Today is my due date

I’m due today.

Holy crap

Well, actually, you’re due.

To come out.

Little Duck

We really can’t wait to meet you

Even though I feel like I know you already

You dance and hiccup and kick

And squirm your way up under my ribcage on the right side

Ouch.

You test the boundaries of your squishy little world

I can’t wait to show you my world

Little Duck

 

We’ve had our bags packed for weeks

We pretend to be ready, but we’re really not

Don’t worry, though, cuz we can’t wait to love you

and squish you

and pinch your little fat rolls

and sing you to sleep.

 

I don’t know what’s going to happen

And that’s pretty scary for me

So if you know, please tell me

Otherwise, we’ll just figure things out

together

as we go.

 

So get here soon

If you only knew the joy that is waiting for you

But then again, maybe you do

because how could you not?

So what are you waiting for

Little Duck

 

Come on out

So I can love you more

Holy crap, holy crap, holy crap

A Look Inside My Pregnant Head – A stream of consciousness

Hey everyone amazing news we actually closed on a house last week can you believe it we’re HOMEOWNERS

and not a moment too soon.

cuz immediately following getting our keys we went to the Oregon coast for the weekend to celebrate our first wedding anniversary and I can’t believe this year has gone by so freaking fast omg but the decision to go to the beach/coast was an amazing one because I am DYING IN THIS HEAT and we have to wait before we can get help to move into the new AIR CONDITIONED house which means this baby had better STAY PUT so I can labor in the house not only does it have AC, but it also has a soaking tub and a shower WITH SEATS it’s like it was made for pregnant ladies

fast forward to now where we’re moving small things everyday and waiting for the big move on Saturday and omg it’s HOT and I feel crappy that I can’t physically help pack and I have zero energy and maybe I’ll just put a few books in this box but oh I can’t do too much because what if I trigger the labor to start NOT BEFORE SATURDAY

maybe I should sit down I AM NOT MOODY SHUT THE FUCK UP

my hips hurt and I am hungry again

I am so BLESSED and I can’t believe everything is falling into place right in the nick of time and I am SO EXCITED and I still can’t believe that I am going to have a little human soon and a house this kinda makes me a real grown up now and oh crap now I’m crying

again.

that seems to happen more often these days

my feet are swelling up again maybe I should sit down and eat something WHERE IS MY FAVORITE MUG is it packed already WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO MY LIFE

no labor til after Saturday Little Duck you stay in there til after Saturday

time for a nap.

The Opposite of Awesome

I was weighing myself because I’m pregnant and it was Monday.  I lead a very exciting life, I know.

Brian: “I wonder when you’ll weigh as much as me?”

Me: “What?  I’ll never weigh as much as you.  You’re always going to be fatter than me.  Always.”

Brian:  “Oh yeah?  Let’s see then.”

I write down my new weight for this week.  On average, I’ve been gaining about 2 pounds a week for a while now.

Brian then weighed himself.  To my horror, it was only about 3 pounds heavier.

Me:  “I don’t think so!  You didn’t eat enough for dinner!  Here, have this muffin.”

Brian:  “See?!  Only about another week and a half and we’ll be the same!”

Me:  “Hang on, let me pee and I’ll weigh myself again.  I probably have a few pounds of pee in here.”

Brian:  “But now you know how I feel!”

Me: “Please, Brian, tell me how it feels to be you.  Because this is so the same.’

Brian: “…it feels awesome?”

Me:  “Yes.  My swollen hands and feet feel awesome.  So does your baby’s head pushing on my cervix.  Do you know what that feels like?”

Brian:  “…the opposite of awesome?”

Me: “Now get in the kitchen and go eat some muffins.  But make sure to save me one.  Or ten.”

Fast forward to last night – another Monday night weigh-in.

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s happened.  Brian and I now weigh the same.

He did an odd sort of happy dance.  I got into a sumo stance, pushed him over, and sat on him.

It felt awesome.

My feelings are not to be fixed

Unsolicited advice really doesn’t help.

In fact, it’s always made me feel worse.

A lot of people refer to my job as a professional advice-giver, which really misses the mark.  I’ve often had clients come in and expect direct advice – they’ve even asked me straight up what I think they should do. I get that with some cultures, this is the expectation of coming to see an expert.  Others just desperately want “the answers” (whatever those are), they want a quick solution, and they are afraid or not ready to put in the work to get there on their own.

