To my Therapist,
First week of grad school, done! I did it. I made it. I am here. One of my classes is Theories of Psychotherapy and Counseling. Chapter 3 is about psychodynamic psychotherapy. At the end of our first class, after we had gone over the first two chapters, the professor asked who would like to do the role play for psychodynamic psychotherapy (yes, it is a mouth full to say). My hand shot up. I was the very first person to volunteer. You see, I have an inkling that part of the type of therapy I have been in for the last nine years is just that, based on that theory.
I met with my therapist today to get help on my assignment and do some role play practice. It was very helpful. You see, I read the entire chapter, which took me about 4.25 hours over two days, and if I had to recite or recall anything from the chapter, well, I don’t think I would do so well.
Here is the scenario that we came up with. I am the therapist and my client is AM (Adult Male). AM is married to a woman who works in the theater industry and is always gone at night doing plays. AM works in the banking industry at a 9 – 5 job and when he comes home at night the house is always empty and he feels lonely. In addition to that his wife recently made them get a dog and she is never home to take care of the dog so he is always walking the dog. AM is not sure if he wants to stay in this marriage. I tell him I can imagine that this must be very difficult for him.
I ask him if there was ever another time where he has felt like this before. He reflects and tells me that when he was a kid his mom and dad worked very hard at their careers and he knew they loved him but that he was self-sufficient and a lot of the time he took care of himself. He says again that his parents loved him very much but looks down and to the side while saying it. As a therapist I notice this nonverbal gesture and realize that what was said may not be accurate as per AM’s perception, but this is his defense mechanism by defending his parents.
I tell him, “I notice you looked down when you said that and shifted your position. Tell me about what is happening on the inside for you.” He says, “I don’t know, I guess this topic makes me uncomfortable.” I say, “what is it like sitting with this discomfort?” “It doesn’t feel good,” he replies. “No, I bet it doesn’t.”
Shift of topic. I ask him what the experience was like when he was left alone and he says it was fine, really. I point out that just as AM’s parents were often gone, his wife is often gone and what does he think about that? I don’t know, he replies. “I think there might be a connection there, that maybe it is no coincidence that you chose to marry a person who is very involved with and focused on her career, just like with your parents.” It’s just something to notice, maybe a pattern.
This scenario happens during the working phase of treatment, not the initial phase. The scene with my scene partner only needs to be 10 – 20 minutes long. We can record it on video ahead of time, which is what I will be doing, or we could present the scene live in class. Either way the professor is going to help us to interpret the style of therapy, point out elements of the theory which were applied noticing interventions used.
I used empathy in the beginning when I said this must be hard for him. I guess what the intervention would be at the end is providing some insight as to the connection between the past and the present. I just added in the paragraph of how the therapist focuses on the here and now moment and his reaction to telling me about his past, insisting that his parents loved him even though he may have felt abandoned or neglected by them.
For each case, I am to come up with a case conceptualization and then a treatment plan. The treatment plan goes over the goals for the initial, working, and closing phases of treatment. For each goal listed there needs to be a set of interventions which I am going to use. Just the term itself, “intervention” is new to me and although by definition I know what it means, to intervene in a way which provides a positive outcome, I barely know what the interventions are. I know that using empathy might be a type of intervention but I don’t know what else is. I will have to refer back to the textbook.
To my dear friend,
Disclaimer: This is an extremely personal and private journal entry.
I have no words yet I must express myself after having experienced the film, “I am Jane Doe” tonight. Shock. Sadness. Fear. Terror. Disgust. Silence. These are the first words which come to my mind. These women had evidence in regards to what happened to them, and they lost their court cases but they didn’t give up.
I have no evidence. Nothing will ever make right what happened to me during my early adulthood. There could be so many “If only’s.” But I cannot dwell in that realm. What I can do is fight the depression. What I can do is to keep living and to survive every moment of suicidal ideation which comes my way. What I can do is to continue to see my psychotherapist who has, over the course of nine dedicated years, changed my life for the better, who has stuck by me through every setback and every frustration, and who helped me get through the pain and the tears just last week because of the memories of the life that I used to live.
The sexual abuse started in 2005 but he had been grooming me for it since the year 2000. I met him in 1996 for the first time in a physical exercise class where I was at least two years younger than everybody else in that class, save my twin brother. All of the girls had started to grow breasts and I didn’t even have a training bra because I didn’t need it yet. My chest was flat. Little did I know that I had met my future abuser who would later sell my body for profit on Backpage.com and on Craigslist.com, who would put me on starvation diets so that I would weigh not much more than a young teenager, who made me regularly get my vulva waxed so that he could enjoy “playing” with my hairless vagina, as if I were a child, who bought for me and made me wear children’s underwear and children’s two-piece bathing suits while having sex with me, who hated my big breasts, and who coerced and manipulated me into having humiliating “pee accidents” on the floor so that he could be sexually aroused. To be honest, the list and the run-on sentence could span many pages but the idea of the clear perversion is already there.
