Therapy funk

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You only know you’re in a state of “therapy funk” when you begin to emerge from it. And to claw out of it, either you or your therapist has to see that something is not quite right. It’s hard to point to individual molecules but almost impossible to miss a thick cloud. To me, the funk builds up as an emerging pattern of acting out of “character”, focusing too much on something or completely omitting certain topics, for example, as a form of resistance.

This therapy fog has built up, molecule by molecule, since sitting with DS this year. I spend most of the session on Monday continuing a discussion on the therapy relationship and the complexity of what I feel for DS. He nestles in his white and wood recliner, as always, in a state of absolute buddha calm, taking notes and chipping in where necessary.

With a thoughtful look towards the end, he says: “I have noticed that we have spoken a lot about the therapeutic alliance or relationship here recently. I am left wondering how you are doing and what is happening in your life.”

It strikes me that he trusts the alliance enough to say this without fearing I might become defensive or hurt that he has changed the topic and put the spotlight on something I am doing or not doing. I tell him as much and he says this pattern has more to do with what WE are doing, not just me. I think of a dance, where each partner makes a move in response to the other. Why have we been dancing in this direction and what are we avoiding? My head clicks into high gear, trying to formulate reasons for why I might have consciously or unconsciously chosen not to speak much about what has happened for me, focusing instead on him and my dreams.

– Maybe, with life shaken up so much by the retrenchment, I have tested the solidity of the therapy relationship because it is one of the constant things in my life and I need it more in the present moment?

– Perhaps it’s because I’ve recently been debating whether to share two painful memories in the past which I believe are my fault and say something bad about me?

I bounce these possibilities off DS and I can see his head kicking into gear too. He proposes a theory which floors me. He says that perhaps I have watched In Treatment and read about therapy as a way to learn as much as possible, and therefore avoid bumping up against his boundaries. In other words, if I know enough I will be able to avoid the pain associated with these boundaries.

His observation seems to clear the air a little and my eyes well up.

Who enjoys feeling ashamed or being rejected by another? I don’t think anyone. But perhaps bumping up against others helps define the relationship more clearly, and who we are too? It just seems very difficult to say and do stuff which might make DS uncomfortable when I know better. I know what is “right and wrong”.

I do think there may be a lot at play here. I half-joked that maybe I haven’t spoken about my day to day stuff because things seem to be going well. He said that would make sense if that were the case.

But actually, things have not been plain-sailing and I have had to deal with some difficult situations and feelings lately. Maybe I have kept silent because I managed my way through some of them and don’t want to be dramatic in front of DS, be accused of inflating something out of proportion. Or maybe it’s the familiar feeling of thinking I need to deal with everything myself. After all, you have been in therapy for almost two years and shouldn’t you know how to run your life by now without needing help?!, the critical voice yells.

It may take a while to completely figure the funk out but the therapy space has lightened somewhat.

As Dr Steven Brownlow, a clinical psychologist in Texas, said on Twitter today: “Life is the best therapy. Leverage what happens in your clients’ lives to advance their growth.”

P.S. Less than a month after finding out about the retrenchment, and after rounds of interviews, I was offered a job a few days ago. I am dumbstruck by the blessing.

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What do I do now? (and why does DS feel so far away)

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For the last few months, my colleagues and I have been dealing with a highly uncertain situation in which our company was considering closing down. There were meetings in which very little was actually said. Most of us went on holiday in December without knowing for sure whether we would have some form of job security in the New Year. The most horrible part was the rumours. People in the industry seemed to know more about what was going to happen than we did. It was humiliating.

We eventually had a staff meeting on Thursday. A few of my colleagues and I tuned in via conference call after a stressful two hour delay. Our boss confirmed that our company was being liquidated and would shut its doors at the end of next month. It was like a punch to the gut. My belly twisted and turned as I heard the fear and anger in my colleagues’ questions.

