The role of therapists in my life.

from my therapist’s office

My first therapist was Bill, and I saw him a few times when I was in college. I distinctly remember visiting him before I graduated from school. I was moving back home for some surgery, and wanted his help in learning how to navigate old communication patterns. The tools he gave me were very useful as I adjusted from independence to needing help. I was grateful for the techniques I learned, and I think it made my stay at home a smooth one in an otherwise difficult time.

Ted was my next therapist, about 20 years later. I first started with Ted in April 2008. His practice was recommended to me by someone at the church office. I dialed three times and hung up before I finally let the call go through and scheduled the intake appointment.

I remember “clicking” with him almost immediately. Good thing, because I was in desperate need of someone to help me with my jumbled emotions. I was in my mid-40s, we had just moved back to town, and I had expected to pick right up with old friendships and circumstances. But instead, I was feeling incredibly sad and couldn’t shake it. I tried, but was unable to explain to my husband what was wrong. I could only cry. We both agreed that I needed to talk to someone.

So Ted has been with me from the beginning of my depression, which started that summer, and for all the years since. He was with me through the very worst. When I was at my lowest. When I didn’t think I could go on living. Through my hospitalization. He helped me through the trauma and drama of deep depression, during the days when it was overwhelming and suffocating. He helped me navigate through the darkness and slowly back into the light. And he did this several times as I repeated my depression over seven years.

Ted knows me so.well. Maybe even better than I know myself. He can take the words I say and make them make sense. He finds the thread between my random thoughts, puts order to them and gives them back to me. And he’s done this for me for years.

Ted has served as my coach, as my educator, as my mentor, and as my confidant. I didn’t share with him in place of sharing with my husband, but he helped me to formulate my thoughts in a way that my husband could receive them. So that I could say what I wanted my husband to hear, instead of getting lost in my emotions or randomness. He always pointed me back to my husband.

Ted’s a Christian, and he prays for me at our appointments. He helped me sift through the spiritual battle versus the mental illness, and reminded me regularly that Christ is with me in my depression. He was the first one to really help me see Jesus standing alongside me as I struggled to fight for my mental health.

Ted helped me navigate some difficult memories. He worked with me on abandonment fears. He let me sound off about things that made me angry and helped me learn to express anger in a healthy way, instead of squelching it like I used to. He pointed out my faulty thinking, and gave me a different story than the one I was telling myself. He challenged my all-or-nothing thinking. He showed me that I speak to myself in questions, and I “should” on myself a lot.

I remember one time in particular when he really pissed me off. It’s when he pretended to be me. He told me everything I was thinking, including the things I hadn’t said out loud. I was so angry! Or maybe I was just afraid, because I had been vulnerable enough for him to see through me, to know the way I think and how I form my opinions and thoughts, and he nailed it!

I don’t worship him, nor would he ever let me. But I do have a really hard time finding a therapist, because everyone gets held up to the measuring stick of Ted. And they often fall short. It’s not a fair comparison, I know, because they don’t have the years with me like he does. So of course they don’t know me like he knows me, which puts them at a huge disadvantage when I start comparing.

I found a Christian therapist when we moved to Florida, and she was kind and gentle and accepting. I drove 40 miles one way to see her, and it was worth it. She helped me through the grieving process of relocating, and together we navigated a depressive episode with faith in Christ as my healer.

I’ve tried three therapists here – one was a hit for a little over a year. We just “broke up,” as she is moving to her private practice and I’m looking for a Christian counselor.

But I know that I’ll always have Ted. He’s promised me many times that he’ll always “be there” for me, and he always has been. I haven’t needed him as much as I used to – I’ve found these other therapists over the years who have been helpful. But I suspect I will always reach out to Ted in my depressed moments, for just a word of understanding from him to ease me through the darkness again. And he’ll point me back to my husband, and remind me that Christ is with me.

Now that’s a good therapist!

Lies and My Latest Counseling Appointment…

I’ve met with this guy twice. This week was my second visit, and I cried through the whole session. I don’t think I’m going back, but my tears aren’t why.

My crying felt good, actually. There was an issue I wanted to discuss – a lie I have believed – that I needed help navigating. I knew going in on Wednesday that there might be tears. So why did I even bother with makeup?!

