So this is the third time this semester that I’ve had to utilize CAPS’ walk-in hours. I know I always preface it that way because of my own guilt and insecurities about going in to CAPS on a day that I’m not scheduled to. Note that this post will be slightly disjointed as I wasn’t really paying attention to much of the details of my conversation with the psychologist – I was in too much distress for the first half of our conversation anyway.
This is also an extremely long post just because I am writing this as a sort of journal entry for me as well. So bear with me – this is almost like a play-by-play.
The first thing I said to the receptionist today was, “Hi D, I bet you’re tired of seeing my face so much!”. She, in her usual bubbly cheerful manner, said, “Of course not! Not at all!”. She made me feel a little better about my decision to go. I asked her, “Does S have on-call hours today?”. She checked her computer and I was pleased to hear that he does have on-call hours right that very moment.
I was relieved that I would be able to speak to S. I like all the other staff psychologists – don’t get me wrong – but today, I felt like I needed to see my own more than anyone else.
Along the way to CAPS, my jerk brain told me that I should just deal and that I really had no reasons to go. It was raining so I walked really fast and that was what saved me from turning back. By the time I got to CAPS, the voice had died down – probably because it knew that I wasn’t going to listen. I told myself that if the waiting room is empty, that I’ll not feel so bad about seeing S – because it means that he would have had no clients then.
We went through the usual paperwork and I waited a few minutes for S to walk out of his office to greet me. It was the usual short walk down the hallway and he greeted me with, “Welcome back!”. I gave him a wry smile and a cynical kind of chuckle of “Uhuh… Yeah… I’m back…”.
He sat at the edge of his seat as I settled in and said, “Well, something must have happened between yesterday and today, huh?”
He was his usual friendly and comforting self. I was feeling extremely guilty as I settled myself in. I felt like I was wasting his time, that I shouldn’t be there, that I am taking advantage of the on-call hours, that I’m just being a big whiny baby etc. So it took me a few minutes to start into the conversation. It was tough but once the words started coming, I kept going. I told him about what happened yesterday with the alcohol, with feeling overwhelmed from all the birthday messages, from how I felt after leaving our session yesterday. I told him that I had left the session feeling okay – that I would be fine for the next few days until I see him again. Yet somehow, here I am.
I told him about how I had tried to refuse the alcohol my coworkers insisted I partake in, how I didn’t really want to go out anyway but felt obligated to because I am bad at saying no and finally succumbed to peer pressure and went anyway. I told him how much I had refused the drink because I had school today, I had a math quiz I hadn’t studied for and that I don’t even drink. I told him that all that fell to deaf ears and a martini arrived in front of me. I said, in a bitter tone and with a bitter laugh, that hey, I didn’t have to drink it, right?
He reasoned that well, the drink was right in front of you. It would be hard to refuse. S is really my greatest advocate. He is always on my side. I really like that. I know from all my past experience that S is always going to be on my side. It’s a good feeling to know that there will always be someone there for me.
I told him that after dinner, I slipped into a deep depression that had no real basis to even happen. I told him I didn’t understand it but that in that moment, I could’ve attempted suicide. I was so low that I could’ve done something drastic. S looked concerned. He never left the edge of his seat. I know now that his body language to show that he is concerned and really listening is when he sits at the edge of his seat. This observation of him is confirmed because the longer we talked, the further he would slide into his seat. He would only do that when he’s sure that I was feeling better.
I said that at that moment in time, if I had had the means, I think I would’ve done it. He asked me what I would’ve done – I said that I would’ve probably used a knife. I told him that I couldn’t see the point in living – that I even told my husband that I wish that I had never been born. I had alerted to Hubster to the fact that I was suddenly feeling extremely depressed but didn’t tell him that I was in fact, contemplating actually attempting suicide. I knew that he would be extremely sad and I knew that if I did something like that, I would cause him a lot of hurt and pain. So the rational side of me was still functioning – thankfully. When we got home, Hubster did his own thing, while I did my own thing. I was in my office, trying to study for my math test but I couldn’t help but feel hopeless and helpless. I couldn’t focus and I couldn’t understand what I was studying. I felt extremely down, still.
