Are we there yet?

I’m becoming increasingly nervous about the level of vulnerability in my interactions with my psychotherapist. And last session he even commented that my disclosure at times “shocks” him. Which makes me angry, damnit! I’m supposed to disclose, he’s supposed to be safe, this is a therapy session.

He told me that I should question more, and demand more vulnerability from him before I disclose more of myself. I reminded him that I often do ask those searching difficult questions, and I am assessing him for what he thinks, but he thinks that although I “have a watchful intelligence” that does assess, I don’t do it nearly enough.

In a CBT based therapy session, of course, you don’t ask questions that would expose your therapist’s vulnerability, it’s all about you and your problems. Now that I have a therapist who is into being “connected” – I am starting to feel more and more stuck, powerless and worst of all dependent. There is that attraction to the charisma or power of a person, and the desire to be part of it by being special to them. I realise that I won’t be remembered and noticed for  being intelligent, beautiful or any other positive attributes, so I am obnoxious, in-their-face and devil’s advocate, but at least they will remember me. This has happened so many times in my life and makes me wonder -

Are the patterns of the my past being repeated (again)?

I hope that this is what he was warning me about, when he was telling me to demand more vulnerability from him before I gave up more of my own. He is telling me as a therapist to be careful for my “own” sake because he is human? perhaps.

The Golden Rule

“IF YOU’RE A MAN, AND EVERYBODY LIKES YOU AND THINKS YOU’RE WONDERFUL, THEN I WILL CHOOSE TO PASSIONATELY HATE YOU BEFORE I KNOW YOU.” My golden rule.

The therapy sessions are starting to circle around some deeper issues, that I know are there but they are going to hurt if I have to feel while I talk about them. I’ve practiced the telling a few times to explore how it will feel to discuss them, role playing if you will. Even when I’m not there, in the therapy room, on the therapy couch (not just metaphorically – he has a couch! Well a 2 seater…) I’m at home on my own and so should be able to explore all of those feelings and sob uncontrollably as I so want to do – and yet I can’t do it. It’s like giving birth to my first child all over again. Feeling complete panic, out of control, and the desire to do absolutely anything so I don’t have to feel these feelings.

I need to dissipate some of the intensity, the sadness,  so that it’s not so raw in the retelling. However, by trying to structure the story in a way that is meaningful for me, and not just random thoughts or a bare narrative, I’ve discovered that I had, what was called, “My Golden Rule”.  It began long ago, during high school when I realised that I wasn’t going to be one of the pretty popular girls no matter how much I wanted to be. I was an accepted member of their group, probably the leader at times, but I wasn’t one of them. I was the jester, the entertainment. I’m pretty sure I developed this identity to keep myself safe. I was very small (still am short) and by being the little funny girl, I put myself out of the running to be considered beautiful, and then no guy could tell me I wasn’t desirable because I had already established the rules of interaction. Which were as follows:

No,  I don’t think I’m beautiful, you don’t have to put me down for that, or be afraid that I might like you.  It’s ok, I’m just the funny girl you can be mates with.

This grew and developed into “The Golden Rule” – if a boy is popular and gorgeous then I need to reject him before he can reject me. And at high-school most guys who are popular and cute are actually dickheads. This worked really well up till age 18 or 19 years when I grew up and did become gorgeous (I just didn’t know it back then).  Then I was considered a challenge by those rejected, that I was playing hard to get. They just couldn’t understand why I didn’t like them, when all the other girls did and they hadn’t done anything to me.

PUNCHING ABOVE THEIR WEIGHT. Sub-paragraph of  My golden rule.

I also had a sub paragraph to the golden rule, “only be with boys who are grateful to be with you”. I’ve since learnt that this is called having boyfriends who were “punching above their weight” – a truly revolting expression that MUST have been coined by a man as it’s so based on looks.

