office, I had started to rebel. I knew, or at least felt, like he wouldn’t judge me for being a little “bad.”

For four months, we met weekly. I found myself talking about the neglect of my parents in my childhood. My mother was emotionally unavailable. She often looked at me and saw too much of herself, so she would lash out at me. I remembered being miserable and hiding in my bedroom for hours upon hours. She was never really there for me, but when she needed me…I dropped everything in my life to be by her side.

He told me that I obviously can’t go back and change what had happened, but as an adult, I could nurture myself in the way I had always hoped my mother would. He told me to think of my 6-year-old self and imagine how I would treat her if she were here, right now. My mind raced with all the things I thought I would have done differently or how I would have liked my parents to respond. He responded that one way to heal is to know that I am in the driver’s seat. I could either choose to keep neglecting or bullying myself, or I could decide to support myself in the way I had always wanted.

I came home and pulled two photos of myself. One from first or second grade, where I felt cuter than a button and truly loved. The other was my 7th grade self, who I had thought was the ugliest version of me. This was the girl that was severely obese and harassed at school. I stared at the photos for hours. Could I love them? The more I looked at me, the more I began to accept that I wasn’t so miserable. I could be kind to them. I could appreciate them.

As for the brooding, I learned more about meditation. I learned some techniques to quiet the mind. I argued with my negative self the way I wished my mother would had stood up for me. It was suggested that I try taking some anti-depressants, but my doctor at the time thought I only needed therapy.

At the end of my schooling, we parted ways. I had really appreciated our visits and felt like I was in a better place because of them. When I got back in to the work world, I tried to hold on to what I had learned but the stress of my job got to me. I had gone to work at the same middle school where I was harassed for three years straight with no intervention. Oddly enough, as an adult, I felt completely harassed by the administration. Everyone was new; no one knew what they were doing; and I felt incredibly alone and inferior.

I eventually left after that first year, but I felt so weak. My next job was a complete 360, but halfway through I knew I had work to do. My most recent therapist came to me in January. She was a woman in her forties. She had short hair and glasses. I remembered thinking she has got to be a lesbian. I found my ability to be vulnerable with her was difficult. Still, I had recently learned that the only way I was going to get help was if I had the courage to be honest.

The focus of my visits was to beat back some of the social anxiety I was facing. I wanted to have more enjoyment in my life and figure out what my “problem” was. One of the first things she suggested was getting on an anti-depressant. I was a little leery. The previous doctor had made me feel like once you were on it, it would be hard to get off of. She pointed out that I still spent some days entirely in bed, and that was abnormal.

It was entirely possible, from her perspective, that I had been depressed for years. She described other patients as defining depression as the inability to get out of a hole or well in the ground. You might gain some traction, and see that there is light up above you, but then you slip and feel surrounded in blackness. The whole way you view the world is askew. When you wake up every day feeling like you are not worthy of taking a breath, drugs are a good option.

I went to another doctor and began taking an anti-depressant. It didn’t work right away, but over time the difference in my energy and outlook on life was dramatic. I wasn’t riding this constant wave of sadness. I was more even keel. Because I wasn’t spending so much energy on my mood, I could focus more on figuring out what the root cause of all this was.

My therapist recommended a book called The Disease to Please. Having read so many self-help books, I thought it was cheesy to send me out for another one. Still, I knew there might be some real truth to this. It took me a month to get it from the library because someone else had checked it out. I read it in a day or two.

The whole premise is that some of us are addicted to pleasing others, just like others are addicted to drugs and alcohol. Our belief in our own self-worth is so minimal, that we feel like we have to earn our value. The more we focus on pleasing others, to the sacrifice of ourselves, the more we can justify being loved. The irony is that the world doesn’t work like that. No one needs to earn someone else’s love, because we are all worthy of love.

People who have the disease to please feel like the more of a martyr they become, the better they will be for everyone else. The rub is that this creates weird expectations. When these expectations are not met (because they are unrealistic), the resentment from the people pleaser can make everyone’s life miserable. You can’t drink water out of an empty cup. Doing things for others isn’t helping them, and it really isn’t helping you.

Through conversations with my therapist, and my good friends, I realized that my need to please others was killing me. Every action I made, any thought I had was always measured around what I thought other people would think. My only concern in life was to either not piss other people off, or to find a way to make them happy. My whole navigation system was based on my perceived notion of what others would think, as opposed to what I thought.

This was incredible information. Rationally, I was beginning to understand. I felt, right down to my core, that I was on to something. I didn’t know all of the answers, but now at least I knew that my thinking was faulty. I needed to readjust my priorities, and do so quickly.