Therapy was more productive tonight…
It’s 6:51 PM. I would normally be starting my therapy session right now, but my therapist is out of town this week. 7 more days seems like 7 more years. Sigh. Once you become attached to your therapist, even once a week doesn’t seem like enough. It’s very difficult to wait this long, even though I went for YEARS without seeing a therapist until I started seeing this one.
Once you start, everything changes. I’m actually feeling a little angry at him for putting me through this, even though I know he’s done nothing wrong and my anger is irrational. I still am going to tell him next week how angry waiting so long makes me, because the anger might be reflecting something else that’s coming to the surface.
I’ve posted before about my SAD (seasonal affective disorder). I also explained that for me, a sufferer of the Fall/Winter type (the most common type), I’m extremely sensitive to changes in daylight.
The Winter Solstice falls around December 21 or 22 every year. That’s the shortest day of the year, but also the last day the days are going to get any shorter. The next day, the sunlight-hours increase every day by increments of about a minute a day, as they march toward the Summer Solstice which falls from June 20 – June 22 every year.
I always noticed a darkening of my overall mood and loss of energy very shortly after the first day of summer, since the days are already becoming shorter even as they grow hotter. My body perceives these changes as early as mid-July!
There’s probably an evolutionary reason for this. Our distant ancestors were nocturnal, tree climbing, shrew like animals who may have needed to hibernate during colder weather to conserve energy and calories, while food was scarce. Many mammals today have a need to hibernate, and this tendency may have been retained in human genes to some extent, causing many of us to feel tired and depressed when they days begin to shorten. How nice if hibernation were an option for some of us humans!
Getting back to the topic at hand, my mood is already starting to improve, even though the first day of winter was only about 3 weeks ago (that long already???)
That’s early even for me. My body and spirits don’t usually start reacting to these increases until the end of January at the earliest.
But maybe my improving mood is due to more than just the lengthening days. Since I’ve been in therapy, I’ve been feeling a little bit happier and less anxious overall. For example, I have a serious car issue, but I’m actually not freaking out the way I would have a year or two ago. I’ve also noticed people are responding to me in a more positive way (or maybe nothing has really changed but I’m just perceiving they are perceiving me less negatively than before).
My creativity is increasing, and my motivation to write, and–I dearly hope I don’t sound narcissistic saying this–I think my writing lately has improved immensely and I’m beginning to find my humorous voice too and seeing how funny things can be I never would have found the humor in before.
I still have a long road ahead (my therapist thinks it’s going to take a while) and maybe this is just the honeymoon stage of therapy before the work starts getting really emotionally draining, but it’s a taste of what might be to come and I’ll enjoy this as long as it lasts.
More often lately, I’m feeling the presence of the Holy Spirit while at church. What this feels like is an opening of my heart and a warm surge of emotion. Sometimes I even get a little misty-eyed during the proceedings, especially after taking communion. It’s hard to put the emotion into words, but it’s a sort of reverent feeling and I always come away feeling energized and ready to confront the week ahead, knowing I’m not alone and God walks beside me every step of the way, no matter how tough things might get (and my life is far from easy!)
I’ve been getting similar feelings during my therapy sessions, and I know some of this is due to repressed emotions coming to conscious awareness. A lot of the emotion, though, I have to admit, has to do with transference–which are the strong feelings some clients develop toward their therapists that can easily be mistaken for limerence or romantic attraction (but in my case lacks a sexual aspect, which is good). In actuality, you don’t know your therapist at all (or at least you shouldn’t, beyond his or her qualifications and competence). The idealization many of us experience toward our therapists are our own projections and indicate primitive attachment has been achieved, and this can become a basis of healing as you learn to work through those feelings to connect with your own emotions and eventually develop healthier relationships with other people.
So what does any of this have to do with the Holy Spirit? Why am I talking about therapy and God in the same article? Well, because the emotions I feel in therapy are often similar to the emotions I have in church. The transference I’m currently experiencing is strong, very strong. When I was 22 I developed a strong transference toward a therapist I’d been seeing for about 2 years and I couldn’t handle it; I lacked the maturity to be able to work through the almost overpowering emotions that came up and they became too painful and I eventually left. That’s okay though; I wasn’t ready.
