Finding Peace — Manuscript Post #21
–Sessions: 3 of 53
Thursday, December 18, 2008 3:00 PM
During this session Elsie had me sign forms so she could contact Dr. Sue. This was necessary so they could discuss my physical symptoms. I’ve said that just asking for help will make you feel better. Knowing that both Dr. Sue and Elsie were reviewing my symptoms felt better still. Whatever was coming, I knew that I had someone monitoring my physical as well as emotional situation.
We finished discussing my family history. I decided to ask Elsie what she thought the preliminary diagnosis might be. She said I was suffering from Adjustment Disorder with signs of depression and anxiety. This made sense to me. I was upset because I wasn’t adjusting well to my sons leaving home. My upset was causing symptoms which are signs of depression and anxiety. Elsie also said that the prognosis is very good. This meant that she was confident I would get better.
At this point I made yet another conscious decision. I did not ask Elsie how long it would take to get over all of this. I didn’t ask why this happened to me now. I didn’t ask her anything. I just took her statement that the prognosis is very good and I decided to let the process take its course. Once I was told it was likely that this process would end well, I did not ask lots of questions, I focused on getting on the with the process. I’m not saying you shouldn’t ask questions. I think many patients don’t really want to embrace the full course of treatment, whether its therapy for an emotional issue or physical therapy for broken bone. Their incessant questions along the lines of “are we there yet?” show that they really don’t understand the need for the full course of treatment. I encourage you to not be like those patients. You have every right to ask about the course of treatment, and make clear any concerns you might have about it. But, I suggest you do not ask your therapist, every time you see them, how much longer treatment will take. Your therapist doesn’t know for sure, and can’t predict what will come up once you start.
Elsie then asked me who told me that my father was gone. One of my father’s relatives sent me a letter, that was how I was told. She wanted to know why I wasn’t aware of my father’s death. My father had remarried and his second wife limited all contact with my father. At one point she sent me a letter in which she told me to not contact my father unless I had ‘good news’. I have no clue what that meant. My guess is that she was telling me that my father had suffered so much that I shouldn’t burden him with anything that wasn’t pleasant. I had one phone call with him while I was in college. I visited him one time at his home after he left us. That visit was surreal. His second wife was very obviously monitoring what was discussed. I have no idea why he didn’t want his children to know he was dying. I can’t imagine not wanting to have contact with my sons at any time, let alone when I know I have limited time left.
Based on my description of my mother’s behaviors, Elsie recommended that I read a second book, “Surviving a Borderline Parent” by Kimberlee Roth. The term ‘borderline’ in the title refers to borderline personality disorder. I had never heard of this. I was eager to read this second book after I had found so much of the first book was relevant to my experience. Before our next session I went back and re-read the first book (“It Will Never Happen to Me”) to highlight the sections that related to me. Then I started reading this second book.
–Sessions: 4 of 53
Thursday, January 8, 2009 12:00 noon
Blood Donation, Apheresis, Number 286
Before this session I had made notes about things I was feeling and thinking about. I was feeling anger and frustration about my physical symptoms. I was frustrated that I didn’t know when the symptoms would go away. I was angry that I might have them forever. I felt angry thinking about what I could have done with my life if I hadn’t needed to spend so much energy escaping my mother and my family in general.
I was feeling guilty about several things. Perhaps I had not been sympathetic enough about my mother’s depression. Sometimes I think I am more concerned with avoiding the guilt over a negative event than I am about the impact of that event. For example, I worry that I am more concerned that I am not to blame for someone getting hurt than I am about that person being hurt.
I was feeling depressed that I should be able to resolve all this on my own. If it turns out I need medication that will cause another level of guilt. I wonder why I’m so concerned about the possibility that I might need medication. I am angry that my parents didn’t help me more.
Elsie listened to what I had to say. Then, she made a motion with her arm, like she was cracking a whip. She said “don’t beat yourself up about the guilt, try to observe it.” She said she had been reviewing her notes from our discussion of my family history. She observes that my father wasn’t present because I almost never talked about him.
As part of my family history, I had told her that my father didn’t attend my high school graduation. I was valedictorian, I had done my job as the student, but it didn’t matter. My parents were divorcing and my graduation became little more that another chance for my mother to do drama about how she had been wronged. Elsie asked if my family had a party for my high school graduation. I thought the question was odd because, of course, there was no party. She said that major events like graduation are important and how the parents handle them has a big affect on the children.
Elsie went on to comment on other topics from our previous session. She said “You are not mentally ill”. I quote her explicitly because I want you to know that Elsie said these exact words. Commenting on my situation she said people do recover and the physical symptoms will decrease, probably a lot, as you deal with these emotions. Elsie told me that the goal of therapy was to blunt the affect of the symptoms, to reduce their impact by 80%. Note that the therapist didn’t offer that therapy would eliminate my symptoms, my symptoms may never go away completely, they will probably come and go over time. Therapy helps, in part, by removing the fear of the symptoms. Without the fear, the symptoms are annoying, like the symptoms of the common cold. She also told me to not read too much online about drugs, referring to my concerns that some of the treatments I found online for my symptoms are pretty scary.
She commented on the good things I am doing. As part of my history I told her I had been donating blood, specifically platelets (platelet apheresis) for many years. She was explicit that this was a good thing.
We had previously discussed that my mother’s drinking may have been alcoholism. Now she added that if my mother had ever been serious about getting better she would have stopped drinking. Removing any addiction, be it alcohol, drugs, sex, or shopping, is the first step of any treatment program.
Often, after I would get home from a session, my wife would ask me how it went. I would tell her anything that I thought was significant especially when it helped me feel better. I told her about what I was reading in both of the books Elsie had recommended to me. One of the things we discussed was the isolation that children feel when their parents are like mine. My wife told me she was relieved because this explains my comments over the years that I would, now and then, feel lonely. This shows that my going to therapy was helping my wife as well as myself. My wife wasn’t attending my sessions, but, because we talked about them, she was involved and she was benefitting. This was also good because she was concerned about me and involving her gave her confidence that my symptoms and their causes were being addressed.
I am clearly a ‘fan’ of what therapy can do for many people. It helped me significantly. At the same time, I feel strongly that there is nothing worse than someone who has been to therapy and wants to ‘tell you all about it’. If, in the course of normal conversation, it comes up, fine. The people around you will ask you about it if they are interested. Don’t force it on them. I want you to get the help you need, and I want you to be excited about the benefits you have seen. But, many other people are scared of therapy and don’t want to hear about your symptoms or how therapy might help them. Be an advocate for therapy, but be sensitive to everyone around you. Be an advocate, not a pain in the ass. Anyone who is interested will approach you, in their own way, probably privately, if they want to know more.