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.

Red Flags

Over ten years ago, I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder – Recurrent, which means that I’ve had multiple episodes of depression. It’s important for me to learn to recognize the symptoms of an episode quickly, because the faster it’s treated, the sooner it goes into remission.

According to psychiatry.org,

Depression causes feelings of sadness and/or a loss of interest in activities once enjoyed. It can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems and can decrease a person’s ability to function at work and at home.

Depression symptoms can vary from mild to severe and can include:

  • Feeling sad or having a depressed mood
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed
  • Changes in appetite — weight loss or gain unrelated to dieting
  • Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Loss of energy or increased fatigue
  • Increase in purposeless physical activity (e.g., hand-wringing or pacing) or slowed movements and speech (actions observable by others)
  • Feeling worthless or guilty
  • Difficulty thinking, concentrating or making decisions
  • Thoughts of death or suicide
  • Symptoms must last at least two weeks for a diagnosis of depression.

Given these symptoms, it’s critical for me to know my red flags – my warning signs – that an episode might be lurking. These are my indicators prior to actual depression symptoms – they tell me it might be coming.

Here are some I’ve noticed.

  • Listening to music loudly –
    • in an effort to drown out my negative or ruminating thoughts.
  • Desire to be alone, or in the dark.
  • Not wanting to go to my regularly scheduled activities – anhedonia.
  • Saying “I’m sorry” a lot.
  • Difficulty concentrating when reading a book or even watching a t.v. show.
  • Wanting to stay in bed, even if I’m not tired.
  • Feelings of self-pity.
  • Crying – maybe. Sometimes I can’t cry, which is also a red flag for me.

When I see several of these characteristics, or if someone close to me notices, it’s time for me to contact my psych doc and let him know that I might be headed into a depressive episode.

[Side note: even though I know these things about myself, I am always surprised. You’d think that after ten years, I wouldn’t be shocked to discover the journey back into depression. I guess it’s a good thing – I don’t ever want to get used to it. I need to accept it, and make every effort to be mentally healthy, but I don’t want to be resigned to a life of depression.]

Over the 10+ years that I’ve battled depression, I’ve gotten better at seeing these things quickly, which means we can modify my treatment and get me the help I need so that the episode doesn’t deepen. Maybe that means adjusting my meds. Maybe it’s increasing my therapy sessions.  Maybe it’s simply monitoring them, being self-aware.

It’s a call to pay attention.

It’s ok to be ok

(dedicated to Ted Stein, my therapist for 7 years – thank you more than words will ever adequately express)

I broke up with my therapist yesterday.

We’ve broken up before, a few times. And it’s always been hard.

But this time it’s really hard. I now live in a different state in the U.S. than he does. And even tho’ he’s accessible via text or email or Google Hangout, this time is really goodbye. (I’m crying now, writing this blog thru blurred vision and between tissues. Please keep that in mind as you read.)

I know I can text him if I have to. I know he’ll schedule a video conference if we need one, but we’re both hoping that won’t be necessary. Ok, maybe I’m kinda hoping it will be necessary, but I’m also really hoping it’s not – that this is goodbye. I’m still a mess of emotions, even after 7 years. But these are normal emotions. And I’m experiencing them to the fullest – that’s considered progress in therapy. Normal emotions at the proper time. Sadness at saying goodbye. Excitement for my new adventure. Trepidation as I reach out to make new friends. Grief as I miss those who have been – still are – so important in my life but now I live so far away from them. A little fear at leaving my support systems, yet knowing I can still call them anytime.

We’ve been working toward this – that’s always the goal of therapy, right? To take what I’ve learned from someone wiser than me, to take the tools he gave me, the insights into myself that I’m now beginning to understand, and to put them into practice in the real world, not just the sanctuary of his office. To find myself in a place where I am stronger and wiser, and ready.

Am I ready?

We both think so.

I didn’t think it would happen so soon. I thought there might be more of a transition. But how much more transition can there be than moving 5-7 states away? Yes, social media is an amazing thing, and can shrink those miles. But the reality is that the refuge of his office – the respite that it has been in my life for such a long time, sinking down into his couch, hiding behind the pillow I hold on my lap – all of that is now approximately 1570 miles away.

I’m strong. I’m healthy. I’m in a good place. I’m brave. I’m ok, and I’m going to be ok.

He made me say that out loud yesterday. He said what I couldn’t, that it’s ok to be ok, and then made me say the words. I’m ok.

I haven’t felt ok for soooo long. This is a big deal. A big thing to admit to. To reach out and grasp mental health instead of hiding behind mental illness.

It sounds funny, I know, but it’s comfortable, feeling unsure and unsteady, because I’ve felt that way for a very long time. This step out onto the narrow platform of health – this is scary. What if I waver? Worse: what if I fall?

