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.

Acceptance – is it active or passive?

I’ve continued to talk to M about my intense need for approval and it has been difficult and shame filled for me. When M has talked about the way everyone has needs and that it is part of being human I told him I felt like he is telling me that I’m making a big deal out of nothing and I shouldn’t find it so difficult. So then he told me that I was extremely emotionally neglected and so was taught that my needs were not okay. I said everyone was taught that as children and he said yes to some degree but I had it much worse. He has a way of phrasing things that don’t sound like he empathizing to me. Instead I feel like he is telling me I’m damaged or broken. I’m not sure what he means until we discuss things further usually in another session after I’ve struggled with feeling unsupported. He also has a way of asking questions that confuse and irritate me instead of making statements that I can follow. For example last week he started a session by asking me if there was a way we could continue the discussion without torturing me. At one point when I was struggling with talking freely, he asked if I would be further ahead if I left the session without talking. At the time I heard these questions has an indictment of how I do therapy which made it more difficult to talk. After I left I realized that he was trying to help me and I wrote him an email saying if he was trying to encourage me to talk maybe he could try reminding me that he was trying to help me. I’ve rephrased things before and it seems a futile and possibly insulting request. So I tried something different.

Before my second session last week, I emailed M and asked him if we could try a session where he wouldn’t ask me any questions and he could only make statements. I would try to talk but if I was silent he wouldn’t question me about it. The session felt very different. M realized very quickly that almost everything he wants to say is a question and so had to stop himself from talking often. I realized that if I stopped talking he wasn’t going to ask me the “right” question to allow me to say what I wanted to say. I also didn’t have think about what his “wrong” question really meant or implied so I just thought of what I wanted to say. I also looked at him more than ever before. I can rarely look M in the eyes while I am talking and that was still true but when I wasn’t talking I looked at him. I didn’t realize how much I avoided him because I didn’t want him to see my reaction when he asked me a question.

The main point I struggled to make was about our recent discussion where M pointed out that I spend a lot of time trying to discern his judgement of me and he tries not to hold judgments about me (or any of his clients) because he doesn’t think judging people is helpful. I told him that I understood what he was trying to do and I think it sounded amazing in theory but in practice I found it so difficult that we spent hours of time talking about what he meant/implied/thought of me or my feelings and very little time on the issues that I brought into therapy. I suggested, hesitantly, that maybe I wasn’t capable of functioning in a judgement-free place much like developmentally I don’t think small children can function without a person giving them positive feedback. I was afraid that when I finally expressed this incredible ly brilliant analysis of the impasse we continually reach in therapy (please read the intended sarcasm inherent in this idea) that he would immediately agree with me and talk about ending therapy and me finding a therapist whose personal style would provide more positive approval. It didn’t happen that way.

Instead M suggested that what I (as all people do) needed was an acceptance of where I was and how I was feeling. He agreed I spent a lot of time trying to discern his thoughts and feelings about me because I believe most of the time that he is judging me but is not expressing those judgments clearly and instead they were coming out in his communication style. He thought I spent a lot of time confused about how things were between us; was he angry? frustrated? thinking of quitting? and that I needed to ask him about his feelings so I could be sure of the state of our relationship. I told him I didn’t think I was capable of asking him what he meant by things immediately because I am frequently confused and feel out of sorts but don’t recognize that his question was the start of feeling misunderstood or indicted. I told him I understood that I needed to check my assumptions about his feelings when I realized it but that I thought his acceptance of me could be an active practice for him. That is where we left the discussion so what do you think: is acceptance active or passive for you? do you show people that you accept them or assume they know it unless they ask? how about the people who accept you? do you feel their actions show that acceptance?

….

I can’t imagine what the title of this post should be. I don’t have any idea how to summarize what I am feeling. I’ve got random phrases like my personal black hole, or I’m empty/hollow/, or there is nothing to me except the immense desire to be okay or for someone else to say/show me that they approve of me.

It has been weeks since I posted here and I haven’t managed to read M the list of things I wish he would do to comfort me. I’ve talked about why I am afraid to tell him what I want. In one session I even asked him if I could hold one of his stuffed animals and he gave it to me. I’ve also spent a lot of time during my sessions feeling how much I don’t want to talk to M at particular moments and the variety of reasons I can come up with for not talking. At the same time I don’t want to leave his office and I hate missing sessions. It is like I desperately want to go but I don’t know why or what to do when I get there.

