Freedom, PSL, and Winning

Holy crap, it’s here.

Right here, right now, I’m experiencing my first little break where both my kids are in school.

The first ever. Because I don’t have family in town (or in state), and because I haven’t worked outside the home, and because we can’t afford childcare all the time, this is the first time I’m having a legit break during the week since these kids have been alive.

At the same time I’m both crazy ecstatic and utterly lost.

I’ve realized I need to construct a precarious balance in order to maintain my mental health. At least, sometimes it feels precarious. If i don’t have enough to do, or places to go, or people to see, I quickly slip into feeling depressed. purposeless. empty. And if i have too much to do – if i am going from activity to activity with little downtime – then I find myself feeling anxious. exhausted. used up. unhinged, even. Kinda wild and manic, but in a bad way. In a way that feels unsafe and uncontrolled.

Now that my kids are in school and getting into activities of their own, I am concerned that I will have an even harder time managing my own activities and obligations along with theirs, that this delicate balance between stagnation and white water rapids will be even trickier to maintain. It’ll be interesting to see how much my kids will want to be involved in stuff, especially versus how much or little I’ll want them to be involved in stuff.

Balance, balance, balance.

In order to keep myself from going nuts or feeling empty during these small, sweet pockets of kid-free time, methinks I’m going to have to plan and schedule. Even if it’s just planning to watch TV or hang out at Starbucks.

Today, I am congratulating myself on a spectacular first morning of freedom. Observe the following:

1. I dropped off my daughter without crying (I cried on the inside)

2. I promptly posted my daughter’s totes adorbs First Preschool Ever pic to the interwebs.

3. I signed up for a gym membership for the first time ever. Weeeeeird.

4. I’m having my first PSL of the season and it tastes like sweet, delicious with the crispness of a Fall morning and the excitement of a zombie chase!

5. I got several MOMS Club business items DONE with the taste of synthetic pumpkin in my mouth.

6. I just got an email from my local library saying I won a prize through their adult summer reading program and I AM STOKED. I don’t know what it is but this is me, THOROUGHLY STOKED.

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Pumpkin-flavored Freedom

 

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The Other Shoe

Anxiety is so freakin weird, you guys.

For the past several weeks I’ve actually been on a really good kick. My anxiety has stolen morning sleep from me only….twice (three times?) lately, and once was because I decided it was a great idea to watch Bird Box.

As a rule, I’ll never say I’ve beaten anxiety or that I’ve banished it from my mind and body forever. I know that’s wishful thinking, but it’s just not going to happen. Anxiety, in acute, appropriate doses, is actually healthy and adaptive. It keeps us out of danger.

Anxiety has always kinda been in the background of my life, but for the past two years it’s been (almost) ever-present. Right now, I seem to be in one of those almost times when I get to have a break. To a certain degree, I can enjoy these times. But then a funny thing happens. I don’t even know what to call it. It’s this state of mind where I’m worried that I’m forgetting about something that should be causing me anxiety. (I just reread that sentence, and yes, I know exactly how crazy that sounds.) It’s because anxiety has been my BFF, glued to my side, banging around in my brain, burning a hole in my chest, hitching a ride on my back, for so frickin long now, that when she’s gone, it feels…unnerving. Weird. Not normal.

It’s like waiting for the other shoe to drop.

So even though it’s a “break,” I still find myself having to do a lot of daily (sometimes hourly) work reminding myself that I’m safe, my kids are safe, the sky is not falling.

First, I stop and ask myself if what I am feeling is, in fact, anxiety. If the answer is no, then I employ a certain flavor of self-talk and any number of mantras I’ve collected over the years that feels helpful.

I am safe now.

I will figure it out.

I have nothing to be worried about.

Everything is going to be okay.

There is nothing wrong.

I have everything I need.

I am capable.

I am healthy.

Sometimes, it feels ridiculous that I actually have to say these things to myself, and that I have to say them so often. But, as I spontaneously explained it to my husband the other day, because I’ve dealt with anxiety so intensely for so long, it’s been seared into the neural pathways in my brain. Responding to situations with panic has become automatic, and the process of interrupting and rewiring those pathways is long and hard. The good news, however, is that it’s possible. In no way am I doomed to always feel this way.

