It’s been four years since I realized the sadness that usually hits mid-January to mid-February wasn’t lifting, and decided to get help. Almost four years – let’s call it 3.5 years – of working with Wakana; in all this time we never discussed my goals. What do I want to get out of therapy? Under what circumstances will I decide I no longer need it?
Well, so far I’ve grown a great deal. I’ve learned the importance of setting and enforcing boundaries. I’ve learned that doing so doesn’t mean I don’t love the other person; it can actually help me love them better. I’ve gained more respect for myself, even coming to view myself as inherently worthy of love, boundaries, healing, etc. I’ve gained a stronger sense of my own identity and what I’m passionate about. I’ve reclaimed academic learning/achievement and music making as things I do primarily for myself – well, for the most part. I’m still working on practicing piano and guitar for myself and not to impress my teachers.
I still have some important things to work on. A lot of the emotions and experiences I’d suppressed are coming up again, with the potential to undermine entire days. I’m not sure I ever fully processed my emotions around needing to maintain extremely high levels of academic achievement to keep my parents’ relationship from descending into utter chaos. That seems like something I can let go of, though, especially since now I know that most of their problems had nothing to do with me, and the academic achievement did have some benefits for me. I’ve finally forgiven my father for his mistakes and, more importantly, released myself from the disappointment I felt.
There’s still the matter of my father’s family of origin, whom I’ve been distancing myself from; I haven’t spoken to them in ages and part of why I took Fox’s last name is so I would no longer have the same last name as them. They were horrible to my mom and clearly only pretended to care about me; they abandoned me as soon as I began asserting myself (and my right to receive part of the inheritance from my grandmother).
I’m fine with them not being part of my life anymore, but clearly I’m still angry about what happened. I’m definitely angry at my father’s brother, and I’m not sure if there’s also residual anger at his sister that’s still repressed. She just disappeared – whereas he failed to take on the role my parents had trusted him with when I was born, tried to manipulate me, and had the gall to show up at my uncle’s funeral. I feel threatened by his ability to reappear when I’m at my most vulnerable and remind me of all this shit; I’d much rather just be able to move on with my life.
And then there’s my mom. She’s been providing for my material needs and I’m very grateful for that. She cares and she wants to be supportive but somehow our interactions always become about me tending to her needs at the expense of my own. Even my desire for her to take care of me in my time of illness, to finally be able to open up to her and trust and be nurtured by her… in the end, it just keeps me from becoming self-sufficient and reaching out to others who can help fulfill those needs. At times I feel like an angry baby screaming at the top of my lungs that someone should coordinate all my mental health care for me and bring me to therapy and so on. It would be nice, considering she was willing to temporarily relocate to drive her brother around, if Mom would do something similar for me. Instead I get to be responsible for Dog for at least a few more weeks, and who knows what will come up once she’s home again?
But I’m an adult, and on good days I’m fairly high-functioning. I’d prefer not to have to make certain phone calls, but I can do it. (And I do believe the process should be streamlined to make care more accessible to those who need it the most.) Hopefully my insurance will include someone to coordinate my mental health care, once my coverage starts (in 9 days)… and if it doesn’t I’ll be disappointed but not incapable of figuring that stuff out on my own. I’ve already looked up a primary care provider and psychiatrist, each of whom is part of my plan and within easy driving distance. If they don’t work out for some reason, I’ll just keep looking until I find someone who does. As much as I want support in dealing with this shit, I can’t let lack of support keep me from receiving the care I need. (No, I don’t think I can rely on Fox for help with this.)
As for other goals, I’m at a weird place where everything from my loved ones to Wakana to my own inclinations suggests I need to “get a job” and preferably start my career. Ideally I will complete and perhaps even use my master’s degree. That seems like a – if not the – primary goal of my therapy: rehabilitation, so I can be a productive member of society. Right? Wakana certainly seems to think so.
Yet, every time I get a nudge in that direction, I dig in my heels. It feels like a death sentence. I’d be giving up everything I’ve worked toward these past 4 years, and going back to being a “good little girl” whose work benefits everyone else at the expense of my well-being. I’ve finally learned to put my own needs first, don’t ask me to stop in return for a paycheck… even if it is doing something I find meaningful, something that makes the world a better place. How can you ask me to abandon myself and focus on helping other people? Especially when my mother still hasn’t nurtured me?
Well, it seems obvious now, but that’s only because I allowed myself to have this gut reaction, to feel it, and to give it words. It’s out in the open, where it needs to be. My biggest fear: that if I move on with my life – starting my career, having a family, etc. – I have to stop taking care of myself. Like some authority will decide I don’t need (or deserve) mental health care anymore. I’m afraid what supports I do have will fall out from under me. That I’ll focus all my attention on taking care of others at the expense of myself.
That doesn’t have to be true. I can keep seeing Wakana; having a job might just mean we need to adjust our schedule a bit. I can certainly receive health care, even if it means having to take time off from work every once in a while. (The doctors I found work exclusively during normal business hours, when I imagine most employed people are at work.) If I do find medications that help manage my symptoms, there is nothing to keep me from taking them before, after, or even during work. I might even make better use of my free time because my life will be more structured; I won’t have the whole day to think “I’ll get to that later.” I might make friends. I might feel better about myself because I’ll see the difference I make in other people’s lives, even if it’s just helping them feel better while I’m interacting with them.
As for deciding I no longer need therapy… I don’t really know when I’ll decide I no longer need it – maybe never! I obviously don’t want to decide I no longer need it once I’ve started working again. In the past I’ve terminated therapy prematurely, in part because of problems with my therapist. So right now I don’t really trust myself to be able to tell when I’m ready to leave therapy, but that’s okay. There’s still time to figure it out.
And this blog will be here for as long as I need it. If I can’t write in this blog for some reason, I can start a new one or just journal privately. My demons will see daylight. And maybe some of them – like the fear that I’ll stop taking care of myself if I start working – will become allies.
I can really relate to this. Recently I’ve been feeling this way about picking a career and working towards my educational goals, because I have this nagging fear that it will mean exactly what you said: neglecting to take care of myself (not that I really do that so well). I actually didn’t really realize this was my fear until reading your post. But I felt really reassured too, because you’re right, it doesn’t have to mean that the self-care stops. Great post!!
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