I’ll Be Home for Christmas

(or Caterpillars & Cucumbers, Confusion & Clarity)

I’ve got the idea of home on the brain again.  It’s probably not surprising, given the time of year.  Well-meaning friends and neighbors casually ask “are you going home for the holidays?” to which I can only reply “no, we are staying right here.”  But it is actually fitting because, for all intents and purposes, this is home now.  It’s the place I’ve lived the longest.  It’s the only home my boys have ever known.  Yet this idea of “home” seems to elude me, and gnaw at me, a kind of still unresolved story line.

My wife and I often play the “where should we move to” game?  I actually get unnerved when we do this because we just seem to talk in circles, feeling more unsettled each time we take up the discussion.  “If you don’t like where you are, just picture where you want to be” extols August “Auggie” Pullman in the movie version of Wonder.  It sounds easy enough, but this particular vision seems impossible to see.  Earlier this year we flirted with packing it all up and moving somewhere else, a kind of “anywhere but here” mission.  But in the end, the stars just didn’t align.  Job offers never materialized.  Negotiations stalled.  Dreams and desires and hopes collided.  It was as if the universe was clearly sending us a message.  We are meant to stay put, right here.  For now at least.

Continue reading “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”

Dream Dream Dream

(or The Ghost of a Therapist Past)

I was awoken the other morning by the most disturbing dream.  It was one of those dreams that felt so very real that it took me a few minutes to realize that it was only, thankfully, just a dream.  So here goes:

I was at my old summer camp, or a place that felt and reminded me of camp.  I was there with a group of cousins and their spouses.  Actually, they are my first cousins once removed, the first cousins of my mother, but due to some wacky birthing patterns on that side of the family, I am closer in age to those cousins than my own actual first cousins.  There was also a group from KAAN – the Korean American Adoptee Adoptive Family Network – at this camp-like retreat, and it became clear that the space had been double-booked, and we were forced to share this communal space for our respective gatherings.  We were tolerating each other – and each other’s presence – but only barely.   Suddenly, I said out loud, to no one in particular, “I never thought I’d live long enough to actually feel home-sick, to actually want to go home rather than be a camp.”  To which, the ex-therapist, who was sitting in a rocking chair across the room, replied “but you did” in the most snarky and cruel tone.

Perhaps I should stop and explain.  The ex-therapist has 2 adopted children from Korea, which is why my unconscious put my family gathering in conflict with this KAAN meet-up.  That part makes some sense to me.  What I do not understand, at all, is why the ex-therapist is still showing up in my dreams and what in the world I can do to expel her, once and for all, from my unconsciousness!  And I don’t have any idea of why my unconscious needed to send me this message or what it even means.  Was the ex-therapist making a statement on the length or quality of my life as compared to her own?  Was she a ghost or spirit in the dream?  And why was she and her chosen family intruding upon my own family gathering at my beloved summer camp of all places?

Continue reading “Dream Dream Dream”

On Repeat

(or the Stories We Tell)

Almost as soon as I hit the “Publish” button on my last post, I started to have writer’s remorse.  I feared that I had not actually said anything new and was merely restating that which I have said many times before on this very blog.  And maybe that’s partly true, and maybe I’m being unduly harsh on myself.  I nearly added an apology at the end of the last post, to say sorry for saying the same things over and over again.  But then I caught myself.  After all, this is a place for me to try to process and make sense of what is going on in my head.  So, yes, sometimes that same diatribe might need to come out in a few different ways before I am able to fully process the narrative.  Maybe I need to write it and say it several times in order to fully believe it and comprehend it and internalize it.  And I don’t think it’s exactly the same thing.  Maybe some of the facts are different, but my understanding and self-awareness shifts each time.  Maybe not by much, but I take baby steps just the same.

What happened with the ex-therapist was a monumental event in my life.  It was an incredibly intense few years with her, and a terrible, brutal ending.  It is going to take time to unpack it all.

Continue reading “On Repeat”

When the Shrink’s Away

(or 35 Days Down, 14 Days to Go…)

I find it hard to believe, but here we are, already at the end of August.  Yes, August, that glorious month of the year when shrinks everywhere go off and do something else.  What, I’m not sure.  When I asked my own therapist what she does during this mysterious August sabbatical, she replied “oh, it changes each year.”  Which is a typical shrinky-response but does not, actually, answer my question.  Who knows.  Perhaps she is off relaxing on a tropical island or attending an international conference or making lesson plans for the fall semester or catching up on sleep.  Maybe she just sits in her office and basks in the quietness and emptiness of it all.  I honestly have no idea and, as she is not giving any hints, I guess I must just let my imagination run wild.

After I asked her what she would be doing this August, and after she gave her non-response, she then inquired “do you have any feelings about that?”  I simply said “no.”  Firstly, I’m not going to spend any more time in therapy talking about any feelings that I have because of something that a therapist did or did not say or do.  For me, that shifts too much of the focus from me to them, and maybe I’m still squeamish at that prospect.  It’s much better to keep everything squarely focused on me less I get pulled into someone else’s shit.  And secondly, and more importantly, the feelings that I did have were actually ones of relief and anticipation.