And so, I do my best to inject hope into this shitstorm that is all too often my life.

Please continue to wish me luck, and I’ll keep telling my anxiety to go to hell, where it belongs.

Learning How to Sail My Ship

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One of my good friends sent me this card a while ago. It was shortly after my second kid was born and I had posted something about how hard the adjustment was. The card was unexpected, and I remember sitting in my car after opening the envelope and having a little cathartic cry.

As you can see, the card lives right behind my bathroom sink. I’ve been staring at it at least twice a day for about a year and a half. It’s probably pretty gross by now, with toothpaste and makeup and germs.

The quote on the card says, “I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship.” I didn’t believe it for a very long time. I couldn’t say it in the first person, where “I” was in my voice. There are some days when I don’t feel the fear, when I feel rested and calm and confident. But heck, there are plllllenty of days when the fear is there and I’m worried that I won’t ever be able to shake it.

Tangent: I took this picture last July, when I was experiencing a great break from anxiety. And that’s what it was, looking back – a break – and not some triumphant ending to a horrible story. I keep expecting to reach some kind of finish line with this junk. I really want future me to pop in and let me know just how long this phase of semi-anxiety-ridden life is going to last…or will it never leave?! The not knowing sucks, and I’m still trying to make peace with that and take things day by day. Ugh.

Back to the card. I never had any issue identifying with the second part. Absolutely, I am learning. I’m always learning. I like learning. Yup. But that first part…somehow I felt like my goal should be about abolishing my fear, getting rid of my anxiety, and so every time it’s come back over the last year and a half, I’ve felt…disappointed, sad, scared, and full of shame.

I am reminded about a conversation I had with a friend about that one TV show Running Wild with Bear Grylls. She commented about how scared one of the female guests had been on the show, with the implication that her fear was something undesirable or weak. My response to her was that yeah, she had been scared out of her mind, but she still did it, and she was badass. And that’s the definition of courage, anyway right? It’s not about the absence of fear, it’s about feeling fear and doing it anyway. Honestly, a large portion of my life has been that way.

And so. I feel like I need to change the card a little bit. Maybe something like, “I am afraid of storms sometimes [or most of the time. lots. like, maybe almost all the time], but I’m learning how to sail my ship…right through them.”

PS – I’ve used the terms fear and anxiety interchangeably in the post because of the wording of the card, but in my reality they mean very different things.

PPS – Please excuse the product placement. Or maybe don’t. Perhaps Aveeno would be willing to sponsor this post. Call me! Pay for my anxiety meds!

A Surprised No

Everyone, knock on wood for me first. Seriously, do it.

Ok, good.

So…I’ve been feeling pretty good lately, anxiety-wise. My therapist mentioned that it’s the longest I’ve gone since I started seeing her since I’ve had an anxiety flare up. I didn’t believe her at first, but she’s right. I counted, and it’s been 36 days. Granted, I’ve had a few moments when I felt my panic creep in, but on all of those occasions in the last 36 days I’ve been able to squash them. Holy crap.

I need one of those workplace signs that reads “X Days Accident Free!” only replace “accident” with the other A-word.

Oh yeah, and this accomplishment is medication-free, by the way. And not that I planned it that way, either. I actually had an argument with my (now ex) psych nurse practitioner over the phone. Ugh. I suppose what happened is that I’ve been doing my homework on meds, and I had an opinion on what I wanted and what might work for me. I want something more as needed because 1) I didn’t like how the blood pressure med made me feel, and 2) I’m getting to a stage where my anxiety isn’t every day anymore. Unfortunately, she disagreed with me and basically refused my request, and not very politely. I didn’t feel like she listened to me and her bedside manner was crap, honestly. Sooooo we ended the conversation with me in tears and without a new prescription. Now I’m worried she’s written in my chart that I’m one of those demanding med-seekers. Sigh.

But, strangely, I’ve been fine. Pretty good, even. I’m on a waiting list for another pnp, but I may not pursue drug-drugs, I dunno. In the meantime I’ve been enlisting the help of a naturopath to see about tackling some of these pesky health issues, anxiety included, in a more homeopathic way. We’ll see how that goes.

