Therapy started innocently enough with S’ comment on my shirt. I was wearing a shirt that featured the White Tree of Gondor prominently and designed to look like a beer label. He commented that this shirt was definitely his favorite out of all the geek shirts I’ve ever worn to therapy. I caught me off guard, to be honest. I expected him to note my shirt and maybe say something but I didn’t expect to hear that it was his favorite. Initially, I didn’t know how to respond but after gathering myself, I told him that I liked the shirt too and I picked it because I like Aragorn and Gondor.
That innocent start betrayed the sh*t that got real about halfway through the session. I had a pretty pleasant week last week – it was a mostly up week despite some of the down days. I didn’t think we’d be talking about anything that would really rock my world much. I figured I’d be talking about some of the more positive life lessons I’ve gleaned last week.
So I started by telling S that I am now officially 30. He wished me a happy birthday and I continued by telling him how I have learned that I now realize that I can no longer be anything but 30 because I certainly can’t go back to my twenties after all the things I’ve experienced and learned. I told him that this year itself, I’ve learned so much that I really cannot be anything but 30 – the more mature and “grown” version. He nodded his body language said that he thought that it was a good realization and a mature one.
Naturally, since the session started so positively, I moved on to other positive things I’ve learned this week – especially the things I’ve learned from the resilience workshop and the couples’ workshop. I expressed how I’ve been trying to change my communication styles and also practice being more empathetic. I told S about how nowadays I would actually use conversational cues that are outlined in the empathetic conversation “script” that I was given during the couples’ workshop. I would actually summarize what someone said/repeat it back to them to show active listening as well as use phrases like, “That must be hard” to validate the person I’m listening to. I told S that it felt good to do that because I feel like I’m showing some improvement to myself.
I also told him that I realize now that I’ve been mimicking him a lot and that the conversation style is quite unnatural and very “therapist-y”. I told him that when I saw the “script” at the couples’ workshop, I had shared with the group that I realize now that my psychologist uses similar kinds of cues and phrases. We laughed about that for a little bit and he quipped, “Oh you now know all my secrets…”. He told me that yes the active listening conversation style can be quite unnatural but that I shouldn’t try to speak like I’m a therapist. I told him that I wasn’t trying to do that at all but rather because I’ve been speaking to S for 7 months now, that I’m picking up his tone and style a lot. I told him that I sometimes feel like he’s my mentor and I’m learning interaction skills from him. I would have to ask him next week how he feels about me perceiving him as a mentor of sorts – I’m curious to know if it has any effect on his thoughts or not. I know that being someone’s mentor can be a daunting task.
Then somehow or other, we got to a point where I had said something quite revealing. I don’t know how we got there because I don’t remember what the context was but I had said something along the lines of, “…despite the damage my parents may have caused me…” – to which S responded with the question that changed the tone of the rest of the session. He asked me how it felt for me to say that – to acknowledge that my parents may have caused me some damage over the years.
My answer was quick – almost too quick – and words tumbled out of my mouth, “I feel guilty. I feel bad. I mean, they raised me. They are the reason I’m even here today…” referring to the fact that it was my birthday today. I then revealed to him that every year on my birthday, I write a Facebook status to thank my parents for their love and care. As I told him that, I realized that though I had probably began this “tradition” with a lot of loving emotions, since the first time, I had not really felt much emotion as I wrote them after that. It had become almost mechanical obligatory. After all, it was difficult for me to experience emotions other than anger and sadness.
I told S that I don’t much care for birthdays. I used to but then I think I stopped caring by the time I was 10. He looked surprised – as though that was one of the saddest things I could’ve ever told him. I mean, yes, it is kinda sad… A child who has lost hope in excitement and love? That’s how I sometimes feel. I don’t even really know why I stopped caring about birthdays – probably because I never really got any gifts and every time I would be excited, I would just get let down. The more excited I was, the harder the let down. So I stop myself from being excited. No excitement = no letdown.
