Monday, April 23, 2012

Post-it Note Therapy

I almost cancelled.  I wanted desperately to cancel.  How could I go to therapy if I couldn't speak?

It's not that I had laryngitis or bronchitis or any kind of injury or illness that affected my voice.  I just couldn't make myself open my mouth and say the things that were in my heart.

But I didn't cancel.  I went.  I trust my therapist.  And I knew that isolating myself and shutting down wasn't the healthy answer.  Even though it was a tactic I'd used many times in the past, I knew I had to push through.

I cried off and on all morning before I went.  I was able to pull myself together enough to seem okay with my kids.  I even did okay signing in at the therapist's office.

The secretary handled the money, scheduled a new appointment, and handed me the questionnaire.  That wonderful, glorious, dreaded, silly series of questions that is somehow supposed to tell my therapist how I'm doing and if I'm making progress.  I looked at it and laughed inside, knowing I could make it say whatever I wanted.  Knowing I could present a happy, healthy front and fake my way through the session.  And knowing that I just couldn't play the game that day.

My therapist came to the waiting room and greeted me.  As we walked back to his office, he reached for my paper.  I handed it to him.  He looked at it and said, "It's blank."  And I answered, "I just couldn't do it."

He said, "Okay," and we continued to his office.  He said he was going to get a drink of water and offered me one (no, thank you).  He also asked if I'd like to fill out the questionnaire now.  I said, "No," in no uncertain terms.  He said, "Okay.  I get no," and left to get his water.

He returned to find me sitting on the floor, with my knees pulled up to my chest.  He closed the door and commented on the fact that I was sitting on the floor.  I said that sometimes I just need to sit on the floor.

He said that was fine and commented that I seemed upset.  I didn't respond.  He asked what I'd like to work on today.  I started crying.

I cried and cried.  I held my face in my hands and cried.  I wanted to speak.  I tried to speak.  But I couldn't.

He waited.

After about five minutes of me just crying and not being able to say anything he said that it was okay to just sit and cry.  That was valuable therapy time, too.  That I didn't have to talk in order to heal.

I continued to cry and be silent.  Inside, I was screaming.  I had so many things I wanted to talk about, why couldn't I open my mouth and speak?

He asked if it would be okay to ask some questions.  I said it would.  He asked why I was sitting on the floor.  I thought for a minute.  All I could come up with was, "It's less effort" and "It's safer."  He asked if I felt unsafe.  I said I didn't know, it's just what came to mind.

More long minutes of silence, except for my crying.

Eventually I was able to ask for a post-it note.  I took out my pen and wrote:
"I'm just so sad and I don't understand why."

Through great effort, I gave him the note.  He read it.  And he said, "Sometimes it's good to be sad with someone else, to not be sad alone."  And I cried more.  So much of my sadness is experienced alone.  Seldom does someone offer to be with me while I am sad.  Especially without trying to make me not be sad.

He asked if times like this, when I am so sad, are when I want to hurt myself.  I acknowledged that I had thought about it, but I hadn't done so.  Except that I had stopped eating.  He reminded me that not eating is a form of self-injury.  And he praised me for not cutting (or scratching, in my case).

Over the course of the hour I was able to give him three more post-it notes:

  *  "There are a thousand things running around in my brain.  I don't understand why I can't say any of them." -- He said that when the time is right, if they need to be said, they will come out.

  *  "No matter how hard I work or how much progress I make, I feel like there will always be this underlying sadness and loneliness." -- He said it wouldn't be like this forever.  We could take it from a 9 to a 3 or from a 7 to a 1.  But he also said that he hoped I wouldn't ever lose it completely or I would lose my ability to empathize with others; I wouldn't be able to help others through my blog like I can now.

  *  "I am fighting a battle on so many fronts in my life so much of the time.  I am just so tired of fighting; sometimes I just want to quit." -- He said it's okay to take a break.  I need to allow myself to take time off.  I need to give myself permission for self-care.  This is just a break.

"It's okay to take a break; it's not okay to hurt yourself."  As he said this, I felt strengthened.

In the hour I spent with him, there may have been five minutes of talking.  I probably spoke under a minute.  And I cried the whole time.

But I'm glad I went.  It was valuable therapy.  It was nice to have someone really see my pain and validate it.  It was nice to have someone sit with me as I cried.

As I prepared to leave he asked what the goal was (meaning what I would work on until I saw him again).  I said, "Don't hurt myself."  And he agreed.

I am somewhat better now, although the sadness and loneliness is just under the surface.  I still cry quite easily.  But since then I've been able to communicate a little with a couple of people and I've gotten back on my regimen.

And I haven't hurt myself.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Sewing on Patches

I'm so glad I got my boy; I'm also glad I only got one.

I used to say this all the time when my son was little.  He was so different from my girls.  It was fun watching the world through his eyes, but it was also difficult.  He seemed to be on a search and destroy mission.  It seemed like every room he walked into was new territory to conquer.  He scanned the area for weakness and then unleashed an incredible force for one so small.  He broke more things than his four sisters combined.

Not that he was intentionally destructive, he just had a different way of exploring and discovering.  And he didn't have a natural tendency to control his strength.  He got so excited about things and ran head first into them, sometimes literally.  Then, when he saw them broken, he felt so sad.  He didn't mean to.

I can still see his little two-year old face, round, with a pouty lip.  Big tears welling up in his eyes.  Because even though he was powerful, he was tender.

Maintaining that balance has been a goal of mine.  Stay powerful, but be tender.  Sometimes it's gone well; other times, not so much.

But raising a man isn't easy -- and that's what I'm doing.  If I can remember that in the tough moments, then I can get through it.  And so can he.

I remember when he was a cub scout.  As his birthday approached, he still had a lot to do to receive his patch (whichever year, it was always the same).  We'd begin a drive to finish in time.  He'd start with energy and before long decide he didn't want to do all the work and it would be fine to just not get it this time.  But it wasn't fine for me.

My brothers didn't do much in scouting.  Neither did my husband.  There was no big family push and I had no clue what I was doing.  But I felt like it was important to finish what he started and to believe in himself.  I felt like it was important for him to learn to do hard things so that he could be proud of his efforts. 

So we'd push through.  And he'd finish just in time, sometimes yelling, crying, and fighting with me all the way.  And then, when he was done, my little boy would thank me for making him do it.  I can still see that face, too.  My grinning eight-year old smiling at me as he received his award.  An award he earned.  An award he was proud of.

There have been many times since when he wanted to quit things.  I'd be lying if I said I pushed him to finish all of them.  But I push when he's expressed a desire and then tries to back out because it's hard.  He says he wants to get his Eagle.  I will do whatever I can to make sure he follows through.

The other night I sewed his Star patch on his boy scout uniform.  This shirt is so much bigger.  He's fifteen now and practically a man.  He did so much more of the work under his own direction.  He doesn't need me as much as he used to.

But I still sew on the patches.  And I do so with honor and pride.  I am so proud of the young man he is becoming.  I want him to be proud to stand in that uniform.  As proud as I am to see him do so.

He speaks of joining the Marines one day.  There's a long time before that could happen, but I can already see it in my mind.  I'm not going to lie, if he changes his mind before then, I'm probably not going to try to talk him back into it.  The idea scares me.

But if he doesn't change his mind, I will be honored.  I will support his decision.  I will sew on patches or pin on badges as long as he will let me, until some young woman takes my place.

And I will know that I've raised a fine young man.