Now I’m left fighting the urge to be hypervigilant about if and when the anxiety returns.

My therapist tells me not to go down that rabbit hole, and that it’s a when, not an if. The anxiety will return at some point – accept it. And when it does, I will deal with it. Ugh. I don’t like thinking about it, but that’s what is going to happen.

Sometimes I check in with myself during the day, where I’ll actually ask myself, “Am I anxious right now?” Because too often I think I just assume I’m always anxious and that’s who I am, that’s my normal. Not so. More often now, the answer is a surprised no.

I like surprised nos.

Here I Am

This is going to be one of those stream-of-consciousness posts because I haven’t blogged in forever, I really feel the urge to write and create, but I have no idea what I want to say. So here I am, with some ALONE TIME at Starbucks, and I’m just going to write and see what comes out.

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Traditionally, this should have happened on my birthday. I usually run away on the anniversary of my birth so I can be alone and write, but this year my birthday landed on a Saturday and so my partner and I decided to take advantage and hire a babysitter (for the second time ever) to get away together and it was glorious. Seriously, the day was pretty close to perfect. A quick recap:

  • Woke up before the kids and went to yoga
  • Upon getting ready for yoga, found roses and VooDoo Donuts left out for me!!!
  • Came home from yoga, had coffee and donuts with the family
  • Got ready and gleefully left the kids with the babysitter
  • Got surprised (I knew we were going somewhere, just didn’t know where) with sushi in Portland, followed by a movie (Ladybird)
  • Yummy takeout for dinner
  • After putting the kids to bed, I watched the last episode of Handmaid’s Tale (!!!!) while soaking alone in my tub
  • The cherry on top? Anxiety did not get in the way of my enjoyment that day. Serious win for me.

So all of a sudden I’m 35.  (aaaaand made it to 15 years cancer free. Huzzah!)

I am pretty much where I thought I might be in life except that I didn’t plan on Oregon and I didn’t plan on staying home with the kids, but here I am.

I also didn’t plan on being a nervous wreck as a mom, now that I think about it.

I’ve been meaning to blog about my continued adventures with anxiety and my efforts to prevent it and treat it. About 4 weeks ago I went in for my medication evaluation and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I was already nervous, because 1) new experience, 2) driving to a new place, and 3) psych meds kinda freak me out.

First off, I didn’t like the Psych Nurse Practitioner much. She seemed dismissive, she lectured me, and she wasn’t all that sensitive or empathetic. Ugh.

She asked me to go over the history of my presenting issues, and I did so very briefly. She then started to problem solve at me: “Have you tried this? Or This?”

I bristled. I explained that I had a therapist, I’ve talked about my anxiety ad nauseum, that I’ve been dealing with this for an entire year, and that medication was my very last resort. Yes, I’ve tried everything. I could go on for hours about all the things I’ve tried. Now I’m here for meds.

I understand she needed to make sure I wasn’t just med-seeking, but I really didn’t feel like wasting time going over every little detail of my coping regimen, let alone with someone with whom I wasn’t really jiving.

After a lecture about how important sleep is (yes, honey, that’s why I’m here), she went over some med options and I was surprised when she recommended a beta blocker. Her logic was that since anxiety really is my primary issue, let’s make my autonomic nervous system calm the fuck down by lowering my blood pressure. She also chose this med because I mentioned having fairly frequent migraines and it’s supposed to prevent those. Ok, sounds good.

And then I started having anxiety about taking the damn meds.

I worried about how they’d make me feel. How bad were the side effects? Would I have to try something else? How long and arduous would this journey through the medication worm hole be?

Enough time has gone by, that I can confidently say…there are mixed results. I definitely feel a decrease in my daily anxiety. My quality of sleep has gone up.

But. I’ve been dizzy. Nauseated. I’ve had 4 migraines in 4 weeks, waaaay more than normal (W.T.F.). I’ve been so.COLD. And sometimes I just feel…off. Like my heart is beating too slow. I dunno.

