Tag Archives: depression

Back to therapy I go

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(Trigger warning- reference to themes of violence and sexual assault. Please take care)

I did not think I would see another therapist after DS (Deep Soul). Before he closed his practice, I even shared these sentiments with him. While the process was beneficial, and led to change in many areas, I guess I was not in the right head and heart space to do it again. The ending was painful and a tiny bit traumatic because I felt I hadn’t resolved everything I had wanted to.

Life had other plans and I found myself in the market for a therapist. My job ended up being the gateway. The past six months saw me handling an intense and increased workload of women and children who had fallen victim to some of the worst possible acts mankind could think of. I was dealing with intimate details of how vulnerable individuals were preyed upon, beaten, raped in various ways, maimed and killed. In some instances, I had to see photos of their bodies. In one instance, watch a graphic video of a teen girl. All around me were grieving relatives and perpetrators, some who had initially been regarded as protectors. Chaos once again surfaced in my inner world. It was becoming even harder to find the energy to get out of bed every day. At times, I felt numb inside. Other times floating anxiety covered me like a heavy, damp blanket. Hypervigilance. Racing thoughts. All the time, questions. “How must have they felt?” “What is wrong with this world?” “How would I feel if that happened to me? “What if that happens to me or someone I love?”. Progressing to “What will I do WHEN this happens to me or my loved ones?” When my husband said goodbye every morning, I would take note of what he was wearing so I could give police as much detail as possible to help them identify his body at a crime or accident scene. I was looking over my shoulder the whole time. I felt adrift.

Whatever safety I felt in my relationships and environment seemed to diminish in the face of an unseen, scary enemy. Different days brought up a mix of emotions. Most often, it was deep sadness, fear and a sense of loss. A supervisor at work suggested I contact our employee assistance programme to speak to someone. A kind woman set me up with a private psychologist not far from our new home, work and where DS used to practice. I will call him HH (Heart Healer).

I think it is inevitable that you will end up comparing therapists. It also becomes clear that each one offers something different. HH didn’t have a website I could browse through to learn more about his experience and approach. I was going in blind. As I parked my car outside his practice, I noticed that both therapy settings were cottage-like and had wrought iron fencing with a little garden. I punched in a code and the wooden door swung open. I was greeted by a long, narrow corridor with numerous doors. The wooden floor squeaked as I walked along the runner carpet. At the end was a waiting room. Light piano music filled the space. The comforting aroma of coffee wafted from a machine on the counter. A bookshelf offered family magazines and psychology journals. I grabbed a journal and sat on a squishy couch, feeling nervous and curious to see how this would pan out. When I used to wait for DS, I hardly ever bumped into other people visiting their therapists. Here however, new arrivals filed in every few minutes until eventually, I felt like I was in an airport departures lounge. It made me uneasy. Everyone kept to themselves. The clock struck 11am and therapists streamed in to pick up their clients until it was just me and another woman left. I counted the minutes anxiously. Was he still busy with another client? Was it really a good idea to see someone new? Five minutes later, an older man with silver hair poked his head around the corner and said his name to us. I replied with mine and followed him back down the corridor to a door on the right. His office was completely different to DS’s. Gone was the stylish but comfortable fittings with cool tones, the bookshelf with all his textbooks and the puffy couch which could comfortably sit three. Instead, HH’s space had sunny walls with generic pastel paintings you might find in a chain hotel. Half of the space was taken up by toys and items for play therapy. He walked past the room divider and offered me the double seater or a chair. I sat in the squeaky wicker double seater. It was surprisingly comfy. To the left was a big window I could look out of. Above the flowering bougainvillea, I noticed curtains rustling at the neighbour’s window. HH bumbled about, apologising for not being able to give me a declaration form because his printer was giving trouble. He sat down in front of me and we both had a chance to assess each other. He was older than DS. He used a pen and paper, not a tablet. He was both serious and awkward. But I remembered the kindness in his voice message, while we were still setting up an appointment, and figured he was a man of many layers.

We spoke about what had brought me to his office. I was surprised by how quickly I started choking up and crying. Had I really been bottling things up? I tried to be patient with myself and breathed in between so I could explain everything. “Where were his darn tissues?” I thought as I looked around. He came over and fished a box out from under a table. I explained that while every person had their ups and downs, it felt as though I had lost optimism and excitement about the future. I told him about DS and made it clear that I knew therapists were not magicians. I was realistic about having to put in the work and not having answers fall out the sky.

