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!

Anxiety Revisited

So I got news yesterday that concerned me. No, more than concern. It brought worry and anxiety. My mind raced eighteen steps ahead in my worst-case-scenario storyline. It was not pretty.

I haven’t had anxiety for a long time, other than a single moment a few weeks ago. But that flash of anxiety was just that – a flash, momentary. It lasted long enough for me to recognize it, but my thoughts immediately turned to God’s truth, and the anxiety was gone – snap! – that fast.

This time, it’s lingering. I’m worried about something in the future that I can’t control. That’s where anxiety looks – ahead. Depression looks back. This is why it’s so important to stay in the current moment – so as not to entertain anxiety (future worry) or depression (past regrets).

Anyway, this fear for a future moment is for an inevitable event; I just don’t know when. And the not-knowing scares me.

Anxiety presents itself in my body in both my belly and my lungs. My stomach feels hollow, and it’s hard to catch my breath. It’s a physical reaction to an emotional response. My stomach hurts and I can’t breathe.

I hugged my husband tonight when he got home, and told him I was scared – he didn’t even ask about what. He knows what worries me, even though I’ve been careful not to dwell on the future or even express it. As if expressing it out loud could make it happen – which it can’t.

The sermon on Sunday was about peace. I’ll go back and review my notes, because I need them right now. I need the peace that Jesus brings. He says, “I leave the gift of peace with you—my peace. Not the kind of fragile peace given by the world, but my perfect peace. Don’t yield to fear or be troubled in your hearts—instead, be courageous!” John 14:27 (TPT)

In other places in God’s Word, it says:

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. Colossians 3:15 (NASB)

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians‬ ‭4:6-7‬ ‭(NIV‬‬)

I was thinking about that word “guard.” God’s peace will guard my heart and my mind – will protect it, keep it from being attacked by outside forces. By anxious thoughts.

At this time of year, we celebrate that Jesus came as a baby. The Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)

May He reign in my heart and yours. Right now. Because we all need His Peace.

5 a.m. Musings

I woke at 4 a.m., laid in bed for an hour. These were the things going through my head:

  • Jack Johnson’s Banana Pancakes song (just the words I know)
  • Does Starbucks have pumpkin bread or muffins? I have to take the car in this morning for a front end alignment; maybe I’ll stop first and treat myself to a mocha and pumpkin bread.
  • What should I take to S’s on Saturday? Brownies? Something pumpkin? (back to thinking about Starbucks)

Then I decided to focus my thoughts on times during depression when I felt relief:

  • Taking a nap at B’s house – I remember laying down on her couch, a throw pillow under my head, her blue chenille-weave blanket over me. I felt so safe and sleepy.  I must have made her whole family, including her two teenage boys, tiptoe around, because I didn’t wake for over an hour. I remember B doing dishes at the sink as I sat up. Her smile at me – just the best thing a weary friend could see. Do you remember that, B?
  • My husband’s arms wrapped around me. Standing in the kitchen with my back up against the counter, and he pulled me towards him. I tucked my arms next to my sides, so he was completely around me, and I put my head down on his chest, under his chin. I felt safe, supported, enclosed. I knew he was with me through this thing called depression – his hug, and holding me, proved I wasn’t alone. I still like that position of a hug, with me wrapped completely up in his strong arms. I feel so safe there.
  • Walking into Ted‘s office (my therapist) – the stillness of the room; the sensation of taking off the invisible heavy backpack with the weight and cares of the world, and laying it beside my purse; sinking into the cushions, usually clasping a throw pillow to my chest (part comfort, part protection of my vulnerabilities that I will be sharing). He sits across from me. He smiles and I can feel the tension of the world leave my shoulders. For a few times, I sat in the rocking chair with the cream-colored fluffy blanket – the rocking motion is still soothing to me. But I prefer the couch, where I can sink down into the cushions, put my head against the back, and slouch behind my pillow. Soft glow from the lamps. A candy dish on the table. Kleenex within reach. I look up to the windows at the top of the wall – stare out at the clouds and branches. The quiet is almost tangible, like the room is doubly insulated against the terrors and pressures of the outside world, where my depression has me in its grip. But this is a safe place, and I can talk about my fears and sadness here.
  • Later, walking into Elizabeth‘s office (my therapist when I moved to FL) – the beauty of the room, the cheerful patterns.  Though my need wasn’t as strong, she had throw pillows for me to clasp, to hide behind. Her gentle voice. Her soft words of encouragement and prayer.

Now, it’s almost 4:45 a.m., and I start thinking about my previous post on Scripture, particularly Philippians 4:6-7, NIV:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

I think more on this verse, and how it has helped me, just not when I was in my deepest depression.  In my “lighter” versions of illness, I can quote these verses and feel some relief. But I’ve also come to realize that the second part of this – the promise of God’s peace – isn’t necessarily an immediate response to the first part – the praying and petitioning. The peace comes eventually, but not necessarily immediately. This in itself is comforting to me, since I felt like I was failing somehow, when I didn’t sense God’s peace after begging Him to help me not be anxious, even after thanking Him for depression and all it was teaching me. To realize that I didn’t immediately feel peace, the peace promised in verse 7, I felt like I was failing at trusting God for my relief and His peace. But now, to realize that the peace of God, which is beyond my understanding, will come and take its place in my heart eventually, is great relief.

Now it’s 5 a.m. I think I’ll get up and write this all down.

Where Does It Hurt?

I can feel my emotions in my body. This is true most of the time now, but especially if I’m in a depressive episode.