My fingers clutching my favourite pen, uncapped, hovering in the air like a pendulum stopped halfway whilst that same right hand takes a pause from the tension in my tendons and forearm muscles, propping up my bowing head. My eyes close and I take a breath. I open my eyes again to the reality of the safety I have created for myself which had been years in the making. This is my home and I am in charge of my life. I make my own decisions, I buy my own food and clothes, and I even have a say in what happens to the money which I earn. I wear my hair as I like, long and free-flowing with no product to alter its natural beauty and I no longer have to wear contact lenses for the sole purpose of making my eyes look blue or green, a stark contrast to my natural olive skin and the hazel eyes I was born with. I haven’t touched a straightening iron or curling iron for over five years, save the Winter Formal my company hosted in a ballroom last year, for which I foolishly and lavishly wore a $700 dress “just because I could” purchased by the unexpected alimony I had recently received by the sale of his company, whose beginnings I suffered through, and of which monies my ex-abuser thought I did not deserve a penny.
Here I pause because I am allowed to take respite from the breathlessly long sentences running through my hidden veins which want to be heard and acknowledged. I am okay. I am okay and I am always going to be okay no matter what may come, because I have learned how to take care of myself.
This piece which I am actively composing is not only dear to my heart, starkly honest, and telling of my vulnerabilities but also my strengths, it is so intensely personal, pivotal in this moment and important to me that I was compelled to pull out my personal journal and become a part of the process, fully engaged, where ink becomes shapes, which become words and finally, sentences. I am not typing these words on a computer keyboard or via my phone; I am creating strength and beauty which is taking shape in my own handwriting. How special is that.
I do not have the time or energy to continue this on for much longer because I now live a life that is full of things which living people do, as opposed to being oppressed by the grip of the death wish of suicidality because of the trauma which I experienced at the hands of an immoral man who is likely doing the same thing he did to me to someone else.
At this, I must conclude, because I simply can’t go on any longer right now. I must go heal myself so that I can face another day of the mostly and amazingly happy life which I now lead.
Just some thoughts jotted down on electronic medium. When school starts on the 29th I won’t really have time to post blogs or write in journals any longer. I don’t know how I am going to manage working full time and taking nine graduate level class units but somehow I will figure it out. Luckily this MFT program has part-time options available so if I need to I can drop down to six units a semester instead of nine. Twelve units is considered full-time.
I found out on Wednesday that my second Federal PLUS loan, which is based on credit history, got denied two days prior. I thought the reason they were offering me the loan is that it had already gotten approved. My modified plan had been to drop down to working 20 hours a week part-time so that I could focus on my studies and then supplement the rest of my living expenses with that additional loan. Now, the only loan I have is the maximum unsubsidized federal loan which is not dependent on credit, at $20,500 per year. That just barely covers the cost of my tuition and in no way covers any of my living expenses. When I am done, for tuition alone, I am going to be $60,000 in debt which, all things considered, is better than the $120k in student loans I was considering on taking so that I could afford to work part-time. And I am not going into a money-making profession. It just might take me a decade or more to pay it off, not to mention I want to have a child or two, for whose college tuition I would then want to start saving and investing, before my own loans have even been paid off. Lots of things to consider.
My roommate’s friend from the other side of the country has moved in with us and is staying for an indeterminable amount of time. What I initially understood was that she was to be staying for a month, for which I generously, maybe too generously, had said she doesn’t need to pay rent. But when she arrived I asked her when she is leaving and she shrugged her shoulders and said, “I don’t know.” At my landlord’s suggestion I will start charging her a low monthly rent fee after the 30 days are up. It’s only fair for her to contribute to the household. In the meantime I will assign her house chores like cleaning, which I rarely get around to myself anyway. Dust is sometimes abundant in my room.
At least she will be walking my dog during the day since she isn’t working right now. She also brought her little chihuahua and so we have two dogs and one cat in the house. She and my roommate went off to Hawaii last week and so I have been looking after the animals by myself. I don’t mind it and I don’t even mind the extra company. I just shouldn’t maybe be as nice as I am with not making her pay rent.
