It’s evening time on a Saturday and I’ve only been up for four hours. The sun is still out. I went to bed at 7:30 on Friday night, which means I passed that twelve-hour threshold a long time ago. I was going to get up, have a cup of coffee, read a textbook, and then be on time to my therapy session. That didn’t happen. I startled awake a quarter hour before my appointment and raced at 80 down the freeway on my twenty-minute drive. So glad his office is close by.
I was so afraid that my therapist was upset with me from our session last week. His immediate answer was “no”. What a relief. He just has to be firm with me from time to time. He will not support self harm in any way. What kind of a therapist would support it? It was I who was angry with him for being so firm with me. I didn’t handle it very well. I realized that hurting myself because of anger toward another person only hurts me, and does not affect the other person directly. But it does affect other people. Most people cannot handle knowing about my suicidal ideation. It pushes people away. After a while they don’t know how to cope with that knowledge and then they stop communicating with me. It’s not my fault that it comes and it goes. I like my life better when I get to be me, and not bogged down by extreme suicidal thoughts and feelings.
Now that I broke our agreement from four years ago, he is going to trust me less. He said that’s a part of it. The threat, however, was that he might not see me any longer, particularly if I share with him that I have been self-harming. I just have to be honest with myself and with him, for effective therapy to continue.
Today we explored why my mind wanders into that dark space where I feel extreme emotions of distress. When I watch videos online or read stories of other people self-harming it is a conscious (more so than unconscious) decision to intentionally put my mind in that place. Is it because that’s what I’ve been used to? The drama of feeling suicidal and being hospitalized? There is a lot of extreme emotions and negative excitement around it. He likened it to an adrenaline junkie who gets thrills from doing extreme sports and only feels alive when there is danger involved, sometimes even the danger of death. It’s not an addiction but has been kind of an obsession, or a fixation. My stomach is uneasy and my breath short just thinking about this.
Let’s take a self-soothing break and breathe deeply. I am drinking lukewarm Earl Grey tea in a mug as wide and round as a bowl, but with a handle on it. It is white inside and green on the outside. One of my favourite colours. I can smell the frankincense incense that I was burning earlier on the kitchen counter. There’s a life-size teddy bear that my roommate put in the living room, and it has a permanent smile affixed to the face. I can hear birds whispering beyond the living room walls. My neighbour upstairs is watching television as usual and in a short while we are going to walk across the street to get Thai food together. Which means I have to put on a bra. The inconveniences of being a woman.
See? Those are self-soothing thoughts. It is anti-anxiety medicine, the natural way. I was messaging with an older lady friend in Italy who said to me that I just have to “get over” my depression and “be strong”. I know that most people don’t understand major depressive disorder. Especially in Italy. It is much more of a stigma there to have mental illness, and is just not talked about.
I treated myself to something nice today. I let my semi-healthy diet go by the wayside and stopped by a coffee shop on the way home from my therapist’s office. I had a medium two-shot vanilla latte along with a warmed-up chocolate croissant. It was buttery, melted chocolate heaven and for those few moments I felt really good. My hands got really messy and I realized I should have been less eco-conservative by taking more than one napkin. The more I have good, positive experiences in my life, the mo’ better I will begin to feel. Feeling good will become a routine rather than a sporadic medley of mixed moments. It will help me want to live, all of the time.
I am more into talking about positive moments right now rather than sinking into the insight and light exploration done at “work” today in my therapist’s office. He asked me difficult questions for which I didn’t have answers and could only guess. I could tell he had a clear picture of where he was leading me, and he always wants me to eventually come to my own conclusions. If I am not able to, he helps me by providing insight as to the “why” of the actions I choose to take. I had a habit of writing to him every day (he never responds only reads) in emails, but this week I took a break because I was upset with him. He also remembers everything I tell him, so he’ll reference things I’ve said in the past that I don’t expect him to remember. It always catches me by surprise.
As a child I got used to the volatility of intense emotions because my mother would often yell and get upset. It was scary. As young as the age of eight I remember yelling back at my mum in order to hurt her: “I wish I were dead!” She immediately welled up with tears in her eyes. But it has been since that moment that I have struggled with suicidal thoughts. They came to a peak when I was 16 and first attempted suicide. My mom wouldn’t let it go, that, in addition to the overdose, I had cut myself with a supposedly “rusty” knife. We were in conflict about the rust. I know it wasn’t rusty but she had me get shots at the doctor’s office nevertheless.
Then when I was married in my 20s, the emotions were equally as volatile. My ex was all about control and manipulating, and it was his own illness acting out itself upon others. If I didn’t do what he wanted me to do, I would be punished, emotionally. He was very good at doing that to me. So, most of my life I have known punishment and volatility. They have been constants in my life, and the challenge now is to break that cycle.
On a positive note, I might be making a new friend. I have a friend who is 62 and a semi-retired professor at a local community college in the child development department, where I took some classes several years ago. I had to withdraw from the classes due to suicidal ideation and being hospitalized. That was during the period of my life when I could not hold down a job due to my mental illness. This teacher stayed friends with me. He wanted to be a part of my healing journey. He calls me once a week and is very calming to me when he talks. In my psychology class on ageing, I have to interview someone who is over the age of 65, and then present it to class. My professor friend has a retired friend who is 85 years old and spunky, although he just had back surgery. I am going to visit with them both next weekend, and hopefully tape my interview on camera to present to my class. It should be a good experience.
My upstairs neighbour is very active. He works out six days a week and plays sports and still manages to work over full time. My roommate plays volleyball, swims, and works, and even has friends. She is always gone on the weekends, out doing things. She doesn’t have inhibitions about doing things that make her happy, as I have. I block myself from being happy, and stay stuck in that mediocre “okay” state. I don’t even have the energy to go to the gym once a week, although I had told myself I would start going more often. It makes me feel good and energizes me. This would be using the skill called “opposite action”. Hard to do when I can’t even get up in the mornings on the weekends to take my morning medication.
I’m going to an avocado festival tomorrow. It will be a completely new experience. I could never do it alone. I’m going with my upstairs neighbour. There will be wine and guacamole among other things, and the sun will be shining. It might just be therapeutic, what I need.