The last few days have been weird. I have only cried for a few minutes. This is highly unusual as its usually the first thing that happens to ease internal pressure. I’ve felt lost, sad, angry, confused, tired, numb and sick. I’ve had blurry nightmares where I wake up without remembering what happened but feeling horrible and tired. Last night, my eyes shot open at 3.30am and I couldn’t fall asleep again. I usually sleep pretty well. My husband has been amazing and I don’t think it would have been possible to get out of bed if it weren’t for him.

The retrenchment has brought up all sorts of issues and questions. I am extremely sensitive to changes in my life and threats to security (You may say: well that’s life…full of surprises! While I realise that, I can’t change my fundamental sensitivity. I can only hope to work with it rather than against it). I don’t want to be a burden to my husband by relying on him if I can’t find a job. I loved my job and it was a big part of my identity and sense of accomplishment in life. How do I find a job that offers the same challenge and is also in line with my ideals and ethics? I guess I will have to find out.

The timing of the retrenchment coincides with confusing feelings about the therapeutic relationship. DS and I had a really weird session a week ago. I drew quite a few parallels between the transference and not feeling I was “good enough” for my dad. There were moments of insight and clarity as we chatted but the session was also painful. I can’t really remember the whole hour. It feels as though someone took an eraser and haphazardly worked on parts of my memory. What I can recall is sitting at the end of our session, feeling very out of sorts. Things felt fuzzy and I sunk into his couch, staring up at the ceiling. My whole body felt tingly and I floated about. I think I remember DS asking me a few times about what I was feeling in my body. It took a lot of effort to answer him. I just wanted to escape into the fuzziness. It felt so relaxing and inviting. Not sure what it was. And then I snapped back into my body when I realised I was running past our time. I am always very conscientious about keeping to time. I felt disorientated but told DS I was “fine” and got up. He said he would see me next week and I walked slowly out of there, putting my hand on the door frame to steady myself.

That bodily experience has never happened to me in therapy and I felt vulnerable and confused afterwards. I desperately hoped DS would e-mail or text to check in and see whether I was okay. He didn’t. That, and the fact that he let me walk out of his office in that state, makes me feel like he doesn’t really care. Like it’s just an illusion. I know therapists sometimes don’t make contact in these types of instances because they want the client to know they have faith in their self-soothing and coping capabilities. But I feel more alienated now. I don’t feel stronger.

As if that weren’t confusing enough, he said he would not be able to meet with me for our session next week because he is away. It was me who noted it was after the Valentines weekend. I immediately assumed that he must be in a relationship and going away with the one he loves. Not good for the transference feelings, especially abandonment, pining, anger and loss.

I guess it just feels like I have to do this alone because he won’t really be here for me during this very stressful time. Yes, he may meet with me an hour a week but whose to know if it really means anything.

Everything must eventually pass and on some level, I know this will be an opportunity for growth. It just feels so overwhelming.

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The Answers to More Questions You’d Like to Ask your Therapist

Inside the mind of your therapist… Dr Geraldstein takes the time to answer the questions I had about my therapist DS (and which I’m sure you were asking too). Very insightful.

Dr. Gerald Stein

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Last autumn I wrote a post in response to Spacefreedomlove’s five questions she’d love to ask her therapist. I will try to answer a few more now, those from Jay:

1) Do you ever dream about me like I dream about you? 2) Is it really easy to limit your thoughts and feelings (both positive and negative) about me to our one weekly session or do these spill over? 3) What do you most love and loathe about our therapy relationship? 4) Is being a therapist just a job or is it a big part of who you are? 5) How on earth do you manage to get all your needs met outside therapy with long working hours and don’t you just want to chat the ears off your friends and family because you’ve been relatively quiet during the day? 6) Do you feel lonely as a therapist, working…

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Call in the transference crew

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I wish I could call in a cleaning crew to deal with the mess of the hectic transference I am dealing with in the therapy room at the moment. My feelings are splattered across DS’s wall in garish colours. It’s confusing and disorientating to look at. The sheen of shame casts a veil. I cringe. My true feelings trickle down in globs, split into rivulets, meet again as new shades. This is the Jackson Pollock of erotic transference, peeps.

