Go to Quiet Places

(or This is NOT a “My Therapist Has Cancer” Blog )

Whenever I get really angry or upset or sad or confused, my default mode is to go quiet, to be very silent and still.  Sometimes when this happens, my FitBit will actually register that I am “sleeping” even though I am wide awake and most likely on heightened alert.  I think I go into this state because I’m scared to move until I can regain my footing, get my bearings and figure out what is going on around me.  And only once that happens do I dare to speak into what I am experiencing and venture out from whatever place of safety I’ve retreated.

And so I think that’s what has happened with this space over the past few months.  It’s not that I’ve struggled for ideas of what I wanted or needed to write about – I’ve been wrestling with thoughts on boundaries and closure and growth, but also on what I wanted and needed this space to be.  When I started to write this, I never could have imagined that it would become a blog about having a therapist with cancer.  And I’ve felt over the past few months that this space has become more about her and less about me, and I wanted to take it back and reclaim it as my own, but was unsure of exactly how to do that.  I tried to map out a plan of the things that I still needed to say, in what order, to resolve that part of the story.  But I’m starting to realize that it will never be a fully realized and complete story.  There will always be an oozing wound, although it doesn’t bleed nearly as much as it once did.  And I’m sure it will rear its ugly head every now and again, maybe when I least expect it, and that I will just need to stop and address whatever is rising to my consciousness, even if it doesn’t fit neatly into my current trajectory.  I’m never sure where this journey will take me or the detours that will arise.  But this is my attempt to get back on the path, and continue onwards.

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Train Wreck

(or Next Stop: Purple Lake at Love Hall)

I started writing this post several weeks ago and then got distracted by life.  So much so that I had forgotten all about it.  So when I starting writing again and went to save my first draft, not surprisingly using the exact same document name as before, I was startled to get the pop-up warning “The file already exists.”  Really?  It does?  Clearly this is something that my psyche needs to set down.

There’s really no other way to describe it.  The past few months have been a spectacularly catastrophic train wreck.  I wish I could take credit for this adept analogy, but I didn’t come up with it.  Rather it was given to me by one of the therapists whom I consulted with at the beginning of the year.  Despite the multitude of red flags that went up before, during and after our meeting, she did leave me with this one nugget that I’ve turned over in my head many, many times.

My therapist’s life went careening off the rails last fall, and so much damage was left in the wake of that unforeseen disaster.  Every person connected to her was impacted.  The scene of the crash was quite horrific.  The train meant to safely ferry us from here to there, to a destination, was suddenly lying on its side, irrevocably damaged and unable to continue the journey.

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The Plan

(or How to Call a Minga)

I have something I want to say to all the therapists out there, novice and experienced alike.  Perhaps this message will fall on deaf ears and go unheeded, much less unread.  But I still feel the need to put it out there, just in case someone is listening.

So here’s the thing: you have to have a plan.

I know it’s easier to think that you are the omnipotent being you undoubtedly project onto your clients. But I’m here to remind you that you are not.  And that while you may try to promise your clients (and probably yourself) that “you’re not going anywhere,” life happens and you need a plan for when it all goes careening off the rails.  You are not immune just because you are a therapist.  And I would argue that you have a responsibility, a moral and ethical imperative set higher than many other professions, because of the work that you choose to do.  If this seems like too much to reconcile, I would ask that you give serious thought to your current career path.

I’m not saying that this will be easy (it won’t) or pleasant (it won’t) but it must be done.  Make a plan.  Not a theoretical hypothetical plan.  An actual plan based on real-world scenarios.  What happens if you get sick?  What if the illness forces you to go on short-term disability?  Long-term disability?  What if you need to retire (for whatever reason)?  What if you burnout?  What if your kids get sick or your parents need care?  What happens if you die?  Immediately or after a long illness?

Then what?  You have to think about this.

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Observation Room

(or If These Walls Could Talk…)

I wish I had the foresight to start my own photo profile of therapy offices.  But I had no idea on the day I first stepped into a therapist’s office, more than 14 years ago, that it would merely be the first in a long string of such offices.  Sometimes the actual therapy office plays just as an important role as the therapist.  Sometimes it is a treasure-trove of clues, sometimes it is a complete blank slate.  But whatever state it is, it is part of the therapy, and a part of each assessment I’ve made of potential therapists.  Sometimes it’s a conscious reaction to the environment, other times perhaps completely unconscious.  This is what I’ve noticed.

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First Impressions

(or I’m in Therapist Limbo)

Over the last few weeks I’ve been therapist shopping – never an easy or pleasant task.  Many of the therapists I’ve seen have no online presence at all – no website or Psychology Today profile, certainly not a blog or Twitter feed.  So I go into each appointment blind, not sure of what I am going to find, having to rely just on faith of the referrer who provided the name and contact details.  Suffice to say that connection has been elusive.  This is a hard enough task under normal circumstances, made even harder by my particular circumstances.

You see, I don’t even know if I want to be in therapy right now, as much as I might need it.  One therapist remarked to me that I have to find the will to be in therapy, that she couldn’t provide the will for the both of us.  Fair enough – but truthfully I don’t know that I have the will or energy to start this process over again.  I thought I had found the right therapist for me.  I didn’t think I would ever have to start back at the beginning.  I never thought I’d find myself sitting in strange offices across from complete strangers, re-telling my sad little tale.  I thought that part of the therapeutic journey was long behind me.

And although I always feared it, I never fully considered the possibility that my therapist (or I should say ex-therapist?), with whom I had connected and bonded and attached to, would become so ill as to not be able to work anymore or, worse, circumstances would so dramatically change as to preclude us from continuing our work together.

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Lost

(or My Therapist Broke Up With Me Via Email)

After 263 sessions, it all ends with an email.

I guess I got my wish after all, my worst fears realized.  I also got the answer to my question: “Can a therapeutic alliance survive cancer?”  Apparently, no.

I think the fairest and most responsible thing I can do is entrust you into the hands of a therapist who has the capacity to supply an appropriate level of care for you. 

This is going to take too long, it’s simply not fair to you, and ultimately even if/when I do “come back” I won’t be able to give you the frequency or regularity of care you deserve. 

I know this email was written from a place of love, but it was actually quite a cruel message to have to read, and process, all alone.  There was a crassness in her tone, her usual supportive empathic voice missing (not necessarily in the above passages, but in the email as a whole).  In the end, it felt like a kindly worded “fuck off,” but a fuck-off nonetheless.

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Manifesto

(or Shout It From the Rooftops!)

I’ve been re-reading old writings and notes and emails, trying to retrace my path of the past few years.  I’m looking for patterns, for what has changed and what hasn’t.  I’m trying to see where I’ve moved forwards or backwards, where I’ve gone in concentric circles, where I’ve stayed in place or just gotten stuck.

In seeing a new temporary-therapist, I’ve had to recover familiar ground and revisit old injuries.  I’ve had to adjust my schedule, contort to fit into a new space, negotiate a fee.  And I’ve had to contend with a whole host of new feelings – ones of loss and rejection and minimization – that caught me off guard.

I’ve had to let this other person into a space that used to only be occupied by me and my therapist.  I’ve had to tell her about our relationship and things that worked well and things that didn’t.  I had to rehash the Impasse, which has always felt like a dark cloud that continued to lurk over me, occasionally unleashing a torrent of anger and rage when I least suspected it.

One of the ways we found our way out of that impasse (although we still sometimes go back in) was by writing a Manifesto.

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