Terminated

(for some reason my brain wants to go “pew pew!!!“)

I’ve been “in crunch time” for my current composition project for a couple weeks now. During Thanksgiving week I accepted 3 articles for the entrepreneurial project (EP) and ended up spending Mon-Wed writing them instead of composing. Then I spent 3 days straight with family – and when I wasn’t with family I was too exhausted to do anything. I didn’t fully explain all of this to the Editor in Chief (EiC), etc. when I said I couldn’t take a 4th article – twice – but I kinda feel like I shouldn’t’ve had to.

What I did do was talk to my friend / the CEO, who told me to talk to the EiC, who proceeded to ignore the message I sent her saying I couldn’t write 3 articles about frankly stupid topics every week because I need to focus on composing. (All unpaid, by the way. If this were a paid gig I would’ve handled it differently.) Last week I flat-out said “no.” This week I accepted the articles but realized I wouldn’t be able to meet the deadlines, so I said “I’m sorry I can’t do these.” Well to be honest I think I should’ve also resigned at that point in time but I dunno, I’ve been feeling ambivalent about this for months now…

They made the decision for me. In the form of an email notifying me I’d been “terminated.” No explanation, and there was certainly no discussion – at least not with me. I was upset for a while, but then I told a friend who was like “wait a minute: you were terminated from a volunteer position that wasn’t even what you wanted to do?” I laughed. And I will be laughing still, in the end… except that something about it is still bothering me.

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The Power of Music and Metaphor

I had one of my most intense and effective sessions ever with Wakana last week. She supported me by alternating between A Major and A minor chords on the piano, adjusting her style & chords to complement the emotions I was expressing. I sang, nonverbal melodies at first and words as they came to me – statements and images and raw expressions of anger, grief, triumph… She sang too, reflecting and supporting and occasionally making suggestions. It was very intense; we peeled back most of my defenses as I became more and more relaxed.

It’s one thing to know, cognitively, that one’s self-judgment is the result of early, most likely pre-verbal, experiences of being judged and found lacking. Of not having one’s emotional needs meet sufficiently, and so on. It’s relatively easy (now, after studying psychology for over a decade) for me to connect my current emotional difficulties and insecurities to past experiences. (And yet I’m still surprised how often certain ones come up in therapy.) I’ve built this narrative about my life that organizes the chaos, giving it purpose and meaning; I can reflect on it and pat myself on the back for all the things I’ve overcome.

Yet, time and time again, Wakana tells me the same thing: “You’re too hard on yourself.” She asks what it is I dislike so much about myself. And other than this nonverbal sense of being Wrong, I can’t really answer her. Not in straightforward prose, anyway.

It’s another thing entirely to go through the process of seeking the cause of my self-judgment as it exists deep within my psyche, much as one might search a room for an item one has lost. Several years ago I moved into the other apartment in my mom’s 2-family house; she had been using its closet and cabinets for storage but was happy to have me move back in with her. As Banji helped me clean and re-organize, we identified items that were not mine. Then we moved the items to a space where Mom could sort through them without entering my apartment. We called the items “someone else’s problem,” which made it easier to remove them from my space.

I felt like I was doing that again as I searched for what could possibly be so “wrong” about me. What did I find? The Single Thing I most want to change about myself is this feeling like there’s something inherently wrong with me, which makes me depressed and anxious and keeps me from fully living my life. It keeps me from loving myself. I judge myself for judging myself for judging myself.

… Or so I thought during the session last week. The judgment is definitely what I want and need to change, but I’m still judging something about myself… Perhaps something that doesn’t need to change after all. As I wrote and re-read the above, I realized that I judge myself for having intense emotions – especially when they come up at inconvenient times. The sadness, grief, anger, fear, anxiety, etc. take over my body all too often, usually at times when my “rational side” considers them to be utterly inappropriate.