I’ve been in its grip for quite a while but have always kind of tamed it with vigorous swipes of denial, obfuscation or throwing cold water over affectionate, loving feelings for him. As it has progressed, I’ve felt safe enough to open up to DS about my experience of him. He’s dissected dreams and fantasies of beds, being in nature together and other symbols. In my dreams, he appears as a playful, warm, loving, open and accepting male figure who cares about me. I feel beautiful, happy and seen. Awake, there is a longing that gnaws at my soul.

While I’ve tirelessly read up on what transference is and how it works, it has not eliminated the shame of feeling this way about DS when I am a married woman in love with her husband. There’s this little voice that screams that I am bad, not loyal and do not deserve my husband. Today is a strong day so I can muster up a “screw you” to that voice. Other days, I tend to believe it.

I guess the thing that I am slowly discovering is that feelings are not something you can really control. They just are. They pop up when they please. We then choose to assign meaning to them. This is new for me as I tend to to feel overly responsible for my thoughts and feelings, as well as of others’.

This magnetic pull to the wonderful DS is FIRMLY rooted in some long unmet childhood needs that he’s given the space to surface. If I think of it like that, DS is merely a safe container or receptacle for those desires. Instead of acting on them, he’s gently probed for meaning to help me understand what is going on.

The last thing I would want is for him to actually act out the fantasies or cross the boundaries. To do so would be very scary and completely obliterate the professional relationship we’ve both worked hard at creating and nurturing.

On Monday, DS asked me whether I had thought about being with him or what a romantic relationship with him would feel like. Obviously, he asked this question with the professional aim of working out the root of my longings. It was not intended as a suggestion or come-on. I replied that I had not really thought about it in concrete terms. Rather, I would have visions pop up every now and then of what it would be like to do things together or various scenes in which certain scenarios or feelings would play out.

The child in me wants to be loved without conditions or limits. She wants to be given the space to be playful, unrestricted and creative. Above all, she wants to be seen and be enough.

At the moment, I am restricted by my own doubts and fears about being worthy enough to assert myself in the world. Maybe, in the future, I will be brave and skilled enough to successfully fulfill these needs outside of therapy.

In the meantime, I have to trust in the process and try to deal with the awkwardness of talking about all sorts of erotic and romantic notions.

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17 days without DS…

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Our last therapy session for the year was terrible. I had wanted to reflect on our work together and strengthen our connection so I would be okay over the break. I envisioned a warm session where my walls were down. Us ensconced in a rich and infectious aura of Christmas hope and thankfulness. A snowglobe of memories and feelings to shake and eye in wonder while apart.

Instead, I sat in front of DS (Deep Soul) with an inexplicable headache, feeling irritated by the pain and my own low feelings. I struggled to concentrate because the pain was unrelenting. We spoke but I felt disconnected.

He remembered to give me a book to hold onto during the vacation, called “A Tale for The Time Being” by Ruth Ozeki. Such a magical book. Two weeks before that, he had surprised me with another book about two orphan girls caught up in a tale of transience and loss. I was taken aback that he was giving me a book before the break, as I thought this would be the only one to hold onto. He said he would give me another if I finished it in time, and I did. Such thoughtfulness on his part. During our last session, I explained how meaningful the first book had been and how many things had resonated. DS confessed that this was unintentional and coincidental. He  said he hadn’t spent time thinking about what to give me but had picked stuff based on a gut feeling. Covering up my feelings of surprise and disappointment, I said: “Yes, I know that obviously”. I didn’t know. I envisioned him running his fingers carefully over the spines in his shelf, a slight furrow in his brow and a biting of his lip indicating the concentration and thought about what best to leave me with. Why do I feel like an idiotic child for thinking this?

I had also contemplated making a Christmas card for him because I knew he had a strict policy on gifts and would not accept even a small token of appreciation. Actually, I bumped against this boundary a few weeks earlier when I handed him a science magazine I received in the mail. I said he could read it and then pass it on. I told him at the time that he could place it with the other mags in his waiting room when he was done but he said he would give it back to me afterwards because he did not accept gifts. I understand why his policy is in place but it wasn’t a gift. Nonetheless, if keeping those boundaries in place keeps him sane, then I can’t really complain. Going back to the Christmas card, I wanted to draw something cool, color it in with bright khokis and leave a small but meaningful message for him. I felt like the card would be a good way to close the year. I ended up at the session empty-handed because I honestly couldn’t face the possibility of rejection so close to a break.

