The Day Bruce Springsteen Talked Me into Therapy

If you live in Texas, you know HEB. If you know someone from Texas, you probably know HEB, too, because we talk it more than people typically talk about a grocery chain. It's simply a well-run business with quality products, great customer service, and deep ties to the community. In the winter storms of 2021, we trusted HEB to help more than the government.

It was during a different crisis that I found myself sitting in an HEB parking lot. In November 2020, the pandemic was in full swing and we were months from the first vaccine. We had switched to curbside pickup to avoid entering the store and I was listening to a podcast as I waited.

It was a conversation between Rick Rubin and Bruce Springsteen on the Broken Record podcast, ostensibly about Bruce's latest album. About 12 minutes in, though, Rick brings up depression.

Rick: You’ve talked about your dad’s depression and that you have some of those seeds in you.
Bruce: Oh yeah.
Rick: What are the things that have helped you to move through those and when was your first experience of recognizing, “Oh, I have this, too.”
Bruce: I hit a wall when I was 32 years old. I wrote “Nebraska” and after “Nebraska” I travelled across the country with a friend of mine and it was on that trip that I realized something was amiss. I was always able to count on the miles, the music, to assuage whatever my demons were. But on that trip it was the first time for some reason where it felt like it’s just not doing the job. And when I got to L.A. I was completely an anxious mess and I had no idea what to do with myself next. All I knew was, I need help. I’ve hit the wall, I don’t know where to go with this. My usual remedies that worked in my 20’s—music, this, that, touring, traveling—are not working for me anymore. I’ve got to find another answer. And I began analysis when I was 32. I did it for 30 years.
Rick: It changed your life?
Bruce: Yes, absolutely. It gave me the rest of my life—you know, the fulfillment of family, of love and being able to be loved, of delving deeper into your own history and your own essence, and that affecting your creativity. The way I’d describe it is you’re standing in front of a brick wall and you think you’re seeing all that the world is, and then suddenly you start pushing and a brick drops out, and you look through into this complete other experience and existence, and you go, “Fuck. Woah, I’ve been living on such a limited level.” It expanded my vision, and it also helped rid me of my depression. That and also pharmacology has played a big part in giving me my life back and that’s been very important also.

When I heard, "It gave me the rest of my life," something shifted and I heard the voice in my head say, so clearly, "It's time." Six weeks later on New Year's Day, I had my first call with my new therapist.

It wasn’t like therapy was unknown to me. My father was a social worker. Family and friends have extolled its virtues over the years. Coworkers have added therapy appointments to team calendars, which I always admired. Stories about the rise in people seeking therapy during the pandemic were everywhere.

I had often considered it, but never taken the leap. The stress and anxiety of that time, though, was pervasive—the pandemic, recession, layoffs (including my own company), U.S. election—any one of which was more than enough. With little interaction with others and nowhere to go, work became all-consuming—it felt like one thing I could control when so much that I couldn't was swirling around me.

I was fortunate to find the perfect therapist for me on my first try. We laughed in that first call and nearly every one since. It helps to realize that the thoughts that go through our heads are, quite often, laughable, and create some emotional distance.

The pandemic turned out to be the perfect time to start. It was wonderful simply to have someone else to talk to. That doesn't mean it wasn't awkward. It felt selfish to talk so much. I kept wanting to say, "Enough about me, how are you doing?"

Everyone's experience with therapy is unique. Mine is best captured by my favorite scene in Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom. Sam can't resist laughing when he realizes Suzy's parents owned a book called, Coping with the Very Troubled Child. She runs off, but he finds her, apologizes, and says simply, "I'm on your side."

"I know," she replies.

From the script for Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom

I’m on your side. Direct, comforting, unwavering.

It's a gift to talk to someone who is disconnected from your day-to-day, but also on your side—eager to listen, inquisitive, and cheering your progress, no matter how small. Therapy is a safe place where I can be honest and feel cared for, not judged.

In the past 18 months, I've learned to stay in the moment longer, especially the positive ones, instead of immediately moving to what's next. I'm more apt to find pleasure in things, no matter how small, and show myself, and others, grace.

I also have a better perspective on working. The topics you gravitate toward are revealing and work dominated our conversations for a long time. The discussions were really helpful—in fact, I doubt I would've quit my job without them. But it still showed how I had let work take center stage.

The result is that my floor is slowly rising. I haven't stopped chasing perfection, productivity, and control, and  there's still stress and worry, but I'm more resilient. It's easier to keep things in perspective. I see and understand myself better, and each conversation colors in the picture a little more.

Before I scheduled my first appointment, I felt like I was the last remaining person who was on the fence about therapy. If I wasn't and you find yourself wondering if it's for you, I hope you'll give it a go. Find the person that’s right for you and make the time. It’s the most valuable hour in your week—an hour that can give you the rest of your life.

Thanks, Bruce.