Gratitude as a Trigger

This is something I wrote after I found myself talking relentlessly at the opening of a session to avoid feeling/saying/thinking something. I wasn’t sure what that something was, but this letter helped me realize that I become very triggered by feeling and especially expressing gratitude.

Dear Therapist,

Lately I find myself becoming overwhelmed with emotions when I think of you. I suppose that’s nothing new because most of the time I’ve known you has left me struggling to regulate and understand the feelings I have around you and our relationship.

But I think maybe the juxtaposition of how shitty my mother is against how good you are is making me feel a little chaotic inside my head.

I just watched the film “Lady Bird”. The mother is a lot like mine:

There’s this scene where she clearly feels hurt, angry, betrayed, whatever by the daughter, Lady Bird. She’s storming around the house, very aggressively doing chores while Lady Bird begs her to talk to her. She tells her mother that she’s sorry and she knows she’s bad, she knows she lied. Yet still, she so desperately needs her mother to see her, to acknowledge her presence, and HER pain. Even at 17 years old she desperately needs her mother to help her regulate all the BIG feelings she’s having and her mother refuses. Seemingly because she is unable. She cannot regulate herself, so how could she possibly model that for her child?

I once heard a podcast where someone said,

“We can only take someone as far as we have gone ourselves.”

And I think about that all the time  – how my mom and dad are so limited in what they could ever really do for me. I’m not sure I understand how much of that is because they simply cannot go further, versus what very often seems like an absolute unwillingness to be a better fucking person. I may never know, and maybe it’s not important. But it really pisses me off because it is so deeply disappointing.

And I’ll be honest – I’m so tired of being disappointed.

Which isn’t to say that you aren’t disappointing because you are, regularly. Sometimes because you do shit that pisses me off, by which I mostly mean that I create a story in which you’ve hurt and betrayed me yet again.

I mean, regardless, you’re human and I’m still learning to be okay with that. And how to be okay with all the ways you will continue to disappoint me because you cannot ever be everything I want and need you to be. I hate that so much.

Even this letter! I haven’t really tried to write like this since I created a little ceremony to commemorate two years of therapy with you. My knee-jerk reaction to that hour is always a jolt of humiliation. I tell myself it was embarrassing to be so sentimental and demonstrative with my emotions.

But it wasn’t. Not really.

It was vulnerable as fuck to do and I was heartbroken with disappointment, but that’s not inherently humiliating. I just felt so ashamed at how desperate I was to connect with you over this moment that felt so important. It didn’t happen the way I suppose I’d imagined or hoped so I automatically assumed it was shit and you didn’t care.

But you did care, probably. In your own way.

My point is – this is hard! I’m always nervous to tell you the ways you hurt me or frustrate me, but it is terrifying to try and explain or even simply acknowledge how important and transformative and special this relationship is to me.

Maybe “special” isn’t the right word, it’s kind of creepy. But I guess “unique” or even “unexpected”.

I could carry on about how you’re kind to me and you don’t actively harm me, but I don’t even think that’s it.

It’s like:

I don’t know your story. I don’t know what pain or loss or traumas you’ve had to overcome. I don’t know the work you’ve done, but I know you’ve done it. And I know that because I don’t think I would be here if you hadn’t already been here. How could you take me further than you’ve been yourself?

(And this is imperfect, but I think the overall point is right.)

Which I think – and this is one of those things that’s scary to say to you – but in the moments that I start to question the process or why I’m even doing this or if it’s worth it…when I feel lonely and like no one else would ever get what it’s like to engage in this work, it often helps to remind myself that it’s NOT work I do alone.

And I don’t have to scream or cry or throw things or desperately beg for you to see me and hear me and acknowledge my pain.

I keep telling myself that I’m afraid to feel close to you, to be connected to you, to feel good with you. I think I really mean that I’m afraid you won’t care or respond to that closeness or good feelings in the right way.

And, mostly, you won’t.

But, I don’t know, I guess it would be nice if I could stop telling myself that I’m a garbage person because you don’t respond perfectly to each moment I’m wanting you to get it right.

Though sometimes you do get it right, whatever that means.

(Also, I’m not a garbage person because there are no garbage people.)

