Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Catching the Curve Balls

I had my "termination" appointment with my therapist last week. I've been visiting with her for nearly 18 months, and I felt like it was time to go it alone for awhile. So far, so good.

So, yeah, I've been in therapy. First time. I called the practice looking for an appointment at a time when I wasn't feeling as though I was keeping my "stuff" as balanced as I would've liked, and I just wanted someone with whom to talk over the daily curve balls life throws at you. I think after you hit 40 -- and you're a woman -- you want a clear path through the woods; you want to palpably enjoy your days and dispose of any crap that pollutes your pond. Others may call this "living in the moment."

The first psychiatrist I talked to -- a man of more traditional practice -- tried to figure out what my medical condition was. "I don't think I have a medical condition. I just want to talk some things out." He persisted, and I decided that maybe he wasn't a good match for me and maybe therapy itself wasn't what I was hoping for. He gave me seriously cold feet.

Later, another doctor from the practice called, and I immediately felt comfortable with her. She asked the right questions and seemed to understand why I wanted to come in -- even if I didn't really know myself. "Just come in, see if we like each other, and we'll go from there."

In our sessions, I did most of the talking. Sometimes, I agonized over little things -- like whether I should drive the extra distance and pay extra money for organic tomatoes. Or, should I serve white or brown rice? (A complicated issue in my family -- and probably a whole 'nother blog in itself someday.) Other times, I asked advice on something that was happening with the kids. Her professional perspective and access to information that I didn't have on hand was interesting, wise, and reassuring, especially her insights on the emotional development of pre-teen girls. (If you have one, you know they're a challenge -- and that they're facing some critical crossroads in their lives.)

For most of the topics I brought to our sessions, I found that just talking about them made them lighter, less overwhelming. Sometimes, just hearing myself say something made it go away.

Over time, I also discovered -- and/or rediscovered -- a few things that have helped bring me around to a more comfortable place.

1) I'm wired in a way that doesn't really allow me to have an easygoing approach to most things. While I'd love to let water roll off my back (I clearly remember my mom recommending this when I was an anxious kid), it's not likely to happen. Instead, I tend to agonize over things in my own head; it's just who I am.

2) Whenever life/work/home/health/etc. gets chaotic, mindfully calm it down. When I told my therapist how much I appreciated this advice -- and how well it usually worked -- she suggested that she didn't give this advice to me; rather, she felt that being able to find a more peaceful, grounded place was a particular strength of mine, but that I had trouble finding it sometimes. I had never really considered that. Good to hear. (I tried to offer this advice to a drama at work a few weeks ago, but the person who needed to hear it wasn't open to it at the time. Too bad for him, really. I'm certain it would've helped.)

3) Irrational fear is pretty senseless. "If [something bad] happened, what would you do?" she asked. "I'd figure out how to pick up and move on," was always my answer. Then something shocking and distressing did happen in our family. And we picked up and moved on.

4) Prying myself away from my computer and work is difficult for me and usually takes a concerted effort. Working at a desk in our family room is part of the problem, so there are times when I need to just close the lid on my laptop and walk away. The work will be there tomorrow. The first few times I did this, I found myself going back and staring at my computer. (OK, so I'm obviously a little obsessive.) But with a little practice, I got better at managing my work boundaries. Or at least I don’t feel guilty about it now.

5) I can tend to be overly of critical myself. "If you wouldn't say that to your kids, don't say it to yourself," my therapist advised.

6) I also tend to "shut the door" on things I don't want to talk about. "Why go back there? I'm looking for joy, and that's not joyful." She suggested that it doesn't always help to unlock the skeletons, but in my case, it probably did. Took off a little of the unconscious pressure, I suppose.

So while my regularly scheduled appointments are over -- my engine has been rebuilt -- I'm sure I'll need tune ups. All in all, I find great comfort in knowing I have this resource out there who can validate my turmoil, offer interesting empirical data on life, and show me ways in which I can just let it be.

Five out of five stars.

Husband says if I post this, it'll ruin my run for president someday. I told him that my intention is to show therapy as a positive experience -- something that would make me a better president. Then I suggested that he needs to see a therapist. He just went running instead. Men are from Mars indeed...

(950 words)


  1. Appreciated this post, Patty. A lot rang true for me. Yes, I'm in therapy...first time...unraveling some of the "forces" that drive my behavior (your #1, 3, 4 and 5 were like looking in the mirror! working on #2).

    And, exercise is a good complement to therapy for me -- a way to burn off excess emotion as well as calories!


  2. Thanks so much for the validation...this was a tricky topic to share.