Dependence On Therapy

Since we’ve started working together, my therapist has mentioned quite a few times, that she doesn’t want me to become dependent on therapy. Whenever she’d say that, I’d feel uncomfortable and get defensive. Even though she would tell me that she didn’t say I was dependent on it, I still took it as an attack. And I think I have figured out why it bothers me so much. Deciding to see a psychologist (or any mental health professional) is terrifying. I was terrified when I first reached out to my therapist. Deep down inside, on an unconscious level, I felt ashamed.

Even up to today, that shame is still there. It’s died down a lot, but a few fragments of it still exist. The man who calls himself my dad contributed to that most of all. He’s told me so many times how some people need therapy, while others have strong minds, so they can deal on their own. How do I take it? I take it as him telling me, and thinking, that I’m weak because I’m getting help, when I should just suck it up and get on with life the way he does. So here my therapist is telling me that she doesn’t want me to become dependent on therapy, and in my mind it sounds like an affirmation that therapy is “bad, so you shouldn’t get used to it”. I know that’s not what’s being said, but that’s the way my overly sensitive, reactive mind takes it.

I see now why regular therapy sessions are so important. It’s not about being dependent on it. How do you become dependent on the process of therapy? It’s damn hard sometimes, and even if I’m okay during a session, it hits me afterward and sometimes I just want to crawl under the covers and shut the world away for the rest of the day. There were many times that I didn’t want to have a session. Where I wanted to cancel. But I knew that those were probably the times when I should have one. So I didn’t cancel, no matter how much I wanted to.

I read a lot of your blogs, and from what I’ve read, the majority of you have weekly sessions, some of you twice weekly, and you’ve also expressed a hesitation and even downright resistance to attending a session from time to time. So I know I’m not alone in this.

As my therapist mentioned during our short phone call on Monday (which was strangely helpful, which I didn’t expect it to be- mostly because I didn’t know what to expect in the first place), I need structure. I thrive on it. I feel unstable, and everything feels chaotic without it. My nervous system feels under threat. When things are structured, I feel calmer.

When I had 3 therapy sessions a month, I felt more secure. It felt more structured than it does now. Now it’s just all over the place.

Sometimes we open up a topic, but there’s not enough time in a single session to really delve into it. Then having to wait two or three weeks, I don’t want to talk about it anymore. I don’t want to talk about something painful, difficult and shameful, and have two or three weeks go by before we can pick up on where we were. It feels like something is lost, and it gets disrupted. I know that the nature of therapy is that just because it seems something has been worked through, it might come up in future sessions again. Sometimes we think the work may be complete, only to discover that it actually isn’t.

Even when I write down things to discuss in the next session, it’s not quite the same. Those emotions that I felt, that were so extreme, die down, and it feels pointless to talk about it. If I do talk about it in our next session, those emotions are a distant memory, and I talk about the situation, or whatever it was, without really connecting with my inner world.

I think it’s important to have that safe, consistent space every week. I don’t show up just to see my therapist. I show up because I want to do the work. If you’ve got a physical illness that requires you to see your doctor every week for a checkup, does that mean you’re dependent and happy to go for those checkups every week? No. You do it because you know it’s important.

In keeping an open mind, if a person can become dependent on therapy, is that necessarily a bad thing? We’re dependent on work for an income. Which enables us to live, to pay rent, have food to eat, etc. So why would it be any different with therapy? The purpose of therapy is to help you heal and to craft the life you want to live. To help us grow, giving us valuable tools in order to function optimally in life. We’re still doing the work during and between sessions. But knowing that the next session is only a few days away helps, as you can more easily bring up any observations, experiences, etc in the next session, as it will still be fresh in your mind. Which, brings that sense of continuity.

Of course, right now I can’t afford to have regular therapy sessions. But when I’m able to, I’m definitely going to invest in it. The point of this post is just to share my view on how I don’t believe that one can truly get “dependent” on therapy, and why I think regular sessions are so important. I’m grateful for my therapist, who really tries to bridge that gap between sessions, and keep the therapeutic relationship safe and secure, which has been so helpful.

A while ago, I heard someone say that attending therapy is a form of self-care. I hadn’t thought of it that way before.