I then said that I really didn’t look forward to my 30th birthday but felt obligated to talk about it and to express it since it’s a “big” birthday. I had a coworker who had been asking me about my birthday since 2 weeks ago and I had avoided his questions every time. “What’s your plan for the day?” – “Um, I don’t know” would be my answer every time. I didn’t want to think about my birthday and I didn’t want to be 30.
I told him too that I wanted to remove my birth date from Facebook so that only those who knew my birth date would be able to message me. I don’t enjoy all the attention from people as I often would feel guilty if someone I hadn’t spoken to in a while messaged me with a birthday wish. I would feel bad because it would mean that I had never made any time to talk to that person but that person made time to message me with a birthday wish. I also revealed that despite not wanting attention, a part of me also yearns for it – it craves being given attention and knowing that she’s special. So I have a conflict of interests – on one hand, the attention I get from people gives me great discomfort but on the other, I yearn to be seen, heard and understood. I don’t understand why.
I then shared several birthday messages that I had received today – a couple were intimate in the sense that the persons who wrote them told me that I was deeply missed, a fact that I had never been made aware of until now. It was then that I realized that I probably disliked my birthdays because on my birthday, I would realize how painful it was to miss family and friends; how painful it was to receive intimate messages with sentiments that I’ve never been aware of; how painful it was to have good memories of people that I may no longer be in contact with. I had started bawling as I shared these messages with S – I was so choked up, that several times, I had to stop to gather myself.
This wouldn’t be the first time S had seen me cry and I was sure it wouldn’t be the last – however, every time I do sob, I try to do it with the most modesty as possible. After all, I hate crying in front of people and almost no one outside of S, Hubster and really close family members have really seen me cry. With S though, I feel safe enough to be able to cry a little. I never look at him when I do though – I never want to know what his gaze at me would look like. It feels almost too raw and embarrassing for me to look at him as I sobbed. I know he never looks away throughout our session – I can always feel his gaze on me even when I’m not looking at him. Somehow, it feels comforting knowing that he is engaged.
I told him that I didn’t know why this was so hard – I didn’t expect the tears. They just came. My tears during therapy always have their own mind. They appear whenever they want and they often do even when I’m talking about something that I was convinced wasn’t something that hurt. He nodded and so I continued.
I told him about the same person who had told me that I was deeply missed – that the person had always been very aloof and so I never really knew them. We grew up together but despite that, I’ve never really gotten to know them as we drifted apart after we went to different schools. In fact, I can’t say that I know my family very well either. I told him that I tend to stonewall people and I often withdrew. S nodded because we’ve talked about my tendency to withdraw. It wasn’t anything new.
What was new to me was how I suddenly related this to my relocation from Malaysia and to my running away. I told him that I had run away from everyone and everything. I had felt free and great for the first month or so and then depression haunted me. I told him that I realized that I had been running away from myself all along. He noted that it seems like I use my depression like a shield and I hide behind it so that I don’t have to deal with feeling emotions or face my demons. I told him that it was a fascinating insight and that it might hold water because I do feel like I am addicted to my depression because I don’t want to have to actually live. Why live when I can blame everything on the depression? I know it’s quite a cop-out but hey, that’s how I feel.
I then hashed out my feelings about leaving again – this was a topic that I thought was dealt with and that we weren’t going to talk about ever again. I didn’t expect it to come up again. I didn’t expect to still feel so guilty and upset over the loose ends that I didn’t tie up before coming here. I didn’t expect that sudden anger I had over my heritage that led to my racist comment about Chinese people over on Facebook. I mentioned that to S and he nodded thoughtfully.
I stopped to take a breath and to gather myself. S took this as a cue for him to offer his insight. He told me that I need to validate myself and to tell myself that the decision I made to leave was made for me – that it was the right thing to do then, for myself. That it was okay for me to be selfish and to move on because I was taking care of me. He told me that I didn’t need to feel guilty over leaving because what I did was right and good. He also said that I shouldn’t blame myself for not tying up the loose ends because everyone else also had a responsibility to help me tie up those ends.