I’m a lot older and more mature now, and have learned how to be mindful and not allow my emotions to overwhelm me to the point of doing stupid things or making bad choices. In fact, I’ve almost become too controlled, since my primary goal in therapy right now is to connect more with my emotions, which due to complex PTSD, BPD and avoidant PD, have become almost inaccessible to me most of the time. Church and therapy are the two places where I feel safe actually allowing them to bubble to the surface a little bit.
But I’m still only human, and if I’m not careful, my transference toward my therapist could become inappropriate and while not likely to hurt him, could be damaging to me. Maintaining healthy boundaries and remaining mindful, while still welcoming and allowing myself to experience transference feelings toward my therapist can be a bit of a challenge.
So I had a sort of epiphany while praying this morning in church. Why not invite the Holy Spirit in during my sessions? Why not say a prayer just before each session, asking God to help me get the most out of therapy and thanking him for what I’ve already accomplished? Why not ask God to help me stay mindful but still able to experience the wonderful kaleidoscope of emotion that lies under all the fear and defenses I’ve built after years of abuse? God brought this particular therapist and I together for a reason. But he’s just a human being and imperfect like everyone else. I know this on a cognitive level, if not an emotional one. If he seems “ideal” it’s only God working through him; and it’s only me projecting my need for a perfect caregiver, a surrogate parent, onto him.
I also think that asking the Holy Spirit in during my sessions will actually enhance my ability to access buried emotions, and that’s my primary goal at the moment. I think that if I do this, I can get even more out of therapy than I have been getting, and will progress at a faster rate. so I’m going to try doing this this week and see what happens.
God and therapy don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
I think I made a kind of breakthrough in my therapy session tonight. For years one of my problems has been this overwhelming fear that something bad will happen to one of my kids. (I don’t like to even say the D word because I irrationally believe if I say it, I’ll somehow make it happen, by putting it out into the universe or something).
Of course all parents worry about their adult kids, especially when they know they’re out there somewhere in cars, which we all know are dangerous hunks of metal capable of the most ghastly and gory deaths you can imagine and operated by countless idiots and drunks on the road who can’t drive. I think my apprehension about something bad happening to my adult children edges into OCD-type territory though, because of how overpowering and pervasive these thoughts are, intruding where and when they are not welcome, even though I know that in all likelihood, something bad will NOT happen and even if it does, worrying about it excessively is like living through it twice. I think about my hypothetical reaction to such an event and wonder how I would retain my sanity, if not my will to live. I always marvel at people who have lost a child in a sudden manner like a car accident (a long illness is more bearable because you have time to prepare for it and process it) and wonder how they can still go on with their day to day activities–going shopping, paying bills, working at a job, watching a movie, hell, even having FUN sometimes. I know that wouldn’t be me and I obsess over how I might react.
I’ve been so haunted by the remote possibility of getting THAT life-changing phone call late some night (you know the one), that it’s even been a recurrent theme in my writings. I had a dream over a year ago about losing my son, and wrote a post about it, called Losing Ethan.
Anyway, I decided to bring up this problem because it doesn’t exactly make my life happier and it annoys the hell out of my kids. The first thing my therapist did was tell me to stop BEING those feelings, but just OWN them. In other words, he’d noticed that when I talk about bad feelings that make me ashamed or anxious, I always use the term “I am….” Instead he told me to practice saying, “I feel…” or “I have…” In this way, you create a bit of a distance between yourself and the bad feeling. That doesn’t mean you don’t feel it, but with a little distance, the emotion can be explored, almost from the viewpoint of a third person. Ironically, what happens is you feel the emotion MORE (I can’t really explain why that works but it does).
His advice was brilliant, because a few minutes later, I made a connection. In 1998, with my then-husband in jail, I was forced to learn to drive his stickshift truck. I had to teach myself and never learned to park the truck properly. So after picking up my kids from their after school program and pulling into our driveway, I set it to Neutral and the truck began to roll downhill–containing both my kids, then ages 5 and 7, straight toward a TREE. The events that played out next are described in this post, called The Tree.