Today I tried to acknowledge and accept how I was feeling without judging or fighting it. I felt anxious while getting ready to leave the house and considered taking the medication my nurse practitioner prescribed, but decided instead to accept that I felt anxious and continue getting ready. I felt tears welling up in my eyes during conversations and let them flow, inwardly acknowledging why they were there while continuing to share my ideas and experiences.

The problem isn’t my emotions. The problem is that it is risky to allow one’s emotions to show in most social situations. It’s that I have been judged and punished from a young age whenever I expressed strong emotions – especially if my doing so inconvenienced the adults in my life. It’s that, until recently, I haven’t had the support and tools I need to express and manage my emotions in healthy ways, instead of suppressing them.

My emotions are inextricable parts of me that serve vital functions, even if they’re often not what I want or (think I) need at the time. The judgment isn’t mine. It belongs to cultural norms that should be obsolete and caregivers who internalized those norms. As humans we both create and adapt to our environment (society)… and we have an uncanny knack for creating unhealthy environments for ourselves and our children. Self-judgement and internalized stigma are two related ways in which we adapt to some of the most toxic elements in our environment.

(I feel the need to include that not everything in Western society is toxic; some aspects are actually quite awesome. Also, just as we create our environment, we can change it for the better.)

The thing is, it’s one thing to know that cognitively, to think it and talk about it with other people. It’s something else entirely to, as in the movie Inception, delve deep into one’s own mind and find something that was placed there by someone else. Wakana helped me do that last week; now I’m looking for the “someone else’s problem” box.

Therapists

First off, I’d like to apologize for disappearing for 2.5 months. I’ve been caught up in the Skyrim Let’s Play, other games, working on my thesis proposal, and other stuff. The blog has been on the edge of my radar, but it’s only in the past week or two that I’ve started seriously thinking about posts again. I guess we all need a break from time to time?

Anyways there was a long time when I was first gushing about how much I’ve benefited from my work in music therapy with Wakana, then avoiding her. I’ve been sort of considering termination, but I don’t like the idea in part because that means I’ll stop seeing her and in part because I have this nagging suspicion there are things I still need to work on.

Then I finally met with her in person last week and did that thing you learn about when training to become a therapist that clients often do because transference and it’s awkward and wrong and you definitely can’t act on it… I, well, I started saying things that implied I’m interested in a romantic relationship with her. I even thought the words “I love you,” then pushed them back because I can’t love my therapist, that’s a violation of the boundaries we need to maintain a good working relationship and of ethics and ugh she knows, doesn’t she? Fuck. I have a crush on my therapist. I couldn’t even look at her for the rest of the session without being taken aback by how vibrant and radiant she looks. Why the fuck did this have to happen?!

I can deal with having crushes on many if not most of the people I meet and/or have been friends with for, gods, over a decade. It happens. It’s healthy. It’s kind of fun. I can enjoy the good feelings and focus on enjoying our interactions, which most likely are not romantic. But that’s okay because I’m crushing on them because their personalities are what I find most attractive, and I get to enjoy their personalities when we’re being silly nerds and geeks. (It doesn’t hurt that I find them visually attractive, too.)

But my therapist?

I told Wakana about the crush when I met with her over Skype on Wednesday, because I knew there was no hiding it from her. I just wanted to deal with it so we can get back to the therapy I’d been gushing about because it’s really helped me so much. I feel whole, or at least a lot closer to it, and stuff that used to cause me a ton of emotional turmoil is so much easier to deal with now. I’m actually quite happy with where I am in life and confident that I’ll work out the stuff that still needs a lot of work, such as (finally!) applying for internships so I can begin my career.

You know what she told me? She said this is a normal stage that most clients go through and that it’s a good thing because it means I’m starting to love myself. She explained that she holds so much of me – everything I share with her in our sessions – and acts as a mirror for me to see the aspects of myself that have been hidden away for most of my life. I can finally see them, and I’m realizing I think they’re awesome, and now I can reclaim them. “These are mine, I’ll take them back now, thank you.” She said I can also let go of things that aren’t mine, such as thought processes I learned in childhood and adolescence that aren’t helping me.

