Finding Space for the Big Stuff

After all the chaos of last week, I went into Monday’s session feeling very apprehensive. It was hard to fall asleep the night before because I felt so anxious about seeing the therapist again after having such a tumultuous week, therapy-wise (real life seemed to go okay, since I scored a perfect 100 on both of my midterm practical exams, despite all the ensuing crises). I shared some of my thoughts about this with my wife who said I should just open the session by sharing how anxious I felt about it and go from there.

But I didn’t. I did make a half-hearted joke about how “interesting” things had been last week and she laughed appropriately. But I could immediately sense I had my “charming” face on (which happens a lot when I come to session right from school and Rachel has been out) and was going to be pretty superficial all session. Despite that, we ended up talking about some really important stuff because she’s good at her job, so she can steer any conversation I try to derail into therapeutic territory.

But it wasn’t the space I wanted to be in. And it felt compulsive – this need to be super stable and “okay” and “surface” after a particularly challenging week. It’s not that I don’t value the work we do when sessions are lighter, but there’s also this underlying sense that I am pushing away things that really need to be brought in there. She asked me a few sessions ago if I thought anything was triggering me (or the System). I said no even though I knew there were no less than four pretty big-deal things that were creating tension and stress among various Parts.

Why did I lie? I don’t really know. But I think it’s because I have a really difficult time understanding how to introduce more difficult topics in session, especially if it’s something that involves another Part. Not only am I afraid of triggering myself, but I am afraid that the space somehow won’t be safe. This could mean that I destabilize in some way simply due to the nature of what I’m talking about, or it could mean that the therapist does not respond in a way that feels safe. I am already quite sensitive as it is. Bringing up particularly difficult topics only makes me even more reactive to every little thing she does, which tends to be a chain reaction that’s considerably hard to interrupt.

I had touched on this idea of compulsive stability throughout session, in a different context. I was juxtaposing my “therapy life” with my “school life” and sharing my utter astonishment at how I can be so emotional and unraveled in session, but then completely controlled and calm for classes and exams. When asked to expand on that, I shared that I believe this comes from different Parts being more invested in our professional life, but (if I’m being honest) it also comes from me.

Very few things scare me more than the idea of being legitimately crazy. I also hate being labeled as crazy, but my true fear is in the potential truth of that statement. So I tend to go through much of my life with this compulsive need to appear as normal, healthy, and stable as possible. I know I don’t always succeed, but I do fairly well. Even when my abnormalities go noticed, I have endless reasonable excuses to explain away my eccentricities. Most people don’t care enough to investigate further anyway.

It makes for a pretty lonely existence, though. I get along well with my classmates, but I keep them at a very safe distance. Even the friend I hang out with 2-3 times a week for study sessions is a very casual friend. We mostly just laugh when we’re together, which is good and something I need, but also – I’m constantly monitoring myself to ensure I don’t accidentally reveal my true (collective) self to her. It’s exhausting.

Which is probably why I need therapy to not be yet another place where I have to hide things away. So I brought it up. I told the therapist that there were all these things that most definitely triggered the System prior to last week. I said, “This has been a productive session and we talked about important things, but none of them are the things I should have been talking about.”

She responded by saying that “sometimes after a difficult period of time, it is better to have a stabilizing session where you don’t get into much depth or intensity.”

She also said some other things, but I can’t remember them because the above statement totally activated me. I felt like she wasn’t understanding me, so I tried clarifying. It didn’t work. So then I just shared that what she offered as a response is not what I needed from her right then.

“I’m not sure how else I could’ve responded to you. You told me that there were these other things that you should have talked about, but we’re in the last five minutes of session, so we really can’t get into those today. But we can definitely talk about them on Friday…”

Then I was just done. I wanted to bail out of there and forget about the whole thing, but it also felt really important that I clarify this with her.

“It’s not that. I know it’s the end of session! I didn’t bring these things up so that I could share them right now – I brought them up because I DIDN’T mention them when I needed to or when I should have. And although I understand that it can be important to have lighter sessions after a crisis, I am telling you that this is something I need help with! It’s a really big deal to me because I’m trying to hold onto all of these HUGE things and I can’t do it! I need to be able to bring them in here, but I don’t know how. I don’t know how to do that because I’m worried that I’ll fuck everything up and ruin this.”