The important thing is, I’d connected this traumatic event in August of 1998 to my current obsessive thoughts about tragedy striking and generally always feeling like I’m about to receive some devastating news–and I knew immediately that these unpleasant thoughts are based on guilt and shame. I started to tell my therapist that I always felt guilty that the truck had rolled and that I *could* have killed them. For about 10 years I couldn’t even talk about it, because any time I did, I’d start feeling very dissociated and anxious. My ex knew how to press all my buttons, and knew this was my biggest one. If he wanted to upset me all he had to do was remind me what a rotten mother I was to almost kill my kids that night because he knows I’m still struggling with guilt over my failure to protect them, my failure to be smart enough to know how to park a stickshift.
I’m always very mindful of my body language, voice and gestures when I’m in session, probably as much as my therapist is. These things can tell you a LOT about yourself, not just about others. And I realized as I was making these connections that my body relaxed and I leaned back but my voice became softer and sadder. I was opening up to him in a way I hadn’t before. He just listened, with what appeared to be a great deal of empathy.
And at some point I felt tears come to my eyes. My eyes just barely glistening, tears not overflowing, but there, making the backs of my eyelids feel warm. I looked off to my left like I always do when I get deep into stuff, and kept on talking. I felt myself opening up and feeling some kind of generic emotion that wasn’t sadness and wasn’t guilt and wasn’t gratitude or joy but was none of these things and yet all of these things. I wanted to share all this with him. I heard myself speak and my voice became thick and my eyes burned again.
There was more, much more, but I’ll end this here because I’m getting emotional writing this. The important thing is, I almost shed tears in front of my therapist tonight. That might not seem like such a big a deal, but for me it was a huge deal because I haven’t been able to cry in front of another human being in about 15 years–which I realized is when THAT happened. (It might have been longer than that though–my memories of the time I was in my horrible marriage are gray, shadowy and even have yawning gaps in places).
What happened tonight is only the proverbial tip of the iceberg–I was seriously fucked up for a very, very, VERY long time, at least since age 4 or 5–but it’s significant because it means the wall in my head that prevents me from really being able to connect to my emotions is developing a few weak spots.
My therapist told me I’m a good storyteller.
This was one of the most validating things anyone ever told me. He likes my stories. I keep him entertained. I make him laugh and keep him on the edge of his seat.
Maybe I really could write that novel and keep millions entertained and become rich and famous after all. Why not? Its never too late. Hell, Grandma Moses didn’t become a famous painter until her 90s. There’s nothing wrong with being a late bloomer.
I always thought of myself as a pretty boring person and an even worse storyteller, because I didn’t think I had any stories worth telling. But I’m finding out that’s not the case.
We all have a story to tell. We’re all actors on this stage called life.
But feeling complimented isn’t really the reason I’m over the moon about what he said. It doesn’t matter if I have the capacity to entertain anyone. I don’t really care if I can make people laugh or keep them quaking in suspense or move them to tears. That’s not my reason for being here.
It means a lot because I feel like he cares. I keep him entertained because he cares about me or at least does a pretty good job pretending he does (but I don’t think it’s pretending). He’s very good at what he does, but more importantly, after four sessions, I feel like we have established trust and a good working relationship. He’s one of the few people who ever showed me any real empathy. I feel like I could tell him almost anything.
Except one thing.
I realized this week I’ve developed strong transference feelings. That’s supposed to happen in psychodynamic therapy. It’s like limerence but without the sexual aspect. I just want to be cared for and protected by him, as if he’s the nurturing and caring surrogate parent I should have had. These feelings can be intense. They replicate ancient attachments from early childhood. You’re supposed to work through them. Right now I just feel incredibly excited to be seeing him again tomorrow.
I know this euphoria won’t last. It might even become painful. I’m prepared for that. I’m idealizing someone I don’t even know. All he is is a mirror, in which I can see whatever I want–or see aspects of myself I can’t own yet. I went through this when I was 22 and wound up walking out on my therapist because I couldn’t handle the intensity of my feelings anymore. But I’m older and more mature now, and know a lot more about how this stuff works than I did back then. Therapy isn’t easy. It’s work, hard work, and I’m prepared to roll up my sleeves and get busy instead of slacking off and expecting to just suddenly not have any problems anymore.