I always pull back and slow down when a client asks me for advice.  Sometimes I’ll ask why they are wanting to be told what to do, because often their answer reveals a lot about their world view.

And then I lay it right out for them.  I explain that, while I’ve gone through training and I am qualified to help, I don’t know all the answers.  And I certainly don’t know what’s best for one particular person from Adam.  Sure, I have my own opinions, but I see clients for typically only one hour per week, and each client is really the expert on their life – they know better than anyone what may help and what won’t.  Most importantly, a client has to live with whatever consequences their decisions bring, and that’s why they should be making these decisions – not me.  My job is simply to help them make that decision, whatever it is.

And all that is just for advice that was actually invited.

I got onto this topic because 1) It’s one of my biggest pet peeves ever, and 2) Being pregnant seems to invite unsolicited advice, like a lot, and 3) I revisited a comment I made on a similar post, Tolerating Sadness:

I hadn’t really thought about it before, but I do hesitate to post sadder things on Facebook, mostly because I don’t want unsolicited advice or the other unwanted phrases I mentioned in the post. I don’t want to feel judged, dismissed when my sadness makes people uncomfortable. What a shame.

Number 1 is just me, and I tend to not like to be told what to do, unless I am specifically asking for help.

Number 2 is, in my opinion, an example of the (horrible) concept that a woman’s body and sexuality is everyone’s business and is to be regulated.  Do we ask men how their erectile dysfunction is going today?  No.  Do we inquire about the state of their prostate?  No.  Do we give random advice about how to get their sperm count up?  I seriously doubt it.  I could be wrong about this, since I am not a man, but I do know that women’s bodies are more regulated than men’s due to the fact that men have no trouble getting Viagra and penis pumps covered by their insurance, while women have trouble getting birth control and access to safe abortions without unnecessary ultrasounds in some states.  But I digress – this could be a whole other string of ranty posts.

Pregnancy, once a woman starts showing, is also a very obvious, visible condition, and I think this contributes to women getting unsolicited advice from strangers, not to mention getting their personal space violated. (By the way, always ask a pregnant lady if you can touch her belly BEFORE you touch it.  And if she says no, then don’t.  Please.)

Back to the advice-giving.  It all boils down to the fact that advice serves to help the advice giver, not the recipient.  I’ve found that when I am expressing some aspect of my life and feelings that is less than optimal, (sadness, frustration, fear, some icky pregnancy side effect, etc.) that sometimes creates feelings of discomfort in the listener.  One way people try to alleviate that discomfort is to give advice as a means of maybe fixing the problem, or at the very least, feeling like they’ve helped and thus the uncomfortable-feelings-burden has been passed back to me.

Let me be clear.  When I am expressing discomfort, it is not my intention to pass a burden onto the listener to fix my problem.  If you feel discomfort while listening to me, please know that means that you care, you’re tuned into me, and that’s awesome.  Seriously.  But please, don’t take on my discomfort as your own.  It’s not yours to carry.  And it hurts my feelings when you try to deflect the discomfort with advice.  My feelings are not yours to fix.

What I would like instead is empathy.  I know you already feel it for me, hence the advice-giving.  So, instead of covering up empathy with advice, try to give a voice to it.

I’m so sorry you had to go through that.

My heart aches for you.

I wish I could make your pain go away.

Let me know if there’s anything I can do.

These sound wonderful to me.  They are vulnerable.  They keep the two people on the same plane, as equals, as opposed to one who is suffering and one who gives advice as an expert.  I think they are harder to say than advice is.

I’d much rather have someone come join me in empathy than try to slap a bandaid on my feelings.

So please, I invite you to pause the next time you feel the urge to give someone advice.  Why do you feel like giving it?  How are you feeling in relation to this person’s news/problems?  What would it be like to refrain from trying to fix, and instead try to feel?

It might feel uncomfortable, and that’s ok.

Because my feelings (and yours) are not to be fixed.

Lost In Transition

I’m feeling all the feelings, you guys.

I had a mommy friend ask me if I wanted advice.  She had written a list of things she wished she had known before giving birth.  I said yes, and I read it.