I’ve been blaming myself for several years for something that wasn’t my fault. And I’ve known it wasn’t my fault – in my head. But my emotions didn’t agree, and I couldn’t shake the accusation and corresponding guilt. So I knew this was what I wanted to discuss at my counseling appointment. I wanted help with seeing the lie – I’m to blame – and replacing it with truth – I did the best I could and it’s not my fault.

My counselor heard my request, and prayed with me. He asked God to reveal the truth to me about the situation, and to replace the lie with the truth. (See Wikipedia: Theophostic Counseling).

I cried. Tears streamed from my closed eyes as I prayed along. I felt my head knowledge move to my heart; it’s not my fault; I did the best I could; God loves me and them completely, and longs to pour blessings on us, if I will only let go of my desire to control the situation.

I cried as these truths finally sank in. And that is exactly what I had hoped for from the therapy session. To replace the lies I was believing with the truth I was having a hard time accepting.

And then the counselor said that he thought there was more – another underlying lie that I was believing. And I balked.

I know the lie – I knew it was a lie even before I saw the therapist. I just wanted his help to move the truth from my head to my heart. I don’t want to go diving for more lies. This was a specific situation. In general, I don’t want my every thought to be traced back to my childhood. Which was good, by the way!

I know that I benefit from talk therapy, especially when I’m experiencing a depressive episode (which I currently am). I need a therapist who will listen to all the thoughts I express, take them and reflect them back to me in a way that makes sense. Put reason and logic and order to what feel like random depressive thoughts. I want a therapist who will say, “Depression sucks,” and then help me make sense of my feelings, put them into context for me.

I need therapy to accompany my medicine, especially when I’m fighting depression like I am right now. And I’ve been at this long enough to know what I need from my therapist.

And this latest guy isn’t it. He helped me with the issue I needed, but that’s all.

I need to find someone else.

Homesick

I’m homesick today, and I don’t even know for which home. I’m grieving double.

We lived in FL for 14 months, so I was just finally getting settled in. I knew my way around town, had a church to call home, the start of some very nice friendships, a routine that I enjoyed most days. Liked Bible Study, loved my Moms In Prayer friends, had great neighbors. Loved my house.

Now I’m starting all over and I’m lonely. I’m grieving the loss of friends. Ok, they’re not lost, they’re just not here. And in many ways, I’m grieving the move to FL again, as I grieve this move to VA. That caught me by surprise this morning. Grief can bring back old grief.

I find myself thinking of my older home, my WI home, the place I moved from when we went to FL. I’m missing my old streets and house and friends and neighbors and co-workers and church. It’s as if I just moved from there, as I’m homesick for them all over again. Even though I went through grief when we moved to FL, it’s as fresh today as it was the first time.

Granted, I’ve only been in VA for fifty-one days. Hardly enough time to settle into a routine, let alone have any friends. But I find myself asking God, “Didn’t I just do this?” I am reminding myself that I told God I’d go where He wanted me to go. I have to remind myself, or I’ll get lost in the pity-party. I think He wanted us to come here, for my husband’s job opportunity and for new adventures together as a couple. I know we prayed about it and sensed God’s leading.

But I’m so lonely. God truly is all I have all day long. I’m trying to practice that, live in that, be content in that. God is all I have.

He is supposed to be all I need. We sing those words. We read those words. Do I mean those words? Do I live them? Is He really enough, or do I only mean it when everything else is in order, in my order?

I know that time will help. I will begin to learn my way around this new place in VA, and I pray that it will start to feel comfortable soon. It will be at least a year before I can call it home – I know from all my earlier moves that’s how long it takes. But it’s really hard in the meantime. And the days are quiet and very long.

So I’m learning, at a deeper level, to listen to God in the stillness. To hear Him assure me that He is enough. He is all I need. He will supply all my needs. He understands my tears. He will draw near when I feel broken-hearted. He is the lover of my soul. I will tell myself these truth-promises until my eyes dry and I can rest quietly in His arms.

A relapse, not just a bad day :(

So perhaps I was wrong. I had been hoping it wasn’t relapse.

But it’s been longer than a week, and I can’t shake the blah mood. My head hurts, my jaw aches from clenching my teeth. If I think about it at all, which I’ve avoided, I feel my breath get shallow and speed up. Last night and again today, I was overwhelmed with feelings of deep sadness; it took incredible effort not to cry.

I’m trying to figure this out.  How does the definition of depression change for a person who has had it before? Are the symptoms still the same?  What about for the 10th episode? Or the 12th? Or the 30th?

Does the ability to smile or laugh mean I’m not depressed?

