(or Why Can’t You Just Read My Mind?)
I’ve wasted many, many therapy sessions waiting for, hoping for, my therapist to guess what I need to talk about that day, or in her words “where do you need me most?”
It can be agonizing to sit across from the person you are supposed to be able to tell anything and to still have the words catch in your throat. I have this problem in a lot of my relationships. Sometimes words just escape me altogether. But more often, the words are formed in my head and I just can’t get them out. They get stuck and I can’t seem to translate what I am thinking in my brain into actual words that can leave my lips.
So I just sit there and wait and hope that she – or anyone for that matter – will figure it out by mind-reading.
I realize that this is a very infantile approach to life, and it makes me feel very childish and immature. I know that I can’t reasonably expect anyone to guess what I need, or even want. And yet, the wish remains. This is often why I have to turn to writing. The connection between my brain and my fingers on a keyboard is far less inhibited. So much more comes out this way.
I usually (but not always) go quiet when I am frustrated or resentful or agitated. I definitely go quiet when I am angry, about to be engulfed in a full-blown rage.
Maybe if I stay very still and don’t say anything, this storm will just blow over.
Except, of course, it doesn’t. The moment may pass, but the anger accumulates.
I really struggle with language around these complex emotions. It’s something I missed out on early on, when I focused all my energies on being the peacemaker, the placater, the obedient and compliant child.
Maybe if I stay very still and don’t say anything, they won’t notice me and they will leave me alone.
I try to channel my inner-Sara Bareilles:
Nothing’s gonna hurt you the way that words do
When they settle ‘neath your skin
Kept on the inside and no sunlight
Sometimes a shadow wins
But I wonder what would happen if you
Say what you wanna say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave
But words still fail me. And when I do get angry and raise my voice, it seems this is the only time that anyone (my mother, my wife, my children, my co-workers…) picks up their head and notices that I’m even speaking. I’m met with blank stares and puzzled looks of “is she saying something?”
I hate it that it feels I’m only ever heard when I’m screaming at the top of my lungs. It takes so much energy and force to get the message OUT, that I’m left depleted, unable to follow-up the outburst with anything rational.
I’ve started to notice that the build-up of anger is often preceded by a walling-off or a shutting down. I want to minimize the explosion so I go into damage-control mode. One telltale sign is that I start losing track of time.
I will go to yoga class, and go through all the motions without any consciousness (which kind of defeats the point of yoga, I know). I will follow the teacher’s instructions through all of the poses, and inhale and exhale as instructed, and suddenly the class will be over, and I won’t know where I’ve been.
I will go to therapy and sit on the couch and talk, or not. And the 45 minutes flies by, leaving me to wonder why I bothered to come in the first place.
I will go to work and come home and answer the question “what happened at work today” with an honest “I don’t know.” I mean, I know I went to work, and did some things while there, but please don’t ask me to recount any of it. I’ve already forgotten it, or never really registered it in the first place.
I will get myself into a panic because I think I’ve forgotten to pay the mortgage. I try to visualize the screen and the submit button, try to remember if I actually did any of these motions. Did I click submit? Did I get the confirmation email? I don’t know. I draw a complete blank. And then I log in and see that it was paid, except I don’t have any recollection of doing it.
At work, I will schedule the same meeting multiple times because I’ve forgotten that I’ve already scheduled that meeting. What is amazing is that people actually “Accept” all of these duplicate meetings!
Sometimes, during the waking day, my FitBit will register that I’ve been sleeping, and not just dosing, but deeply sleeping, more deeply than I do most nights.
I’m just going through the motions.
The problem with this is that, eventually, everything that gets stored up in that bottle while I am detached, erupts. And it’s not pretty. It all comes up and out in one big giant mess. Verbal vomit.
Even if I notice the pattern re-emerging, I don’t know that there is much I can do to stop the build-up of emotions. I haven’t located the release valve. I don’t know how to let the little resentments out in real-time so that all those little grievances don’t become a big mess. It sounds like a good, sensible solution, I just don’t know to actually make it work.
Which takes me back to those wasted hours on the couch. I know that my therapist can read my mind, with decent accuracy, but she won’t anymore. It’s all part of her evil plan to make me “build up this muscle,” which as you can see is completely dormant if it’s even present at all.
I often feel like my therapist is practically begging me to wrestle with her, to join her in a down-and-dirty brawl. I can see how her eyes light up when she asks the ever-annoying question “how are we?,” followed by the sunken, sad, disheartened expression when I respond “fine” (whether or not that’s true). She’s desperate to invite conflict in and I do my absolute best to keep it out. “Anger shows up in service of a need,” she says ever so reassuringly, trying to coax the anger out and find the need underneath.
There might be some poison ivy in my garden… and I am severely allergic to poison ivy. I only have to look at it to break out in hives. Sometimes I think I’m just as allergic to anger and conflict.
The problem is that I don’t want to get messy, even while knowing, intellectually, that this is the very POINT of therapy: to wrestle and grapple and struggle with issues in the safety of your therapist and her office, and maybe, just maybe, after you’ve fought those battles and tackled those demons, maybe you can do it again on the outside, now that you’ve had some practice and built up those muscles.
In reality, my therapist is the only person with whom I actually engage in honest, authentic conflict. We’ve weathered a few storms together. Just the other week she declared that “you’re really good at negotiating conflict, in here, with me.”
If only all people in my life had the self-awareness and self-reflection of my therapist. If only the whole world was as safe and secure as her office.
But she and her office are anomalies. It’s the place I go to in search of reprieve from the real world and a whole host of people who just don’t understand me.
I get it that the whole point of therapy is to take what you learn in HERE, out THERE.
But I’d rather not, thank you very much.
So we spend long swaths of time in silence. We sit. And wait. Looking for words, and that ever-elusive release valve. All the while, the anger is building, an explosion is pending. I just don’t know when or where or how. Your guess is as good as mine.