Then I cried.

This thing really has to come out of me.  And it’s going to hurt.  Like, a lot.  Breastfeeding might be hard.  And painful.  Projectile poop really does exist.  All this responsibility…

Even though I’m the type of person who always wants to know all the good and the bad stuff, it was still pretty overwhelming.

I asked myself, how am I going to handle all this?

That voice inside me shrugged and said, one day at a time.

I’m also having some feelings around body image.

My body hasn’t changed much throughout my life, with the exception of cancer and the resulting surgery.  This week marks the highest weight I have ever been.  I knew it was coming, of course, and I know it’s healthy and it’s supposed to happen.  And I’m cool with it; it means that Little Duck is growing and my body is growing with fe.  At the same time, I felt a pang when I saw the number on the scale.  I’ve never been one to weigh myself, like ever, because I’ve never seen the point.  But with the pregnancy, I’ve wanted to track my changes and so I’ve been weighing myself once a week.

It’s not just the number on the scale, but a combination of that plus how I look and how I feel.  I’ve always been fairly petite, and sometimes it’s tough for me to see my waistline disappear.  Honestly, it depends on the day.  When I first started showing, I was so happy and excited.  This is real!  Look at me, how cute I look!  I feel so special!  And sometimes, a lot of the time, I still feel like that.  But on the days when I feel achy and bloated, I wonder how big I’m going to get.  Where is my limit?  What will my body do?  It’s the not knowing that can be unsettling.

What I’ve concluded is that my body is changing faster than my thoughts and emotions can catch up.  And I have to keep telling myself what I already know to be true – that my body knows what it’s doing.  Trust it.

Even when cancer invaded my body and I felt like it [my body] had betrayed me, it still let me know what was going on.  And when I stop to think about my progress during this pregnancy so far, I realize that my body has done all the work unaided.  All the medical procedures I’ve had have been purely for screening purposes.  Of course, if my body needs medical help along the way, that’s all well and good, but overall, my body’s in charge.  And she knows what she’s doing.

Lastly, I’ve been feeling all pent up.  I really need a project (besides growing life) and what I’d really like to be doing is decorating and organizing a house, but we’re just not there yet.  Not only are we not there, but we’re crammed into a one bedroom apartment with boxes stacked everywhere.  I feel closed in, it feels cluttered in here, and I have no idea how we’re going to fit a baby in here, let alone all the baby crap.

I know this situation is only temporary, and our next move, if it’s not a house, will definitely be someplace bigger and quieter.  We’ll only have to have the baby here for one month max, if at all.

It also doesn’t help that I am not currently working, or otherwise have something to do with my time.  I’ve been looking for work half-assedly, mostly because, while I do want to be productive and useful, I don’t want the added stress of having to learn a new job, and I certainly don’t want to have to sell my soul to any job – and that’s even if anyone offers this 5 month pregnant lady a position in the first place.

I hate how the American work force – and the social service professions specifically – expect you to bend over backwords just to work.  The job openings I’ve seen aren’t only full time, but the descriptions are peppered with lines like: must be able to work evenings and Saturdays, shifts subject to change with little notice, must be able to drive to multiple locations, may be exposed to clients with violent tendencies, must give up first born child to Satan, etc.  I’d be hesitant to take jobs like this even if I wasn’t pregnant, and forget it now.  I’m not even sure I’d want to keep a full time job after I have the baby, anyway, so that adds to my lack of enthusiasm.  Don’t employers want healthy, happy, well-rounded workers who have lives outside of work?  Sheesh.  Jobs are just jobs, and I want one that I don’t have to be married to.

That said, I do feel incredibly fortunate that I am being supported by my husband right now.  I have the privilege of having the choice to work or not, and for that I am very thankful.  I also feel a bit guilty about not contributing financially to the household, and a part of me really does want to get out there and do the profession I love, but Brian totally understands my priorities and he’s supportive.  I’ll keep looking for work, and if I find something that fits our needs, then awesome.  If not, we’ll adjust and get by together.

So.  It seems as though my theme for the moment is transition.

But, now that I think about it, am I ever really not transitioning?

It’s Alive!

Alright, Psychos.  It’s about to get a little crazier up in here.

I can barely believe it myself, but…I’m going to be a mother.