“Well, I think this is why we should keep talking about adding more space. Sometimes it can feel like this when there isn’t enough space…I’ve found that you kind of know when the frequency is off. And when you hit the right frequency, things start to feel more okay.”

“Fine. Whatever. Space! I hear you, but this isn’t about that. Adding more space wouldn’t matter. I could come more often or we could have longer sessions, but it would be the exact same…”

“Because you still wouldn’t know how to talk about these really scary things…”

“Yes. Exactly.”

At that point my voice was breaking and I was lightly crying. But it really was the end of session. As in, one minute left. Still, she stayed completely with me in the moment. I could tell she was working incredibly hard to track with me. She knew that this was an important moment and she didn’t want to miss what I was trying to communicate. I’m not sure exactly what was said after that, but I think she more or less understood the larger point I was trying to make.

I stood up to leave and she said, “Thank you for sharing that with me. I think it IS really important and we can talk about it more next time.” I just nodded and walked out, but it admittedly felt unresolved and like a whole lot to hold onto until Friday. So I called and asked for an extra session this week. She offered one for tomorrow and I took it.

I took the extra damn space.

Maybe I’m not ready to talk about the Big Stuff – the things I don’t talk about with anyone, ever. But I think what I truly need right now is for her to help me create a space where it feels like it would be okay if I did choose to bring them in. Because I am so tired of feeling like my speech and my emotions are policed by mental health professionals. I’m tired of feeling like I need permission to share my honest truth in my own therapeutic space. And I’m tired of constantly feeling afraid that my truth will further alienate and distance me from my clinicians.


21 thoughts on “Finding Space for the Big Stuff

  1. Amb says:

    Wow. Reading this I realized that I can really relate to all of it. I, too, try really hard to be something that I’m not to everyone else-as in stable and productive, when in my mind I’m in constant turmoil. I don’t want to be labeled as crazy. Thank you so much for sharing this. Sending you lots of kind thoughts and gentle hugs, if okay?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Cat's Meow says:

    One of the things I have talked a lot about with my therapist is my need to find and tell my own story. To not have to be a “good girl” or an “easy client”, but to be true to myself, with myself, with her, and bit by bit with other people. It takes an immense amount of courage and strength when you have hidden away everything you fear might not be “acceptable”, but it sounds to me like you are moving in this direction. You are creating/accepting the space for you to be able to choose to share whatever parts of your story feel right/tolerable/ necessary at any particular time.

    I can tell you from my own experience that I kept on expecting for my T to judge/ pull back in disgust/ grow tired of hearing about so much painful stuff. However, every time I told her something awful, she remained calm, accepting, caring, and clearly reflected that the abusers were the ones who were disgusting and at fault, not me. I recently told her about something that I fear might have happened, but I don’t actually have a memory of it. It’s something that I would find almost impossibly difficult to deal with, though, because it would have happened when I was a newlywed. And I have reasons to believe that it could have happened. I needed to tell her because something that she kept on saying reminded me of that trip home and each time that happened, I would be triggered to a part that wanted to be very violent towards my body. The only reason I could tolerate thinking about what I fear happened and telling about that and the circumstances around it is that I now am confident that she won’t judge me. And I trust her enough to keep in mind that I shouldn’t judge myself, even when every urge is to do just that.

    What I’m trying to say is that with a really good therapist, that session after session, year after year predictability and reliability can eventually take you to the point where you stop fearing negative responses and start to take strength from anticipated supportive/ compassionate/ grounded in non judge mental reality responses.

    I’m really impressed at how far you have come over the last few weeks! Impressed both with your ability to take the chances and her ability to convey to you that she isn’t Zooey and that she will stay there with you.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Andi says:

      Thank you! I really find your comments to be incredibly helpful, especially because you’re willing to share so much of your experience with me. And that’s so important because otherwise it is difficult to know or see how things can ever be better/different than they are *right now*. But your input allows me to breathe a little and understand better how this truly is a process that will take time. But I think we’re building a very solid foundation to stand on and that will be absolutely crucial as we move forward. Especially as I do (hopefully) begin to unravel that hiddenness and let down the “perfect client” restrictions that keep me separated from her. Baby steps.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. luverley says:

    Firstly I wish I could write and express as well as you do because I so resonate with all of it. Secondly I’m sitting here bawling my eyes out because I feel it and understand how you feel and how it is. You’ve definitely done well in expressing to her some of your needs. Glad you took the extra time! !