The initial feeling of extreme suicidal desire had passed but this time, it was replaced with the intense feeling of self-harm. I resisted for a while and tried to use blogging as a means of coping with how I was feeling. I tried to reach out to several individuals to see if I could talk to them but no one was really online to do so. I felt lost and alone at that point. And I had reached for the scissors and carved my arm. Thankfully, though my irrational side had control of the scissors, my rational side still had control over how hard I was pressing down on my skin. I left an angry red line on my arm but thankfully didn’t draw blood.
As soon as I did that, I felt stupid. I felt like as an adult, I should’ve been able to control myself better. That I was just self-sabotaging. However, at the time, I think what I wanted and needed most was to feel like I was in control again. Everything was beyond my control – and the alcohol had triggered an extremely chaotic feeling in me. I felt that succumbing to peer pressure and not being heard when I said “no” took control out of my hands and everything just spiraled from there.
I told S that a part of me had also done it because I wanted to keep myself in the loop of self-punishment. S said that it sounds like what J (the previous on-call clinician I had seen) had noted before too – that I often invalidate myself after finding the answer or finding some peace of mind. I agreed. I told S that I felt like that part of me that wants to keep myself in my depression is the part of me that’s addicted to that pain. I told him that using the analogy of him and I working together to take down the walls I’ve put up around me, that every time S breaks the walls down, I frantically try to patch it back up again and put it back up. I told him that it was almost cartoon-like if he could imagine it. I guess he could because we both had a good chuckle at that.
He then asked me a serious question. He asked, “So what is it that you’re afraid of if your walls come down?”
I thought of it for a moment. Then I replied, “I am afraid of how vulnerable I’ll feel. I’ll be standing there, exposed. You know how the opposite of depression is vitality? Well, I think I’m afraid to live because I don’t want to live. I am afraid of living. Of actually having to live…”
I don’t know what response I had elicited in S at that point but I felt that it was a truth that I was also discovering for the first time, myself. I was afraid of life and want desperately to escape it – like how I desperately wanted to escape growing older.
I told S that I feel like I don’t deserve help because I am self sabotaging and that I’m addicted to my depression. I don’t deserve the help I’m getting because I’m squandering it away. That S could be using his time to help someone who actually wants to be helped. I told him that not everyone has the chance to go to therapy. I do and yet, I’m not working hard enough to get better because a part of me doesn’t want to get better. When I get better, I feel like no one will care anyway. Recovery is anticlimactic. I told him that maybe I’m just not working hard enough, not good enough, not enough. That my husband deserves better. That there might be others who would need the walk-in sessions more than I did.
I realize that all the things I just wrote there are things that I’ve talked about countless times on this blog – I know that. That’s why it’s extra frustrating because I still can’t change that part of me. Perhaps I’m pushing myself too hard.
S then said to me, “You know Jules… Even if you’re here right now with a knife on your wrist and you’re about to kill yourself, you will still be telling me that you don’t think that you need to be here to talk to me because you will still tell me that there are others in worse positions. Do you see what I mean? You’re so hard on yourself. You beat yourself up. You’ve had a good week before this and because of this little bump, your perfectionist side kicked in and now you blame yourself for everything…”
He was right.
I then told him how thankful I was that it was him who was meeting me and not another psychologist because I felt that the other psychologists probably think that I must just be super needy for always coming in (I know in reality this is only the third time). I told him that the past couple of times that I had come in, Y and J both had said something along the lines of “So you’ve been seeing S for a while, haven’t you?” – I told S that I know they didn’t mean anything by it and that what they said wasn’t a judgment on me and how much I come in to therapy, but at the same time, my mind couldn’t help but take that to mean that I am extremely needy. S asked me if I felt like the psychologists were judging me. I said that I knew that they weren’t but that yes, I did feel that way.
S then assured me that it was ok for me to come in – especially when I’ve been struggling so much. He told me that I need to recognize that I have been in a bad place and that the walk-in hours are available for me to utilize precisely because I can’t cope.
I told him that you’d think that I’d be able to start coping by myself by now. That I shouldn’t just run to CAPS every time I have a panic attack or have a hard time. I told him that I need to eventually take these training wheels off, right?
