Every week, Mallory Ortberg answers additional questions from readers, just for Slate Plus members.
Q. Sick of being told to see a therapist: My fiancé has a brain cancer with horrible survival statistics. He is fighting it masterfully with an indomitable spirit and attitude. I am helping with everything and attending all of his doctor’s appointments and scans. We live far from our families and are generally each other’s only support. I am a reticent person and do not talk about my feelings on a good day. This situation is unusual, so occasionally I will mention some emotional difficulty I am having, but my basic nature has not changed—quite simply, I do not want to discuss it. Yet everyone I know has determined I need help and should talk to a therapist. I say I do not want it and end up embroiled in a conversation about how it will be good for me. “Sally’s husband did that when she got sick with ____ disease, and it helped them so much.”
I appreciate other peoples’ experiences, and I may someday decide to talk this out, but for now I just want to be left alone to deal with it myself. I’m not some wilting flower—I’m a 40-year-old woman who has lived independently since age 17, until I met this wonderful man. I know how to take care of myself. What do I say to get people to drop the subject without shouting, “Leave me alone!” after they get started on their nonhelpful spiel?
A: I’m so sorry about your fiancé’s diagnosis, and I can only imagine how frustrating it must be to have the same conversation about grief counseling multiple times a week with everyone from family members to well-meaning co-workers. I do want to point out that living independently, being 40, and not being a wilting flower have absolutely nothing to do with whether someone finds therapy helpful; it’s not an indicator of weakness or failure to be fully self-sufficient. That said, it’s not for everyone, and you’re well within your rights not to want to discuss it with everyone you meet. The next time someone starts to go in on how much therapy helped Sally’s husband, feel free to interrupt them and say, “Thanks, but I really don’t want to discuss it. I’ve been getting a lot of plugs for therapy lately, and I’m ready to drop that subject for now. I’d consider it a favor if you didn’t bring it up again.”