So here I am, 17 days in, and I miss him with every inch of my being. It’s been a bit easier than I expected and I have had the support of my husband and family. We flew to see my mom, dad and sister at the coast and it’s been wonderful catching up with them the last two weeks. We fly back home on Monday and I see DS in the evening for our first session of the year. I want to be braver this year. I want to ask him what he did over the break. I want to open up about other things in my life. Maybe, at some point this year, I will be able to shake off these feelings of being unworthy, of time flying by too quickly and leaving me in its dust. Maybe, this year, I will find peace.

 

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Being held (and the promise of a transitional object)

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I sit wide-eyed and stiff on the therapy couch, anxious at our imminent separation over the holidays. My body plays “statue statue” and attempts to remain as inconspicuous as possible. I feel very young in this session. While I am sure I’ve shown my young side to DS before, this is the first time I am aware of it. It is the strangest sensation. My mind peeks at my arms and legs and they seem fully-grown. My feet can easily reach the floor if they want to. And yet, I feel small. My lips pout like a toddler. My throat emits a slow, somewhat babyish and unsure voice. Me, but not me.

DS, on the other hand, is exactly the same. He wears one of his checked shirts, unbuttoned over a soft cotton top, jeans, and sandals. His feet are nice. Soft and squishy toes like mine. Re-assuring.

When we started the session, I’d shared another dream I had about him. I was with my mom and sister in his waiting room, and my mom was asking about him. I looked through all his client folders and pulled out one with his information. It was in my handwriting and we looked through it. Out of all the text there, all I could recall seeing was his name and surname. The next folder I pulled out contained a drawing of a bunny rabbit. We found this peculiar and laughed. The scene changed and we sat under a tree in a lane. DS walked past with a bottle of red wine or champagne in his hand. He was on his way to a party and he stopped to greet. I was dressed in a lilac and silver dress with revealing cleavage. He seemed taken aback by my appearance in a good way. I introduced him to my mom and then we chatted while my mom and sister chatted. DS was so relaxed. He seemed spontaneous and uninhibited. I was in awe that he could speak so much! The scene changed again and I was walking into a cottage, with DS leading the way. I was telling him how much I needed him and how scared I was. I sensed he was trying to let me down gently without upsetting me. Not wanting to be confronted for my neediness or held accountable for my behaviour, I pretended to sleepwalk while talking to him. My eyes were closed at times and I held out my hands to guide the way. He stopped in the bathroom with his back to me and said “We  have reached a really important stage in your therapy”. DS seemed to be very conflicted and weighing up the best course of action. Eventually, he invited me to wrap his arms around him from behind. It felt surreal and warm. Then he turned around to face me and brought me closer to his chest, like a parent would with their child. We gazed into each other’s eyes. I felt truly held and safe in that moment.

Tears fall down my cheek and he asks what I am feeling. I am sad and he wants to know why. I figure out that it’s because I know he can never hold me like that. From the dream, the session unfolds into memories of pretending to sleepwalk as a small child so I can spend time with my parents instead of being alone and scared in a dark bedroom. I have a bedtime and am supposed to leave my parents alone after that. I make myself as inconspicuous as possible in front of the television and hope they notice but don’t notice me. Sometimes it works.

“So you were supposed to disappear after 7pm? You were not supposed to exist after that,” DS says gently, more as a statement than a question. I nod and feel the pain of these weighty words. He draws a parallel between me then and the me sitting before him now, present but not able to be fully present.

He doesn’t know that for the last month or so, I’ve been sleeping with a soft toy cow my mom gave me a few years ago. I want to ask him about transitional objects but also fear that if he knows about the cow, he will deem that sufficient. Then I think that obviously it’s not the same because it’s not his. With my mind made up, I shyly ask him if he ever gives his clients something to hold onto during breaks.