We can totally work through this crush, processing the feelings I’m transferring to her, so I can focus my love on myself.

It almost feels kind of wrong. Selfish.

She said we could explore whatever fantasies I’m having – not do anything of course, but talk about them and what they symbolize. That was kind of awkward because to be honest I hadn’t gotten that far – and I’d really rather not go there. I almost don’t want to tell her I’m not fantasizing about doing anything specific with her, because I don’t want to hurt her feelings. She embodies much of what I want to be, and I’ve come to feel a strong connection with and positive regard for her. I guess if I’m having any fantasy it’s that I want to move away from our interactions being therapy for me, toward a more mutual emotional sharing through the music we make together. It’s hard to accept that we can’t do that while I’m her client. Maybe that’s why I’ve been thinking about termination: if I’m no longer her client, there’s a possibility we might make music together as a more mutual exchange in the future.

Shifting gears a bit (or perhaps not really) I have finally started meeting with the therapist who will hopefully use cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) to help me overcome my social anxiety (so whatever anxiety I feel before/during social situations won’t hinder me). We just completed intake – so there hasn’t been much time to develop rapport, and we haven’t actually started CBT.

She seems nice and I like her, but I feel like I have more experience as a client than she does as a psychotherapist. I’m trying to resist the urge to ask her about her qualifications and experience because frankly it seems kind of rude, and I’d hate for clients to do that to me (in the near future). Perhaps I’m projecting my own insecurities about becoming a therapist, I don’t know. I don’t want to over-analyze myself.

The thing is, she keeps using stereotypical responses – the kinds of things we learn not to do in active listening. As I was answering the intake questions, she filled the pauses with “mmhmm,” always in the same tone of voice, which kind of gave me the feeling she wasn’t really listening. Then when I was done answering almost every question she said “okay” – again always with the same inflection. It felt like she was doing things she was trained to do or thought she should do, not like she was being genuine.

I want to tell her that these vocal habits are bothering me, but I’m not sure how. I don’t want them, nor my efforts to/not to talk to her about them, to interfere with therapy. I just want to go, do what I need to do, and come out feeling empowered to live my life the way I need and want to. Why must emotions be so complicated?

Conflicting Emotions in a Professional Setting

Today I met with my academic adviser to discuss local internship opportunities. It… didn’t go quite the way I’d hoped. My goal has been to work with an adult psychiatric population, but most of the internships I could currently commute to are in medical settings, hospice, or adults with developmental disabilities. There is one adult psychiatric location, a VA (veterans affairs) hospital. It’s far enough away that my adviser suggested temporarily relocating.

I thought our conversation was going pretty well. We established a plan: I’ll pick four sites, contact the internship directors to ask questions and make a good first impression, and apply – “casting as broad a net as possible.” He spoke highly of several sites, answered my questions, and gave me some useful advice. Best of all, he seemed certain that I’ll be able to complete my internship without having to further extend my matriculation. He seemed supportive and understanding the whole way through. He even asked about the paper I submitted last month, that still needs a grade…

By the end of the conversation, I was feeling very overwhelmed. I couldn’t figure out if I was sad, anxious, angry, disappointed, grateful… I didn’t know what to do or say that might help. And he was just sitting there watching me, waiting for a comment, question, or some other response. I kept apologizing and giving the old “I’m tired” excuse. I told him that I wish I could take more music therapy classes because I enjoyed this past semester; that I’m looking forward to working in our field and doing thesis, but that it’s also big and scary.

He said you do one piece at a time, so while it is big and scary it’s also more manageable than it currently seems. That was helpful, but I still felt awkward. I almost always feel awkward in our conversations, like neither of us knows how to end them. Like there’s something that always goes unsaid – at least on my end – and everything we do say needs to dance around it. We were saved by a knock on the door: “That’s my next appointment.”