I was sitting in my session today and M and I were dissecting last week’s session that left me feeling confused and frustrated because it seemed like all his questions were designed to prove I was an idiot who was completely illogical and quite possibly insane. I left thinking he must hate me a lot to keep torturing me like this. Since I’ve felt like this before and he has always told me that he didn’t hate me I was able to admit that probably wasn’t true. So I wrote him a long email (which he didn’t get until this morning) talking about how confused I was by what he said during the session.

We’ve had lots of sessions like this. I say when you asked me this I felt like you were judging me. He says I was actually trying to understand or comment. So he explained what he meant by his comments and questions and I listened. Every time he asked me if I had any comments I didn’t. I understood what he was saying. I knew that I interpreted the things he said differently than he intended but that was all there was for me. He tried to talk more about the issue (which I’m not going to get into here because this post is long enough). So he pointed out to me, again, that I seemed to spend a great deal of time trying to discern what he thought of me, if he was judging me or not and that he tried not to express any kind of opinion or judgement about me.

All of a sudden I realized that this is at the heart of what happens in my therapy. I don’t feel safe in a relationship unless there is nearly constant positive feedback. It doesn’t mean someone has to tell me I’m good constantly but it does mean they have to show me something that tells me they are okay with me. All my friends are people I see several times a week even if it is only for a short time. They are people I work with, or parents who pick up their children at the same school as I do, or parents whose kids are on the same team or activity as mine. When things change and I don’t interact with people regularly it takes very little time for me to “forget” them emotionally. I mean I remember them and that we were friends but I don’t miss them or think of calling them to talk or meet. If they call me or arrange a meeting I am happy to see them and immediately feel comfortable with them but that happens because they contact me and so I know they are okay with me.

Therapy is agonizing to me because M doesn’t give me any signals and I haven’t been able to adjust to that. I don’t feel like their is some kind of freedom in therapy because M isn’t judging me. Instead I feel like I have nothing to say until I feel like M is okay with me. I think there is nothing to me and I have nothing to say. The only thing I’m aware of when I am sitting in the silence is how much I want M to give me some positive feedback. Since I left his office I’ve felt hollow and shaky, like there is a painful vibration in my chest that is echoing in the nothingness. I’m afraid my rib cage is going to collapse because there is nothing to me at all. I keep looking for someone to show me that I’m okay.

T and I hit the same wall again

I’ve been avoiding writing and responding to comments on my last post because I have been struggling in my relationship with my daughter. I love her and I’m scared for her and I’m hurt by her and I love her. It is tiring. I’ve been talking to M about it and that has helped.

Then two weeks ago something happened that triggered me badly. I was on a short trip to the French-speaking part of Canada and I only speak English. The first day while I was shopping an employee of the store asked me if I would like to get together with him while I was there. I said No but was upset by the whole thing. He was younger than I was (mid 30’s) and quite average/normal looking. He said I was attractive (I am actually morbidly obese in my mid 40s) and I realized that I completely believe I am unattractive, repulsive even. In my world no one should ever try to pick me up. I would be less surprised if gravity broke and things kept floating off ground. There are a lot of different things this experience triggered in me and one of the most difficult ones was that I immediately assumed that this man was completely messed up to find me attractive because I am so clearly not and pretty quickly that graduated to my husband must also be deeply mentally/emotionally disturbed as well. I felt ashamed and disgusting and was avoiding my husband.

After I came back from the trip I managed to tell M what happened and what had come up for me. We’ve discussed my feeling repulsive in the past and the worries I have about my safety if I lose weight. It was still difficult and incredibly painful and it took a couple of sessions. There was some relief in talking to M about it and it helped me talk to my husband as well so he knew what I was struggling with and could support me. Then the next session things got more difficult. I didn’t know what else to say and M clearly wanted me to talk more and asked me questions. I shut down and cried a lot. I tried to tell him I was starting to feel hopeless and I didn’t know what to do but it didn’t help. Then last night it reached the point where I was saying the same things, you might care but you can’t help me, all you say is “that is so painful” when I tell you things, therapy is hopeless. M responded with his go to answer, therapy works if you keep talking, therapy is like self-destructive, unhelpful ruminating when you shut down and won’t talk anymore. I said I can’t talk because I feel like there is no point and you can’t do anything anyway. He said there is a point and you need to talk, this is your fault if you kept talking eventually therapy would have worked. Okay I admit M didn’t say that exactly but that is what it sounded like to me.

