Finding Peace — Manuscript Post #61
–Sessions: 52 of 53
Monday, July 26, 2010 11:00am
Blood Donation, Apheresis, Number 320, 40 Gallons
I had life insurance and at least once a year the insurance company would send me an offer to increase the amount of my coverage. The form to apply for more coverage had a question about ’emotional disorders’. Now that I had been in therapy, I wondered how I would answer that question. I didn’t want or need more life insurance, but, it made me want to ask Elsie how I should answer such questions in the future.
Elsie gave me a very clear answer, which is what I wanted. She said I had “life issues”, not psychiatric issues. As for the life insurance form, or any other situation in which this question might come up, I never had any emotional disorders.
As part of my wanting to make sure I had completed all aspects of therapy, I went back to the books Elsie had suggested I read. I had read the first one early on but I had not completed the second one. I made it a priority to finish the second book (Surviving a Borderline Parent) before this session, and I had questions based on what I read.
The book describes how a parent who is suffering from Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) will blame others for their own problems. In the book this was referred to as transference. Elsie and I discussed the specific examples of my mother telling me I could have done more to help Snap when he was young and her saying she could have been somebody if she hadn’t had children. In both cases, my mother was attempting to transfer her own issues on to me.
I also read in this book about how this disorder affects the children of the affected parent. The author described how the child may actually believe they aren’t mad about what they experienced, but the child’s anger manifests itself in a negative world view. This upset me because I have that negative world view. I don’t feel that I am angry but I do have the described negative thoughts. I believe that things won’t work out for me, I always see the worst case outcome for every situation. Reading this book made me understand, for the first time, that my negative thoughts were a result of my mother’s BPD.
Elsie explained that BPD is characterized by rapid swings between emotional extremes and people that have BPD are often very intelligent, as my mother was. She also told me that BPD is difficult to diagnose because the symptoms are very similar to those of someone that is generically upset, unhappy or even crazy.
After this session, I drove to the same railroad crossing near Elsie’s office that I drove to after each session. I see a father and two small boys watching a train pass by. One of the boys waves to the locomotive engineer who waves back. This little boy is me forty-five years ago. I also think about my new model train layout where I will operate models of this same locomotive.
***I’m watching a show where the adults are divorcing and the children are dealing as best they can. The daughter slowly goes nuts as she is constantly told nothing is wrong. Perhaps this is why I like family and relationship dramas. I know how it feels to be told that nothing is wrong while the adults in the child’s world are acting crazy and denying that anything is wrong.
–Sessions: 53 of 53
Monday, August 9, 2010 11:00am
Blood Donation, Apheresis, Number 321
This was my last therapy session. As part of my wanting to formally complete my therapy, I had prepared a list of what I had learned during therapy that I wanted to review with Elsie. I think one of the most important questions most people have about therapy is what good does it do, what does someone actually learn from the process. I want to provide a very detailed, very real answer to those very reasonable questions.
I went through all my notes from all of our sessions as well as my notes from the two books Elsie had me read and compiled eight pages of what I had learned. I realized that there was repetition in this list and many of the things I had learned could be summarized. I decided to summarize this list by highlighting the things that I learned that I didn’t think I ever would have figured out on my own. This summary was a little over a page. I read these to Elsie. She listened and agreed that I had learned a lot.
Summary of what I learned from therapy:
–Things I don’t think I would have ever figured out on my own
*any effective psychological treatment (therapy) is indistinguishable from magic
*diagnosis — Adjustment Disorder with signs of anxiety and signs of depression
*ACA — Adult Child of an Alcoholic — my symptoms are consistent
*I am an honorable man
*My father left me with a mother he knew was compromised
*Emotions (feelings) are much more powerful than I acknowledged
*What I experienced growing up was significant, powerful and affected me profoundly
*If my mother had really wanted to deal with her issues she would have stopped drinking
*My symptoms will never completely go away — therapy reduces the frequency and severity
*My feelings of loneliness and separation from others were explainable
*My mother did some very good things for me but I deserved more
*Therapy is much more effective than I had perceived
*My mother’s problems don’t have to have been formally diagnosed to be valid causes of my issues
*My mother displayed the symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)
*My anger comes out in negative, critical thoughts I have
*I am an Adult Child of an Alcoholic (ACA)
*The shame I felt about my mother’s behaviors became shame about myself
*ACA — experience psychosomatic health problems
*Therapist’s office really is a separate, safe, secure world
*Therapist really can provide insights that I would never have seen on my own
*Therapy replaced fear with understanding
*Process addiction is no different than addiction to alcohol or drugs (dating all grocery items for example)
*BPD, what it is, that it describes my mother, relationship to addictive behavior
*Being raised by a parent with BPD can be emotionally devastating
*I have a very strong inner core resilience (to have gotten away from my mother and not repeat the parenting I experienced)
*I can choose to be happy
*I feel things very deeply
As I was compiling my list of what I had learned, I wondered why I had never heard of BPD before. Given how long I had lived with my mother and her symptoms I would have thought I would have heard about BPD in the media. Else explained that while BPD affects 2-3% of the population, it gets no media coverage. It takes too long to describe what BPD is to fit into the sound bites required by the media. Elsie said you won’t see BPD discussed on television because you can’t make progress in the forty minutes of content in the typical one hour show. In the book Elsie had me read about BPD the author says it can take over thirty minutes just to describe what BPD is.
Elsie explained more about my mother’s condition. With addiction comes a whole class of symptoms. The addict always puts themselves first. Persons with BPD always put themselves first. I had what Elsie described as the ‘double whammy’ of having a parent that had both addiction and BPD. Elsie also told me that addicts can recover, persons with BPD, “not so much.” In order to treat BPD, Elsie says the therapist must set boundaries and be firm, like dealing with a child.
In my notes from this session, I had drawn what looks like a tunnel or a tube. I drew two lines entering one end of the tube, one for addiction and one for BPD. The tube itself is labeled ‘similar symptoms’. The line for addiction exits the tunnel and points to ‘recovery’. The line for BPD ends in the tunnel with a ‘?’. My mother had both addiction and BPD, and both have similar symptoms. This combination would have made it challenging for my mother to get better, even if she had really wanted to. Elsie had told me once before, in an earlier session, that if my mother had really wanted to get better she would have had to stop alcohol completely. My mother never did that.
I wanted to revisit a question I had first asked Elsie almost a year ago during Session 30 (it was exactly one day less than a year ago). I had asked Elsie about writing about my experiences in therapy. I asked about writing about therapy for public consumption. Elsie’s answer this time was the same as a year ago, “When you are done I want a signed copy.” I had some specific questions. Some of what I want to write about would involve saying negative things about people. I told her I was concerned ‘they’ won’t like that. Elsie responded as if she was repeating a simple fact, “no, they won’t like reading negative comments about themselves.” Her answer and the way she delivered it made it clear that she didn’t think this matters.
Elsie also said writing a book from the patient’s perspective would be ‘stunning.’ I also wanted to ask her how I should refer to her in the book. Elsie said “any way you like.” Again, she didn’t seem to think this was a concern.
At that point, I had asked all the questions I wanted to complete the process. I told Elsie I was done. I told her that ‘thank you’ seems lame. Elsie said “live your life and live it well, goodbye my dear.” I left her office, the door closed and that was it. I was done with therapy.
I went to the same railroad crossing I had visited in the past after a session. There were no trains that day. Then I went to La Piñata for lunch. I had a lot to reflect on.