Ugh. Feels. Sometimes – often – I wish I could turn them off. Just temporarily. Just long enough to have a conversation. For all I know he didn’t even notice that I was struggling with my emotions – no, he’s a therapist, he has to have noticed. That’s what therapists do.

My main problem was that I thought I should be happy about meeting with my adviser and learning about internship sites, but that’s not how I honestly felt. It brought up anxiety, painful memories, guilt, disappointment. I didn’t get what I wanted – what I needed, yes, and what I asked for. But the perfect internship site just doesn’t exist. (And maybe that’s for the better, because if it did I probably wouldn’t be offered the internship, anyway.) (I thought I’d moved past thinking like this.)

“You need to have a thick skin for this process. Be persistent, and if you can re-apply to a site, do. It’s difficult for everybody.”

My skin feels as thin as gossamer.

Anyway. I looked up the various sites on Google Maps and they all take a comparable amount of time to get to. The question really isn’t “How long am I willing to spend commuting?” – it’s “Do I want to spend 2-4 hours each day driving, or on public transportation?” I’m inclined to lean toward driving, but I might not even get to make that decision.

How do you deal with conflicting or difficult emotions when they come up in a professional situation?

A New Normal?

According to the current clinical depression screening tool on MoodNetwork.org, I am not depressed. I was so surprised by this result when I first got it, I answered all the questions again to make sure I hadn’t lied on any of them: Sad most of the time, check. Trouble falling asleep and waking early, check. Feeling tired, check. All these other questions… no, my appetite hasn’t changed, I’m actually more motivated and active than usual, and I DON’T FEEL WORTHLESS!!! (or suicidal). I feel… okay.

a checkmark in a green circle next to the words, "You are not depressed."

screenshot of my result from the depression screening: a checkmark in a green circle next to the words, “You are not depressed.”

I’ve been re-taking the screening for the past few days now, and I keep getting the same result. I’m not depressed. I’m not depressed. I’m not depressed. I’M NOT DEPRESSED!!!

Oh my GOD!!!

I know, I know, it’s just an online screening. It’s not a substitute for a mental health professional’s evaluation. Well, I met with two mental health professionals this week. My prescriber told me, “It seems like your antidote to feeling sad is keeping busy.” She agreed with my decision to stay at my current dose of lamotrigine (50 mg 2x/day) because I don’t want to try to medicate away my feelings. Wakana congratulated me, said that clearly the therapy and medication are working, and told me I’ve been making good progress.

I am not depressed. Part of me wants to scream “I’m cured!!!” – but I think that might be a little bit premature. (or complete bullshit.) I’m… better. I’m okay.

I’m standing at the edge of a cliff with a brand new glider on my back, watching everyone else glide around, and wondering, “Is this thing really safe?”

Wakana said, “baby steps.” She used the metaphor of easing oneself slowly into a pool – which I find ironic because to me that’s torture. I’d rather just jump in, get the “it’s cold!” shock over with all at once, and start swimming oh my god swimming it’s the best thing ever!!! I want to go right now! But, umm, I don’t have a pool. So, yeah, this isn’t swimming it’s life. Baby steps. (I have friends who have a pool, and they’ve invited me to come swim in the past. I should ask them if the offer still stands.)

I guess I’m taking baby steps. I’m (literally) taking thousands of steps (that is, walking) on the days when I meet with her… and I want to take more on the days when I don’t. I’ve been having great conversations with loved ones, including Mom. Composing, making art for the fun of it, spoiling our pet rats… being intimate with Fox…  (I love having my sex drive back – and it takes some… navigating…) In the next few weeks I plan to acquire clothes I feel good about wearing, start practicing music instruments regularly, declutter, meet with my adviser about internship possibilities, and start applying for internships and part-time jobs. I had to re-write this paragraph to sound positive and not “being hard on myself” for the things I “should” be doing; now I’m worried about trying to do too much and burning out before I even get started! But at least I can re-write it.