At the moment the NP and I have agreed to try a half dose before moving on to something else. So far, that seems better, but not all the way better. Better enough? I don’t know. And don’t worry, my BP continues to be normal.

Trying another tactic, I’ve also made an appointment with a Naturopath to see about preventing my anxiety, headaches, fatigue, etc. I bet you all these things might – just might – be connected, since they all live inside my one body and all.

So I feel like I’m trying all the things.

What surprised me is that I seem to be having a hard time celebrating the small victories, or even recognizing them at all.  I was bitching to a friend about the side effects I was experiencing that I had completely forgotten that my anxiety had indeed significantly decreased until she asked me.

I had to think about it. “Yeah…it’s better. Huh.”

“That’s great!”

“Yeah, I guess it is.”

Ugh. What is this?! It just feels like I’m always fighting some battle. Something’s always in the way. My therapist reminded me that not all of my anxiety is going to evaporate. That some anxiety, some of the time, is normal.

Oh yeah.

Seriously, I forgot.

I’ve been trying hard to turn my negative thought processes around. I’ve been paying extra attention to those professional mom bloggers we see in our Facebook feeds that post stuff about giving ourselves a break and cutting out the mom-shaming bullshit. All of that is so much easier said than done, but I’m working on it.

One example that really spoke to me: we can be hot messes and be good moms. That they exist together. Because boy howdy, I feel like both. I can be both.

I fear this post has gone on too long. It’s meandering, but it’s where I am.

 

Dramatic. Irrational. Crazy.

My last blog post turned out to be really cathartic to write. I expected that it would be, just not to the extent that it was.

I woke up the next morning and temporarily forgot about the post. Then I picked up my phone and saw the dozen or so alerts about it and went oh yeah.

As I laid there in bed before getting up for the day, I started to read the comments- some public, some private – and tears started streaming down my face. They were good tears. I cried several more times that day, and it was all good. It was like I had been carrying a weight around with me for months and I finally set it down, only I didn’t start to feel lighter until the morning after.

The weight isn’t completely gone, and I’m not sure it ever will be, because I’m human. But it sure feels better. I’ve had conversations and little how are yous and coffee dates with friends that I wouldn’t have had if I hadn’t written that post. It broke the ice that was floating on top of my ocean of anxiety that wouldn’t have been broken otherwise.

I’m very glad I wrote it. And since it worked so well, I’m going to keep doing it. What did one of my friends say? (I went and found it.) She said, “Putting it out there seems to somehow take away a little of the power.” She’s right, it does. I’m taking the power back.

So, onto another aspect of my anxiety: health and mortality.

As many of you know, I had ovarian cancer at age 19. Initially, I was incorrectly diagnosed with IBS, because who thinks a 19-year-old with bloating and constipation has cancer? No one. I was in college and living on my own, cooking for myself for the first time (if you could call what I was doing “cooking”) and so it made sense. I was eating crap and full of stress! Not to worry.

But what happens when the worst diagnosis possible actually comes true? To be fair, it wasn’t the worst possible because my life was never threatened. However, the c-word is fucking scary, shocking, and not at all what was expected.

What resulted after surgery was several things: 1) depression because my life had been put on hold- I had had to take the semester off from college and move away from friends and back in with my parents, and 2) anxiety because I was given a recurrence rate of 30% (THIRTY. PERCENT.) where the only available treatment was more surgery.

Time passed. I had cancer checkups every three months with normal results. I volunteered, got a summer job, went back to school, moved out. My life resumed and I moved forward.

But.

The anxiety never really went away. For ten years, in the back of my mind I wondered, worried if I was going to be able to have kids. But I also worried every time I got sick.

Was it the flu? OR WAS IT PNEUMONIA?!

Was I just constipated? OR HAS MY CANCER COME BACK?!

Do I need glasses? OR DO I HAVE GLAUCOMA?!

Am I just anxious and hopped-up on coffee? OR DO I HAVE DANGEROUSLY HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE?

Am I having a panic attack? OR AM I DYING FROM A HEART ATTACK?!

All this may look super dramatic, but it’s my truth. (And anxiety is just that- DRAMATIC. Irrational. Crazy.) Of course you try not to expect the worst, and most times, it’s not the worst, but it happened to me. That one time, the worst actually happened and it has fucked me up ever since. If it happened once, who’s to say it won’t happen again?