It’s true at that age, we would look at the partner of a person we liked and basically evaluate whether we were better looking than them or not. It was considered fair game, if you were better looking than their partner to go for the object of your desire. Given my low self esteem there is no way I could have dealt with having a boyfriend more attractive than me, and thereby attracting lots of rivals for their affection. Much safer to have my boyfriend have to fight off the rivals, and for me to be adored!

It -of course- wasn’t that simple. I also recognised that gorgeous, popular guys were generally not going to deal with my insecurities and difficulties and had no idea what it was like to feel insecure, ugly and unloved. These were the guys who hurt my friends, who broke their hearts by cheating on them, and saw nothing wrong with going through my whole group of girlfriends, coming to the last one and then moving on to another group  of girls. So I didn’t trust them, and I genuinely didn’t like some of them,  and so not all of the dislike and ice maiden persona was an act to save me from their rejection.

Looking back, I can see that it’s the few times I broke the golden rule that I got hurt. And yes, in particular that one time when I got raped. Oh and joined a cult, and was publicly humiliated, and had my career almost derailed whilst being emotionally destroyed, and- etc.

So I’ve learnt it’s a good rule! Now where this problem enters my current reality, is that I’ve realised (too late) that my therapist RG is one of those guys that meet the criteria for the golden rule. Having chosen or been drawn to the areas of parenting and childbirth, he naturally would deal primarily with women. And these women, hundreds based on my research, if not a few thousand, love and adore his book/s and therefore -by corollary- love and adore him as the author. So here I am, in a position I completely abhor, that of a member of someone’s entourage of adoring devotees.

And it’s too late, I already like RG, I already care what he thinks about me, AND I’m already way, way too exposed to retract. Not always, but the regaining of “hand”, ie . the upper hand, in this interaction is becoming more difficult. I am worried that in a bid to claw back some of my vulnerability I will go too far, and really offend him and hurt his feelings (see – I told you I like him and care what he thinks!)

So as long as he can see that “the rape incident” is not what it’s all about, that heaps worse things happened to me (really!) and they are all part of a story of a funny but ugly little girl who got rejected because of how she looked and didn’t like herself very much for a very long time.

Familar and comfortable like quicksand

So what was the awful suggestion my psychologist made to me that annoyed me so much, and made me close down?

He suggested that I keep playing my internal tape (fat, stupid, lazy) because it has the comfort of the familiar about it, better the devil you know etc. I suppose he felt because of my religious cult background that maybe I enjoy mental “self flagellation”.

He also likened it to people who love to go see a horror movie, can’t help themselves and enjoy being scared.  A nice illustration which immediately falls totally flat as I have never seen a horror movie. Only Hitchcock’s  “The Birds” when I was old enough to laugh at the CGI  (not sure those drawn on birds could even classify as cgi) and  I couldn’t sleep for a year after seeing the Michael Jackson video for “Thriller” … (as an aside I had to watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer for years to build up my “horror” resistance.)

Also, if it’s so damn comfortable there, then why the depression and the suicidal tendencies huh?? Yeah comfortable like quicksand. I like it so much that I want to leave this earth behind to get away from those internal taped voices.

*sigh*

He talked about some experiences he had had (at my request) and a particular negative moment when a “leader” publicly wrote him off during an intense emotional time by loudly announcing “oh leave him if that’s the reality he wants to create”. Basically belittling both his experience and his person. And it wasn’t an isolated incident but a summation of the power play and vulnerability in their relationship.

I don’t see the difference between his comment to me and that leaders’ comment to him. Which means I’m angry he felt he could just throw my problem back on me and leave me to blame myself again. However, anger has always been a rather effective change agent for me, and I have had an awesome two weeks. It reminded me (again) that the pit is mine, I have to climb out, and I wanted to climb out just to spite him to show him he is wrong.

Perhaps also a reduction in Effexor XR, and a manic episode all combined to create a rather happy and up (overall) 2 weeks. I was kind of glad he wasn’t able to have a session last week, as I didn’t want my happy mood wrecked again.

I will have to try and get the sessions to focus more on my relationship with my eldest instead of going over what a f***kup I am.

