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.

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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.

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This Little Light of Mine

(I’m Gonna Let It Shine?)

Once upon a time I loved to sing.  When I was little, before the age of 6, I would sing out loud, unrestrained, for all to hear.  I have a distinct memory of standing on the over-sized hearth in the family room of our new house in Mississippi, only a few weeks before Christmas when I was 5.  This was my stage, front and center, and I would belt out the new song I had just learned at my new school, “Go Tell It on the Mountain.”  There was going to be a Christmas concert soon, and since I had only just arrived, I had to learn all the songs fast if I wanted to be part of the show.  And oh, how I did!  And so I practiced from my new stage, and sang my little heart out, despite the mixed-up feelings I had inside.

It is not lost on me now, as an adult, the irony of this particular choice of song being sung at a school concert in Mississippi.  “Go Tell It on the Mountain” is an African-American spiritual song, not something that I had even heard of in my native state of Texas.  But it was a Christmas carol staple in my new hometown, one where the public schools were still being forced in integrate in the 1980s and the KKK was a regular fixture on the street corner near our new home.  On our first trip to the grocery store, I wondered out-loud to my mother why those men were in their Halloween costumes when it was clearly Christmastime.  We had only moved 450 miles, but it felt like we moved into an entirely new dimension, backwards in time perhaps.  We were most definitely not in Texas anymore.

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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.

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On the Run

(or Left, Right, Left, Right…)

Once upon a time, I fancied myself to be a runner.  Before I had kids, I used to run regularly and it was my exercise of choice.  I preferred running outside, but probably did most of my runs on a treadmill at the gym at work because it was convenient and appealed to my statistics-oriented brain.  I could monitor and track time, distance, speed, calories, all right on the treadmill console.  I kept a running log in a spreadsheet (of course!), charting my progress to run longer and faster and tracking when it was time to buy new running shoes.

I really started running seriously when we lost the baby.  I poured most of my grief onto the treadmill as running felt like something I could actually control.  I could control the speed of the treadmill or how far I wanted to run each day.  I got lost in tracking the numbers and statistics and could therefore avoid dealing with the overwhelming grief I experienced inside but wasn’t able to process.  I loved getting lost in my own head for a while, far away from the torturous real-world.

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This Ashram Life

(or What Do You Mean There’s No Coffee?)

Sometimes I think that it might be nice to live in a convent.  I find the idea of always knowing that you have shelter, food, a job and a purpose in life to be quite comforting.  Never mind all the many sacrifices required: I’d nearly trade marriage and motherhood and free-will for a life where I didn’t have to worry about bills and career and retirement.  I said nearly.  Plus I’m not religious, much less Catholic.

This weekend I got a 48-hour insight into what a monastery life might look like.  In search of a break from the unrelenting demands of motherhood and an intense need to reconnect with the outdoors, my own breath and spirit, I headed to a yoga retreat at a nearby ashram.

I’d never been to an ashram before, and I probably should have done more research first (although to be fair, the website could have included a bit more information about exactly what I had just signed up for).  The specifics of the retreat really didn’t matter to me; I just wanted a time-out for a few days and the promise of hiking and yoga was enough for me to commit.

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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.

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