Even typing those words and then reading them back to myself was weird.  A mom?!  ME?!

I am incredibly thankful and blessed and in awe that my body is able to sustain a pregnancy, especially considering my medical history.  When we first found out, I wanted to call up my surgeon from 11 years ago to thank him for what an amazing job he did.  Not only did he make me healthy again, but he left my bits and pieces intact and working!  The Little Ovary That Could.  It’s because of my cancer history that I am especially not taking this for granted…except for the fact that this is all still very hard to believe for me.

I’ve pretty much always known I’ve wanted to be a mom.  I kind of grew up knowing it without really realizing it, and it wasn’t until that dream was threatened that I realized how desperately I wanted it.

For the past 11 years since my surgery and the prognosis from my doctors being, and I quote, “We can’t promise anything,” I’ve stared longingly at babies in the grocery store, making faces at them as they gaze at me over their parent’s shoulder.  I slowed to gawk at maternity store display windows, only to be pulled along past, wondering if I’d ever get to shop there.

We started trying for a baby quite soon after getting married because we knew we wanted to be parents and we anticipated having fertility issues.  We wanted to try and not get our hopes up so that we could start fertility treatments as soon as we needed to/could because we’re not getting any younger and I was told to expect to start menopause early and my egg count was cut in half and holy crap was any of this going to work?!

Imagine our surprise and complete shock when three months in, it worked!  We couldn’t believe it.  I’m actually tearing up just remembering the moment.  First there was pure joy (OH MY GOD!!!), then disbelief (oh…my…god…), and then sheer terror (omg…what have we done?!).  Brian had just accepted a kickass new job in Oregon, and we had signed a 9 month lease on a tiny apartment, to begin in January.  Doing that math means that we might have to squeeze a baby in amongst our boxes of wedding gifts we still haven’t opened.  Maybe fe can sleep in the salad bowl, or perhaps the new mixer.  Plus, I had just quit my job and didn’t have another lined up, and I’d need to figure out how to get relicensed in Oregon, effectively increasing our expenses while decreasing our income.  Our sense of timing is just peachy sometimes.  Of course, I know this will all work out in one way or another, it’s just tough standing at the bottom of a mountain and not knowing how the hell you’re going to climb to the top.

Another huge stressor for me/us was getting mysteriously dropped from Brian’s health insurance, having our coverage expire at the end of the year, and then having to scramble to get new coverage since his new job’s coverage won’t kick in until after a 90 day probationary period.  Those few weeks were incredibly depressing for me, as I was unable to see a doctor to even confirm the pregnancy, let alone reassure me that everything was going well.  Pair this with my relatively mild first trimester symptoms (meaning that I could hardly believe that I was actually, indeed pregnant), and I just felt like a tired, depressed wreck who cried on the phone to health insurance companies after being put on hold for 45 minutes or more.

I am happy to report that we slogged through our first month in Oregon fairly well, all considering.  We now have health insurance, we had our first ultrasound, and holy crap there’s a somersaulting little guppy in there!  I’m even starting to show a tiny bit, and I’m pretty sure it’s not just gas.

In conclusion, we’re still pretty shell-shocked.

We’re excited and terrified.  We’re excified!

…Territed?

All of the above.

Drifting in Portlandia

So we’ve been here about a week now.

Here means just outside of Portland, Oregon.

It’s been a little rough, as I expected it would be.  I also suppose it hasn’t been as bad as my worst fears, so that’s something.

Brian and I both came down with the flu over Christmas (given to us by the movers who packed up our stuff), and that made for a pretty rotten holiday.  We made the most of it, but we were not able to do everything we had planned, and we were forced to skip seeing loved ones for fear of getting them sick, which really sucked.

We returned to our mostly bare apartment for one night in sleeping bags so that we could rise early, grab the cat, and make the 10 hour drive to Portland all in one day.

I have a love-hate relationship with this cat, and that morning it was definitely hate.  And pity, I suppose.  She refused to eat any of the sedative-infused food we offered her.  We had given her some a few weeks prior as a trial run, just to make sure she wasn’t allergic and to see how she would do.  I can only imagine that she remembered that experience and was like, “No effing way I am doing that again, you guys.”  We tried putting it in dry food.  We tried hiding it in chicken.  And then we tried just forcing it into her mouth and down her throat.  To no avail.  At this point we were behind schedule, so she got shoved into the cat carrier, hungry and unmedicated, and off we went.