My shoulders are pulled up toward my ears, as if to hide my neck. I feel pressure and tension in my lower head, on the sides around my ears. So I push my shoulders down and back, and there’s a crunching sound, like my muscles are rolling logs down my bones, and they pop loudly. I turn my head to the side, feel another “pop” and the muscles in my neck stretch down down down along my spine, almost all the way to my waist. I slowly turn my head in the other direction and feel the stretch. There’s brief relief as I try to relax my shoulders, but putting them into a resting position brings them back up and forward.

My jaws ache. My teeth feel loose, and my bottom lip is tight. I’m frowning. I’m not gripping with the back teeth; instead my lower jaw is pulling forward until my bottom teeth hit the inside of my upper teeth, and they stay that way – straining up and tight. I feel them suddenly – I didn’t know I was clenching, and I relax my bite. I open my mouth as if to yawn, trying to relieve the pressure in my ears that has built up from gritting my teeth for who knows how long.  That hurts, too.

There’s pressure. Something is sitting on top of my stomach. Yet it’s inside, too, and my stomach churns and rolls over and feels like it’s being chewed on. And there’s fire burning in the pit of my stomach, with the flames licking upward into my rib cage and making it hard to breathe. I say, “My stomach hurts.” I feel like I want to retch. The back of my mouth tastes terrible, like I’m going to be sick. That steely taste that tells me my insides are coming up to my throat. Yet there’s nothing there. And I clench my jaw to hold nothing in.

My chest hurts. It’s like there’s a hole in the center of my body where I think my heart should be. Which is strange, since if my heart is missing, then how can I feel this pain? And at the same time that there’s a hole, there’s also this incredible pressure, like a boulder resting on my chest. It’s so hard to take a deep breath, and it hurts when I try. I can’t get air all the way in. The insides around the center of my chest are jiggling like Jello; they won’t stay still. The fluttering moves down toward my lungs – my ribs are full of this writhing.

At a massage a few weeks ago, the therapist pushed on my calf muscle and my thoughts were flooded with anger and sadness and grief. Caught me completely by surprise. The therapist felt it, too. “Did something just change? Was that you or me?” I told her about my emotional response to her touch, and she told me that many people carry emotion in their legs. It just had never happened to me before.

These are ways that my body holds emotions. Anger. Anxiety. Fear. Grief. Sadness. It hurts! I can feel it, not just in my head, or in my thoughts, but in my body itself. Depression has often been very physical.

On all these occasions, where I can actually physically feel my emotions, the best approach for me has been to breathe. I tell myself:

Focus on taking a breath. Just stop thinking about anything for a second. Put my thoughts on breathing in. Feel the air come in through my nose. See my chest and stomach and shoulders and arms move, feel my head tilt slightly. Don’t think, just watch my body. Hold my breath, just for a few seconds, then loudly exhale. Make all the air leave my lungs. Do it again. Deep breath – feel it, watch it. Hold it – count to four. Don’t think. Just count to four. Now as I breathe out, with my lips making the shape of an “O” and loudly through my mouth, count to six. Make all the air come out. Push it with my diaphragm, with my stomach muscles. Do it again. Breathe in for four – count to four as I take a deep breath through my nose. Hold it – count to four. Breathe out, counting to six. Listen to the sound of the air leaving my lungs, coming out of my mouth.

Breathe in through my nose for a count of four. Hold my breath for four. Making an “O” shape with my mouth, breathe out loudly for a count of six. Repeat as needed until calm enough to think.

There. Better.

(footnote)

The Boat Tour, part 2

I did it. I went on the tour, by myself, knowing nobody. Whew!

Edison Explorer
Edison Explorer

I arrived right on time, got my ticket, and walked out on the deck to join the others. Wait, let me back up – I came very close to turning around, and I had to take deep breaths as I was driving. My anxiety was high, and I kept thinking about coming back home. But I’d already posted part 1!

When I walked out back, there were maybe 13 people there, in groupings. One couple was clearly staying to themselves. Everyone was older than me, but that was what I expected. The first group I saw, straight out the door, was two couples. I approached, and they all turned towards me (I was so glad there was a table between us, so if they hadn’t noticed me, it wouldn’t have been embarrassing!) I said “Hi, I’m Peggy.” The first guy who had seen me said “Hi” and told me his name (I repeated it, “Hi, _____” so I would remember. (Notice the line is blank.) His wife was Diane – I know ’cause I asked her again later. The other couples’ names both started with the same letter – J, I think. I know I repeated each one. But all I remember is ______. (Depression often brings me trouble with my memory.)

I sat next to Diane as we left port, but once we were allowed to move around, I grabbed my iPhone to take pictures, and ended up sitting on the middle bench of the boat, kinda by myself. But I was ok with that. I listened to the two guides – one told some history of the Edison family, the other talked about the ecology of the Caloosahatchee River. Pretty interesting, took lots of pictures (not great, sorry). Don’t remember much that was said (memory!), but am still glad I went.

Edison Winter Estate when viewed from River
Edison Winter Estate when viewed from River

 

Bird Rookery on Caloosahatchee

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Decided not to go to lunch with the group – too much to take on today. Ran an errand and came home to the couch corner, where I played on my iPad and watched repeat TV shows until my husband came home. Took a long nap. We went for a swamp walk (on the boardwalk, to see how all the rain has changed the topography since March), then home. And here I sit.

So, some good things: I pushed myself out of my isolation comfort zone. I took pictures. I said hello. I blogged about it – before and after.

And I prayed – oh, how I prayed! All the way to the dock (30 minutes) I prayed and reminded God (😉) that He was with me, and would comfort me, and enable me, and support me, and basically get me through. And of course He did!