I had broccoli florets with hummus for lunch, which wasn’t much. So I just made some pasta and I am now full, thankfully. Being full is a good feeling to have. I don’t like feeling hungry and I will sometimes overeat just because of the fear of maybe feeling hungry later on. It’s a new and recent development that I have taken on a fear of being hungry. It started while I was in summer school, having to bring lunch and dinner to work because I would leave at 8:00 AM and not get home until 9:30 PM. I didn’t want to be distracted from learning in the classroom by hunger. However, that fear has persisted even while I am in between my Summer and Fall semesters and I’m not sure why or how to make it go away or whether I even want it to go away. This is something I have not yet discussed with my therapist because I have other more pressing issues that need to be dealt with during my therapy hour. Both chihuahua’s are napping right now on the couch and it’s mid-afternoon on a Sunday. I have nothing that I absolutely have to do, which is a nice feeling, although I should do some laundry later today. It’s nice to not have to do things, or to have things to stress over like having to study. Studying takes a lot of energy and makes me tired. There is going to be a lot of reading for grad school and chances are I might not get all of the reading done on time every week which won’t be good. That’s what study groups are for, supposedly. I hosted a study group at my home over the summer and it was just me and another young woman in my class. We would both contribute snacks to the study session, or “study sesh” as she called it. She’s about five years younger than me which seems like a lot since I wasn’t previously familiar with colloquial statements such as “study sesh.” We didn’t use that abbreviation twelve years ago when I was just finishing my undergraduate studies. Interesting how times change.
I haven’t even started my master’s program and I am already looking at Ph.D. programs. A year ago I wasn’t that bold. Two years ago, that would have been unthinkable. Three years ago I might have laughed and completely dismissed the idea with a statement like, “you’re crazy.” (Keeping in mind that the “c” word is not ideal because it perpetuates stereotypes and false societal perception of mental illness, as well as trivializes the experience of those suffering from mental illness.) A lot has changed in the last few years. I also never would have thought of myself as being a responsible dog owner and the fact that I just passed my two-year anniversary at my job is almost unheard of. Yet, it’s possible and it’s real.
I possess so much more stability that I used to. (Positive self-talk: “Yes! Own it, girl!”) The medications I am on not only “seem” to be working, they are working. I have certainly have had moments of extreme instability earlier this year including several bouts of suicidal ideation. But the frequency of those instances is decreasing and the buffer of my resilience is increasing. Just shy of a year ago I began seeing my therapist twice weekly instead of once, and it has served me well. I wanted and needed the extra support. When grad school begins in a month, I may even, at least sometimes at first, only see him once a week. A month ago I didn’t like the idea of not seeing him twice a week anymore, but I am getting myself used to the idea.
I have also been seeing my psychiatrist for almost a year. It took a long time and was harrowing trying to find a psychiatrist whom I liked, who was nonjudgmental (i.e. didn’t make me cry), less critical, and simply, accepting of me. A lot can be conveyed without words. Since I left my inpatient and outpatient psychiatrists in 2015, I spent a year and a half seeing people I didn’t like seeing. But I was too ill to fight for myself, that is, to expend the sumptuous effort it would have taken to find a new psychiatrist. My outpatient psychiatrist refused to see me unless I paid cash up front, rather than going through my insurance, because one of her bills was included in my bankruptcy. I was angry at her and I felt bad at the same time. I didn’t want to blame myself, but I did.
I have been taking a course called Psychology of Lifespan development. We have our final exam in four days and I haven’t really sat down to study yet. This was not a required course for my graduate program and I am glad I took it. I have learned a lot. I also finally started my new volunteer job a few weeks ago at a large county-funded organization that works with at-risk youth including those who are homeless. As a volunteer I am allowed to attend treatment team meetings. I will also be working with their adoption support services program and after attending my third movie night next week so that they can see how I interact with the children (or “kiddos” as they call them) I will be assigned a child to mentor on a weekly basis. I don’t know what age the child will be but I am figuring that it will be a younger child because in the movie night groups I have been assigned to the group with the youngest of children, starting at age two. My previous volunteer experience in the church nursery also lends toward this age range. The minimum time commitment is a strict six-month rule but I hope to continue with the child for much longer. I will simply need to see how my life and availability plays out. I want to be the best positive role model I can be, accepting, patient, and understanding.
My Fall classes include Introduction to Clinical Practice: Basic Skills, Theories of Psychotherapy, and Psychopathology. I am a proud new owner of the DSM-5, and each course has at least three required books. A few of those books I have purchased on Kindle, but there is something about physically holding a book under a reading light and being able to underline passages with pencil which isn’t the same as reading a book on the computer and highlighting passages with the click of the keypad (or whatever that area on the keyboard is called where I drag my fingers and click, since using a mouse with a laptop is so uncommon these days).