Despite the struggles of the morning, Sadie (the cat) did pretty well.  She howled solidly for the first 45 minutes and then would pass out for 20 minutes at a time, only to wake up and howl some more.  I had to just emotionally detach myself from her in order to cope.  I kept telling her, “I love you, and you are safe,” which I think was more for my benefit than for hers.

The drive up was pretty damn gorgeous, and wonderfully uneventful (the cat howling aside).  We passed Shasta and saw a bit of snow in the shade in the mountains.  We stopped for lunch in Ashland, which was good to check out again.

We arrived at our new place after dark and I was just exhausted.  The cat was freaking out and had no bed to hide under.  We unloaded most of our two cars, ordered pizza, and then passed out on an air mattress.

This is the first time I’ve ever moved somewhere and not had something waiting for me on the other side.  We moved because my husband found an amazing job, which is awesome, and we are both thankful for that.  As for me, I am now left with the daunting task of trying to figure out how to get relicensed in this new state and how to find a job.  I know zero clinicians in Oregon, and so I am left to email perfect strangers to answer my questions.  We left the warmth and sunshine of California, and I can definitely feel that tugging at my wellbeing.  I wonder to myself if Oregon will ever really feel like home.

To sum up, I feel scared and sad, and somewhat stuck.  I am fighting it, but the energy only comes in spurts.  I am very, very thankful to have one good friend in the area I know from California, and of course my husband is there for me, as I am for him.

I don’t like moving and I don’t like change and I hate the unknown.  In my moodier states, I feel like I am on a raft, just drifting aimlessly in an endless foggy sea.  That just makes me want to curl up in a ball and wait until the raft bumps into something.

I guess I’d better fashion myself a friggin paddle.

Saying Goodbye Really Sucks

Since we’re moving in a few weeks, we’ve been saying goodbye to things and people.

I still need to say goodbye to my favorite burrito.  I’ve been told they only have burrito-like things in Portland, so I had better stock up now.

Therapists get to say goodbye a lot.  Working with the population I do, often times I don’t get to say goodbye because I never know that this session will be the last time I’ll see a particular client.

When I first started this work, each time a client stopped coming or stopped returning phone calls was really jarring to me.  I worried about the client.

Was she ok?  Why wasn’t she coming? 

I also found that my feelings were hurt, even though I knew it had nothing to do with me.

Was I a horrible therapist?  Did I offend the client?  Was it something I said or didn’t say?

Lastly, I realized just how strongly I adhered to the value of expecting people to keep the appointments they make, to have a sense of accountability (even though I get now that, for my clients, the issue is much more complicated than that).

Eventually, with practice, I got used to it.  Clients come to our agency in crisis with many priorities other than therapy.  Clients are allowed to stop therapy for whatever reason at whatever time, and they don’t have to inform me if they don’t want to.  Ok, I can understand that.  Fair enough.

Under ideal circumstances, I get to plan out my goodbyes with clients.  A central theme in therapy is that I am supposed to model what a healthy relationship looks like, and a huge part of that is in saying goodbye.

Goodbyes are hard.  They suck.  They’re sad, they’re emotional, they’re bittersweet.  I’ve spent the past week and a half saying goodbye to a good many clients and it’s exhausting.  I feel horrible, and I’ve even apologized to some.  It’s true that I am used to saying goodbye to clients, but I’m rarely the one doing the leaving.  That’s what feels different here, and that’s what is adding an extra layer of yuck and guilt to these goodbyes.

I’ve often said that the good and the bad part about being a therapist is that when I go on vacation or leave the job, I am not just leaving a desk and a computer – I am leaving people.

People handle goodbyes in different ways.  I’ve had several clients stop contacting me after I let them know I was leaving, and while I understand that sometimes goodbyes are just too painful to face, I still feel sad and somewhat hurt.  In those cases, I feel like we’ve lost an opportunity for growth.

