My body

I haven’t written in months. I think it is because I’ve spoken more irl. I’ve changed jobs again (another short term contract) and adjusted to new coworkers and a new office. I’ve listened to my teenagers more and even shared  more of myself with them.  My husband and I just celebrated out 20th wedding anniversary and are trusting each other more with our vulnerable parts. 

I’ve also spoken more to M. I’ve looked at him more, talked about some really difficult things without shutting down, told him when I was upset and why more quickly. While I wouldn’t say I’m relaxed or fully comfortable in my sessions but I’ve stopped feeling any moment something would happen and destroy the relationship. So we started talking about my obesity which is what why my presenting problem was when I started therapy eight years ago. We started slowly talking about what it was like being called fat by my family for years before I was overweight and how I felt. We talked about my distorted body image and how I worried about my children’s weight. 

Tonight I admitted that I didn’t think I could change my weight, my eating, my sedentary lifestyle and M agreed with me. He said that he thought that when people were obese for a long time there body changed metabolically making it almost impossible to lose weight. He said that he thought the goal of talking about my weight was to decrease the amount of pain my weight caused me even though my weight didn’t change. I to,d him I didn’t think i was interested in feeling better about being obese and then I left. I think something broke inside of me because I’ve been crying for hours. I don’t want to work with him on this even if he’s right. 

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Progress…I think

I left my session yesterday feeling like M was avoiding what I wanted to talk about because it involved my feelings about him.  As I thought about what happened over the last week I realized it wasn’t quite like that.  Instead I could see how this very familiar feeling that M wouldn’t discuss my feelings about him evolved.

It started with M telling me that he thought I had fortitude.  It wasn’t the main point of what he was saying and it was actually more off hand which made it clear to me that he believed what he said.  It is very unusual for M to express any kind of judgement or assessment of me; even things that could be construed as positive.  I’ve been angry about that often and I’ve accused him of refusing to give me any assurance of our working relationship.  When he said it, my almost instantaneous response was to feel very uncomfortable and I changed the subject immediately.

Later I thought about why I was uncomfortable.  Did I disagree with his belief? Definitely in some areas of my life I have no fortitude.  What do I think fortitude is?  Do I even know what he means by fortitude?  I wrote him a short email telling him I had been uncomfortable with his statement and that I wanted to discuss it further in our next session.  I felt like I was finally getting a handle on how to do “therapy” properly.  Guess what? I didn’t feel that way very long.

So we started to talk about fortitude; what it was and what it wasn’t.  He asked me why I didn’t think I had fortitude and I wouldn’t tell him.  Then he gave me an example of something that I did recently which showed fortitude.  I admitted that it could look like fortitude but it wasn’t really a very important things in my life.  I said he had given the one example that I couldn’t argue with and then he gave me another.  That is when I fell into a deep, dark pit.  M encouraged me to talk about what I was feeling but I was overwhelmed.  Eventually I asked him to stop talking to me and when the session was over I asked him to move to the other side of the office so I could pack up and leave without him looking at me.  It has been a long time since I was so ashamed that I couldn’t face him at all or even move while he was watching me.  I felt a desperate need to quit not just therapy but life.  I kept thinking of ways to kill myself.  I know I wasn’t actually going to kill myself but I was obsessed with thinking about doing it, like it is very important to have a plan in case things get to be too much.

I think I fell into the pit because in an instant I realized that even though M thought something positive about me (that I had fortitude) and expressed it to me freely; it didn’t have much impact on how I feel about myself.  I am sure that is obvious to most people and even I intellectually understand that you have to like and respect yourself most importantly.  But some part of me believed that if I could be sure M liked and respected me then I would finally be able to feel better about myself.  I spent my life wanting to be liked.  I grew up in a family where no really saw or liked me.  For example, my mother got up at her 75th birthday party and announced to about 125 party guests that she had never said anything good about her children while they were growing up because she didn’t want them to think too highly of themselves.  She wanted to say on that occasion for the first time that she was proud of us. My own memories would suggest she was consistently and actively critical of me often punishing me for doing things that she had never talked to me about.  There was no chance of me feeling conceited.  I was desperately trying to figure out what was fundamentally wrong with me and how I could hide it, but I digress.