The icing on the cake is that now that I’m a mom, this anxiety extends to my kids. I worry when they get sick. I have a hard time deciding when to freak out and when to be cool because my freak out meter is extremely warped.

Take this one step further and I worry about dying and leaving my kids. This isn’t always a conscious worry, but it’s more a general mortality fear that’s always at the back of my brain. This fear is normal. But what isn’t normal is when my anxiety takes it and runs a marathon with it.

Because I analyze everything to the point of exhaustion, I quickly realized that what led to my recent panic attack was a perfect storm of mortality triggers. Observe:

  1. Several weeks prior, a family member my age had a serious and shocking heart attack.
  2. I was reading Sheryl Sandberg’s book about her husband’s sudden, untimely death and how she was left to cope raising two young kids by herself (one of my worst nightmares).
  3. A few hours prior, I found out an old friend’s brother unexpectedly died.
  4. A few minutes prior, I was experiencing heartburn which my anxiety mistook as chest pains.

don’t panic!

Right then and there, I thought some of my worst fears were coming true, and it took me a minute to convince myself otherwise and calm the fuck down.

Writing this, unpacking it, and breaking it down really helps me. I need to understand this beast so I can kill it. (Or at least trap it and tame it?) This issue is next on the growing list of things I plan to tackle in therapy, but since therapy is only once a week, I figured I’d get a jump start.

Does anyone else out there feel this way about health/illness/motherhood/mortality?

Is anyone else out there fighting to keep their anxiety in check?

I see you [anxiety]. I see you and I’m onto you.

 

Cancer, Yoga, and Becoming a Parent

I wrote this guest post on a friend’s blog in 2014 when I was pregnant with my first kiddo. It serves as a good reminder about how mindfulness and physical activity remain crucial elements of my mental health and self-care regimen.


NaBloPoMo Day 24

Crazy Good Parent

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I started practicing yoga soon after I had surgery to treat ovarian cancer. The surgery was my only treatment, as my kind of cancer wouldn’t respond to chemo or radiation. The cancer had fully engulfed my left ovary, which they removed, and my right ovary remained, although my surgeon said they scraped cancerous growths off its surface.

“We can’t promise anything,” was the answer I got when I asked about my fertility status. Growing up, I always knew I wanted to be a mom, in this passive way of knowing – I didn’t have to think about it, I just knew. Well, nothing made me realize just how badly I wanted to be a mom until there was a distinct possibility that I couldn’t.

That was 11 years ago; I was 20 years old.

Now, at age 31, I am happily pregnant with my first child, and I am counting…

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What to Expect When You’re Exhausted

I’m going to need some seriously awesome suggestions for family Halloween costumes, you guys.

Cuz my seriously knocked-up self is going to be pretty huge by then, so I gotta take full advantage of this costume-wearing opportunity.

Yup, you heard me.  I’m preggers again and it hardly feels real.

Well, so far it just feels exhausting and I doubt that will change for a very, very long time.  I wish I could go back to my pregnant-for-the-first-time-self and tell her how easy she had it.  She could rest and nap whenever she wanted.  She could eat whenever she wanted.  She could watch whatever she wanted on TV, whenever.  And she didn’t have a demanding, energetic toddler to waddle after.  Ugh, this is hard.

And the scary thing is, I only see it getting harder.  How do SAHMs take care of a toddler and a newborn?  I don’t see how it’s possible, and I have no idea how I’m going to do it.

I worry about my mental health.  It’ll be winter, it’ll be cold and rainy.  I’m not going to want to go anywhere, and I’ll feel alone.

I have hope in knowing that this phase will be temporary.  That I got through it before, and I’ll get through it again.  That I have some good mommy instincts and that I have some great tools and experience under my belt that I didn’t have the first time.  That the kids will grow and change and gradually become more independent from me.  And at the same time, I don’t want to already be wishing away all the cuddly newborn snuggle time.

So there you have it- exciting and terrifying all intertwined.

But seriously – ideas for Halloween???

 

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.

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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