It will be interesting to hear your thoughts on this. I like hearing different opinions and view points, so please let me know what you think about this topic.

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Going Back To The Old Me

Before starting therapy, I pretty much kept to myself. My feelings, my thoughts. They belonged only to me, and I didn’t share them with anyone. I was always the shy and reserved one. It protected me. It worked for me. Yet at the same time, it didn’t really work. It might have sheltered me from rejection, but it also ate me up inside. I tried to open up a few times, but just ended up getting hurt. Further reinforcing that it wasn’t safe to reveal the deepest parts of myself.

Even in primary school, I was a shadow. When I tried to make friends, and join the other children, I’d just get mocked, teased and called horrible names. So eventually I stopped trying. What was the point. I still remember the day I got my first friend. I was eating my lunch on a step, overlooking some children playing. A girl came to sit next to me and asked my name. We shared my lunch, and from that day we became best friends. I think she was the first friend I ever had. I was never allowed to go visit her at home though (my dad was very controlling- “only protecting me” in his words- when I actually needed to be protected from him). Then we moved to a new city again, and I never heard from her, or saw her again. I didn’t want to get attached to anyone again after that, and I don’t know if I ever did, as I can’t remember the next year or two.

I went to go watch the sunset on the beach today. It’s one of my favourite self-soothing practices. Usually it makes me feel better. It brings me peace. I feel at one with nature, and like I’m not alone in this world. But tonight I just felt this deep sadness the entire time. At first I didn’t understand why, and just tried to push it away. To be mindful of the beauty surrounding me. And then it came. Memories of the same way I felt so often throughout my life. Memories of moments where I felt so alone, with so much sadness buried deep, but that I couldn’t express or verbalize. Growing up, I wasn’t allowed to show emotions. Both my dad and then step-mother hated any display of emotion, other than happiness. But I was hardly ever happy, so I had to pretend that I was. When I went to my biological mom every second weekend, I watched my step-dad hurt her, and occasionally my little sisters as well. I couldn’t show my fear and hatred toward him. I couldn’t protect them. I was scared he would hurt them even more, and that he’d hurt me too. But he never did. I think he was scared of my dad. He was very cruel to me though. Men (monsters) like him, usually are. He also hated displays of emotion. It was a trigger for him. So there were many tears left uncried. So much hurt with nowhere to go. So many secrets with no one to tell. That pattern has followed me ever since.

It was only when I started therapy in March last year, that the pattern got interrupted. Opening up to my therapist felt amazing. She didn’t judge, she didn’t tell me to “stop being a baby”, or get angry with me for expressing my feelings. She didn’t punish me. I felt safe with her. Since then, I’ve become more open to more people. Only to a certain extent though. I knew what to share, and what to keep hidden. Every now and then though, I’d become brave and say more than I should.

In group on Tuesday, I was in a bit of a manic state (I had been in that state for a few days already). We had the usual “check in”. I was a bit late, as I had to go pick up a friend, so when I got back to group, the check in was already underway. Other than the usual check in, we also had to pick an animal that represents us, and tell the others why we chose that animal. When it was my turn, and started sharing, I got interrupted by one of the guys. He argued with me about the correct name for the animal I had chosen. I was so embarrassed and just wanted to disappear. I didn’t want to make it known though how I really felt in that moment, so I argued back. And then I just shut down and let the next person share. It’s taken me a while to start opening up in group. But now with this, I feel it’s not okay to do that anymore. I’ll still connect to the few people I’ve really grown to care about, before group, during the break, and afterward. But I don’t want to open up during the group anymore.

Jasmine and I spent the day together yesterday. Usually when I’m with her, we speak openly about our thoughts and feelings as they come up. But this time I couldn’t. I pretended that everything was okay the whole time, that I was happy. I have to pretend with the dad and current step-mother anyway, so it’s easy. Easy to pretend, difficult to deal with internally.

I just don’t want to be vulnerable anymore. My blog is my space to be open, but in the offline world, I want to stay away from that. I had a great therapy session on Wednesday. But then on Thursday, my manic phase was over, and I went straight down into the depths. And since then I’ve been feeling this need to protect myself from the world.