The other day it occurred to me that I am legitimately fat right now. It made me sad and angry, but then I thought,

“I wonder what it would mean if I were allowed to be fat?”

Meaning, what if I’m fat and that’s okay?

Anyway it seemed like a fucking revelation and I thought of you. Of the space you give me to just exist and I guess the idea of being allowed to be fat sounds a lot like being allowed to exist.

This is all very vulnerable and I’m concerned you’ll think it’s corny, but maybe I’m allowed to be corny, too.

So, yeah, I think of you a lot and how even though you didn’t and you don’t do it for me, I’m really grateful that you’ve done the work. I’m grateful you found this work and I found you and here we are, working together. Both apart and parallel to each other.

Whatever. You’re great and it means a lot that I get to have you as my therapist.

Sometimes I am overwhelmed with gratitude. I think that’s a new one for me!

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Sex and Authority

*Trigger warning*

Thoughts I scribbled down Thursday after a particularly intense session:

I think I’m fusing together today’s session and conversations from the other day when we were talking about my dad and what happened the time my parents called the police on me.

You said something today, something about “bringing him into the therapy space” and how when I do that, I’m wanting you to do something or partake in something as a sort of compulsive repetition, possibly related to, or similar to, what I wanted FROM my dad.

So then I’m thinking, like, YES! I mean, I probably offered him a blowjob to avoid arrest, but there was so much more to that action…

Yet, STILL, I am the one who wanted him to respond to my seduction.

And, my god, that is not the only time I did that, which makes me think of “Dr. Christmas Tree” and the blowjob I gave him to avoid losing my privileges in the psychiatric hospital.

Then I think about how, early on in our work together, you said you sensed an underlying “sexual tension” in the dynamic I had with Zooey.

And so, I don’t know, I guess I’m just feeling like I brought a lot of this shit on myself.

Because I’m also thinking that, in all honesty, if the end game here isn’t that you and I will somehow have sex, then what is even the point of being in therapy with you?

Skipped Session

In the two and a half years I’ve been seeing my therapist, I have never once skipped a session. We’ve had to do a LOT of rearranging and rescheduling appointments to fit my various school and work schedules, but I’ve always shown up. I was 30 minutes late once because I had the wrong appointment time. I was devastated.

But today, I skipped my appointment.

I called my therapist yesterday to talk to her about all the intense fear and anxiety I’m having right now around seeing her. She’s going on a two week vacation next week and I’ve been having a difficult time with that ever since she told me. But on top of that (or, perhaps, because of that), I’m really struggling to feel connected to her.

I saw her three times last week while on my own vacation with family in town. I wanted so much to share all of the joy, excitement, sadness, grief, anger, and myriad other emotions I was experiencing but I couldn’t. I tried, but there was this sense that I needed to hold back. There was a wall there, a wall I am sure I put up myself but I was having trouble figuring out why or how to navigate around or above it.

Which felt awful. The worst moments in therapy for me are when I am really needing or wanting to feel close and connected to my therapist, but can’t figure out how to get there. It feels completely chaotic within my internal landscape and the sense of sheer helplessness I feel is unbearable.

The phone conversation we had was similar. I felt that she was being abrupt with me. I think she felt I was being manipulative and self-destructive, which is probably true. But I needed to be seen and heard. I needed her to just SEE how much I’m hurting and struggling; how dangerous this all feels.

She made some comments that felt sarcastic and flippant, like

“I think you should come in, but it’s your decision so you can do what you want.”

(duh). Or

“If you think three weeks off is better than two, than go ahead and skip this week’s sessions.”

(Um, I don’t really know WHAT is better, which is why I called you!)

Since there’s no tone of voice in a blog post, it’s hard for me to convey how this sounded to me, but it hurt. It felt like she was trying to reassert control or authority over me. I felt unseen, as if she was reducing me down to a potential behavior instead of what I was actually doing, which was reaching out and saying, “PLEASE HELP ME WITH THIS”

Which, I get it. She maybe can’t help. We’ve had enough ruptures over the kind of reassurance she can give me to know this is probably another one of those moments where I’m needing her to be kind and compassionate and she’s needing me to just hold my own.