The next part came when I realized that I’ve spent years feeling like if M would be more expressive, or more supportive, or more there for me it would make a huge difference.  I felt needy and vulnerable and desperate for his approval. And it didn’t matter to me anyway.  But I still want him to approve of me in some agonizingly childish way which feels even more f*** up than my actual childhood.  So I went to my next session (yesterday) to discuss it more and we couldn’t understand each other.  I felt like M was avoiding my feelings by cognitively analyzing why I felt like I didn’t have fortitude and why I might feel uncomfortable with him saying I did.  Like maybe I was afraid that he wouldn’t think I was in pain anymore and expect me to be better.  I’m afraid it is a blur and I left thinking it has happened again and M is avoiding this huge issue because it is about me being needy and wanting something from him.  I started to feel like I misunderstood what he said anyway and it probably wasn’t an expression of any positive feeling about me.

Here is the progress (if that is what it is called), I realized that M wasn’t avoiding the topic I was.   I wanted to talk about it but I am drowning in shame and self-loathing for feeling the way I do and wishing M would feel and express positive sentiments about me.  I feel like it is a pathetic thing to want from a therapist and it is even worse to want it even though I’m not going to believe or accept it.  It feels like my personal hell is to want to be cared for and to search endlessly for that caring and then not be able to accept it when it shows up anyway.

I’m not sure what happens next.  I’m clear that I’m ashamed of myself and don’t want to tell M how I feel about this but I desperately want him to know all the things I can’t say.  I think it would be progress if I could stop being so needy and wanting so much.  Instead it had taken less time for me to see the way my mind twists and turns to end up in the place where I’m angry at M and I start thinking if only he would (fill in the blank) then I would feel better.

Digging deeper – part 2

I’ve been struggling with writing the second part of this post and I think it is because there is so much confusion for me about what does M think of me? how does he feel about me? why does it matter to me? should it matter?  I tried to address some of that in my second session of the week.

M asked me if I wanted to discuss the dream and I told him that I felt like his email saying that he wanted to hear about my dream made a difference in how I felt about sharing the dream.  I spent time thinking about why it felt so different to me and came up with the following.  During the session M told me he thought it would be helpful for me to discuss the dream which is an opinion that I’m not sure I agree with.  His email felt like he was telling me his feelings which are impossible to disagree with.  I didn’t think that he “wanted” to hear about my dream because he was interested for any personal reason like not being able to stop staring at an accident or wanting to laugh at the freak show in my head.  In the session I didn’t know if he wanted to hear about my dream or if he just thought it would be helpful for me to talk about it.  The other obvious difference is that when I read his email I wasn’t in a room with him and I frequently interpret his emails as much more understanding and committed to therapy with me than how he feels to me during a session.  At times I’ve wondered if someone else writes his emails (not really but maybe someone else reads them).

M told me that he thought the things he said in session and the comment in the email came out of the same feeling which was that he wanted to hear about the dream because he thought it would be helpful.  We talked a little bit about the different emphasis I heard compared to his feeling they were very similar.  Finally I asked him why he wanted to be helpful which seemed to me to be part of what he was expressing and he started laughing.  He answered with “I like being helpful which is true about me and part of the answer” and then he said “another part is that I care about the pain you are in.”  He talked more about how the dream effected me and how he thought it reflected an intense fear or conflict I was having.  By the time he had finished talking I had covered my face and was crying really hard.  I was holding my breath to keep myself from making any noise which is something I do whenever I cry so hard that I’m afraid I’m going to sob

M asked me what was making me so sad and when I calmed down I told him I didn’t really know but what he said didn’t help.  He asked me in what sense didn’t it help,  I didn’t really know why or what I meant and this is where I usually look at the clock and see how many minutes are left in the session.  I end of feeling like it is taking to long for me to figure out what he is asking and then I start feeling bad about how much time I’m wasting so I cry more and then I shut down until the session ends.  Since  knew we were having a 1.5 hour session, I don’t remember even looking at the clock and instead I kept talking even though I didn’t know what I was going to say or if it would make any sense.  I told him that I felt like I was asking him a question and either I couldn’t ask it correctly or I couldn’t understand his answer because I just felt so frustrated and sad about our conversation.  It was like I was looking for some kind of proof and I couldn’t get it and that it felt like what he was saying was kind of unrelated to me.

