I’m so F*CKING busy it really isn’t funny….
I’m currently in the 11th week of my second internship course. As a full-time working mother with two young boys at home, I rarely get a day off. I’m managing to maintain 60+ hours a week. I work Friday-Sunday 7p-7a as a C.N.A. I work at a homeless shelter providing individual and group therapy as a student therapist 8-3, Tuesday – Thursday. I divide my spare time between: (1) family time, (2) conscientious self-care, and (3) mounds of paperwork….
I feel overwhelmed by how much I have to learn…
I have just one more week left. As I progress, I feel a burgeoning sense of ignorance: the more I learn, the less I feel I know. This perplexing experience leaves me feeling ambivalent. I’ve worked so hard over the last five years to complete my graduate degree. After spending half a decade cramming my mind with information, I feel at times it matters little when you get to the pragmatics of day-to-day direct client interaction. There’s only so much you can learn about “how to be a therapist” from a textbook. When I expressed concern about the limitations of my current skill level, my supervisor joked: “Give it five years”….
So anyway, I started seeing a psychiatrist….
Until recently, I’ve had the same therapist. I’m forever grateful for the personal growth I was able to achieve as a result of my experiences as her client. However, in this last year I’ve desired to really understand the profound and lasting impact of past traumas in my life. I searched for a psychiatrist who could provide a unique perspective on things. Last Friday, I had my fourth session with this new psychiatrist & are just now moving beyond the initial “get to know you” process. In our third session, I decided to take a risk with this new mental health professional & share honestly various aspects of earlier traumas: (things I’ve really resisted speaking with anyone). To be honest, he’s the first person I’ve really opened up to honestly about these early experiences and their lasting impact on me. Anyway, in our first session after sharing this information, I’m appreciative of the opportunity to reflect upon the impact of these experiences. I walked away last Friday, with much to think about & reflect upon.
What follows are just a few random things I learned about myself after our last session…
1st: Past experiences with emotional invalidation are still VERY, VERY, VERY, VERY big triggers…
The third session with my new psychiatrist was quite a pivotal moment.
I decided to be completely honest for the first time and share aspects of traumas that I had – until that moment – been unwilling to talk about with anybody. During the week between my third and fourth session, many “interesting things came up”.
This session was on Friday at noon (its the only real time I have off where I’m not completely exhausted). I was at my internship site Tuesday – Thursday. I napped Friday morning since I had to work that night. At 12:30 I had a session with my therapist & drove home afterwords to do some housework. After picking up the kids from school I made dinner.
While getting ready for work, I started to feel depressed. I didn’t quite understand why, and tried to push this feeling out of my mind. It wasn’t until I started driving to work that the waterworks started. I began to cry uncontrollably and had difficulty seeing the road. While I wanted to call in, I realized a doing so “last minute” wasn’t feasible. So I collected myself & went through the motions. The weekend was a blur. I did my job, came home and slept. Before I knew it, Monday had come & I was just exhausted. I slept all day and didn’t get off the sofa.
…Tuesday-Thursday rolled around again, and I was in the swing of another “work week.” With a busy schedule filled with supervisory meetings, individual sessions, and group therapy meetings, I had a lot on my mind. I struggled that week, feeling overwhelmed and anxious. I wondered how I would be able to complete my internship….
Then Thursday evening came, & my husband surprised me by taking the afternoon off.
We spent the evening together: (a belated valentine’s). I had a chance to breathe. During this rare evening of “private time” with my hubby of 17+ years, I was finally able to stop and reflect on the past week. He knows me like the back of his hand and could tell something has been wrong all week. He expressed his concern to me: “you’ve been off all week, what’s up???”
When he asked this, I began crying. He held me a while and I told him: “I simply wonder if any of it was real? Or if it all was my fault & I’m the crazy one?” He looked at me perplexed. I provided the “cliff-notes version” of past traumas I’ve still struggled with. I recalled, the most painful thing about the whole experience was the “gaslighting” nature of it all
“All involved” acted on willful blindness, unable to acknowledge obvious fact that these shitty things happened to me and it was traumatic.
Rather than acknowledging my feelings, I was blamed for what had happened. Somehow it was my fault and for that matter, my feelings were unjustified since “I did this to myself”.
And then the four session came up & I was able to finally process the feelings that came up during the last week.
I talked about everything that happened with a nervousness. The idea of continuing with this level of honesty was terrifying. However, my psychiatrist provided a sympathetic and calming presence, letting me somehow know it was okay. During the course of our conversation, he questioned me at one point the meaning of the statement: “know what I mean?” I was saying it frequently, stopping at points to make sure he was following me. He reassured me he was, and understood completely. “Was it rhetorical in nature?” I stopped to ponder the question, unable to provide an honest answer. A smile floated across my face as I was reminded of that famous Ernest quote: “know what I mean Vern?”
So what’s up with the “Know what I mean?” Question???
I do feel it is in part a rhetorical question, in the sense that it reflects the fact that I question the validity of my own past experiences. Since nobody exists from my childhood, who is able to validate and fully understand the nature of my traumas, I wonder if it was really “all me”? The logical part of my mind yells out “Pure idiocy” as these very words are being typed. You see, I know logically, that the experiences are valid to me, as real, regardless of whether others are able to understand it. The trauma was there, it was difficult, and painful, right? YES, duh!!
However, the emotional part of my mind remains stuck as a little girl who simply was hurting, and didn’t understand the “gas-lighting” nature of things. I felt I was what was wrong, it was my fault, & I’m the crazy one. This is where the “know what I mean?” question reflects a desire to seek “safety”. Will this person, I’m talking to invalidate my feelings??
2nd: I appear to engage in a form of self-invalidation that reflects what I experienced in my childhood.
This brings me to the second major insight from my fourth session: I engage in a form of self-invalidation that reflects early unresolved childhood experiences. What’s pathetic is that while I’m already very aware I do this – I still do it. WTF!?!?! It appears that my desire for self-understanding, has yielded me an ability to write a book about myself, and little else. It appears intellectual self-understanding, cannot really replace true healing.
3rd: my favorite defense mechanisms are: (1) intellectualization, (2) denial & (3) dissociative emotional numbing.
Yup, I do these things. As you can see by the content in this blog, I’m a “nerd-girl” art heart. I get this tendency to intellectualize from my parents: As doctors, their education and intellect was a superb defense. It allowed them to create the perfect defensive armor. They were flawed human beings lurking underneath a veneer of intelligence & merit-based respect. As for the denial & dissociation, I have this disturbing ability to hold outside my mind the very feelings that have overwhelmed me.
I have to keep reminding myself its not the journey, its the destination. It seems like I’m an onion: you peel away one layer, and another arises. Jere are a few things I am going to work on:
FIRST, I need to work on a relationship with “the man upstairs”
SECOND, I need to follow Bessel Van Der Kolk’s advice: “You need to find some way where your body once again feels like ‘I am in control of myself.'”
THIRD, I need to apply what I learn to my future therapy practice.