He then summarized my situation really well – so well that I was stunned at how good the summary was and how I hadn’t been able to see it. He said, “You had been feeling overwhelmed by your birthday – by all the messages you had been receiving. You were reminded of things that you didn’t want to think about and you had left our session feeling vulnerable. You then went for a social gathering that you weren’t up for. To top it all off, you had alcohol – you can’t tolerate alcohol, as you’ve told me. You are also struggling with depression and alcohol is a depressant. The alcohol triggered you and you’re not a very large person which meant that the alcohol probably affected you more than you thought it would…”
I was silent for a little while as I contemplated his words.
“You had the recipe for a perfect storm…”
I nodded, “Yeah… Yeah… That’s a good summary…” as I thought about how true everything he said was. “When you put it that way…….. Well, I guess I never thought of it that way… That I had a lot going on all at once…” I really had never realized just how much was on my plate yesterday. All I could focus on was how wimpy I was and how I couldn’t control myself.
S asked me if I was still suicidal. I said that I was just contemplating the height of the building we were in just as he asked me that. I then shook my head because I felt like I was just so weak. It was a “tsk tsk” kind of head shake. He asked me then how we can keep me safe.
I told him that the last time I was speaking to J, he had asked me what my big picture was. What was it that I could focus on to help me through the week. I had said then that knowing that my husband had been planning a surprise for me in April is my big picture. I told S today that I remember that conversation with J but despite knowing that that was my big picture, it doesn’t comfort me this time. S asked me then what could be my big picture this time. I shrugged.
Then for some reason, I told him that as a Christian person who believes that I will be in heaven when I die, that I really don’t know what my motivation is to live. I said that I wanted to be with God – to be away from this life because of so much suffering I’ve to endure. “I struggle to make ends meet, struggle through school, trying to get a better job and so on. Why wouldn’t I want to die and be with God?” I reasoned with S. “What motivation do I have to live? What’s the point?” I bitterly said. S repeated me and said, “So your issue is with existentialism? That you don’t know what your purpose is in this life?”
I nodded and said, “Yes. What’s the point of all this suffering?”
S then thought for a moment and then asked me the most important question he could’ve asked me today. “Jules. What is God’s purpose for you?”
Initially, I was confused. How am I supposed to know? I’m not God! And I wanted to ask him to explain his question. But I was silent for a moment as I thought about his question.
I told him that I’ve been slacking off on reading the Bible and praying. That I can’t imagine myself as having any real purpose in this life. Why would God have a purpose for me when I’m not even keeping up with what I should gladly be doing as a Christian? But then another thought hit me.
It was the memory of the time when a couple had come in to eat and had sat at my section. They had asked me about my tattoos and inexplicably, despite being extremely busy, I decided to share with them my story. What ended up happening was how grateful they were for my sharing and that it helped them because they have a teenaged daughter who is struggling with mental illnesses. (Here’s a longer version of the story if you haven’t read it: My Purpose to Share My Story). I told S that on that day, I had an existential crisis as well – that I had questioned my purpose and my answer had come hours later when the couple asked me to share my story. I then told him that maybe I’m still alive because God wants me to keep sharing my story and keep helping people. Maybe I’m still here because there are still more to be reached.
I think this was the point in our session today that the heavy clouds parted and a stream of light started to shine through. S had successfully disrupted my negative thinking and was helping me build resilience.
I was stunned at this realization and sat there for a little while in stunned silence. S seemed satisfied at my discovery. The feeling of hopelessness and my desire to do various things to hurt myself diminished.
I then shared with S my new passion for mental health awareness, especially on campus and talked about how I want to give back to CAPS for all the good it has done for me. I said that I really feel a passion deep within me to help spread awareness. He asked me if I really felt that way and that if it’s really something I wanted to do. I said that it was. I told him that I used to be one of those people who stigmatized the mentally ill – until I became mentally ill myself. Now I feel like I need to “atone” for my “sins” – not literally of course, just in a manner of speaking. I told him that I even contemplated switching majors to psychology but realized that it would be a very long journey before I would even be able to do what I want.
S then said, “You’re very talented in many areas. You have passion in so many things like art, computer science and so on. You could use those talents in lieu with this… There are organizations out there you could join to help fight the stigma and to raise awareness like NAMI…”
I agreed with him.