So I came home and realized we were in the same place where he blames me because I shut down and stopped talking to him. I feel like it is hopeless and eventually he is going to give up so I want to quit right now before it gets really ugly. I even think the hope I have that therapy can help me is dangerous because it keeps me going to therapy.

So much anger directed at me

M cancelled my session today because of bad weather. I suspected he would but I was still upset when I got his email. I wanted to talk to him about wanting him to respond to something I say and then when he doesn’t respond feeling like I have to stop talking about it. What I didn’t want to talk about was my conversations with my eldest daughter over the last couple of days but we had another painful one tonight.

Four days ago my 16-year-old told me she wanted to talk to me about something. She started by telling me she wasn’t going to university after high school (she just finished a week of exams) and I wasn’t thrilled to hear that especially since she doesn’t seem to have any plan at all. I thought that was what she wanted to discuss but actually that was just her warm up topic.

She tried to stay calm but eventually yelling at me that she was so angry at me that I was overweight and unhealthy (I am morbidly obese and have some physical limitations because of it.) She told me she is afraid I’m going to die young and that isn’t fair to her and it makes her so angry that I won’t even try to lose weight (and I feel like I try to fail at losing weight everyday.) It was painful having her attack me at my weakest point and I struggled to accept her feelings. I told her I knew she loved me and that I accepted and understood that she was angry at me. Then she got more upset because the fact that I accepted her anger made it even worse because I clearly wasn’t going to change how I ate. I told her that It was a complex issue that wasn’t going to be amenable to an easy fix. She says she knew that but she was still angry that I didn’t care about her feelings enough to change. It was a difficult conversation but I thought we weathered it together.

The next night we started discussing my eating and exercise habits and how they developed in my childhood. I hoped sharing with her some of my difficulties would help her understand me and hopefully defuse some of her anger. I talked about my parents incredibly critical attitude where they had me convinced I was fat in the second grade. I stopped taking or eating lunch at school in grade 4 and they didn’t notice. We talked about how my parents but their sons in all kinds of sports but not their daughters. These things weren’t new to her (she has had her own experiences with my parents judgement) but I was trying to describe how events in my life have impacted my view of myself and my eating habits. I was struggling because my daughter knows that my parents were neglectful in many ways but not about any overt abuse.

While I considered what or how much I could say, my daughter surprised me by asking me outright if I had been molested as a child. I didn’t consider lying and just said yes. She was surprised even though she had asked the question. I told her I wouldn’t tell her any details but that the perpetrator was someone who was part of my large family and that I saw throughout my life. I also told her that I had told my parents when I was 14 and they had never mentioned it again and we all continued on like I had never said anything. I don’t think my abuser knows I told my parents and they certainly continued treating him and me the same. I managed not to cry and the conversation moved on to other things that happened in my childhood and early adulthood. After I worried that I might have made a mistake telling my daughter.

Tonight my daughter asked me if she could ask me more questions about the abuse although she knew I might not be willing to answer them. I agreed. She started by asking me if anyone else in my family was molested and I told her I wasn’t comfortable telling her other people’s stories but I told her I thought I was the only person who had been abused that way for years. Then she told me that she didn’t understand why I still talked to my parents. She got really angry asking why I didn’t cut them off when I was an adult, how I could keep seeing them, that what they did (ignoring what I told them) was so wrong she didn’t think there is any grey area. They aren’t good people and why in the world would I continue a relationship with them. I know she was angry at them on my behalf but fairly quickly she also got angry at me for not cutting them off. I tried to explain my attempts to maintain a relationship with all the members of my family but she couldn’t understand. She kept asking me if I knew it was wrong and that came close to asking me what was wrong with me that I could keep seeing them. It was so hard because while I do know my parents were not good parents, I am still not comfortable with so much anger expressed towards them. I feel like no matter what happens my daughter is angry at me. Eventually I told her I was sorry I told her and that made her furious and she called me a bitch because she was glad she knew and it explained so much of her life but she just needed to understand why I didn’t cut them off. Eventually I had to tell her I didn’t have an explanation that would satisfy her because it was such a black and white thing for her that she couldn’t imagine my position.

I’m afraid that I’ve hurt my daughter more than enlightened her and I don’t know what more I can say.