In the past, times when I’ve temporarily clawed my way out of the bottomless pit that is being clinically depressed have been the best days of my life. For example, my wedding: at that time I was still using the Burns Depression Checklist to keep track of my symptoms; on my wedding day my score was 6. That’s “normal but unhappy” (granted, only 1 point off from “no depression”). The best I ever felt – EVER – the best days of my life were what most people would (ostensibly) consider “unhappy.”

These are not the best days of my life. I’m tired. I’m sad. I’m achy. I miss my friends, especially Banji. Last night I had a nightmare (in which my husband died). I’m going to go crazy (and spend way too much time playing The Sims 3) if I don’t find some way to structure my time (besides playing The Sims 3). For a while I was starting blog posts, then deleting them. … I think you get the idea.

Today I scored a 10 on the Burns Depression Checklist, which is the highest score in the “normal but unhappy” range. (a score of 11 would indicate mild depression.) I think I answered honestly, despite the temptation to lower my score to fit with the previous assertion that “I’m not depressed.” It seems accurate to say that I’m unhappy.

But something’s changed. Like someone lifted a blanket off me and I can see the sun and feel the breeze and stand up tall and breathe. I feel more confident. Hopeful. Maybe… even… whole?

One Emotion at a Time

Being sad sucks. However, I’ve noticed (since writing my last post) that when I’m sad, that’s it. I’m sad. I’m not also angry or feeling guilty or ashamed or secretly relieved and guilty for feeling that way or some crazy combination of the above. I might get frustrated that my sadness has nothing to do with my current situation and/or I can’t get it to go away. But at least I’m just sad.

This is a huge improvement for me! It’s such a relief to finally be able to feel one emotion at a time. Just sad. And best of all, the sadness doesn’t include feelings of worthlessness or despair.

I’ve finally figured out that there were aspects of my childhood that sucked, and I didn’t receive the support I needed, and I acted out, and adults didn’t respond the way I needed them to, so I did what any kid would do: I blamed myself. I internalized all the negativity around me. I thought that I was wrong, different, that no one could understand me. I’ve felt isolated for a very long time.

But it’s not my fault. I don’t even feel the need to blame (most of) the adults in my life because they were overwhelmed by their own problems. People didn’t handle or understand things the way we do now; most of the programs that could have helped me just didn’t exist. And even if they had existed, it’s not like my mom could have googled them.

The stuff I used to believe about myself just isn’t true. I can let go of it – and good riddance! The truth is, I’m just as worthy as anyone else. And I’m probably more similar to others than different.

I’m finally free to just be sad. Free to grieve normally, as should have happened the first time around. Free to let go and forgive.

I might feel sadder now than I’ve ever allowed myself to feel my entire life, but I’m healthier too. (And there are times when I feel other emotions, each more or less by itself.) This may be the healthiest I’ve ever been. It’s exciting.

Sometimes I Just Need to Sleep on You

Allow yourself to feel your emotions, she said. You’ll feel less tired when you’re not repressing them, she said.

Bull. Shit.

Okay, I let the sadness up. Happy? I even admitted to a pain that’s been brewing inside me for over half my lifetime (the fuck). What else do you want from me? Cotton candy? Let’s go, I’ll buy you some right now. I’m sick of this shit.

There is a thing gnawing on my insides. My stomach and my heart and my lungs. It’s big and ugly and it keeps growing. It’s turning my whole body nasty colors, from the inside out. It causes a deep ache and sometimes it stings and it’s always there.

Maybe I’m just hungry. I eat, it gets the food, but it’s still gnawing on me. Let’s go for a walk. Okay, I walk. Maybe I’m distracted from the pain for a while. It’s still there. You tell a joke. I laugh. It feels good. Maybe it loses its grip for a moment. But then I stop laughing, and it goes back to gnawing. When I cry, that’s it gnawing so loudly you can actually hear it. When I sleep it keeps me from resting fully and fills my mind with all sorts of crazy thoughts and dreams. When I wake – you guessed it! – still there.

I just want it out of me. Can you do that? I’ll give you anything. I’ll do anything. Just make it stop!