I have begun working on Saturdays to make time up missed at work during the week because of my volunteer job. It wasn’t easy getting approval to miss hours during the week for the volunteer job and then I had to be authorized to work on Saturdays. Once grad school begins I am going to have to tell them that I can no longer work on the weekend because of my school commitments. I also want to work part-time. I received more loan offers than I was expecting to receive, because of my bankruptcy, and I accepted most of them so that I would be able to afford spending more time on my school work and less time at a job. Only, I am afraid they won’t let me reduce my hours by very much. In the long-run, if I had to work 30 hours down from 40 a week, that would mean less student debt. However, I want to work only 20 hours so that my real full-time job can be studying. I feel that I need and want it. I am willing to train another sales assistant of they choose to hire one. The previous assistant resigned not too long ago because she needed full-time work in order to be able to pay her bills. I was sad to see her go because we had become friends. We are still in touch, only, I don’t get to see her any more.
I really do have a good life. I have a blessed life. I am grateful for my resilience at overcoming the most difficult of obstacles. I fought every day for my mental health, even on the days when I couldn’t (or “chose not to” as my therapist would correct me) get out of bed. When I was in bed, I was protecting myself from harm, even if those stimuli of the world outside of my bedroom were merely perceived threats, and I was preserving my well-being. It was mostly for protection so that I wouldn’t have to deal with “the world.”
Today is Saturday and I slept for eight hours the night before. I indulged in a lazy afternoon nap after work which ended up being a three-hour nap. Luckily I woke up while the sun was still out so that I could go for a nice ten-minute walk with my sweet dog, who napped alongside me on the bed (as usual). The weather is hot and I have the air conditioning on. Where I lived in 2015 there was no air conditioning. That was a miserable place to live, so I won’t think about it any more. I don’t have to focus on the bad things that happened to me in the past any longer. I can go into a bad memory, and experience sadness, but then I am able to bring myself out of it. Those dips into bad memories are less frequent and they do happen often in the realm of my therapy hour, which is a safe place to experience those feelings associated with the memories. Yes, I was raped, and that was the least of my worries in my old life. But no one needs to know that. Not any more. I don’t need to keep telling everyone I meet my story. I have managed to only tell two people at work whom I trust about my past, and almost none of my coworkers other than those two know anything about my past, the fact that I was suicidal for many years, that I hadn’t worked for a period of five years due to mental illness. I am okay now and I am resilient as shit and I am a fucking warrior.
To my Therapist,
I always have so many things going on in my mind: I could write about it every day if I had time. It’s really difficult waiting five days to see my therapist as I decided to not see him three times this week, only two. I have to practice my coping skills on my own. I can’t have him always there to help regulate my internal state of being. There are things I need to do that I keep putting off, like booking the car rental for when I visit my mom on mother’s day, and calling the collection agency that put a collection item on my credit report unbeknownst to me. I consider these to be unpleasant tasks and I have a mental block in my motivation to do them. The latter is especially cumbersome and complex emotionally, because of the bankruptcy I filed a year and a half ago. Anything to do with my credit report and so forth wears on me emotionally. But as my therapist had told me before, if I don’t do it today, it will still be there tomorrow. Meaning, there is no rush and I will get to it when I can get to it. To not worry. Because eventually, even if it takes me a year to muster up the courage, eventually it will get done.
I wrote the above paragraph in the beginning of the week. I was not having a good week. Monday I was busy straight from 8:00 AM to midnight, and the same thing on Tuesday. By Wednesday I was exhausted. Last night, Thursday, when I saw my therapist, the first thing I did was cry. And cry, I did. I let it all out until there was nothing left. Then, ever so gently, he asked me, “can you talk about it?” He had asked me at the very beginning of the session if I had had a difficult day, since he reads the emails I send him throughout the day. That’s when I started crying. After he asked me to talk about it I simply said, “No, I didn’t have a good day.” He nodded his head in understanding. Then, slowly, we began to talk about it.
He acknowledged and empathized with me about my feelings of being overwhelmed. When I was at the grocery store and the cashier was separating the cold and the not-cold items into separate bags, I said, “I just want to make it home. I don’t care how you put them away.” Another cashier heard this and commented, “sounds like you need a bottle of wine.” As a side note, I don’t like that our culture is so focused on alcohol as a solution to problems and stress. I don’t like it. “You didn’t tell the cashier to ‘hurry up and put it away so I can go home,’” said my therapist. “No, I didn’t want her to feel bad.”