Anxiety

I am feeling very anxious. I’m avoiding calling my parents house because I’m afraid of calling when my mother is out. I am also regretting canceling call display on my home phone because I’m afraid he will call me again. My father won’t talk to me if my mother is there. I’m not sure I want to talk to him at all but I haven’t decided what to do.

I’m also in a lot of pain because I have a tooth abscess. I’m taking antibiotics for the infection but I’m going to have to have a root canal followed by a crown. This kind of dental work isn’t new to me. I’ve had a lot of root canals and crowns over the last 15 years. They’ve all been done by a specialist and most of them have been successful but I had an infection in one of them about 18 months ago. He performed a very painful gum surgery which wasn’t successful. I was supposed to have the tooth extracted but the oral surgeon I was referred to didn’t want to extract it if I wasn’t going to have an implant put in its place. An implant costs between five and six thousand and my insurance will only cover a small part of the cost. I decided I couldn’t afford it so I asked the oral surgeon to just extract the tooth and he suggested waiting.

During the examination of latest infected tooth, my specialist asked me why I hadn’t had my other tooth extracted. I explained why I hadn’t. He said he understood that the oral surgeon wanted to give me the best possible care but if it wasn’t possible for me to pay for the implant then I should still have the tooth extracted because of the danger of future infections. He said he would write the oral surgeon asking him to do the extraction. Then he walked me to his business officer to arrange my next appointment. The business officer told me that my root canal would cost just over $1500 and the dentist had waived 10% of his fee. I burst into tears surprising the business officer. I was so ashamed but I couldn’t stop crying. It was awful.

I tried to talk to M about it today. I’ve had this reaction before. Six months ago I saw a chiropodist a couple of times and the last time the chiropodist didn’t charge me for the appointment because he said he didn’t do anything for me. I argued that he gave me his appointment time but he didn’t change his mind. I didn’t start crying until I left his office but I haven’t gone back to him. I know rationally that in both cases the professionals involved chose to give me a discount but it feels so wrong to me. I didn’t tell my dentist I couldn’t afford the implant because I couldn’t pay his fee. M tried to ask me if I felt like I was beholden to him because of his discount and I said not rationally.

M told me many people are uncomfortable with people giving them things or doing favours for them. He asked if it made the relationship seem personal instead of professional. I said no, it is really about the money. This same dentist has called me at home on the evening after a previous root canal to check up on me and when he didn’t get to talk to me he left a number for me to call him when I got home. I called him and he was in a restaurant having dinner. Another time he gave me a card with his cell phone number and told me to call him if I needed to talk to him. Neither of these things made me feel uncomfortable. I appreciated his concern. This discount makes me so uncomfortable I want to cancel my appointment and never go back. I hate how irrational I am.

New Year, same old, same old

I had my first session of 2015 this morning. I have had a busy holiday season with a lot of family events. All my siblings came home for the holidays which meant a week with far too many events. I managed to decline some invitations which helped me decrease my stress. I also avoided any direct conversations with my parents which was important because the week before Christmas my father called me which almost never happens. I’m working on a post about that for another day. I managed to enjoy shopping with my teenage daughters and buying presents for my children.

M didn’t go away for the holidays so I had 2 sessions a week with him through December. Starting the week before Christmas I talked about my FOO during my sessions. I started with my conversation with my father, and continued with my holiday celebrations, my siblings and how we all regress when we spend time in my parents house. I felt alone even when I was in a house full of people. I have always felt like a stranger in my family. I am the odd man out, the “sensitive” one who overreacts and wants to discuss how I feel. It is the complete opposite of how I feel with M and I missed him quite a bit between sessions. I told him so in an email earlier this week.

During this morning’s session I ran out of stories about the holidays and my family because I haven’t interacted with them since Monday night. I slipped into the familiar place where I had a lot of different thoughts but I didn’t know what to talk about. M asked me if I felt like I missed him because for the last few sessions I’ve been speaking freely about things and not feeling stuck in silence. I didn’t think of it that way at all actually. I know I was speaking freely but I don’t feel like we worked through my feelings about him and therapy. It felt more like an intermission to me. A few sessions talking about what was happening right now in my life. M told me the sessions felt quite different to him. The conversations don’t link up for me. M obviously prefers me talking more. It didn’t help me talk more today. Instead I cried more and felt like a failure. M tried to ask me questions about what I was feeling and then about if I thought he was interested and cared about my feelings. I just got more and more confused and by the time the session ended I was exhausted and felt hopeless and miserable and that is very familiar for after a session.