She had curly blonde hair and tanned skin like George Hamilton. She wore a mini skirt, strappy heals, and frosted lip stick. She didn’t look like a therapist and she didn’t talk like one either. “That’s a bunch of bullshit,” she would say when I told her about my husband’s demands. She may not have been the typical therapist but she was the perfect therapist for me.
In my twenties, I suffered from debilitating panic attacks. There was a period when they were so bad I could barely get myself out of bed in the mornings. My husband became increasingly frustrated with me, which only drove my anxiety levels up because I felt like my marriage was falling apart. My boss had been understanding but I could tell that my job was at risk. My life felt like it was being held together with toothpicks and scotch tape—at any moment it could all break. I had seen therapists before but all they ever did was nod their heads at me and hand me tissues to cry into. A friend recommended a therapist and I was desperate so I made the appointment.
Maxine, or Max as she preferred to be called, greeted me with a warm, perfumed-scented hug then she motioned for me to sit down. She bounced over to her chair, crossed her legs, and told me to start wherever I wanted. As I spilled my guts all over the floor about how screwed up I was, she listened for a while then said, “You aren’t as fucked up as you think you are.”
She not only didn’t look the part but she also didn’t talk like a typical therapist…and it was refreshing.
My mother wasn’t the strongest woman in the world. She often would over-extend herself for total strangers or go to lots of trouble for people she claimed she couldn’t stand. Then she ended up addicted to Valium to deal with every day life. She did these things because suffered from a childhood of abuse, which she later tried to cope with by not eating until the doctors diagnosed her with anorexia. I actually witnessed my mother having a break down one night that if I believe had I not been there, I’m sure she would have taken her own life.
“You are not responsible for your mother’s shit storm,” Max would tell me. She helped me see that even though my mom suffered because her parents were “royally fucked up,” it wasn’t my responsibility to save her. That was the first time I ever heard someone say it and it hit me: I wasn’t responsible for my mother’s life. This revelation was incredibly freeing for me although I still had the hard work of defining boundaries in my codependent relationship with my mother but Max helped me with that too.
So when my husband started demanding that I get myself fixed and act like an adult instead of trying to understand my panic, Max’s response was, “Fuck him and the horse he road in on!” Once again, she helped me see something that I couldn’t see for myself. Deep down I felt alone in my marriage but I didn’t want to admit it. I thought I was messed up and if I could fix myself enough, my husband would love me but Max got me to see that there would always be something else he demanded. I could never be myself so I left the marriage.
I didn’t have a strong female role model in my mother and that’s what Max became for me. She showed me how to speak up for myself and not take shit from anyone. The fact that she was foul-mouthed didn’t offend me quite the opposite actually; it inspired me to stop being afraid and step into the strength I had inside of me.
Dana Leipold is a freelance writer and author. Her award-winning debut novel, Burnt Edges (published by Booktrope) has gained critical acclaim. She also self-published two books, Stupid Poetry: The Ultimate Collection of Sublime and Ridiculous Poems and The Power of Writing Well: Write Well. Make a Difference. She helped found, Kōsa Press, an independent publishing label specializing in shared universe anthologies and is a member of the Association of Independent Authors. She practices yoga, loves funny cat videos, and lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and two children. You can visit her blog at www.danaleipold.com.