Then, at work, I became inordinately angry at something that would normally have not made me so angry. I hate, absolutely hate, last-minute things. Ten minutes before our monthly strategy meeting was to begin, my boss told me that one of the dollar figures on the report was wrong and that I needed to fix it before the meeting began. I had already printed out 14 packages for each attendee, and at the last minute I needed to reprint one of the pages and replace that page for each packet. It was kind of stressful. I told my therapist that I had an angry face on during the whole meeting and that several people asked me what was wrong because apparently I was spaced out and not really present. “If an angry face was all you did, then that’s pretty good,” my therapist pointed out. I told him I wanted to cry, I was so angry. “But you didn’t.” Right, I didn’t. I wanted to cry but I didn’t.
Additionally, I wanted to call in sick to work and I have wanted to have alcohol for the last few days in a row, but I didn’t do those things. I didn’t do them because I have control over what behaviours I enact based on how I am feeling. This means that what I feel doesn’t have to dictate what I do. Feelings come and go, but I remain. Feelings merely inform me. It is up to me what I choose to do with those feelings.
I can do this life. I can do it. I am doing it. I am living it. I am living my life. I can do this. It is hard. It is really hard. Life is hard. But I can make it to the next moment, and then the next hour and then the next day. I can make it from day to day until that day becomes a week. No matter what life throws at me, I will always have life. Nothing can kill me. Emotions cannot kill me. I may feel very overwhelmed at times but it isn’t the end of my life. I can cope. I can do it: this thing called “Life.”
I am kind to myself. I can be nice to myself. I give myself permission to practice self-kindness. I can be gentle with me. I can do this. I am doing this. I will keep doing this. I am strong, kind, generous, faithful, intelligent and beautiful.
I took the day off of work today. It was a mental health recovery day. These last five days have been hard and I just couldn’t see myself going to work today. I kept snoozing the alarm and I knew I just didn’t want to deal with life today. Instead, I slept for about 16 hours. I finally got up in the early afternoon, a couple hours before seeing my psychotherapist. I was originally going to see him after work, but because I took the day off and he had availability, I was able to see him sooner. I saw him yesterday and I am seeing him tomorrow. It’s Spring Break and he’s not teaching this week, therefore, I am taking what I can get. I’ve always dreamed of seeing him every day for several days in a row. I tell him by email all the time that I hate not seeing him and I hate having to wait five days to see him. Well, I can rest easy because I get to see him in less than 24 hours from now.
When I can’t cope, I can’t cope. It’s just a fact. I wasn’t okay. When I get overwhelmed my mind goes straight to suicide and self-harm. It makes sense. I wasn’t able to retaliate when I was being abused because talking back or acting out would only make things worse. So when I couldn’t control things in my external world, I turned to my inner world for a sense of control. In focusing in on myself, in exacting self-harm whether through restricting food, cutting on myself, drinking alcohol, having more sex with strangers, telling myself I wasn’t worthy of love, and in so many other ways, I was able to control aspects of my life. Unfortunately, the control seeped out into other parts of my life and I felt that this was beyond my control. I acted out at work and ruined my professional life by quitting my career job out of desperation. But after leaving the abusive situation I was in, I began to heal myself once the major PTSD symptoms had subsided, which took a couple years.
When I was growing up too, my external world was beyond my control and things were unstable, so I controlled my inner world by fantasizing about running away from home or sleeping out on the porch in the snow to hurt my mum by hurting myself. When I was eight, I remember yelling at her, “I wish I were dead!” at the top of my lungs, because I wanted to hurt her back so badly, and I knew because my father had died, that it would get to her. “No, no,” she had replied with tears in her eyes, and I knew I had gotten to her. It’s as if I had to go to extreme measures in order to receive unconditional love and attention.
Self-harm has always been a part of my life, but with the help of my psychotherapist over the last eight and a half years I am learning to find other ways to express my anger and to not direct it toward myself. Because I don’t deserve that. No one deserves to hate themselves and to hurt themselves. Everyone deserves kindness and compassion. Most of all, from me to myself. I am okay. I will be okay. I am going to be okay. I can do this. I am okay. I am okay. I am okay. Just keep telling myself that and eventually it will be true. But the fact of the matter is, I am actually okay, it’s just that I don’t always feel okay. But I have learned that feelings come and go, and I remain. The emergency in my mind is no longer happening, and the noise and the chaos in my mind has subsided, and what is left is just me, without the state of emergency. It meant the world to me today when, at the end of our therapy session, my therapist said to me, “I’m glad you are feeling better.” “Me too,” I replied. Me too.