I can’t. I won’t. So I made a choice to stay the fuck out of what feels like a very scary and volatile place right now. There’s obviously a chance I’ll regret skipping my session, and I’m sure she’s not thrilled with me right now, but I am just trying to get through a time that feels impossible.

Plus leaving session feeling completely drained and in a state of chaos is NOT how I wanted to go back to work after a vacation. I need my brain to actually function today.

Not Too Much

My family was here. They're gone now, but my "sister" (cousin) and her husband and children were here for five glorious and exhausting days.

I skipped a session this week since I had company and we had plans all day today. I thought my therapist knew that, but when I went to leave session yesterday, she said "See you tomorrow".

I quickly explained that I would be out today and she seemed surprised and confused. I worried she was angry, but she said she wasn't.

I think I believe her.

Anyway, now they're gone and I really feel the loss. Of them, of the rest of my family that remains estranged, of the missing session,

(Of my mother).

I called my therapist and asked for a phone check-in.

She called me back, but I froze. I don't really understand why, but I just couldn't pick up the phone.

I sorta wonder if it wasn't enough just to know she'd gotten my call and was thinking of me.

She left a voicemail so I also got to hear her voice.

I needed connection, but not too much.
I needed closeness, but not too much.
I needed her, but not too much.

Deflecting

Whenever I’m faced with a particularly difficulty thought or feeling, I tend to deflect by shifting my focus to my eating disorder.

Today I was struggling with connecting to my therapist. I wanted it so badly, but it seems to happen with such ease lately that I get overwhelmed. It’s scary. So although I felt a tremendous pull towards her, I held myself at arm’s length. I had a fairly clear idea of what I wanted to talk about with her, but I found myself veering further and further off course.

I had been thinking a lot about her upcoming vacation.

I’d also been thinking about how much I will miss her and how I wish she would let me hug her before the break. But I know she will say no and I can’t bear that kind of rejection.

So I say nothing and I just sit and think of how much I physically yearn for her.

Which morphs into thoughts about how fat, worthless, and horrible I am.

So then I’m sitting there obsessing over food and body size, rather than dealing with the pain of longing and grief.

I guess I’m still feeling my feelings on some level, but I’m also kinda not. I want to beat this ED voice. I want to figure out how to regulate myself around food. I want to feel worthy for something other than the ability to deprive myself of basic needs.

But that feels far too close to the stuff that hurts so much it feels like dying.

So I talk about food and obsess about weight.

And the little girl who desperately needs a cuddle gets stuffed further and further into the darkness.

Feeling my Feelings

I’m working on something new: I’m trying to actually feel my feelings.

Which may seem strange since I am an individual who apparently has a lot of big feelings all the time.

True.

But am I actually feeling them, or just doing anything and everything I can to avoid them?

With my therapist’s impending vacation, we had the usual conversation where she reminds me that we’ve been through this before and I made it out the other side. In fact, I generally end up doing much better than I anticipated while she is away and then end up feeling proud of myself for whatever stunning personal revelation I had while she was away.

Whatever. I don’t want a revelation. I don’t want to make it out the other side. I just want to feel my damn feelings.

I’m angry. I’m hurt. I’m scared. I’m so many other things that’ve yet to be named.

Which isn’t to say I plan on self-destructing or being utterly miserable for the duration of her time off.

I just don’t want to be a hero about it. I don’t want to be brave or strong or insightful. I don’t want to use other resources or fill up that space with whatever will keep me occupied or otherwise distracted.

This break is going to suck. It’s going to hurt a lot and I’m going to struggle very much with missing her and feeling all sorts of really intense and frightening feelings.

So, I’m curious: what if I just gave myself permission to feel my damn feelings for once?

Title Change

I started this blog two and a half years ago, at a time when the title “Therapy Sucks” made a lot of sense. I wrote regularly for a long time, then tapered off, then felt the need to find some privacy and boundaries within myself, so I pulled away even more.

But I find myself missing the community and the lack of blog posts simply for posterity. I love being able to go back and read what I was thinking and feeling so many months ago. It gives me a change to understand the progress I’ve made, or the places where the patterns just keep spiraling.

I recently had a patient complain about how she’s so busy. She said she doesn’t even know why she’s so busy or what she’s even doing to BE so busy. She asked what I thought about people who are busy “just to be busy”.