He doesn’t know yet. I don’t know if I’m ready to tell him. He may figure it out even if I don’t say anything. Maybe I can tell it like a story.
I know the labels don’t really matter, but I’ve been wanting to know for months. I also wanted to know if I’m really a covert narcissist. I got my diagnosis on Friday.
Before I talk about that, I just want to say that I know I picked he right therapist and it’s because of the way he showed me his empathy and got me to trust him.
We originally had our appointment for Thursday but he forgot. It turned out it was a mixup in his calendar due to the confusion over Thanksgiving week. The first thing he did when I showed up and he realized his mistake was to apologize. He said he would make it up to me. I felt a niggling of rejection (how did he forget??? How could he possibly make it up? I had important thing to tell him!)
I worried that maybe he didn’t really like me and was trying to get rid of me.
He must have known this because I think he saw the look on my face (that I was trying to hide with laughter and “no problem” reassurances) but he knew that was an act, I think.
“Why don’t you swing by tomorrow?” he said. This guy saw how I felt, and empathically addressed the situation and in so doing, removed my worries that he might be trying to get rid of me. I told him that I was glad he remedied things so quickly because, I admitted, if he hadn’t done that I would have continued to feel rejected.
His quick remedy showed he had a lot of empathy and was concerned how I felt. That made me trust him. I also realized he was modeling empathy for me, something I never got from my parents and very few other people growing up.
He knows I have a BPD, PTSD and AvPD diagnosis, but from the very first session I told him I think I’m also a covert narcissist. I explained what that was in case he didn’t know (since it’s not recognized officially). This session, which was my third, I finally worked up the courage to ask what he’d diagnosed me with.
“Well, I don’t really believe in the medical model,” he said. “Also, the Axes have been removed from the DSM-V.” This was news to me.
He was staring at me. “What?” I said.
“Do you want me to give you a diagnosis?”
I stared back and looked away, licking my lips nervously and giggled a little.
“What’s going on?”
“Why is it important to you to have a diagnosis?”
“It isn’t, really…” But it was, and I didn’t know why or how to explain it. “I’m just curious, I guess.”
“I won’t give you a diagnosis but you do appear to have symptoms of PTSD and some borderline traits….”
His sentence hung in the air.
“and…?” I asked, waiting.
“Well, you wanted to know, so I’ll tell you. I don’t think you have NPD, but you do have narcissistic traits and are probably on the spectrum.” That’s about where I thought I was. I was relieved I didn’t have NPD.
But it was like I went down the rabbit hole all over again, feeling dissociated and lightheaded but only for a minute. This time I had my emotional water wings on and floated back into reality. I was so overcome with relief that my eyes watered.
I think it was the relief of having some kind of closure. I’ve been so confused for so long. Well, I guess I’m sort of in limbo between narcdom and non-narcdom, which doesn’t clear things up a whole lot more than they were before, but somehow now the confusion makes more sense.
I think I had an interesting therapy session last night. I was talking to my therapist about the way my father stole the little illustrated stories I wrote when I was about 7 (which I wrote about in this article). This long ago incident seems to have set the tone for my entire life, because after I’d realized my intensely personal little creations (that were intended for no eyes but my own) were stolen, I felt overcome with shame and I felt as violated as if I’d been raped (and I have been raped so I can vouch for the similar feeling of violation). I remember what I did with those little books after I stole them back: I destroyed them.
This has been a refrain throughout my entire life. It’s like that song you hate that keeps playing in your head until you’re ready to shoot yourself in the head to make it go away. During my session last night, I made this connection: whenever I felt there was a threat of something that came from my true self (usually related to my creativity which meant being vulnerable) being violated or taken away, I sought to destroy it. Sometimes this “destruction” simply meant losing interest in whatever it was or giving it up. When I was 19, I had some expensive camera equipment and loved to take pictures as a hobby. When my 35mm camera (which I’d saved for months for) got stolen one day, I gave up photography. Only recently, have I been taking pictures again (on a crappy Smartphone).