After a long pause, M said “that I care about the pain you are in seems unrelated to you” in a very interested way and even I could hear how odd that sounds but I told him that was true.  Then I said maybe it didn’t feel  personal because I didn’t understand why he cares.  M asked me if I thought I had to do something for him to care and I didn’t even try to answer.  Then he told me thought I was expressing a very basic feeling that it isn’t enough to be cared about because there is something that fundamentally doubts that I am worthy of being cared about.  That made things feel impossible because I desperately want to be cared about and I can’t be cared about.  It felt terrible and I told M that.  M said he didn’t think I couldn’t be cared about but being cared about came with so much doubt for me and I spent so much time looking for proof or for something to make the caring seem real and understandable and that it sucked that it was so elusive for.  I was covering my face and crying and M voice started to go weird like he was having trouble breathing or talking properly.  Then I dried my tears and told M about the dream.

I left the session feeling exhausted and sad but thinking I had made some progress initially but it didn’t take long for me to feel differently.  I started feeling like I wanted M to say that he cared and he had avoided saying it as usual.  Then I listened to my recording of the session tonight and I think he did say it but I keep forgetting.

Digging deeper – part 1

This week I had two sessions with M and the second session was 1.5 hours long.  Since my last post I’ve asked my supervisor if I can shift my work hours so I can leave early one day a week.  I told her I had an appointment but didn’t discuss what kind.  I also talked to my husband about how I felt like M spent my session counting down the minutes until I left and that is why he didn’t want to do sessions longer than an hour.  My husband told me that M had said he wanted to continue with two sessions a week and that seemed to contradict my theory.  He was right of course.  I am regularly afraid that M is getting fed up with me and going to quit.  Probably if M had suggested one longer session a week and dismissed the idea of two sessions a week I would have still felt it was because he was fed up with me.  Then M surprised me by offering me a longer session this week and explained that he usually didn’t have the concentration and focus for a longer session at the end of his day but this week he had an unusually light day.  It didn’t take me long to say yes.

Last week I had a very disturbing dream.  It wasn’t like usual trauma dream which I am sure I’ve written about in the past (TRIGGER  – in them I’m sexually abused in front of many people who do nothing)  I haven’t had one of those dreams in almost three years and that is amazing considering for most of my adult life I’ve had that dream repeatedly only varying the place and people involved.  I started to feel like I had nothing to fear from sleep.  My new dream was horrifying in a new and devastating way.  I can’t say much but it involved two of my children, rape, and my complete failure as a parent.  When I woke up tears were streaming down my face and I spent the next 30 minutes wrapped in my blankets while my body shook.  I was exhausted and the next day every time I started to relax into sleep I would jerk awake with my heart racing.

During my first session with M I told him I had a trauma-related dream and some of the effects it had on me.  He asked me what the dream was about and I didn’t want to say except in general terms.  He told me he thought it would be helpful for me to tell him about the dream because I was so upset and I seemed to identify strongly with it.  We ended up a discussion about the nature of dreams.  I said that having such a horrible dream meant something about me and what was capable of imagining.  M argued that you don’t choose your dreams and that dreams come out of our deep-seated fears but they weren’t proof of who we were.  He said if I dream I’m being eaten alive by a tiger that doesn’t mean I”m afraid of tigers or should avoid them, maybe I’m feeling overpowered by things in my life.  I said he kind of proved my point because while he might dream of being eaten when he feels threatened or powerless, I have dreams about rape and torture and whatever other treats that my freak-show of a mind can come up with.  I said my dream does say something about me and maybe I don’t want to expose that part of me.  That lead to him asking if I was afraid he would judge me and I said no.  Isn’t possible to not want to expose your faults for any other reason than expecting to be judged?  I’ve been thinking about that for a while

The session ended there after discussing.  I sent him a followup email later that night which is standard for me and when he replied the next day he said (among other things) that he would like to hear about the dream.  I felt different about it almost immediately.  His words cut through so much of the back and forth in my head about whether talking about the dream would really help me, whether it would make a difference in any way to the likelihood of me having more terrible dreams, and what effects it might  have on my relationship with M if he knew the details of the dream

Understanding myself better and why it is so painful to be me

I realized tonight how difficult it is for me to ask for some special individual consideration.  Even things that seem reasonable.  M asked me if I knew why I felt that way

Was I afraid of being told No? – I don’t think about people saying no, it feels wrong to ask for something or suggest a different way of doing things unless there is a good reason for it

Do I feel like I don’t deserve the thing? – I don’t think of it as deserve or not deserve.

