Maybe You Should Talk to Someone
TW/CW: In this book there are discussions about and accounts of depression, anxiety, obsessive behavior, suicidal ideation, child death, and mental illness.
I heard about this book on the Friendshipping podcast, and since I had the “Oops, Too Many Credits” problem at Audible, I bought the audiobook. Regarding the audio version, I have only a few comments. The narrator, Brittany Pressley, is solid, and because this is first person narrative memoir, the number of “character” voices she has to do are minimal. However, and this may be a quirk of my own editing experience with the podcast, sometimes I could hear the edits of the file, the way one recording session was connected to another, and the changes in tone of voice and intensity were obvious and jarring, and frustrating. It’s kind of like seeing a series of typos in a book I paid for. I may be a bit of a weirdo outlier in noticing the audio edits, though, so your mileage may vary.
I started listening to this book right after I bought it, and binge-listened nonstop until I finished it. This book both pushed me away emotionally because it looks deeply at difficult and unpleasant feelings, and simultaneously it kept me hooked, leaving me feeling at times very unsettled between chapters, and sometimes hopeful. It’s an emotional experience, this book. Organized in short chapters, Lori Gottlieb details her own work as a therapist while also sharing her own experience in therapy after an unexpected and traumatic breakup. Some chapters are about her patients, the ‘recurring characters’ of the narrative – a self-important and obnoxious tv executive, a young woman who has terminal cancer, an alcoholic young woman who is slowly going through the process of confronting her addictions – and others are about Gottlieb’s own struggle with avoidance and obsession, depression and anxiety.
Sometimes, the insights were revelatory. The ways in which all her patients and she herself are grappling with the same issues, but the ways in which their struggles were individually very different, was illuminating and gave me different tools with which to examine how I manage those same challenges. I liked how the book zoomed in and zoomed out, so to speak, looking at the intricate and very personal details (so personal – you might experience a lot of secondhand embarrassment reading/listening to this book) and then widening the perspective to look at the commonalities of experience across all humans:
The four ultimate concerns are death, isolation, freedom, and meaninglessness.
All of us are coping with our fears in those four departments, and the healthy and unhealthy coping mechanisms we deploy are all examined through the memoir.
Other times, the insights in the book were exceedingly frustrating, or felt squirm-level intimate, like I was listening to things I shouldn’t be hearing, and learning things about people I didn’t know. I sometimes felt like I was intruding – even though by publishing the book I was, effectively, being invited into the room as a spectator or an observer. Sometimes I felt deep, aching empathy for people and their problems, and other times I was so frustrated I wanted to screech – a feeling which taught me something about how I react to avoidant behaviors generally, my own and those of other people. (My reaction: supreme anger and exasperation. So, next question: why is that? I don’t know the answer to that one yet.)
One of my favorite themes in the book is that therapy is like editing. As the patient and as the therapist, Gottlieb is assisting with the editing and examination of narrative. A large part of our reaction to things begins in the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves. Here, Gottlieb is talking about her own therapist, Wendell:
…here we are, joining forces to unravel the story of how I ended up here.
It’s Wendell’s job to help me edit my story. All therapists do this: What material is extraneous? Are the supporting characters important or a distraction? Is the story advancing or is the protagonist going in circles? Do the plot points reveal a theme?
…That’s how we get to the deeper meaning of the story, and often at the core is some form a grief. But a lot of plot stands in between.
What I appreciated most about this book was not just the behind-the-scenes detail of what therapy is, and what it can and can’t do, but the examination of what the work of therapy is about, and how that work for both doctor and patient has changed over the years. There’s a section wherein Gottlieb talks about how the training she received has changed for students learning now, and how the focus in psychotherapy has sometimes shifted with individuals wanting results as fast as possible.
The stories in this book can be painful and emotionally draining, and listening to it was at times extremely difficult. But it’s equally difficult to put down. As a memoir and as a peek into the work of psychotherapy, Maybe You Should Talk To Someone does a lot to normalize and demystify the work that goes into therapy from the perspectives of every person in the room, and examines in detail the goals and outcomes of taking that work seriously.
If you find secondhand embarrassment to be deeply painful, or find that hearing others talk about their own depression and anxiety exacerbates your own, I wouldn’t recommend this book. But if you’re curious about what the work of therapy looks like, or feels like, from the perspective of those providing it and those receiving it, you’ll learn a lot from this memoir.