Golden State Worrier: Just Keep Tapping
I’ve been to two therapists in my life. The story behind the first guy isn't that interesting. I was a nervous 11-year-old; like, a really nervous 11-year-old, and I was lucky enough to go to a therapist and even luckier to have therapy who actually helped.
My second therapist is a more interesting story. I found her by Googling “Ann Arbor Hypnotherapy” and choosing between the two options that came up. The deciding factors were some combination of the two websites’ aesthetic, their testimonials and the ease with which I could locate their email addresses. For some reason, technological wherewithal was a quality I valued in a hypnotherapist.
It was toward the end of my sophomore year of college. The anxiety I had worked so hard in my youth to keep at bay was creeping back into my life, in part because I had actual worry-worthy things to worry about. It was the type of nervous cocktail that created thoughts like “If I don’t get this internship, I’m going to contract a fatal respiratory infection and die.”
I don't exactly know why I pursued hypnotherapy instead of other, more mainstream types of therapy. I know a guy who tried hypnotherapy and said it worked, and as a kid was obsessed with “Molly Moon's Incredible Book of Hypnotism,” but other than that, I have no affiliation with hypnosis. Weird flex by me, but whatever.
I emailed my prospective therapist, the one with the better website. I will call her Molly for nostalgia and anonymity. She responded quickly and we set up a time to chat.
During our first meeting, she showed me her gold pocket watch, a family heirloom that had been passed down through generations and embedded with magical hypnotic powers. She told me to sit back in the chair, relax and follow the watch with my eyes. What felt like two minutes later, I woke up, with almost no recollection of the event. …
I’m kidding — there was no pocket watch, or magic, or loss of memory. Though I would be lying if, prior to my first meeting, some percentage of me legitimately thought something like that would happen.
It didn't. At our first meeting Molly probably asked me 50 questions about my life, taking detailed notes and giving some feedback on my responses. The most notable piece of advice from this session was that if I drank more water, that would solve all my anxiety issues. I chuckled when she said this, before quickly realizing she wasn't joking.
In truth, hypnosis only describes a fraction of what Molly does. She really is an oracle of all things related to spiritual and alternative healing. In addition to hydration tips, Molly’s repertoire of healing practices includes teaching me a set of yoga breathing techniques, facilitating guided meditations tailored to my specific anxieties, and assigning me homework assignments like “spend three hours this week doing something that exclusively benefits other people.”
Shoes are forbidden in her cramped office, so we’d make casual conversation as I removed my boots and placed them outside her door before entering. I’d sit on a tan reclining chair with a partially broken lever and she’d tell me about Chi, and natural energy, and traditions that pre-date any ibuprofen by an uncountable number of lifetimes.
For most of my life, I was a staunch skeptic of all things related to the spiritual and alternative. That is, I would guess, pretty normal for being an American-born 21-year-old. Western medicine is built on the trust in empiricism and some alternative healing practices simply don't have the data to back up their performance, or don’t have the data that the Western world trusts. It also might just be Western arrogance, it really might just be Western arrogance.
In any case, I was happy to indulge Molly’s conversations about Chi and natural energy flow, but I always thought of them as more interesting mental exercises, rather than anything actually altering an iota of my body. I’d think of them in terms of more mainstream mental health practices, reflecting my learned American exceptionalism. I’d commend Molly’s practices on reaching the same conclusion as the clearly more “correct” Western medicine therapies.
When she first brought up “tapping,” the skepticism remained. Tapping, or emotional freedom therapy, is a style of healing that involves tapping on certain points of the body that are believed to stimulate one's life energy, or Chi. Molly told me that anxiety and depression can be caused by a stoppage of energy flow. She said there are more than 100 spots that could be touched on the body to stimulate the flow of energy; she gave me 11 of these spots to start with.
Even a year later I remember her final words on the technique: “The best part is, you don’t need to believe it's working for it to work.”
So, in the tan chair with the broken lever, I hesitantly began tapping. She adjusted my form, because apparently I was missing the imaginary spot on my body that was going to stimulate the imaginary life energy going through my body.
I tapped and thought about what was overwhelming me. I thought about how certain I was about all the terrible stuff coming my way, and how uncertain I was about what my survival plan was. Then, rather quickly, some of those worries began to slip away. The muscles in my neck unclenched and the wave of impending things to do and things done wrong started to seem farther and farther away from me.
I let out something like a gasp when I was done, embarrassed at how pleased I must have looked, and how clearly not sold I was prior to the exercise.
“See?” she said, giving me a smile that was equal parts I-told-ya-so and glad-I-could-help.
To this day, I still tap. I tapped last week when I heard norovirus was back. I tapped on Jan. 20, for some reason. I tap before plane rides, tests and hard conversations.
Molly and her tapping therapeutic powers helped me in two ways. The first being the obvious one: giving me this new tool to combat anxiety. The second gift was a lesson in humility. When I tap, it reminds me of how little I know about how my body works. It reminds me that maybe there is Chi in my body that gets clogged up sometimes, or maybe some of the “certainties” in my life are things I’m not so certain about at all.
I often get caught up in anxiety about what my future holds. Tapping is a much-needed reminder that more often than not, I don’t actually know.
If you want to know what Molly’s real name is, HMU @ firstname.lastname@example.org. Seriously, she’s badass.