My younger parts, especially, have been struggling. They need me to take care of them, protect, and love them. They can be vulnerable with the adult me. They only need me. This song is my message to them. It just seems to fit.

A Hostile Takeover

I’m an introvert.

When I spend too much time with a person or people, I start getting frustrated. Even with my friends. I need time alone. I don’t want to spend every weekend with people. Sometimes I just want to spend time with myself. Being lazy, watching TV, reading, studying up on things that I find interesting (such as psychology). There are many times where I crave closeness though. And it comes at the worst possible times. When everyone else is so busy with their lives that they don’t have time to spend with me. I tend to fall into a depression then, and feel unimportant and rejected. I’ve never actually had anyone hold space for me while I was going through a difficult time. When I really needed someone, just anyone, I was alone. Which is probably one of the reasons I’m so attached to my therapist. She’s helped me through a lot of dark moments. When I had no one, she was there. She was (and is) my person. I hold onto the hope that one day I’ll find that person who will walk with me through it all, and let me do the same for them. Through both the good and the bad.

Right now I’ve withdrawn into my shell.

I had to photograph a wedding on Friday. I’m a photographer but I don’t do weddings. But I made an exception in this case, as it was a small wedding and I know the bride. I was terrified. One of the reasons I don’t do weddings is because it’s the one event that you just can’t mess up on. You don’t get a second chance. And I just don’t have the confidence that I feel every other photographer has. I wanted to cancel every day for a week, wondering what the hell had come over me in accepting the job. But when I make a commitment, I stick to it, even if it hurts. Besides, it was a job, and I desperately needed it.

It was so stressful. And now I’m working on the photo’s, before putting together the package that they selected. I’m going to be working on it for the rest of this week. At least I enjoy it. All that anxiety had built up over the week, and now that it’s over, I’m exhausted and just want to be alone.

The photo’s came out better than I expected, but less perfect than I wanted. People keep telling me my photography is really good. But no matter how many times I’ve heard that, it just doesn’t stick. Unfortunately our brains have a negativity bias. The bad sticks, while the good seeps away quickly. It’s automatic, as the brain has a high sensitivity to negative stimuli. Fortunately, it can be changed (with a lot of hard work). You can read more here.

When I’m doing a photo shoot, I pretend to be confident, calm and collected. One of the reviews I received said “she was professional, calm and comfortable”. If only this client knew how I was trembling inside, feeling like a fraud. Don’t get me wrong. I love taking photos. It’s the interacting with people that I struggle with. And the fear of messing up.

In other news, my stepmom’s parents are here for the next two weeks (and they might even stay for 3 weeks), and I’ve been exiled from my room. I’m now staying in my step brother’s room (he’s sharing with his sister- obviously in separate beds). There are now 8 people in the house. It’s crowded, and noisy. I want peace and quiet when I wake up in the morning. To be able to sit outside and not hear twenty voices. I’m not a morning person. I have my own bathroom in my room. Now I need to share one with the kids and my uncle. I can’t shower when I want to, I need to schedule it around when they want to shower, and then I’m stuck with lukewarm or cold water. Even the kids get preference over me, which is frustrating.

I think of it this as a hostile takeover, hence the title. See how I blow things way out of proportion? It’s a talent of mine.

In our last session, my therapist used a REBT (Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy) “technique”. It goes something like this:
My beliefs: I should have my room to myself. I should have all my stuff around me. I mustn’t let this upset me so much. I must get over it. She’s helping me eliminate the words “should”, “have to” “must”, etc. So I’ve been trying to re-frame those thoughts. Instead of “I should have all my stuff around me and have my space to myself” I’ve been saying: “I would prefer to have my room and space to myself, but they’re not going to be here forever. I’ll get my room back when they leave. Yes, it’s an inconvenience, and yes, I’m annoyed about it, and I get to feel that way”. It’s the anger that I’m trying to replace with less destructive, intense emotions. So I’m practicing this (my homework).

Wish me luck for these next few weeks!