So I said “no, I don’t have any feelings.”  And then “I think we all need a break, every now and again.”  And that’s the truth.  I need a break from her and therapy probably as much, if not more so, than she needs a break from me and her work.

Continue reading “When the Shrink’s Away”

Anonymous

(or Who Are You?)

The other day I received this notification from WordPress: Your stats are booming! the unSecret Garden is getting lots of traffic.

stats

It wasn’t that a blog post had gone viral or that I was lucky enough to be featured on the WordPress Discover site.  It was just that someone had found my blog and was busy reading their way through nearly the whole thing – which at current count stands at 40 posts and 62,625 words.

I continue to be amazed and heartened that anyone even wants to read what I write.  It becomes more compelling when others find my experiences and reflections to be meaningful and helpful.  It makes some of the nonsense of this world seem less senseless.

Continue reading “Anonymous”

So an Analyst Walks into a Bar…

(or What’s Love Got to Do With It?)

My absolute favorite part of the New York Times is the Sunday Style section.  It’s where I get to read my favorite column “Modern Love” and an advice column called “Social Q’s” and usually some juicy celebrity gossip.  It’s the one section that I love to read in print and will avoid online, even if an article pops up in the “Most Popular” or “Editor’s Picks” sections.

So last week, as I quickly perused the headlines over breakfast, an article on the front page of the Style section immediately caught my eye.  It was titled “Still Talking After All These Years” and it was a recap of the American Psychoanalytic Association’s annual conference held at the New York Hilton Midtown.  If I had known, I would have seriously considered crashing the “new attendees’ cocktail party” just for a laugh.  Although the mere thought of 1,600 analysts hanging out together for a week is somehow deeply disturbing, even if the Times writer described the mood as “effervescent.”

Continue reading “So an Analyst Walks into a Bar…”

Cancellation

(or Is It Time to Quit Therapy?)

I did something over the holidays that would have been unthinkable this time a year ago.  I cancelled a therapy appointment simply because I had something better to do with my time.  I chose to spend a day in the city with my wife, taking in an art exhibit followed by lunch and uninterrupted conversation with each other.  If I had kept my appointment, we would not have been able to do both, or we would have done both but would have been rushed and it would not have been as enjoyable or pleasant.  So I cancelled and didn’t feel the least bit of regret or remorse or concern.  I was forthright in my decision and never questioned it or second-guessed it.  It was actually a really easy decision to make.

Continue reading “Cancellation”

Stitching

(or How Do You Mend a Broken Heart?)

Whenever I need to engage in some emotional self-flagellation, I know exactly where to go.  The ex-therapist still maintains a very active Twitter feed, and if I am stupid enough to look, I am bound to find something there that upsets me and makes me feel bad about myself.  I had stopped lurking altogether, for a time, but as the seasons started to shift and the cooler weather finally arrived, my psyche felt pulled back, still trying to reconcile the events of the past year.  A year ago she first told me she was sick.  In a few more weeks, it will be a year since our last session.  And in a few more weeks after that, it will be a year since she dumped me.  I can still feel it all deep in my bones: the fear, the disruption, the panic.

The ex-therapist has tweeted ad nauseam about how clients have “agency” and don’t have to read or follow any of her postings online.  I find this defense to be ignorant at best, and grandiosely self-justifying in reality.  She probably knows that she should be more careful with her tweets and words, knowing that there are clients and ex-clients out there, but she just can’t help herself.  So she constructs this elaborate justification for her actions, to make it all seem reasonable and okay.  The problem with this outlook is that the relationship between therapist and client can be intimate and intense in a way that is unlike any other relationship.  It’s also imbalanced, with the therapist usually knowing more about the client than vice versa.  So it is only natural that the client will seek out any information available to try to make sense of the person on the other side of the couch.  And the ex-therapist made that information so tantalizingly available, like leading a kid into a candy store.  It is irrational to then expect the kid to not indulge in the candy laid out before them.

Continue reading “Stitching”

unFramed

(or 2,700 seconds)

The therapeutic frame.  That pillar of the therapeutic relationship draconically enforced by authoritarian therapists and equally loathed by clients everywhere.  Or so I thought.

Shrinky term:

frame (noun, frām) – the setting of boundaries or ground rules for the contractual aspects of therapy. [1]The therapeutic frame governs the rules and expectations of therapy: time, place, fee, confidentiality, contact.  It is a crucial element for the creation of safety, for both client and therapist.

I spent 4 years in therapy where the frame was decidedly gray.  I’ve spent much of the last 9 months having to re-learn how to be in a healthy, boundaried therapeutic relationship.  All that time, before, I thought I was fighting against boundaries.  Now I see that I was actually reacting to a distinct lack of boundaries.  Just as children do better with well-defined boundaries and expectations, so do therapy clients.

Continue reading “unFramed”

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.

Continue reading “Go to Quiet Places”