“Yes I do. Actually I had been thinking about that for you,” he responds. My eyes widen even further and my heart skips a few beats. He understands. The mood changes in the room and although I am still reserved, excitement pops its head out.

I ask if he has chosen an object and he says yes, a book. The corners of my mouth shoot outwards. Books are special. We often talk about them and I sometimes share with him what I am reading. Has he chosen a specific book yet?

“I have a few in mind,” he says, adding that he is still deciding between fiction or non-fiction and what do I think?

I want to bounce around in my seat in anticipation. “Fiction”. Fiction is personal. I imagine reading the words that his eyes have already sealed onto the page and imbued with meaning just waiting for me to discover. While a book is not soft, it can still be held and even better, loved in words and thought.

It becomes clear he has spotted the ‘Haruki Murakami’ book lying next to me, which I’d bought along to read beforehand. He asks whether I’ve read Murakami’s “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle” and I reply that it’s my favourite book.

“I would like to read something I haven’t read before. Surprise me.” The kid is feeling cheeky and brave. He takes it well and we agree that he will think about it.

The session comes to a close quietly. I feel shy again but content. My eyes slowly gaze upwards at DS and he smiles. I smile and quickly look down again. A few seconds pass and I look at him again. His eyes radiate and he smiles again. A fun game. For a moment, I am held in mind.

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Do not abandon me…

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Barely a minute after I make myself comfortable on the couch, DS assumes a businesslike position, refers to his iPad and says he would like to chat. Something is different. Normally, he’s reclined in his chair with one leg over the other, waiting to listen. Every inch of my body stiffens in anticipation of his announcement. It’s like the last few seconds before a car crash. Everything happens in slow motion, sound seems to distort and it’s impossible to escape the inevitability of it all. Why do I feel like a naughty schoolgirl being called into the principal’s office? I try to focus on his face.

DS tells me he will not be able to make our session the week after next and can we reschedule? The first part of the sentence makes my neck stiffen and the second part induces a relieved whoosh of air through my lips. Just last week he told me he would be off for two weeks over Christmas. Add to that my vacation plans and I was facing three weeks without him. At the time, I tried to be grown up about it but that had slowly given way to fear at how I was going to cope without him. I try to reason with myself while listening to DS, attempting a flicking of the “do not panic” nervous system switch. Attachment panic does not listen to reason. It lays urgent claim to every bodily process and tries to establish a sense of security. I nod and we work out an alternative session for the week after next. In the back of my head I am wondering whether he is going to bring up the ballet show invite I e-mailed him a week ago. My body remains on the edge of the seat and ready to respond to any threat. It seems like we are coming to the end of our administrative discussion but alas, it is just the beginning.

“I also needed to speak to you about our session time for next year,” DS says while looking down at his screen, presumably at a calendar or a set of notes. He seems really calm. Cold fear grips my heart. This can’t be good. He doesn’t want me around anymore.

Just a few days ago, I dreamt that I arrived at his office and found a strange man sitting in his spot. This stranger was rude, perfunctory and looking at a tick-list. I felt like I was in a bureaucratic department and not a therapy room. This strange therapist ignored my pleas to see DS and decided I was done with therapy. I was enraged. He ticked a huge box on the form and sent me away.

“I am taking on some new commitments next year and will not be able to meet with you at our regular time on a Monday,” he says. “I was hoping we could discuss another time that works for both of us”. His words filter slowly through the neurons in my brain and it seems like a confused, foggy soup in there.

“How does Monday during the day work for you?” Anger rises in my chest at his request. I tell him I have to work during the day to make a living and there is no way to carve time out. “And lunch time?” he asks. No, he doesn’t get it. He is coming up with impossible times because he knows I won’t be able to say yes and it will give him a reason to say he has no other option but to stop seeing me. Tears pop up at the corners of my eyes. I cannot do lunch because I have such an unpredictable job. There is no way to commit to that. I feel frustrated, I want to scream… I feel completely abandoned. Instead, I sit mute and re-iterate that I can only see him after work. He offers an after-hours session on Wednesdays next year and I quickly nod.