The Little One’s Letter To Therapist

I was a little embarrassed when the thought of posting this letter on my blog popped into my head. Until I remembered that my original purpose for starting it was for me to process my thoughts and feelings after my break up and move to a new city. So I’ve decided that it’s okay to post this, since this blog is my space to just let it all out and examine my inner world. I need to do this. For me.

In my previous post I mentioned that I felt very young last night. I’ve been feeling that way for most of today as well. I’ve tried to ignore that little voice inside, and the feelings it brought up. But then I decided that I just couldn’t ignore it any longer. So I listened. I listened to the little one’s fears. I acknowledged her sadness. I cried those tears. She wanted to write a letter to Therapist, so I let her. Which I’ll only be able to show to her at our next session. She told me to use my non dominant hand when writing from that little part. So that’s what I did. And this is the result:

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I have been trying to figure out why this is coming up now. And why it feels so hard. In my session with my OT yesterday, I mentioned to her that my medical aid benefits are almost depleted. The clinic stay took away from my benefits. I told her that after next week’s session with my therapist, I don’t know when I’ll be able to see her again as I just can’t afford it. She’s away this week, otherwise I would have rescheduled to sometime this week since I’m missing her so damn much.

When I told this to my OT, I think it hit me right then and there just how scared and panicked I actually feel about the situation. I shoved it down quickly though. But the uncertainty is killing me. I need routine, so I feel unsettled.

Yes, I’ll survive. But why should I have to? Haven’t I already survived enough shit? The teen in me feels that it’s fucking unfair. But I blame myself for most of what happened in my life. For being in the place I’m at right now. For my part in it. Sometimes even for the roles that others have played in my life. If only I had been better. Done better.

The little one knows, but doesn’t understand why it has to be this way. She thinks the connection will be broken and she’ll be alone. She has me, but she doesn’t just want me. She wants Therapist. She feels that her main attachment figure will be taken away from her again. The way she was taken away from her mother that day. The moving further and further away from her attachment figure, watching her fade away.

And that’s my biggest fear right now. I’m scared that our connection, the bond I have with her, will break. That my therapist will fade away into the distance.

Mornings & Evenings

I don’t like going to bed at night. Come 7:00pm, I start getting frustrated that the day is almost over. I’ll stay up as late as I possibly can, until I just can’t keep my eyes open anymore. Which is usually 10:30-11:30pm.

I don’t like waking up in the morning. I always wake up exhausted, and want to stay in bed. It’s been that way my whole life. Waking up, yet feeling as though I didn’t sleep at all. I can only remember a couple of mornings where I actually woke up feeling refreshed and well rested. Once in my early 20’s, the other about two years ago. Just as thinking that it’s almost time to go to bed at night fills me with dread, so does waking up in the morning.

I don’t like sleeping during the day. But I also don’t like being awake during the day.

I know I should be grateful to be alive. But I just feel… Depressed. Empty.

I had a good session with my therapist yesterday, and everything is back on track with us. But instead of the usual euphoria I feel after a session that makes me feel connected to her again, this time I just felt… nothing.

Went to visit Jasmine today, but it felt a little awkward. I’ve been trying to figure out what’s going on with me. Why I’m feeling the way I am. My therapist says there’s always a reason behind our depression. That’s it’s not just there, existing by itself. But I haven’t been able to figure out what that reason for this low phase is. It’s been a couple of weeks now.

I want to go to bed, I want to sleep right now (it’s 09:02pm). But I feel this sense of dread. I just can’t figure myself out.

An Emotional Storm

My therapy session on Thursday was an emotional shit storm. The people at the gym where I used to train in Muay Thai got it right when they nicknamed me “Storm”. Small, innocent and fragile looking. But once unleashed, has the potential to be deadly.

Well, this Storm certainly hit in this session. My therapist didn’t stand a chance.

As you are well aware by my posts over the past while, I’ve been in a very dark place. I’ve been an emotional wreck. It’s been a difficult week for a variety of reasons. In relationships, I don’t usually express any “negative” emotions I may be feeling. I suppress them. It’s rare that I’ll show that side of me. I prefer to find a quiet place to vent my frustration, and take the anger and hurt out on myself. Yet, with my therapist, it doesn’t quite work that way, and I can’t figure out why that is.