LATER: I did tell RG at the next session that I didn’t see the difference between what he said and what that leader said to him, and he said he was (comfortably) embarrassed – could see where I was coming from, so it felt a bit “touche”. Of course being the sporadic, wandering nature of the sessions means this hasn’t been revisited.

Open letter to my psychotherapist

Dear (insert name of your psychotherapist)

As you are probably aware, because I turn up at the same time each week, and give you lots of money when I leave, I am in therapy. Perhaps there are other giveaways, like the deep and personal nature of the conversations we have or  the occasional tears I shed whilst talking to you about said personal issues.

In any case, it would seem to me that our chats are bound by different social rules than perhaps when meeting a friend for coffee. Even though I do bring my coffee to the session (you do have a Campos cafe downstairs).  When I chat to you I think of it as a “session” and I do so under the impression there are boundaries – professional, personal and physical that are clearly established and delineated.

Just wanted to let you know that when you ask me “how are you this week?” I am immediately unsure of how to respond. Is this the small talk to establish rapport before we begin the serious stuff? Is this your way of asking me if I have anything I want to discuss this week? Are you evaluating my social skills at lying as clearly I’m not great or I wouldn’t be here? Or are you concerned that we won’t have anything to talk about?

I have tried a few techniques with you but don’t feel they were particularly successful. I answered honestly (insert good/ not bad/ not great/ok here) and found that you took it very seriously and we ended up discussing that answer for the rest of the session. I tried admitting that I didn’t really want to answer the question (because I didn’t want it to be the focus of the session) and we talked about that all session. I lied and you saw straight through that, and we had to talk about that. I lied and you didn’t see through it, and I had to deal with that.

In the interests of removing my dread as I begin each session, would you mind being more clear about what you actually want at that point? As you know, I’m in therapy because I have issues. And asking “how are you?” raises a whole lot more for me that I probably don’t really need right now!

Thanks

Your over-analytical client.

(you know, the difficult one)

“I have no hand Jerry, no hand”

Being me, and whatever personality type that is, I seem to start new projects/experiences/relationships at great speed and with great excitement which is only every maintained temporarily. After an initial period of direct correspondence between the effort put in and the results, the effort remains the same but the results start to diminish or even stop.

In weight-loss this is known as hitting a “plateau”. The body adjusts and develops a tolerance of the exercise/diet regime, and the weight no longer seems to shift. The phase in relationships is likened to “after the honeymoon is over”, when the object of your adoration whether a friend or partner is no longer so special, and everything about that person starts to irritate and annoy.  I have experienced these plateaus in relationships, during weight-loss, starting a hobby, or studying something new.

It seems that after 12 weeks of sessions – I have arrived at that point with my psychologist. I was getting lots of really useful insights, lots of feedback and helpful concepts and I felt like rapid adjustment of my mental models and thought processes was occurring. While it was a rather wild ride, it brought results and I felt heard which always makes me happy.

This week he made a suggestion about my attitude to some thought processes with which I really struggled to agree. Initially I found the suggestion insulting and felt provoked to anger – wanting to shout “not fair”.Then I knew I would have to consider it but I was so angry at having to deal with this issue that I may have rather obviously closed down at that point. In any case, I really didn’t want to keep discuss it anymore, I got the point, and it wasn’t going to get resolved or sorted at that time, it’s something I’ll need some time to review. I’m pretty sure I still won’t end up agreeing with his suggestion, but I need to do him the courtesy, and myself the respect of at least considering the reality of it.

I knew I had closed down, and removed the “energy” if you will, as he actually said, “So what do you want to talk about now? I honestly have no idea what to do next”.  I’m sort of not surprised we got to that point – I’m such a difficult person! I have felt terribly vulnerable in this relationship lately – understandably – and wanting to regain some balance  I suggested he talk about one of his experiences he had previously mentioned, to which we both relate. This was actually good, and ended up giving me some hope in an unexpected kind of way – no idea what he thought of that or even if he’ll mention it next week. One of my “bug-bears” is the rather haphazard structure of our sessions, how one of my throw-away comments becomes the focus of the session when I had really wanted to address something else.