Everything feels too intense. DS’s voice seems distant. Concentration is near impossible. He is negotiating and I just want to close my eyes and rest my head. Escape can’t come quick enough.

But it doesn’t and we’re straight onto our third matter for the day, the invite. DS acknowledges the invite and wants to know how I feel after sending it. I feel content with my decision to invite him to the show but also uncertain of what his reaction will be. “Well, to…um… respond, I cannot go to your show because of our professional relationship,” DS says. I hate that I am putting him in this possibly uncomfortable position. Obviously, we had already chatted about how I knew it wasn’t possible for him to attend. It still didn’t lessen the disappointment that I felt in the moment.

We spent the rest of the session talking about my fear at slipping back into old patterns of feeling and relating while spending the holidays with my parents. DS wanted to know about all my fears. What he doesn’t know is that I am scared he is going to forget about me. I am also scared because it is difficult to call up his face in my mind, especially when I feeling strongly, and I doubt my own abilities to self-soothe. As much as I hate to admit my dependency, I am continuing with a move towards intimacy and plan to ask for something of his to hold onto until our first session in the new year. I think this would be a way to soothe all the childlike fears I have and represent a physical way of holding onto the therapeutic relationship.

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Showing up

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I told DS last night about my end-of-year ballet show. It’s a lifelong dream to be a ballerina on stage and I have been rehearsing A LOT. Two weeks ago, I sent an e-mail out to my family with the dates and advised them to get back to me as soon as possible so I could book tickets. My dad said he had a business trip and wouldn’t be able to make it. I was bummed because he had known about the trip for a while and never said anything despite giving him dates ages ago. I know he didn’t raise it earlier though because he hates conflict.

I worked through the anger and sadness around this with DS and then remarked that it was funny because I’d also been meaning to invite him to the show for the last 5 or so sessions. I had been putting it off because I expected he would say it was not his policy to attend client functions. Who wants to feel disappointment and rejection around that anyway?! And yet, I knew on some level that if I felt disappointment early enough, it would be easier WHEN my dad ended up disappointing me (I am clearly psychic). Nonetheless, I’ve made peace with the dad issue. I told DS what my husband had joked about when I told him I wanted to invite my therapist to come and see me.

Husband: “You should tell DS that there’ll be a special therapist box in the concert hall. It would be slightly separated from the rest of the audience and have one-way glass so he can see out but no one can see in. Complete anonymity guaranteed. And he can chat with all the other ballerinas’ therapists and swap notes!”

DS and I had a good chuckle about this.  He then asked me what it would feel like if he came to see me.

My legs were crossed on the couch like a child and I rested my elbows on my legs in thought. When he asked the question, my whole chest filled with energy and my eyes welled up. It was overwhelming. I was trying to pinpoint the emotions. For a short while, I sat there not knowing what to do with the sensory overload.

Eventually I stammered: “It feels like you have touched my heart. Not literally. But metaphorically. I would be touched. And I guess I would feel pride. Yes, I would feel so proud if you were there!”

I explained that being on stage and being “SEEN” was one of the most anxiety-producing situations I could think of. And yet I was finding ways to cope with the anxiety to achieve a dream. He said it took courage to be up there. We chatted about my roles in two of the dances and the costumes I was making with my friend. The one is a glamorous burlesque-style costume, which I described as very revealing. DS said “and powerful”. That made me laugh inside. Note to self to chat to him about why it’s so difficult to see my sexuality as being powerful.

He wrote down the dates of the show and wished me well with the rehearsals. The session felt like it ended on a high note. Thinking about our session afterwards, it dawned on me that I had not actually ended up inviting him. I felt buoyed by our chat and decided to sleep on it. This morning I sent him a very short mail:

Hey DS,

Following on from our chat last night, I have decided I would like to formally invite you to my show. Here are the details:

[I attached the poster]

See you next week,

Jay

——

This is the first non-admin email I have sent DS in the 1.5 years we have been working together. I went with what I was feeling this morning, which was absolute trust in the therapy process. This is my big leap in increasing the intimacy between us. I am letting him into my life. I don’t have expectations about him attending. It would be lovely if he did and that is why I invited him. But if he doesn’t… it feels like I tried. Yes, the childlike parts of me are very twitchy and scared at what is going to happen. But the adult part of me feels good to have initiated something.