    Liked by 1 person

    • Andi says:

      Aw, thank you so much. I actually felt a bit nervous publishing this because I worried it was not articulate, or perhaps just repetitive whining. I am so honored that my words resonated with you so powerfully xoxo

      Liked by 1 person

      • luverley says:

        I really feel your struggles. I just don’t have a t like yours. Stick with it with her. You have every chance in healing i believe in you and i believe she has it to stick at it with you. I am hopeful that you will feel healing energy this year. You are a star. X Hugs. Keep going

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Jean says:

    I believe you are “being” in a way with her that will allow you to do what you want and need to and I can’t see that you are doing anything to get in the way. It’s frustrating that it takes so long, but you have only been working with her for a short period and the two of you haven’t known each other long enough to establish a rhythm, a flow. You know what you need, and you know the fears that are holding you back. And you were totally open about those fears. That’s huge.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Andi says:

      Thank you so much, Jean, your comment means a lot to me. And it offers a lot of really great perspective. You’re right – we’re still pretty early in the relationship. And I was forthcoming about what I needed, no matter how scary it was. Thanks xo


  5. Rachel says:

    I agree with Jean – I think you are hard on yourself, but what I see, from the outside, is big successes in therapy and huge risks in moving towards the kind of openness that you desire. You are getting there, and it will happen in time that feels safe and manageable. I know it is hard to wait or feel like things aren’t happening quickly enough, when you feel so distressed and full of so much fear and anxiety and the big stuff. I really get that. And, I also think part of the process is a bit excruciating where we do have to relinquish some control and allow it to unfold. Sending lots of support for all of your terrific work. xx

    Liked by 1 person

    • Rachel says:

      I also wanted to say that what you wrote about how lonely it feels to hold all of the big stuff inside, really resonates with me. The effects of trauma are so isolating. It is hard to believe that if people really KNEW, they would stay. I think therapy can help undo some of that damage. At least that is what I hope for.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Andi says:

      Yes, I definitely feel impatient. I think part of that stems from this sense of impending doom – as if I’m simply biding time, waiting for this relationship to implode. While also simultaneously working fiercely to protect it and keep it intact. She calls me out on my control issues pretty regularly. Again, I don’t WANT to be this way, but I don’t know to act otherwise. *sigh* Thanks, friend ❤

      Liked by 1 person

      • Rachel says:

        And no need to shame yourself for being ‘this way’; there is good, good reason for it and you are unwinding the behavior now. Patience is hard for me to, so I am reminding myself just as much as I am you, friend.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Cat says:

    This is a huge turning point for you, Andi. I am in a similar situation with expressing emotions and I am in awe of your courage. You might not feel like talking about it at the extra session, but you’re definitely on that threshold.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. mm172001 says:

    I think it’s very reasonable that you have problems bringing some of your bigger issues or things where you may seem crazier into session. I dealt with that for years having weekly surface appointment for 2 years before I learned to open up with my case manager. Even now I still have problems with presenting the big issues, what if she can’t help me, what if she doesn’t want to help, and then i got to go home dealing with this for the next week. I theorize I might have parts and certain parts of me are very scared but want help very much. But mostly me doesn’t trust people and is protective. Maybe she just needs to earn your trust and it is okay to have less intense sessions, especially when you don’t have much social interatcion outside therapy. I find it amazing that i can talk about trivial things that are going on in my life with the same person who knows my deepest darkest secrets. And sometimes it’s just not the right time. Also sometimes I worry and wait till the last 10 or 15 minutes to bring up a big issue, i think it’s in a way testing her. Anyways those are my scattered thoughts, hope they help in some way.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Andi says:

      I definitely think it’s about trust. Building it and testing it and testing it again. Thank you for sharing your experience – I always find that to be so helpful ❤

      Liked by 1 person

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