I try to honor the different parts of saying goodbye.  Yes, it’s an ending, but in therapy (like many things), it’s also a beginning.  It marks the beginning of the client going out into the world to use the skills she learned in therapy.  It marks independence.  It celebrates the hard work the client has done by attending sessions with me.  It’s a graduation of sorts, since my job is one that seeks to put itself out of business.  My goal, in that sense, is to get to the goodbye point, to make it so that my clients no longer need me.

One thing I like to do when ending therapy is to tell the client to take me with them.  After therapy is over, and you’re facing a situation that we talked about in therapy, if I was there with you, what would I say?  Would I have judgement for you?  Would I be your cheerleader?

Clients often take me with them without any prompting.  Some have reported facing a particularly hard scenario, or they’ve felt triggered, or they’d had to go to court, and they’ll come back and told me that they heard my voice in their head.  Not in a creepy, you need to be locked up kinda way, but in a very sweet and touching way.  In such a way that lets me know that this client is really working in therapy and is going to be just fine.

One time I asked a client, “When you heard my voice, what was I telling you?”

She rolled her eyes and adopted a semi-mocking tone.  “You told me to think about it differently.”

And I beamed.  So I really was doing a good job.  And I don’t really have to say goodbye.  Because my clients take me with them, and they stay with me as well.

~~~

Like Psychobabble on Facebook, so that we’ll never have to say goodbye.  And so you’ll also hear my voice in your head.

We Put Birds On Things!

I have a big announcement, you guys.

Guess what, Psychos?!

This shit is happening, y'all.

This shit is happening, y’all.

Portland, Oregon is about to get a little bit crazier, folks.

The story is that Brian got his dream job, and this is our time to pick up and move to seek new adventures!

You hear that, World?!

This is our time!

I can’t wait to sign up for clown school and sit around eating vegan muffins on my days off.

But, in all seriousness, I am excited, but I am also scared and sad and anxious.

We’ve been living in the same place for the past 5 years, and this has been the longest time we’ve been in once place since leaving our childhood homes to go to college.  We can’t believe our luck in how our lives just fell into place here in Northern California.  We both found jobs in our fields, we found a town and an apartment we both love, and we were close to our families.  Even though we’ve been complaining about living in an apartment, living in a college town with noisy shitheads, complaining that we’ve learned all we can from our current jobs…I’m scared that we won’t have such good luck again.  This had to be a fluke, right?  Couldn’t have possibly been from hard work and compromise…that would just make too much sense.

This is also the first time I’ll be moving and not have something waiting for me on the other side – either a job or school or family.  That’s scary for me.  I’ll be supported by my husband, and while we both accept that and it’s what we signed up for, I’m still used to pulling my own weight.  For the past 5 years, I’ve been 100% financially independent for the first time in my life, and it’s felt pretty damn fantastic.  I know I won’t be giving up freedom, but I feel like I’ll be giving up a little bit of pride…at least temporarily.

There’s also the logistical aspect of this freakshow in getting all our shizz up to Razorblade City.  I never moved as a kid.  When I was 3, my parents moved us into the house that they continue to live in to this day.  My soul will shrivel up and die if they ever sell it.  Seriously, I’ll chain myself to the front door.

Anyways, the point is that I don’t really know how to move.  I hate moving.  I also hate feeling like my stuff owns me, and right about now I am finding out that I have a crapton of stuff.  The stuff outnumbers me; it could totally bury me and claim my life and make it look like a freak accident.  We’ve made the hard decision to have movers pack our stuff for us, because there’s no other way we’re taming this domestic jungle.

And then there’s the cat.  She’s only been in a car 4 times, and each of those times, she’s howled like a banshee going through a meth withdrawal, save for when we’re stopped at red lights.  I don’t know why, but I love this furry poosack like nothing else, and those screeches just cut straight through my heart.  The only solution – she’s getting doped up.  That’s right, Poopstick, you’re going to get high and you’re going to pass out so I can drive you in peace for 10+ hours.  You are not going to piss in my car.  You’re not going to throw up the meds.  Don’t make me regret signing up to be your human mother.

So there you have it.  I know the excitement will grow on me once I get past the hairy logistics.  I have a feeling we’re going to jive really well in the land of evergreen trees and unicycling hipsters – where composting is mandatory, where food is delicious and organic and plentiful, and where people suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (named SAD for a reason) and will desperately need my services.

Please hire me, Portland.