But there are other examples where something wasn’t literally stolen from me as my camera was or my illustrated books were, but where my boundaries were violated (or I perceived them to be violated, or believed they were about to be violated). I’ve never stuck with anything I loved doing for too long, because sooner or later it wasn’t just “mine” anymore and it was either held up for judgment, or criticized (to me, these feel like boundary violations and make me feel too vulnerable). For several months I’ve been struggling with trying to figure out why I’ve been losing interest in blogging, which has been so life-changing for me and has brought me so much happiness. I realized it was because “running naked in public,” while incredibly liberating and having many rewards, also means you’re vulnerable to judgment and criticism. I don’t know how to handle judgment and criticism. I take everything too personally; any sort of criticism is a personal assault–again, like being raped. Even worse is having to deal with trolls and bullies, which feels like gang rape (and reminds me of my childhood at the hands of bullies both at school and at home).
A person with a healthy sense of self and normal self esteem might feel somewhat offended by a hurtful comment, but would be able to move on from that and wouldn’t give up or find themselves losing interest in something they’re passionate about. They might even fight back or take a stand. But when I’m attacked, or even criticized, I get triggered and become the defenseless and helpless child I used to be (and that I rejected a long time ago). I can’t handle reality, which means confronting both the good and the bad. And so to avoid being “raped” again, I’ve turned off my ability to be interested by much of anything at all (and then resent the hell out of whoever I feel violated me). That way, I don’t put myself at risk of being judged, which in my mind always leads to being rejected. Tied in with this is the fear of failure: I was raised to believe I was incompetent, so if I don’t attempt anything, I can’t really fail at it. Right? But the bottom line is, hiding behind my fear of failure is a absolute terror of being found defective, and hence rejected.
I don’t know whether this unfortunate tendency of mine is indicative of BPD, C-PTSD, or Covert NPD or something else (I do not know what my therapist has diagnosed me with and I’m afraid to ask), but I think writing about this is a step in the right direction. I want to explore this further when I see my therapist again and am going to show him this post (he knows I have a blog and write about psychology and NPD, but I haven’t shared the link with him yet).
I just received an email back from my chosen therapist (I wrote him a very long description of my problems and what my goals are in treatment) and he sounds very understanding and empathic. He thanked me for giving him a lot of information to work with ahead of time and said 2x a week for deep insight therapy isn’t out of the question, but finances might limit me to just one session a week for now. He offered me some open slots to choose from, so I have my first appointment (which will run into 75 minutes or so) in 2 days! Why do I feel like I’m going on a date or something? (No I do not find him attractive lol!)
I’m kind of surprised my telling him I have a BPD diagnosis didn’t scare him off due to the stigma. I remember one therapist who I felt I connected with on our intake session calling me a few days later after looking over my psychiatric records and saying, “sorry, I don’t work with borderlines.” I don’t act out anymore though, so I don’t think there should be any problems.
Good mental health treatment is becoming increasingly a thing of the past. Many times, it simply isn’t available to those who aren’t wealthy. Most company-sponsored health insurance plans don’t even cover mental health anymore, unless it’s short term or if your problem directly affects your job. Most of the time, they’ll just fire your ass.
Mental health for the poor is even worse. If it’s even available in your community, it could take weeks or months of waiting after an entire day spent filling out forms before you even get your foot in the door for your “intake session.” Once you do get in the system (if you do), you’re sent to a bored psychiatrist who wants to pump you full of drugs instead of send you for long term psychodynamic therapy. Then you have to check in weekly with some condescending nurse-practitioner who asks you a litany of prefabricated questions (one size fits all!), takes your temperature and weighs you (why?), and asks you about your drug use.
That’s right. Drug use. It seems like psychotherapy programs for the poor try to siphon you off into a “drug treatment program” if you admit to even sipping a glass of wine a few times a year or having a few tokes of weed on occasion. Where I live, the only free “mental health” program is a drug-treatment program in disguise. Having little money, I went there not too long ago to get therapy for my depression and anxiety and had to fill out about 10 pages asking me about my “drug abuse history.” I walked out.
That’s why I’m currently paying out of pocket for a real psychodynamic therapist who focuses on digging into your childhood and stuff (eg, the kind of therapist rich people pay for) even though I’m poor as fuck.