I thought about it for a moment and then said, “Well, I think it’s helpful, or at least it’s been helpful for me, to be curious about what the ‘busy’ replaces. Is there some thought or feeling or experience I am unwilling or scared to face that I’m covering up with just doing stuff? For me, it’s usually an indication that I’m avoiding something…”

She smiled and said, “Wow, that’s good! Wherever did you learn something like that so young?”

I’m not sure why I answered like this, but I very bluntly said, “Oh, I learned that in therapy!”

She clapped her hands together and said, “That’s fantastic! We should have a group or something that’s just people talking about what they learned in therapy.”

I laughed and said, “You know, I would totally love something like that!”

Which is when I decided to start blogging more regularly again and to rename this blog, which will from henceforth be titled:

“Things I Learned In Therapy”

It’s an optimistic change and, quite frankly, it’s about damn time.

Shit Dreams

Last week my therapist told me she would be taking an unprecedented two week vacation next month. I was understandably upset about this and had a hard time articulating that in session. I just sorta fell silent as the battle inside my head began to unfold.

That night I had a dream in which I showed up to therapy very dirty. I’m not sure if I was sweaty or muddy or what, I just knew I needed to clean myself up. My therapist told me I could use a nearby bathroom. She showed me where it was and I went in, only to immediately spin around and walk back out. I said, “Hey! I can’t use that bathroom! It’s literally covered in shit! Not just IN the toilet, but ON the toilet and in little baggies all over the damn room!!” My therapist just shrugged.

I told her about this dream during the next session and when I finished speaking, she smiled and giggled a bit as she said, “This dream is about my vacation.”

“Oh? Care to elaborate?”

“Yeah…you’re worried that I’m going to leave and things will get backed up. And then when I get back, I won’t recognize that there’s shit everywhere and I’ll just expect you to carry on as if it’s not there.”

I burst out laughing and said, “Yep, that sounds about right!”

And Then There Were Four

Two and a half years into seeing my current therapist and we’ve now moved from three sessions per week to four. Only one more to go before I max out on possible sessions!

I wanted to write about this because I know people still find their way to this blog and it felt important to share. I think I always imagined that only “very crazy” (aka unstable/unsafe) individuals needed therapy so frequently. I was anxious to transition from once weekly to twice, and it was another several months before I agreed to three times a week. Seeing her four times just seemed insanely extravagant and indulgent.

Which, to be fair, it still sorta feels that way, but I’m doing it anyway.

Not because I’m crazy or unstable or unsafe. In fact, I think that the more stable and safe I become, the more space has opened for us to do deeper, more connected, more intimate therapeutic work. It certainly isn’t any easier or less painful, but it’s difficult in a way that feels more productive.

I’d always figured that the only way I could get someone (especially a therapist) to care about me and my experience in this world was to make as much noise and create as much chaos as possible. I need to be demonstrative and dramatic with my expressions of pain, anger, sadness, loneliness, etc. I figured the only way anyone could really SEE me is if I screamed as loudly as possible.

Apparently that’s not true and once I stopped screaming, I was actually able to have far more fulfilling conversations.

I still can’t believe she believes me. I still can’t believe she cares. I still can’t believe we have so much love and compassion and respect in this strange, complicated relationship we’ve built.

And, as time passes, my romantic love and erotic attraction to her seems to grow more and more. But we talk about it and she holds the space for me to fill with whatever comes up, which is the most beautiful thing ever.

It’s also seemingly the most painful and the more I get my needs met, the more I pull away from her because just HAVING needs is terrifying, let alone getting them met.

There’s also a very real sense that this cannot last forever and I dread the moment when I will inevitably lose her and lose this. I told her that I imagine I’m supposed to be working towards some sort of “graciously indifferent” state in regards to our relationship, which she thought was ridiculous because we grow closer and closer all the time.

So then what IS the end goal here? This WILL eventually be taken from me and I guess I just want to be prepared for that. I want to know when and how that will happen and I want to understand how to prepare myself for it.

Alas, things are never so simple.

Anyway. Therapy is the same beautiful mess as always and I just want people to know that if you see your therapist several times a week, it’s totally cool 🙂