Do I feel like I’m not entitled? – Isn’t that the same as what you just asked me?

There is a difference between deserving something and being entitled to it. – I can’t see much a difference and I don’t really think about it like that.

So how do you think about it?  What makes it wrong to ask? – long silence while I think about it but I don’t seem to have any answers.  It just feels wrong

Maybe you don’t have to understand why you feel that way, maybe it isn’t a particular issue but rather a generalized feeling. – after what felt like a long silence I said so what happens

I think what comes next is realizing that you don’t have to act like your feelings are real.  Maybe you can ask for things even though it feels wrong. – I don’t know if that is possible for me, sometimes I don’t even want anything until someone else tells me what is allowed

M and I were talking about my therapy sessions.  I’ve had to switch from two sessions/week to one session/week because I got a new job.It is a 6 month contract job so I’ve only been able to see M after business hours and he only works one evening a week.  It has been really difficult.  I was out of work for about a month and didn’t know if or when I would find work so I decreased the number of my sessions then because I was concerned about my finances.  Now I am working again and can afford therapy but don’t have the time.  It led to some difficult conversations because I really want to see M more but I can’t and I felt like M didn’t notice how or care how difficult it was for me.  Whenever I tried to discuss how therapy was changing M would say something general like “there is more than one way to do therapy” and we don’t even know if the schedule has to change, you’ve just started and maybe you will discover that you can shift your work hours to leave early one day a week and have a session at the end of the day.

My new job is completely different that what I used to do.  It is an entry-level administration position where I work assisting everyone else and keep things running smoothly so they want me in the office during regular business hours to support the other staff.  I used to work in a lab doing experiments where I didn’t depend on anybody else’s work and they didn’t depend on mine.  My supervisor allowed me to work flexibly because I could work late or on a weekend to get my job done.  That meant I could do therapy in the middle of the day or take my children to appointments or volunteer to accompany them on a class trip.  The worst part is there isn’t that much work to do in my new job.  It certainly doesn’t fill my day so I spend time at work doing nothing but waiting for more work.  My new supervisor is very nice and told me before the end of the second week that I was too efficient for my current job.  I told her I wasn’t qualified to do anything but an entry-level position because all my education and experience up to this point has been in science.  She took the time to discuss other jobs at the company and encouraged me to take some training courses through my employer and introductory accounting and business courses at night so I’ll be qualified for higher level jobs.

So last week M finally told me that he hoped that we could continue to meet twice a week and that he hoped I could arrange to work longer for four days a week so I could leave early on the fifth day and have a session with him. I was greatly relieved because I had started to worry that he had given up on me and therapy and I was hoping my new schedule and job would stop me from coming during the day and then he would stop working his one night a week and so he could quit on me.  After the session, I sent him an email saying I was worried I couldn’t shift my work hours and I would like to try meeting for 1.5 hour sessions once a week.  I didn’t say anything after he told me he thought ideally we should meet twice a week even though I had been thinking about longer sessions for months and we have even had a couple in the past.  Before the session I wanted to ask him to try that but during the session when he stated his preference for 2 session/week it didn’t even enter my mind.  So I realized that asking by email was easier for me than asking in session.  He responded by saying we could discuss it this week.

Tonight during the session he didn’t mention the 90 minute session and neither did I.  Instead we had the discussion above about why I hadn’t asked my supervisor about shifting my hours so I could leave early once a week.  Part way through the questions I realized that they were parallel situations.  I don’t feel like it is okay to ask my supervisor of one month if I can adjust my schedule, still do the same hours and work but slightly differently and I can’t ask my therapist of seven years if he will see me for longer than his usual session length even though I’ll be paying him for his time.  I don’t know if I’m afraid they will get mad at me, or say no, or if I don’t feel like I deserve what I want.  All I know is that even though rationally I don’t think it is wrong to ask either of them, I can’t seem to do it.  And it absolutely sucks to be so powerless even in your therapist’s office.

I’m trying to keep from panicking

My job ends next week. It isn’t a surprise. I knew it was possible for over a year, probable for months, and I got my formal lay off notice 11 weeks ago. So I’ve been looking for work slowly. I’ve applied for a few jobs. The first job I applied for in May, I felt really good about the interview and was turned down very positively by the manager because I lacked experience. Since then I haven’t had any responses to my application.