At first, I sensed he was bored because he crossed his arms and seemed disinterested in making eye contact. It made me wary. When he said those symptoms would fit under depression, I felt it was too quick to be diagnosing before understanding me as a person. I didn’t think I was depressed. Slowly I sensed a shift through the session and felt he had at least a basic understanding and interest in working with me to figure out what was going on. He recommended that the next session be used to get a background on my life and formative influences, my relationships with loved ones and what was happening in my life on a daily basis.

As we got up, he squeezed himself between the door and room divider so I could walk past. He seemed nervous. I walked out, hoping I would be able to move forward in the same way I was putting one foot in front of the other.

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Life support

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My therapist DS (Deep Soul) did not buy into the idea of accepting handwritten notes about my weekly thoughts, feelings and experiences. When we met last night, he was curious to know why I had wanted to give him stuff to hold onto between sessions. He guessed it might have been a way for me to sustain our connection, something I’ve really been struggling with lately. I said that was definitely part of it and told him my other reasons.

As he was asking questions, I sensed he was not keen about the idea and immediately felt like I had to defend my intentions. I should not have expected him to share in my excitement. Silly me. My heart started racing, I had a lump in my throat and I sat on the edge of my seat. I doubted myself and felt ashamed for even asking. He said I was welcome to write notes but that I would need to choose the most important ones and bring them into my session, not leave them with him.

He said it seemed as though I was finding it difficult to deal with these boundaries. It also seemed like I was not finding the support that I needed from therapy.

I nodded my head.

The last few months have been an extremely difficult time for me emotionally. My weeks have been punctuated with bouts of sadness, despair and lethargy. I wasn’t sure whether these feelings were more frequent or whether I was simply more aware of my underlying emotional state because of the therapeutic work we had been doing. Not having a clear cause or reason to feel this way left me in a state of flat denial.

You want me to work on my work?

But during the session, I realised I may be feeling this way because of what I have experienced at work. I’d prefer not to disclose what I do for a living but I can share that many of my days are filled with tales of death, violence and loss. Believing I was coping through professional detachment, I never raised my experiences with DS because I didn’t want it to hijack our work in areas I felt were important.

However, last night was different and I told DS about two of the notes I had written about these on-the-job experiences. The floodgates opened and I realised how much I had kept inside. DS asked what methods I was using to cope and I knew he was going to ask whether I was relying on my husband for support.

“I tell him what’s going on and yes, I do tell him how it makes me feel. But I usually summarise everything because I don’t want to be a burden to him,” I told DS. “I am painfully aware that the first 13 years of his life were spent dealing with a very sick and increasingly unavailable mom. I am scared my feelings will overwhelm him. I don’t want to trigger him.”

DS scribbled furiously and gave barely perceptible all-knowing head nods.

“And I know this is probably just all in my head. But it feels real to me, that my fears are real.”

Lean on me but be careful with that shaky boundary fence…

It was starting to make sense. Going through these experiences at work without adequate support had left me feeling quite unsafe and unsettled. It explained why I had been needing DS more and more recently and why I had a nagging need to be hugged or curl up into a ball. He was the only one I felt safe enough with to PRACTICE reaching out to, something I habitually avoid because I feel I need to be strong.

And so, the last three months have been filled with:

– An intense need for him to reassure me that he will be there therapeutically
– An unending yearning for him to tell me I am okay, no matter what I bring to the session
– Dreams of him abandoning me in some way or another
– A desire for him to be okay with me contacting him via email or phone if I really needed it.

And while he has listened to these needs, he has never encouraged or fulfilled them in any way. This has left me deeply bereft and increasingly isolated because I am worrying about the therapy relationship in addition to the job trauma and not feeling able and safe enough to turn to others for full support.

It’s not you, it’s me…

The weight of this now unburied hopelessness, grief and fear hit me at the end of the session. I tried to pull myself together and grab my bag and book off the couch before standing up. It was impossible. I couldn’t see much through the tears and I was ZAPPED of all energy. I must have tried this three or four times. DS could see I was a mess and sat down again.

He then asked me a series of questions about whether I had been keeping up my various commitments the last few months, if I had been struggling to sleep, whether I wanted to sleep more or less and how my appetite had been. I answered as best as I could through the sobs and basically said life was “running” thanks to an ingrained sense of responsibility (and not because of meaning, drive and passion). I appreciate that he took 10 non-paid minutes to check in with me.

It’s hard not to just give up and throw the towel in. But I’ll continue to try, battling my inadequacies, demons and critical thoughts the next few days as I always do… by myself.

 

 

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