If I want to stay in bed and sleep all day but I get up anyway, does that mean I’m not depressed?

If hopelessness is a symptom but as a Christ follower I have hope because Christ is with me, does that mean I’m not depressed?

If I’m not hungry at all but I eat because I’m supposed to, does that mean I’m not depressed?

If I want to be alone, just me and the TV, but I enjoy a little social time with friends, does that mean I’m not depressed?

If I can’t see “the light at the end of the tunnel” but experience has taught me that these blah feelings will go away, does that mean I’m not depressed?

No, it doesn’t mean that. It probably is depression, just not as dark and deep as I’ve had before. But depression again – and still real, still hard.

I’ll have to fight back; it won’t just work itself out. It won’t last forever, either, though I might think that at times. I might lose sight of hope, might doubt myself. I’ll probably talk to myself harshly and try to isolate more than is good for me. I won’t want to increase my exercise. I don’t want to take new medicine. I don’t want to do anything, except to curl up in a ball until depression disappears. Someone make it go way. Jesus, please?

In response, He reminds me that I’m not alone. I never have been, and He won’t leave me this time, either. He may heal me now, or not until I reach heaven. He promises either way that He will not waste my pain, but will use it somehow to help others. He loves me in the midst of my misery. And these things don’t change, with or without depression. Thank you, Lord.

Remembering Sadness: A Christmas Party

I was telling my therapist yesterday that I want to go back and read my old journals, written over the past 9 years, covering the times where I’ve been in and out of depression. But after I blogged about my stay in the hospital psych ward, I read about a work Christmas party that happened shortly after my release, and found myself crying. Sometimes, the stories are sad.

Typically on Holiday Party day,  I would work longer into the afternoon, and we would help Leanne in getting ready for the evening. She would have planned every detail of this party for weeks. She’s incredibly creative and clever, and she chooses the menu and theme and creates the fun game time for the annual event. We’d get tables set up and decorated, gather and set out supplies for coffee (the meal is catered), fluff the Christmas tree and check its lights, set up the sound system, move the piano out, and do whatever else we could to help her with preparations. The party is for Board members present and past, and the staff is invited to attend. I liked going, and my husband and I often served beverages before the meal. I had discovered this as my favorite way to meet and thank Board members without making tons of small talk! I don’t think I fulfilled this service in December 2009, and I’m sure that’s a good thing.

Looking back, I had no business being there that evening, not with my mental health fragility and the physical exhaustion I was experiencing as I was recovering from the serotonin toxicity. I wish someone had told me I couldn’t go. But I’d always attended before, and felt like I needed to this year, too. I think I just wanted to prove to myself that I was back to normal, even though that was far from true. My husband agreed to meet me there when he got off work.

I honestly don’t remember many details, but I do remember catching my reflection on the way to the bathroom. What I saw shocked me.

There was a short round woman, hunched over a little, her body being pushed hard toward the floor by gravity, her feet splayed for balance. Her hair was messy, but not cute-messy, and her face was drawn and tight. Her eyes were flat, and her lips turned downward. She looked horrible. And then I realized it was me.

I don’t think we stayed longer – I wanted to get out of there before anyone else saw me. I cried as we drove home – so sad for the woman I used to be. I didn’t think about how I would be her again someday – standing taller with confidence, attractively dressed, smiling with eyes sparkling. I could only be sad that at that moment she was gone, and in her place was this woman who had been beaten down and showed it.

Healing from the serotonin toxicity took way longer than I expected – months of me not feeling back to myself. My psychiatrist kept urging patience, reminding me that I had been through a major traumatic event. Everyone but me seemed to understand that I wasn’t weak, just healing, and it was going to take lots of time and rest for full recovery.

I cried a little as I retold this story yesterday to my therapist. And I realized that even though I really want to re-read all of my journals, it will not be easy. I am inviting myself back into sadness and sad memories, and I will mostly likely cry. She encouraged me to take my time – I don’t have to hurry – and I can stop at any point. She even offered that I could bring the journals to our appointments, if I feel that I don’t want to handle the emotions by myself.

At least I know what to expect. Some tears, definitely. But I’m also eager to read the evidences of God’s faithfulness, about the tools my previous therapist gave me, of verses of Scripture that sustained me. I will read expectantly, with my heart soft and ready to absorb the written emotions again, yet reading the journals with strength, knowing that I have come through difficult times and am the person I am today because of them. And I will cry.