Then I told him about how I applied to be a “Peer Educator” and that I really want to bring the conversation of mental health to campus and to normalize it. I also said that I think that I’m finally ready to join group therapy to supplement my time with him. I told him that I wondered if he would be asking me to enroll in group therapy the next time he saw me. He laughed, pretended like he was super disappointed that I have beat him to it, “Oh dang. I was going to ask you that a few weeks from now… But you are bringing it up now! Doing my job and all…” I almost want to write this sentence with a “:P” emoticon at the end of the sentence because of how tongue-in-cheek S can be sometimes.
I told him that I feel like group therapy could be a good way for me to get my “fix” of having someone to talk to throughout the week. He affirmed that and told me that in group, the psychologist in charge will help each participant evaluate their responses to others and practice social skills in a controlled and safe setting so that the participants can use what they’ve learned for outside interactions. He told me that with my social anxiety and with my severe self-doubt, that it’ll be good for me to hear the perspectives of my “peers” – that is to hear the same things said to me from someone other than a therapist. Maybe some day I could be trained to help facilitate one of these groups too – that would be awesome.
S and I also talked about our boundaries. I had brought up to him my fear that I was overstepping boundaries by emailing him outside of sessions. I had asked him yesterday if it was ok for me to email him and I had been rude in assuming that I could. He agreed that we had not established said boundaries and that he can’t say yes or no for sure because of how tricky the situation can be. He asked me why it was important to me that I email him.
I told him that I realize now that in my mind, I see him like he’s my father and I said, “I mean I know our age difference isn’t that big… But I mean like you’re my father-figure. You’re like my mentor. Someone in authority over me. And just writing to you even when I don’t get replies, gives me enough hope for me to last the rest of the week… I know you’re busy so I don’t really expect replies…”
“You don’t?” S seemed surprised.
I then told him that I really don’t because I don’t want to be let down. If I don’t have any expectations, then I won’t be let down. I also explained to him my anxiety when I email him. I always feel like I’m doing something wrong. He asked me if he’s ever let me down.
It was a hard question for me to answer. My immediate response was “No” but I knew that that was a lie because he has. When he doesn’t email me back, I do feel let down. Then I said, “Well… Maybe… Yeah… Probably the first time…” – I then told him how embarrassing it was to even bring this issue up because I feel so child-like. I feel ashamed to admit that I need my psychologist through the week. That it’s almost like a child needing their comfort blanky.
I also told him that I’ve observed my body language when I’m talking to him about something embarrassing. I told him that I would look away – especially if I’m about to say something that I’m ashamed of. I would also pause for a long time as I try to delay the inevitable. He told me that he would have to watch for those body language cues. I guess now I know why he never takes his eyes off me when we’re in session – he’s not only actively listening, he’s also searching for body language cues.
Near the end of the session, S normalized alcohol for me and told me that regardless of what people tell me about it, that alcohol is a depressant and would cause someone like me to have impaired judgment that could result in death by suicide. He felt that it was important that I know that so that I can stop beating myself up over the fact that I had cut myself. That I was essentially unable to control myself – it’s ironic since I did what I did because I had wanted to exert some form of control. He also told me that though he knows it’s hard for me (since I have difficulty confronting people and asserting my requests), that should something like this (being offered alcohol) happen again, that I need to clearly state that though I appreciate the gesture, that due to my depression that it’s really not a good idea for me to drink. He said that people don’t usually realize that someone with depression can be driven to suicide by the impaired judgment caused by alcohol.
It wasn’t until after I stepped out of his office that I realized that I had spent about an hour and 10 minutes with him today. This definitely had to be one of the longest sessions we’ve ever had. He had allowed me to speak about a lot of different things and I can’t even recall some of the things we talked about to be recorded here. It felt much more liberating than our regular sessions, for some reason. I think it might be because I was allowed to process my thoughts until we reached a point where the crisis has passed whereas with regular sessions, we were on strict time limits.
Anyway, S told me that it was good that I had come in to talk to him – that I did the right thing. He assured me that if I need to, that I could email him.
I went in today feeling heavy and full of despair. I wanted to die. I left feeling much lighter and so much more liberated. I was finally able to break the cycle of negative thoughts. I later experienced a couple of things that really tied in to what we talked about with my life purpose but that will have to be another post.
CAPS is a lifesaver and I’m just so thankful to have the services I needed. Had I not gone to see S today, I might have cut myself again.