Australian pop singer Kylie Minogue saved me from depression.
Perhaps, not literally, but I've been a fan of hers since I was a kid, and my brilliantly creative therapist managed to open me up to therapy through Kylie on our second session together.
When I first sat on the couch in her office in Tel Aviv and told her about my broken life, I couldn't even begin to imagine where it would go, where she would go with me. She wasn't the "and how does that make you feel?" kind of therapist. She was more a teacher, helping me discover my own way, my own values rather than taking the simple -- if painful -- route of blindly following the path set out for me by my parents.
I was 27 and lost; my relationship with my then boyfriend was dying. I hated my work, hated the way I looked, hated my parents, and was so afraid of the world around me that too many hours outside of my home would produce shortness of breath and anxiety approaching terror.
"I can help you," she told me at the end of our first session, "but you have to know that there will be consequences. As you get better, you will have to say goodbye to your life as you know it, maybe even break up with your boyfriend. Facing fears changes people, and sometimes we find it very hard to say goodbye to parts who we are even if we want the change, so you have to go home and think about it, and make sure you really want it."
The following week I went back to her and she offered me a challenge. "I remember how you lit up when you were talking last week about being a fan of Kylie Minogue since you where 13," she said. "Can you go back to age 13 and begin telling me your story, and as you do, tell me what was happening in Kylie's world too, and how you related to her as time went on."
It sounded strange to me but I started telling her how Kylie's plastic-pop songs of the 80s synced up so well with my early teens. I was bullied because I was an effeminate boy who couldn't find himself between the boys and the girls. I was constantly laughed at; Kylie was constantly laughed at by music critics. Going back home after school listening to her songs with words like "remember, things can only get better," or "don't let life get you down," brought me to tears feeling she was my only source of support. No one else understood me but Kylie.
Her sexier, edgier stuff was the soundtrack to my own sexual discovery in my mid-teens. In 1994 she released "Confide in Me" which pulled my out of the closet. Later she recorded a ballad with Nick Cave and sang about death -- which seemed the very soundtrack of my mandatory military service. There, I had to climb back into the closet again in order to survive. I felt dead.
In 2000, Kylie released "Spinning Around," a song about confidence, embracing mistakes, and self-acceptance with a line that spoke perfectly to where I was going: "Did I forget to mention that I've found a new direction and it leads back to me."
"It's amazing how parallel your life has been to your favorite popstar," my therapist, Sarry, said. "But I noticed that at the end when you were talking about self-acceptance, you stopped talking about you and talked only about her. Maybe this is our mission here; catching up with her. Go back to yourself and find a different way to look at the world -- from the eyes of someone who accepts himself, and with compassion for himself."
I left that session in a daze. Who knew that it was possible for a therapist you've just met to see you so quickly, and help you see yourself?
She would go on to help me face my fears. To teach me that, "When you come face-to-face with a fear it disappears, just as darkness is cleared away by the simple act of turning on the light to find your way."
Things she said to me 12 years ago have stayed with me until today: "The darkest moment in the night is a minute before the sun rises," she would say. She would tell me fictional stories with a moral lesson that made me think for weeks. There were days when I would call her from bed, unable to get out and start my day, and she listened, strengthened me, and taught me to ask myself the right questions. She helped me get the answers and move forward just to find more questions. This is my journey.
My years in therapy with Sarry were magical. There nothing I'd like more than to encourage more people -- especially people who were bullied at school -- to go through this process of awareness and growth. Coming from a dysfunctional Jewish family where I learned only to criticize and judge myself (and the world), it was amazing -- shocking -- to discover a totally new set of values with my therapist.
My fanatical love for Kylie has diminished through the years maybe because I didn't need someone "to look up to" anymore. I became proud of myself and of who I am. I ended up breaking up with my boyfriend, but I found a much stronger, more mature love; I quit a dead-end job and found a dream job at a record company; I started to love the man I saw in the mirror more and more; I moved to America, became an entertainment correspondent and published a book; I never imagined that my life could take these turns and find this path. My experience with therapy, with Sarry, was, without question, the key. Going through this journey with her for so many years had such power. She remembered everything I said, and sometimes she would pull out something that I had told her seven or eight years ago in order to show me something in my life today.
Sarry died of MS last October, and she treated me every week until a month before her death. When she couldn't walk anymore a few years ago, she moved her office to a room at her home in Haifa. When I moved to America, we continued our sessions over the phone. She told me she doesn't take pain medicines because those made her stoned, and she wanted to have a clear mind in order to continue treating her patients whom she "loved as my spiritual children," she would say.
Sarry helped me understand my life up to the last minute of hers.
After her death I started translating articles that she wrote to English. Her articles are strange, like she was. Almost like poems. In one, she wrote about trying to get to a patient through the one thing the patient loved the most. "I looked for a metaphor that would fit her world. I wanted to talk to her in her own language." I was back in that second session: me, Sarry, and Kylie Minogue.