~~~~

Please also like Psychobabble on Facebook.  It’s where young people go to retire.

Tolerating Sadness

In my experience, sadness is not tolerated well or at all.  It is not given much room, and it is not given nearly enough time.  It is shamed.  It is seen as weak.  It is hidden and dealt with privately, or not at all.  Often times, it’s covered up and comes out disguised as another feeling altogether.

Has anyone ever told you to: Cheer up!  Look on the bright side!  Everything will be ok.  Don’t cry.  You need to move on.  Get over it.

I don’t know about you, but when I feel sad and someone tells me something like what I listed above, it makes me feel even worse.  It makes me feel like there is no room for my sadness.  My feelings are not ok.  Not only that, but that you (the person invalidating my feelings) cannot tolerate my sadness for some reason.  A person’s reaction to another’s feelings says a lot about how Person 1 deals (or doesn’t deal) with strong emotions.  I see, so you need me to be ok, or at least appear to be ok, because you can’t handle your own tough feelings and thus can’t help me by bearing witness to mine.  I get that.  I get that you can’t help another person until you’ve processed through your own stuff to some degree.

Because when I share my sadness with you, I am not asking you to fix it.  I am not asking you to cheer me up.  I am asking you to bear witness.  I am asking you to join me in empathy, just for a little bit.  And yeah, that can be uncomfortable.  Sadness isn’t easy.  It’s extremely vulnerable and humbling.  But it also takes courage.

Have you ever cried in front of another person?  And I mean outright balling.  The Ugly Cry.  Sure, sometimes it just happens and we can’t help it, but for the most part, that takes huge amounts of courage.  If I am showing my delicate, fragile underbelly of sadness to you, it means I trust you.  I’m hoping you’ll understand me, but even if you don’t, my hope is that you respect the feeling and don’t push it away.

Sometimes I find myself get swept up in the urge to fix, especially when I’m the “expert” at work and it’s my job to help people feel better.  With one client, the one positive thing she identified in her life was her dog, so I started asking questions about him.  What was his name?  What breed?  How old was he?  And my client stopped me, her face dripping with fresh tears.

I know what you’re doing, she said, And I want you to stop it.

What am I doing? I asked.

You’re trying to make me feel better, and it won’t work.

And you know what?  She was right.  At least for that moment, she just needed to sit there and cry, and she wanted me to just sit there with her.  And so she told me to back off, and I did.  We just sat.  Because even for me, the “expert,” I can’t magically fix things if the client isn’t there yet.  She wasn’t done feeling sad, simple as that.

Looking back on that session, I realized that, at least initially, I was feeling uncomfortable with her sadness.  And this wasn’t just sadness, it was despair.  It was dark and heavy and…scary.  I was afraid for her, and also for my professional self.  Was she going to be ok?  Was she feeling suicidal?  Was I doing my job to help keep her safe?  All these things were going through my mind.  It would be great if I just reminded her about all the glorious things in this world and she’d snap out of it.  That would certainly make me feel like a miracle worker.  It would make me feel good about myself and my abilities as a therapist.  It would stop reminding me that life is often very hard and scary.  But it also wouldn’t help.

My client reminded me, not so subtly, about my training: You have to start where the client is.  You just have to, or it won’t work.  I had to join her in her despair.  I had to put myself in her shoes and think to myself, if I had been through everything that she had been through, would I feel the same way?  Hell yes I would.

This reminds me of one of my most favorite sad movies ever.  You know those times when you want to cry, but can’t?  You need a catalyst, something to open the flood gates.  When I feel that way, I put on What Dreams May Come.  (SPOILER ALERT)  It’s about love and family and death and suffering.  A man dies and his wife then commits suicide.  He goes to heaven and she goes to hell.  The man travels to hell to find her and bring her to heaven.  Against all odds, he finds her in hell, but she doesn’t know him.  She’s suffering tremendously, and she’s lost.  Unable to get her to recognize him or come with him, the man decides to join her.  He decides to give up everything to be with her, even in hell.  And only by joining her does he help to save her in the end.

Even though this example is rather dramatic, the core concept is true.  I am reminded of this again and again when I forget.

How do you express your sadness?  How do you express your sadness to others?  How do you let people know that it’s ok for them to share their sadness with you?

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