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Ending each therapy session

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I had an interesting experience in therapy with DS (Deep Soul) on Monday. Our time was drawing to a close and I had discussed for the first time how anxious I feel around other people and how fearful I am of the anxiety’s effect on my relationships. As usual, he asked how I was feeling as we were wrapping up.

Most often, there’s just a deep sadness that time has gone by so quickly and that I will have to wait another week to feel his presence. I feel ashamed for feeling sad when he has been so kind. It’s like I am ungrateful and greedy. As a result, I find myself withdrawing the closer it comes to saying goodbye. It’s not entirely of my will. I just feel myself distancing, becoming really formal and speaking monotonously and without affect. This is most likely something I use to protect myself from feeling the pain at departing. DS raised his observations about my departures a while back and I have been trying to remain more present as a result.

So when he asked how I was feeling last time, I opened up about my sadness and tried to remain with him emotionally in the room. It was hard fighting against habit. I told him it was difficult. As I type this now, I think the difficulty is that I have to feel whatever is real for me in that moment instead of being numb. Feeling touched that he was being empathetic as we sat there, I said:

“It’s difficult but I am willing to do this [try be more present] for those I care about.”

Scared at the silence and that he might interpret the words as me coming on too strong, I added: “like you, my husband and perhaps a few of my closest friends”.

My intention with those words was to show him that I appreciate him sticking around and that I am ready to do the work I need to in order to strengthen my emotional regulation and intimacy skills.

Instead, he said it felt like I needed to reassure him or give up my own feelings and needs to maintain the relationship. I said he was reading too much into it. Oh boy, did I feel a need to distance myself from the rising rejection in my body then! “It feels like I am rejecting you?” he enquired gently. I said it sure did but that I understood what he was trying to say. He added that there was obviously a lot going on with me trying to stay present and he was curious to know what that experience was like for me. He didn’t want me to cut off certain feelings or leave things unsaid.

“I understand,” I said in a soft, somewhat monotous voice. “You’re trying to look out for my needs as a client.”

“As a person,” he replied.

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** “Friendship” by Pablo Picasso. 1908.

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My small but meaningful mindfulness journey

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Following a dedicated and daily mindfulness routine for a month has fundamentally altered me. My therapist DS is a strong believer in the powerful effects of mindfulness and I think it’s safe to say he was supporter before it became such a buzz-word. He recommended I try out meditation a while back but I couldn’t really find time to attend classes. I downloaded a few mediation tracks and it seemed to help a bit. However, it didn’t feel like something meaningful and lasting was taking place.

My life started filling up with obligations, increased stress and feelings that I tried to stuff down. Basically, I was on autopilot and becoming increasingly frustrated.

That changed 31 days ago, when I made a conscious decision to really give mindfulness a go. I discovered the free Mindfulness daily app and downloaded it onto my iPad. It is really neat because it offers a 21-day guided journey that you can follow without being connected to the internet. You choose three values and three goals that are most important to you. The app then tailors a program for your needs.

Each day offers a short video lesson in the morning and a suggestion on how to incorporate what you’ve learnt into the day ahead. Every night, it encourages you to work through the reflection video to shed the thoughts of the day. I liked the instructor’s soothing voice and the background visuals throughout the app. The features I found most handy were the check-in and pause buttons. You schedule when you would like these reminders to pop up on your screen during the day. The check-in asks how you are feeling, where have stress in your body and how present you are. The pause is a silent 15-second video that tracks two deep breaths and plays you a calming scene. After 21 days, you can choose your own ongoing practices and access a list of helpful videos.

