Reclaiming My 2017

2017 has been a tough year.

I feel like I’ve been saying that every year since…2013, which…sucks. It makes me feel bad. It worries me, along the lines of, Is this my life now? (meaning: life=tough)

I want to talk about my challenges here, partly so I can continue to process them, and also so I can let people know about what’s been going on in my internal world all this time. I’d like to be able to talk about the hard stuff with people I see in person on a regular basis, but having screaming kids running around is not the easiest way to begin the conversation.

I’ve always been a fairly anxious person. I’ve inherited it, I’ve found ways to cope with it, I’ve found ways to power through it, and I’ve accepted it as a part of my life (but not who I am).

But.

This year, I’ve been the most anxious (and occasionally depressed) I’ve ever been and it’s been largely unbearable.

As I look back through pictures that were taken of me over the past year, many of my smiles have been pasted on over massive amounts of anxiety, worry, and irritability. A general inability to calm the fuck down and enjoy any moment of what is happening in front of me.

The tulip festival. A Mother’s Day tea. Playdates. Storytimes. Trips to California.

I remember talking to a friend in early summer and telling her how I had experienced some depression after having my first kid, but that it started to get better after about six months (as did the weather). At that point, it was passed the six month mark (which I realize is totally arbitrary) after having my second kid, and I told her that my symptoms weren’t going away- they were getting worse. It worried me. Actually, it scared the hell outta me.

I remember coming home from a Mother’s Day tea, where my kids were just in the other room from me, being cared for by teenagers I had just met. I sat there rigid, sweating, mind racing. I ate and drank and made conversation and tried SO HARD to enjoy the kid-free time. But it was too much (what was it, I ask myself). I burst into uncontrollable sobs to my husband when I got home. It was all just too hard. Everything felt wrong.

I knew I needed to get back into therapy, but I felt so overwhelmed on a daily basis that I didn’t have the time or the energy to start looking for a therapist. I emailed one of my therapist friends who lives clear across the country late one night to confess to her exactly how much of a shit time I was having. She did an amazing thing and researched therapists in my area and sent me a list of three to check out. It was a godsend.

I started therapy in June, and it was slow-going at first. Of course, therapists make THE WORST clients and I imagine I’m no exception. I want therapy to work and I want it to work YESTERDAY. I overthink everything. I start critiquing her choice of decor and start mentally taking notes for when I eventually go back to work. Mainly, I just wanted to dive in and get to the hard stuff asap so I could feel some freaking relief.

Since then, my anxiety has ebbed and flowed. For a few weeks in September, right after my oldest started going to school for the first time, I thought I had this beat. And then it came back full force for no apparent reason and it’s interfering with my sleep, which has been devastating. For the longest time, I blamed it on the cat and her early morning howling. Everyone around me heard about it. Well, we worked around the cat issue, and wouldn’t you know, it’s not the damn cat. It’s just plain irrational, raging-fire-in-my-chest anxiety. How mortifying.

The straw that broke the camel’s back for me, at least recently, was that I had a panic attack. And it was in front of my kids. It scared me to death and I just can’t live like that. I won’t have my kids growing up being worried about their mom falling apart like that. What a horribly embarrassing and terrifying experience, as any of you who have had one surely knows.

I have held out this long against trying medication as an option, but after that, I swallowed what little pride I had left and called my health insurance and made an appointment for a med eval for January. I surrender.

I read some research that said if people are given some sort of escape button that promises a bad experience will immediately end if pushed, they are more likely and able to endure said experience. Case in point, I’ve had clients before who got anti-anxiety meds only to carry them around in their purses and never actually take them. Maybe an escape button is all I need? We’ll see…

I feel held captive by this monster, this thing. I’m desperately trying not to be in constant fear of it, nor constantly battling it. I’m exhausted. I don’t have time for this shit. What saddens me most – THE MOST – is the thought that I’m so incredibly preoccupied, terrified, irritable, utterly exhausted, that I’ll look back on my kids’ young lives and realize…I missed it.

Somehow, I must reclaim my life. (Ugh, that sounds so dramatic, written with tears rolling down my face.) Because this isn’t me, and this isn’t how I want to live. It’s not the mother I want to be, or the wife, or the friend, etc. This motherfucker is trying to rob me blind and I won’t let him. Kicking and screaming.

Me writing this, and putting this out there for people to read, is partly how I fight. Because anxiety wants me to stay silent. Anxiety wants me to shut myself in and cower in fear. Anxiety doesn’t want me to feel joy.

Well…fuck you.

Fill Your Bucket

This post I originally wrote on November 19, 2012 – almost exactly 5 years ago. While my life looks a whole lot different now, I still make sure that I fill my bucket. In fact, now that I have kids, it’s even more important than ever.


NaBloPoMo Day 17

Psychobabble

The other day, one of my clients started to ask me a personal question in the domestic violence support group I run.  I could feel it coming.

“Hey Melissa, I don’t mean to pry into your business, but I was just curious…”

My blood pressure started to rise.  I could feel my armpits start producing more sweat than usual, which meant that I’d soon soak through my shirt and be stuck to my cheap office chair until lunch.  My face started to get hot, and I knew, I just knew, that my face was starting to turn red.  I hate that.

So which question was it going to be?  Was I married?  Did I have kids?  How long had I been doing this work?  Do I know what it’s like to be a victim of violence?  Did I have to use a prescription strength deodorant?

“…how is it that…

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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.