I get up every morning and wait until the last minute to shower because I’m trying to ground myself before I see you today. I drink coffee while I run around and eat oatmeal for breakfast, bumping into random outcroppings of furniture because I’m uncoordinated and klutzy. No matter how much time I have, I’m always sliding in at the last moment. It’s not because I don’t care about you or even my poor time management skills. There’s a lot on my mind. My thoughts need to flow until I land in my chair, and we begin.

I wish I could tell you a piece of my story echoes in yours, that my heart hurts and my mouth begs me to tell you I get it because we are all people, all breakable. That the universal themes of our work together crash into my center, disintegrate my heart, or bring tears to my eyes, and I must blink the sting away to be present for you. Sometimes I’m tired and drink more coffee before our session so I can be alert and insightful.

I wish I could tell you I know about suicidal ideation and side effects of mood stabilizers and antidepressants and that you get to wear your own clothes in the psych hospital—although they make you wear the grippy socks—because I lived it. I cried in a chair too heavy to throw and slept in a bed that wasn’t mine. For hours, I walked the loop around the nurses’ station. I thought I would never be well enough to do what I love, which is to come together with you and write and maybe learn how to keep plants alive.

I had babies once and breastfed them, and my heart broke when they left one developmental stage for another because I had only photos and memories left. I had children, too, and the sound of their voices calling “Mama” will be with me until the moment of my last exhale. Now I have teenagers, and when you talk about yours, I want to give you a hug.

I’m married, and we argue and annoy each other, and I love my spouse, anyway. I can’t imagine my life without them and sometimes wonder if we are truly compatible. My partner has diabetes, and last night their blood sugar crashed, and I had to call 911. In the ambulance, I held the soft hand of my long-time lover and knew that losing them would annihilate me. Death barely touches my life, and I learn so much from you about mourning. We do not grieve sorrow in a vacuum.

I wish I could tell you my stuff gets triggered, and I feel annoyed or frustrated, but it’s part of the process. This is the work. When I started this post, I cried because I love you and you have changed my life. You matter, and I feel helpless because of your pain, anxiety, or belief that you are worthless or that you aren’t good enough or that you are too full of shame to live a normal life. I am amazed at your strength and share in your successes. I believe in you, even when you don’t.

Sometimes, I don’t know what to say or I’m overcome with ideas and interrupt. I wonder if my interjections annoy you. Often, I hate being seen as an expert because I can have imposter syndrome. Sometimes I feel awkward because I’m klutzy and spacy, and I wonder how much of it you see.

I wish I could tell you I’m always renegotiating my boundaries, and it’s difficult. That I had an angry, abusive parent. I didn’t know one of my fathers until I was an adult. Sexual abuse has scarred my family, too.

I know sometimes you feel judged by me, but I didn’t intend to hurt you. Sometimes I don’t get it, or I offer the wrong suggestion, and you help me understand and refine myself as a therapist. I take the work seriously and recognize the stakes. After I leave my office, I watch The Office reruns to forget our collective sadness.

I am writing to you because I know we have only this moment and the words are here and so am I.

What I wish I could tell you is thank you for sharing the heartache, the jokes, and the cussing. Thank you for telling me when I’ve missed the mark, and thank you for letting me try again. Thank you for our communion and reflection and laughter. What I wish I could tell you is: It’s going to be okay. Despite the pain of the past and the discomfort of the present, your future is available to you. You will survive because we all do. And right now, you’re doing just that.

A Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the state of California, Caitlin Billings specializes in treatment and therapy for complex trauma. Through this work, Caitlin aims to subvert societal expectations and pressures of idealism through embracing self-love and imperfection. Her memoir, In Our Blood, launches July 12, 2022 from She Writes Press.

A Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the state of California, Caitlin Billings knows the struggles of balancing work, mental health, and motherhood better than most – while accepting her own bipolar diagnosis, she had to learn how best to support her gender-fluid child, who inherited depressive behaviors. Now Caitlin is speaking out about the deep-set need for perfection throughout society, especially on teens and mental health professionals, until people understand that your best is good enough and you are never alone.