Before I spent years in therapy discussing my life and getting in touch with my emotions I appeared to be a fairly competent and confident person. I might have been racked with anxiety and fear or sadness or I might have battled nightmares and flashbacks all night but when I got to work I was fine. I could count on the fact that when I needed to I could get things done. When I was in graduate school I had to give regular talks and presentations. I hated it. I couldn’t sleep or eat for days before and it didn’t matter how well prepared I was or how many successful talks I had given each one seemed impossible before I started. I used to pace in halls outside of the room I had to speak in because I couldn’t stand still and watch people sit down without feeling like I had to run or hide or be sick. When I started talking I was completely different. I was calm, and spoke calmly and clearly, I answered questions and interacted with people like I was having a great time (I often did). People who saw me prepare and anxious would comment on how I seemed like a different person.

That calm, competent person used to show up when I needed to get things done, or be in a job interview, or be entertaining in a group of people. That person was almost always there. I thought I was that person. The person who couldn’t sleep, was anxious or sad, who stayed home and hid from everyone seemed like an interloper. I thought when I grew up, or got married, or lost weight, or started therapy, or whatever magical thing I thought would fix me, happened then I would only be the confident, functional, successful person.

The problem is that I can’t count on the competent person showing up anymore. Sometimes she does show up, like she did in my interview in May. Other times I just can’t do what I should be doing. I learned how to say no to requests and how to judge myself less harshly when I need a break or to take a step back. That was a good thing in my life generally but now I feel like I need the person who could be “on” when she had to and I can’t find her all the time. I’m afraid I’m losing access to the competent me and will end up becoming only the person who hides from the world.

Exhausted and almost numb except for the ache in my chest

Tonight I had an 1.5 hour session with M. He asked me if I could come an hour earlier tonight because he had a cancellation and I agreed and asked if we could have a longer session. I was sure he would say no but he said we could. Instantly I felt anxious, what if it was one of those sessions where I couldn’t speak? How long would it feel? How much crying could I take? I had a lot to talk about.

I saw a webinar by Dr. Janina Fisher on Shame and Self-Loathing in the Treatment of Trauma last week that gave me lots to think about. I had tried to talk to M about it and eventually asked if he would watch it. He suggested we watch it together and then discuss it which felt too difficult. There was a lot of things she suggested in the video that are very different from how M does therapy. I think the approach she discussed would be helpful but it seems wrong to ask M to change how he does things so it felt difficult to watch the video with him. Even so I went tonight with my laptop which has the webinar stored on it in case we decided to watch it. I also spent a couple hours making notes from the 50 minute presentation and summarizing them in an easy to read format so we could discuss what I found interesting. I always prepare for my sessions which doesn’t seem to matter when I sit down and find myself confused and frozen, struggling to say anything at all.

After a difficult start in which I told him I didn’t know if I wanted to watch the video and I didn’t know what to talk about. Finally I asked M what he thought I should talk about which caused him to laugh out loud because there is no shortage of things to talk about and I know he won’t choose a topic for me. Eventually M told me that I have been stuck in the same place for awhile. I can’t seem to talk about anything that is important to me except to mention it. I am frequently frustrated with him, how he responds, or what he does. I keep telling him that therapy is too hard for me, that it is torturous and I need to find a way to make it more manageable. Finally he said what I’ve been dreading even while I’ve been marshaling the arguments to support it. He said if there was something about him, how he thought or spoke, or that he couldn’t give me the support I wanted and needed, then I should find someone else to work with because I shouldn’t be muzzled.

We kept talking. I asked if he had made a decision about stopping therapy and he said NO he hadn’t. I asked him why he asked to watch the video if he was going to talk about me finding a new therapist. He said that this was my agenda and he was talking about it because I had been talking about it or around it for months. He is right I have been but I kept hoping that he would be able to help me through this impasse and being angry at him that he couldn’t. We discussed how much I prepare because I’m trying to do therapy right so he won’t leave me and how scared I am that I’m failing. As gently as he could he told me that I couldn’t actually control what would happen in a session by preparing and planning for it. He said therapy, like life is something that can’t be controlled and that trying to control it and failing left me feeling more vulnerable.

We agreed that when we met next Monday we would talk more about how and why I try to control and contain things (him, my emotions, my speech, my reactions) in therapy. I don’t know if I can and what if I try, really try and still can’t?