So perhaps it was subconsciously deliberate – the suggestion he made didn’t feel safe and maybe tipped the vulnerability scales – so I had to find a way to redress it. It reminded me of that Seinfield episode, where Jerry and George discuss the gaining or loss of “hand” in a relationship. “I have no hand Jerry, no hand!”

thanks Tony Robbins but..

I heard a Tony Robbins audio once where he said in essence that people “do” depressed. So if you “do” happy, the corollary is that you are happy, or at least you become so. Of course, this immediately fails the “true for all” test by application to the Third World – people can’t just “do” full, fed and satisfied; they can’t just “do” health. Well, not according to me anyway!

So while the decision of the last post was powerful and did work, I find myself here again. Of course one shouldn’t be so stupid as to think it would be a once off, but well a girl can dream right? On the positive side, it lasted 7 days which is great, I’ll never say no to good days.  So, do I-  TonyRobbins style – just “do” it and make that decision and act it out? Last time I didn’t have the physical and emotional weight I have had the last 2 or 3 days, nor the headaches, irritability and excess sleep which points more to a manic episode than “doing” happiness.

However, do I really have a choice to NOT try? If  it works, and  I owe it to my husband and children to see if I can at least be less irritable and reactionary today, then how can I not try? It’s just the long term good versus the short term gratification. It’s hard work to try and be happy, and seriously right now I would rather go back to bed, put a pillow over my head and ignore the world.

A decision

I have realised that no one can get me out of the pit except me.

I think when I had my first major breakdown 10 years ago, I thought that somehow there would be some kind of “magic” answer – like a cancer victim hopes for an operation to amputate the malignant tumour. I thought medication would fix it all, and that if finally people knew how much I was suffering that I would be given treatment and get better. I hadn’t realised that this was the start of an ongoing struggle that I would continue to face again and again.

Giving up the struggle to be well, while a blessed relief, was the initial step to the inexorable slide into the pit, and my ultimate attempt to cease struggling. This time the experience has been quite different. I had promised myself “I would never be in that place again” and here I was nearly there. Because of my terribly great fear of the dis-empowerment of “that place”, I largely bypassed the “feeling suicidal” and went straight to thinking about the event and planning it. There is control and order by doing that. However, with two little children now,  the cost to give up is so much greater, even if giving up is just letting myself have a major breakdown.

I have always believed – when well- that suicide is a cowardly response. When unwell, I often feel that it is the braver option. Well or unwell I do acknowledge the awfulness for my children and the utter finality of the decision. This time too, there has been relief with moments of sunlight reaching-  if not the floor of the pit – at least the walls. And instead of those moments making the depression worse, reminding me of what could be, of what my life should be, they have been and are a great source of comfort.

I also tried to think if anything would make me happier, and figured winning the lottery would probably do it. Now, last time I had a breakdown I was on a 6 figure salary, but I wasn’t happy so I do acknowledge that money is not the answer. However, thinking of what I would do if I had that money I came to a realization.

I actually don’t want to die.

Because I want to be well.

So I decided some things.

I asked God for help and told Satan to piss off.  Now that could just totally be interpreted as personifications of my own inner strength and weaknesses  – I don’t care what others think if it works. In the end, one needs to be well regardless of the cosmology used to get there.

And I tried to think of the fight in more physical terms – rather than always a cognitive battle for positivity. Anger and frustration are often best served using a a physical release so that one can then expend the energy and focus on the cause of the problem in the quiet that follows.

I realised that no one else is going to get me out of the pit, because no else can. Even RG as helpful as he’s been, can’t actually do the climbing for me. The medication enables me to climb but won’t do it for me. If I want to get out, only I can do it. Surprisingly instead of driving me immediately to the brink it gave me some hope and a determination to spite this thing.

Of course, perhaps I just woke up manic, and am now in a terribly, irritable, controling phase again. Oh the joys of bipolar madness.