When I’m in such an emotional state at the beginning of some sessions, the smallest thing can send me over the edge. I don’t scream and shout, but I use my words, and the tone of my voice is harsh enough. But I don’t think that’s any better than yelling. Something as small and innocent as one word (or something my therapist doesn’t say) will suddenly unleash the storm. She triggers something within me, and I become a whirlwind. It’s happened a few times over the course of our one year relationship, and I hate it.

In these moments, I can’t think clearly. My emotions run the show. I turn into an angry teenager. I don’t act like the adult I actually am. It’s when I’m insecure, feeling fragile, and I end up being oversensitive. Those are the times when the smallest thing can be blown up in my mind as the biggest threat I’ve ever faced. My therapist was right when she said that no matter what she says or does in that moment, I’ll look for proof that she can’t be trusted. I’ll find reasons to push her away.

I felt I wasn’t getting what I needed from her. But instead of telling her, explaining to her why I was so upset, I just carried on going down the road of pushing her away. I couldn’t express myself clearly, so I was plain mean.

Something she said hurt me deeply, and even though I’m scared to, I’m going to be open with her about it on Thursday. After all, she’s the one who always insists on talking through any problems in the therapy relationship, and says that we shouldn’t leave anything unsaid. She’s obviously right, and I’m slowly learning that it’s okay, and necessary, to talk things through, and not let resentment build beneath the surface. That will just erode the relationship, and therapy will eventually stall.

At least the session ended on a good note once I had calmed down. When this happens, when I act out like this, I’m left feeling embarrassed and ashamed, and have to sit with these feelings until we can talk it through in the next session.

So now it’s time to work on “repairing” the relationship again. And once again I need to apologize for my behaviour, because it was inappropriate. I think that will be a good way to start our next session.

The storm has moved away. For now at least.

Hello Psychiatrist

Had my first out-patient session with my psychiatrist yesterday, and as I mentioned in a previous post, I couldn’t wait to see her again.

I got to the clinic about 20 minutes early, and went to go buy myself a cappuccino (the clinic coffee shop makes the best). Standing there, lost in my own head, who comes in? My psychiatrist. I had to laugh, because it reminded me so much of the first time I went to the DBT group and we arrived at the clinic at the same time. It felt pretty much the same.

Here’s a random little fact about me. It takes me anywhere from an hour to three hours to finish a cup of coffee. So I took my cappuccino into the session with me, and I left without having had a single sip. Two hours later I was still busy with it. It’s my thing. I always get mocked about this. I do the same with alcohol, unless I’m drinking to cope. I’m basically a cheap date.

When it was time for our session and we were in her consultation room, Psychiatrist asked a lot of questions. I wasn’t really prepared for that. I’m so used to seeing her for only a little while at a time (while I was in the clinic), without much prying into my personal life. And now here she was, asking questions, in a session that lasted almost an hour!  When I would tell her something, she found another question from the information I had just given her. At one point I wanted to tell her to phone my therapist instead and ask her about it since she knows pretty much everything about me, and I didn’t want to answer some of them.

I slipped in and out of dissociation rapidly. As soon as any feelings rose up, it’s like I’d shut them down… unintentionally. Thinking about it now, I realize that I actually do that quite a lot with Therapist as well. Sometimes when I allow those emotions during therapy sessions, I feel like I hold the intensity back a little. I can also easily find myself talking about painful things, feeling absolutely nothing in the moment, but knowing that it’s a difficult thing to talk about. It’s almost like I go into autopilot mode. But between sessions, and when I’m alone, the emotions and memories are so painful , and I can’t stop them from taking over. I wonder why I struggle with this so much, and how to break through it.

Overall, it was a pretty good, but draining session. When I got up to leave at the end, I suddenly felt very disoriented. It was a weird experience.

I still feel that attachment to her, and I especially felt it yesterday. And while I’d love to see her at least once a month, I realized that I can’t. Therapy already takes a lot out of me sometimes, and I’m scared it interferes with therapy somehow. And the attachment I feel toward her is more “normal”, so I don’t feel the same panic as when I think of not seeing therapist for more than five days.