I really struggle with tuning into my body and regulating my emotions. Obviously I am a lot better than I was when I first started therapy but these are skills that need to be practiced and refined. Secretly, I thought mindfulness would be this amazing little solution with golden wings and angel chorus, floating down from heaven to take away all my disturbing thoughts and uncomfortable feelings. LOL! As I track these expectations, it strikes me that I viewed it as being the ultimate numbing experience and something to magically take away all the negativity and pain. Actually, it is about acknowledging every sensation, emotion, feeling and thought in the moment.

Mindfulness is not a cure. It is merely something which I have found to be a helpful tool to add to my dusty mental health toolbox. The journey is long but I think this might just help me make it one piece.

STUFF I HAVE LEARNED AND EXPERIENCED SO FAR:

LESSON ONE: My breathing sucks. As the day progresses, my body starts kicking into self-preservation mode (what I like to call reptile mode) and switches into the lowest gear to survive. This means very shallow breathing and tightened muscles that are ready to spring into action and run away from the wild tigers and boogymen my amygdala is conjuring up.
PRACTICAL IMPLEMENTATION: After a month, I can make my stomach round like a beach ball by breathing in through my diaphragm. I’ve become aware of this life force rushing through my nostrils, into my lungs and whistling out my mouth. Two deep breaths sometimes manages to kick my body out of reptile mode and into relaxed, executive-function thinking mode.

LESSON TWO: My interpretation of stress makes me more stressed out. We have been taught that stress kills and is bad for you. It is true that prolonged stress has a detrimental effect on the body but if a study (that this app quotes) is to be believed, stress is only bad for you if you perceive it as being bad. Many people could debate this topic for days on end.
PRACTICAL IMPLEMENTATION: What I took from this was that by thinking of stress in the body as its way of preparing to effectively deal with a situation, I immediately felt more relaxed and empowered! It has become a bit easier to see stress as a physiological response that maximizes the resources available to get through a situation. Obviously, I still feel stressed out quite often and bogged down by numerous responsibilities but it doesn’t seem so permanent anymore.

LESSON THREE: Being truly present in the moment is difficult. How often have you gifted someone with your ultimate, focused attention? When was the last time that you ate an apple and delighted in its color, smell, texture and fragrant taste? Probably not as much as you would have liked. I think that technology has made it increasingly acceptable and doable to multi-task instead of do one thing at a time (and I say that while loving the amazing ways in which technology can enrich our lives).
PRACTICAL IMPLEMENTATION: I make a point now of attempting to fully be with my husband in a conversation. Hot baths have become a sensory delight. Washing the dishes… well, it’s still a pain but I realise that I rather like immersing my hands into bubbles and warm water.

LESSON FOUR: My body belongs to me. This sounds weird but it’s true. A typical habit to get through anxiety and stress is by ignoring what my body is trying to tell me. Ditto for scary feelings.The body scan exercise forced me to focus attention onto my physical presence. In doing so, it felt like I was actually starting to acquire a map of where I was in relation to my immediate surroundings.
PRACTICAL IMPLEMENTATION: I realize that my jaw is quite often clenched and my that my chest is closed and tight. I carry tension in my jaw, neck and shoulders. On the upside, in connection with my breathing exercises, it is becoming possible to connect with areas like my pelvic region. I think I have blocked off a lot of sexual energy in the past for some reason.

LESSON FIVE: Having compassion for myself is hard. I naturally expect perfection in everything I do. Mistakes are proof that I am unworthy and incapable. When things go wrong, I assume I must be partly to blame.                                                                               PRACTICAL IMPLEMENTATION: It is becoming a bit easier to take a step back and accept that it’s normal to be human, to make mistakes and be imperfect. I am sometimes able to interrupt a toxic stream of expectations (‘you should’, ‘you have to’, ‘if you don’t) with ‘I am’ full stop.  Still trying to call up compassion when I have the need to label myself as weak or lazy after a long day of work, ballet class and rehearsals, and studies.

The biggest thing I’ve gained is creating some distance from my thoughts and being more aware of emotions and processes in the moment. This awareness has stirred up some good content to work on with DS.

 

** Print by Izutsu Hiroyuki

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