Yesterday’s devotional from Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling – the same day that I broke up with Ted – said:

THIS IS A TIME IN YOUR LIFE WHEN YOU MUST LEARN TO LET GO: of loved ones, of possessions, of control. In order to let go of something that is precious to you, you need to rest in My Presence, where you are complete. Take time to bask in the Light of My Love. As you relax more and more, your grasping hand gradually opens up, releasing your prized possession into My care. You can feel secure, even in the midst of cataclysmic changes, through awareness of My continual Presence. The One who never leaves you is the same One who never changes: I am the same yesterday, today, and forever. As you release more and more things into My care, remember that I never let go of your hand. Herein lies your security, which no one and no circumstance can take from you.

How’s that for a reminder? I am not alone. Ted and I have said goodbye, but I am not alone.
God will never leave me. (Hebrews 13:15)
Jesus is the same yestersay, today and forever. (Hebrews 13:8)
I don’t have to be afraid, because I am not alone. (Joshua 1:9)

Finishing Unfinished Business

I had an amazingly difficult – and amazingly insightful – appointment with my therapist yesterday. Did some hard work, cried lots of tears. But gained some understanding, too.

Therapists often help their clients work through “unfinished business.” Perhaps it’s a childhood memory or trauma. Maybe it’s unforgiveness or deep emotional hurt. Whatever the case, part of their job is to help the patient figure out what is incomplete, and work it through to completion. For me, “business” is relationships. And that explains my anxiety. It’s a conflict between the move to FL (three weeks from yesterday) and the uncompleted business here.

I’ve been keeping Ted informed of my increasing anxiety over the past couple of weeks, but especially intense anxiety in the past few days.  At yesterday’s appointment, Ted helped me sort it out so that it made some sense.

In every move we’ve ever made, I’ve had to leave behind deep roots. Sometimes, I was able to say goodbye. Sometimes, I was able to finish the tasks on which I was working, or hand off the torch for the groups I led. But moves have always meant the end of some friendships. This was true even when I moved 10 miles up the road – some friends couldn’t make that transition – it was like I’d moved across the ocean – and I didn’t see them for a very long time, if ever again.

I’ve “lost” other friends in other moves – “out of sight, out of mind.” Of course, I’ve also gained new friends too, some of them for a lifetime, some for just that time.

In this case, I’ve really been trying hard to wrap things up. I’ve got a notebook of all the things we need to do to move, and what we need to do to move in. I’m handing off a care group that I facilitate. I’ve found a good home for my cat. I’ve said goodbye to my Bible Study friends so many times, I almost wish I hadn’t been there at all this month.  I’m saying goodbyes – to some friends I’ve known for a few years, and to others I’ve known for 19+ years.  I’ve made coffee dates and lunch dates and get together dates, to be able to visit one last time face-to-face. To some, I’ve said, “See ya later.” To others, there is no “later” so it’s been goodbye. Either way, these are friendships – roots – that are hard to rip out of the ground. It feels like they are ripping out of my heart.

But the time is coming – and approaching quickly – when it won’t matter if I’ve said my goodbyes or finished up my commitments – it will be done, whether I’m ready or not. I will not be here anymore. And that makes me very very sad.

And it turns out, it makes me angry too. Not angry at anyone in particular, just angry at the situation. Once again, I pull up roots. So the anger builds – inwardly – as I grapple with the decreasing time. And here’s where anxiety rears its ugly head. I don’t know what to do with the anger – I didn’t even recognize it as anger! Ted said it’s not surprising to him at all that my anxiety increases as the time to relocate approaches – there is less and less time for me to finish business here, and remember, for me that’s relationships.

I’ll be so far away from my kids. I keep thinking I’m moving, then I’m not (that has been going on for over a year). I’ve said goodbye to some people for the last time – 3 times! Makes the uprooting process unpredictable, hard to organize and control. And I want to control it. I need to control it. Because I have no control of any of it.

*TRIGGER WARNING* I expressed my anxiety by trying to control my emotions, but since I couldn’t control those either, I took to snapping a rubber band. It hurts – it really stings. But I control the sting. I control how far back I pull the band, I control where it snaps. There is an immediate release of tension, a deep exhale, followed by the opportunity to self-soothe. To touch the welt, to feel how warm it is, to rub it and comfort it. This is not behavior that I am particularly proud of – hurting myself can seem more than a little ridiculous to those who don’t understand. But snapping the rubber band allowed me to release the pain and anger that was bottled up inside, and exert some control over it.

That’s not the way God wants me to manage my pain. (Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies. – 1 Corinthians 6:19-20) God wants me to bring my pain to Him, to lay it at the foot of the Cross, to express my need for God’s comfort, to ask Him to hold me, and to remind myself that no matter what, He is in control. (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)  A couple of days ago, a very dear friend whispered in my ear, He’s got you. He’s strong, and He’s holding you.” I needed that reminder. Thanks, Phyllis.

And I needed Ted yesterday. I needed him to help me figure out what was causing the anxiety and why I was angry. As he always does, he pointed me back to Christ. He thanked God for giving him insight into what I was saying so that he could help me sort it all out. He reminded me of tools to use to self-soothe that have nothing to do with rubber bands. He let God use him to bring me comfort (All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, NLT).

Thank you, Lord, for Ted, for friendships, and for new adventures. Thank You that You go with me, that You are an everlasting friend who will never leave me. In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.