This post serves two purposes: I want to celebrate the incredible gifts I’ve received in therapy but I also want to explore my story, the shit I don’t want to say.
I’ve been down lately, in one of the valleys of my recovery. I’ve built this incredible foundation in my team of mental health professionals and I feel like the bottom is falling out. One therapist has just told me she is moving out of state and the other I have to put a pause on for financial reasons. For those who’ve never been in therapy this doesn’t seem like a big deal, but let me tell you, it is; the therapeutic relationship is this unique, incredible, magical thing. When the fit isn’t right, we flounder. But when therapist and client find that fit, it’s fireworks. Intense, painful, vibrant, revelational. I’ve spent the night crying (in part, thanks to Grey’s Anatomy/Station 19) and the day watching documentaries. And two things have happened. One, instead of spending anymore time mourning a loss and woe-is-me’ing over circumstances, I want to capture the beauty of my therapy relationships. And, two, I want to go where I avoid going. I want to wrestle with myself and find my story.
The Gifts of Therapy
My Talkspace Therapist, Alyssa, has been with me for over a year (and I hope, after our pause, she will be with me for even longer). She has taught me about consistency, trust, sitting with discomfort, deciphering between the voice of the Two-Headed Beast (depression and anxiety) and me. She has given me a space to show up, to be vulnerable, to be me. She has helped me explore my worth. She has taught me that people aren’t perfect, they make mistakes, they make judgement calls that hurt us, but relationships can survive those things. The thing I’ve treasured most, and will continue to treasure, is that in the darkest of my dark hours, she has always made sure I wasn’t alone. I’ve been deeply, darkly suicidal, fighting my way out of the snake pit of depression and she has climbed in with me and told me, “you’re not alone, we’re going to get you through this.”
And then there is Kristen, my trauma/EMDR therapist. She has taught me the value of compromise in relationship with others. She has taught me that there are people who care enough to flex for me. No matter how ridiculous my requests, she has heard me, and she has shown up in her actions. Kristen has taught me not to fear using my voice. She showed me that it can be safe, expressing myself, that I won’t be rejected or abandoned. She gave me reassurance, told me I was brave and courageous when I was doing the hard work. When I wanted to run she was a calm presence. She has always been steady, firm, safe. And, I never left, because I believed wholeheartedly in what we built together, week-to-week in that room.
I believe in these relationships. I believe they’ve helped me to show up more in my other relationships. I believe they’ve helped me to learn healthy boundaries with others. I believe they have helped me start chipping away at the walls I’ve built around my heart. I believe they’ve helped me to consider other perspectives. I believe they’ve given me so much. And, I know, what I’ve been given, what I’ve worked toward with these amazing therapists can’t be diminished or taken away. I know that when Kristen and I are no longer working together, when I no longer get to see her each week, what we built together will remain sturdy; the foundation is solid. And, I know, while my inner demons haven’t been slayed for good, I’ve got more tools now to battle them because Kristen and Alyssa have cared enough, been patient enough, to enter the arena with me every week.
If there are any therapists reading this blog, what you do matters. Remember that, on the rough days when you feel like you’ve said the wrong things or you’ve used the wrong interventions or when a client chooses not to come back. Your work matters. It is a gift to those who choose to invest.
I wish I could wrap this up with, “and therapy cured me,” but the reality is that this bit is going to be difficult. I’m going to try digging deep but I may not get there. As I was watching one documentary, I grappled with the significance of vulnerability in being courageous. I questioned whether my vulnerability here and elsewhere was truly authentic and courageous. Then I watched another documentary. And it made me challenge myself, have I really said the shit I don’t want to say? That, to me, is vulnerable. That, is a person’s story. But what is mine?
What does every good story have? A protagonist. An antagonist. Conflict. Resolution. I could spend a whole blog teasing out the answer to the question, are we each the protagonists of our own stories. I really don’t know but for the sake of this blog, I’m going to say yes. I am my own protagonist. So, who is my antagonist? Can it again be me? We have our characters, now onto the meat (yes, I’ve also been watching British baking shows, where they cook things like minced meat pies).
It would be easy for me to list all of my traumas, to say those things were my conflict but I don’t think they were. If I’m being real, when I’m alone at night, trying to fall asleep it isn’t the memory of the pizza guy, or the next store neighbor, or the brother of the friend, which keep me up at night. I mean, yes, I’ve got the nightmares and the anxiety and the irritability and all the lovely effects that come along with having been hurt by those guys. But the real conflict is the relationship I have with myself.
The truth: I don’t know how to love me. I don’t know who “me” is yet. I haven’t met the protagonist of this story. I’m 30 and searching.
You know that line in the Bell Jar:
I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart. I am, I am, I am.
My heart wouldn’t be beating, “I am.” Not yet. I’m not yet at the resolution of my story and perhaps that’s why it is so hard for me to tell my story. I haven’t yet found my salve. I’m still in the battle. My heart beats quickly. Drumming out the mantra “go on, go on, go on.” No matter how loud the voice in my head is, telling me I’m broken, I’m a failure, I’m no good, I’m worthless, no one cares, etc., I just keep on.
I was tempted to say my antagonist was anxiety or depression because they’re the voices that scream the loudest. They tell me I’d be better off dead. They tell me no matter how much therapy I have, I’ll never be better. They tell me other people deserve happiness but not me. They tell me to swallow all the pills, buy more razors, throw away all the food, don’t reach out to anyone, don’t go to yoga, don’t write, don’t draw. Just don’t. Don’t be.
This is where my shame comes in, where the story is that I don’t want to tell. I strive for perfection because I’m afraid I have no substance. I’m afraid without my depression, without my anxiety, without my stories, I’m nothing. I’m afraid that the people who’ve told me I’m selfish, I’m manipulative, I’ve got poor boundaries, I’m not good enough, I’m too much, I’m not enough are right. I’m afraid that if I scrape away the depression, peel back the anxiety, all I will find is muck. I’m afraid of being someone I can’t love. I’m afraid that all the people who’ve given up on being my teacher, my friend, my partner, have seen something in me that I haven’t seen in myself. I’m afraid that once I really stand in front of the mirror, emotionally raw, vulnerable, naked, purely me, it will be a monster staring back.
What becomes of me if I discover I’m someone I can’t live with? I’m reckless with my body and my life. I punish myself. I’m unkind to myself. I hide behind, “it doesn’t matter and I don’t care.” I pretend that I’m not that invested in my life but I am. Forgive the cliche (cheesy song reference) that follows but my heart does go on. For better or worse, no matter how hard I fight myself and I fight the people who try to see me and help me, I keep on. I go on. I never stop trying. I never stop searching.
Maybe I won’t like the person I find. Maybe other people are right, maybe those are the layers I really need to peel back. I don’t know. But I do know, I’m not the kind of person who gives up or backs down. I’ll keep climbing the peaks and braving the valleys until I meet myself.