I told him that I was afraid that people have been trying to reach me but because of my own anger and ego, I had rejected them. What if I was the one who’s been rejecting them all this time and my mind makes me believe that no one cares about me and that no one wants to communicate with me? What if I am the one who doesn’t want to keep in touch and because I’ve rejected people so much, they no longer want to try and keep in touch? I told him that I don’t know those things and that I will never know unless I reconnect with the people I left behind. I don’t know if I have the emotional ability to do that right now. It feels all too painful.
S told me then that he doesn’t want to overwhelm me with more things but he does want me to recognize my heritage as part of who I am and that we both need to work on reclaiming that part of my identity. He assured me that we will work on my pace but also affirmed me by telling me that I am doing lots of hard work outside of therapy to try and understand myself better. He told me that I am very motivated (implying that a lot of people usually aren’t?) and that I actually read and research stuff outside of sessions so I’m actually moving along at a quick pace. No wonder I’m so exhausted all the time.
Near the end of the session, I told him that I’m beginning to realize now that I may never get the parental validation I have been yearning and craving for all this time. I told him that I’m getting to a point where I feel like maybe I can be comfortable with validation from others and also myself. S told me in a very empathetic way, that ultimately, our validation should come from ourselves. We need to validate ourselves first before we can validate others. I told him that I am beginning to realize that I am now surrounded by people who affirm and validate me daily – from my husband, to my friends, to this online blog community and to him. I told him in the steadiest voice, “You validate me” – and for once, I didn’t feel the extreme embarrassment I usually do when I say things like that to people. I immediately noted that to him and we both marveled at the fact that I was able to say that without wishing for the ground to swallow me up.
I then ended my side of things by telling him of one last validating message someone had written on Facebook today for my birthday – in that this person had said that he, and many others, are so proud of all the things I’ve achieved and that I’ve indeed achieved much. I choked up again too here and was almost unable to continue. To verbalize those words was somehow difficult – I guess facing the fact that you’re worth it can be quite daunting to someone who’s never really been told that they’re worth it.
I learned a lot about myself today. I learned that I had just been hiding a lot of things and not facing them – that it took my birthday to uncover the fact that I was even hiding anything. I realized that it’s the times when I think I’m safe and that I don’t need to work so hard that the hardest work is required. I realized that it’s easy to withdraw and to run away but if I continue to do that, that I’ll never advance or change. I’ll still be miserable. I also learned that self-validation and self-empathy will be key to my recovery and that I have started taking steps towards communicating better as well as being more empathetic towards others. Though I had cried very hard today – unexpectedly – I didn’t leave feeling like things were half finished. I’m sure there are more things I need to process from today’s session but I at least didn’t leave feeling empty.
The emptiness came after – today had just been a difficult day. Between trying to respond to all my messages to the realization that my birthday held more significance to my mental health than I had previously anticipated to the unexpected bout of rage I had gotten at around 5.30pm today to the dinner I had gone out on and had subsequently drank alcohol at, I am all kinds of exhausted. I’m also feeling deeply distressed because of all that. Maybe I just need to go to bed and start fresh tomorrow but with the knowledge that I had done something stupid involving a pair of scissors a couple of hours ago, it’s hard to go to bed. I thought I was past all that low. S had noted that my pre-session questionnaire is reflecting an upwards pattern which he was glad to see. I definitely self-sabotage. I know that but that didn’t stop me from reaching for those scissors.
I’m ok now though. But now I’m wondering if I need to go to CAPS again for yet another walk-in session before the week is over for me. When am I being too needy? I’ve been to a walk-in session twice now and it’s always been a day after I’ve already seen S. Am I just taking advantage of the fact that there is such a resource? I’ll be seeing my psychiatrist on Friday as well – I’m betting that she would again want to convince me to take anti-depressants, especially if she knew that I had self-harmed again.
I really want to say that I’m ok. Yet, why do I keep self-sabotaging?
Note: This was supposed to be published on Nov 17, but since it took me so long to type it up, the date stamp will say Nov 18.