“You are important”
Three simple words but they hold so much meaning and was the most important thing I could’ve heard today.
S didn’t say this until we were nearly 3/4 of the way into our session today but when it came, it hit me like a ton of bricks. The realization that he was right and that I had been beating myself up over things that I have no control over was overwhelming. It actually physically made me dizzy and it made me cry.
He repeated it a couple more times to make sure I heard it. It came in the context of my own struggles with not feeling like I am able to believe in my own self-affirmations and that I am unable to relax because of my flawed sense of perfectionism.
I told him that I’m so tired of trying of working so hard to not know when to stop. I don’t know my limits and I have never been told that I’ve done enough. I’ve never learned what it means to achieve success because I don’t know what success looks like. I’ve never been taught to know that at a certain point, the efforts I’ve put in are enough.
So because of that gap in my knowledge, I am unable to rest or stop working. I can never reach a stage in my life where I feel comfortable knowing that I have done more than I am capable of. So I burn myself out. I feel like I’ve reached a point this semester where I feel thoroughly burnt out – and I still have quite a number of semesters to go. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve enjoyed being in school tremendously and making the friends I needed but at the same time, when it comes to the workload, I’m also feeling extremely stretched thin. Like butter over too much bread.
I can’t imagine what my next semester will be like with its 14 credit hour load (I’m only at 12 at the moment). I’m told that with my mental condition and stresses, that 12 credit hours is more than enough on my plate (this was after I complained that I’m probably just too whiny as I’m not even doing that much).
Anyway… S and I worked through my issue with perfectionism, self-doubt and inability to believe in my own self-affirmations as I view them as mere words and lies that plenty of heaping evidence in my life can disprove. In short, I told S that I just can’t believe the things I tried to affirm myself with last week because they sound like a bunch of lies. For example, I had told myself last week that I was good in math. Then I tried to do some practice finals and realized that I couldn’t recall the information that I had learned about 2 months ago. Thus, I concluded that I was no good at math. So that self-affirmation was a lie in my mind. Then I told myself that I’m worth S helping me. That I am worth it. Then my mind found evidence that I wasn’t because if I was, then I wouldn’t keep crawling back to the familiarity of negativity and depression, would I? And on and on, this struggle continued this whole week.
Then I told him that I very much need other people to affirm me so that I can see that I am not just lying to myself. That I can tell myself, “See, other people think the world of you as well… You are what you just affirm yourself to be!”. I told him how important that is to me because last week he had told me that at some point in our lives, we need to realize that we can’t sustain ourselves on the affirmation of others and that we need to cultivate affirmation from within us. That we need to start telling ourselves that we are good people living difficult lives. So I was trying to counter his argument that I need to self affirm or at least learn to.
I then told him that it’s because of this need for third party affirmation that I can’t seem to find out what my limits are because though I do receive these affirmations from people, I am also never told what is good enough. I love my instructors but a lot of the times, I don’t receive the feedback I need to know what is a good work and what isn’t. I used the example of my final speech (I spoke about suicide prevention by the way), and told S that I never got feedback from my instructor except for the rubrics that he had marked the grade on. I lost 6 points out of the potential 60 and looking through the rubrics, I realized that I could have definitely improved on the parts that he had marked on. At the same time, the rubrics don’t tell me what I did good at. What I didn’t need to worry about anymore. I know part of it is that I need to communicate this desire to get feedback from my instructor but at the same time, I wish I could just get the answer I need.
With my math instructor, the only reason I don’t feel as stressed out about the final exam that is coming on Friday is because he made an almost throwaway comment during class one time last week and said, “There are 5 of you in class right now who have earned more than 100%. This means that you can get a C in your final and still finish this class with an A… The rest of you though… You need to work at it…”. I realized that I was one of the 5 that he was talking about. My current grade standing for Math is at 107.1% and I still had an extra credit exercise that I haven’t yet submitted which meant that I could slack off a little and still be fine. Now, this doesn’t mean I will of course. It just means I could.
I expressed this to S and told him that just a throwaway comment like that was enough to inform me what my limits are in Math. I told him that that’s really all I want from those I hold in authoritative positions in my life. It’s to tell me that “You have done enough”. In order for me to believe that I’m good, I need that.
S then asked me how I felt saying that – saying that it’s probably because of my math instructor’s throwaway comment that I’m not working as hard on my Math revisions. I thought about it and responded with, “I don’t know…” initially because I really didn’t want to think. I was tired. I am tired of thinking and analyzing.
But I didn’t want to let S down. So I thought about it more.
“A part of me is saying to me right now, ‘Are you sure? I mean, if you don’t do your revision, there could a question that comes up that you could’ve known how to do but forgot because you didn’t do your revision’ but another part of me feels relieved. I am so tired, S. I think I’m a little relieved to know that maybe I don’t need to focus so much on my math anymore… That maybe I need to focus on finishing my art installation project…”
“Good! That’s good! You have realized that you’ve done enough…” S exclaimed. It still feels great to hear him say, “Good” and he said it many times this session. His words of affirmation is almost like fuel for me – fuel to keep me going.
Then the most important part of today’s session occurred.
S said to me, “I only say this because I know you’re a Stargate fan. Do you remember this one episode somewhere in season 1? It’s called “Torment of Tantalus”. Do you remember that? Daniel had gone to this planet…”
“Yeah, and had met the guy… Ernest!”
“Yeah… Ernest. That’s right. And you remember what he was doing?”
“Yeah… Ernest was cataloging the star map or something. Trying to find the answers to the universe. And he kept going…” and I started to realize what S was getting at.
“Do you know Tantalus?”
“Yeah… He’s the guy who’s always reaching for something that can’t be reached. Something that’s always out of reach… Like the guy, Ernest. He was working so hard to unlock all the secrets… Then Daniel became like him too!! Daniel also wanted to stay and get all the answers… He needed to get them… You know, this reminds me of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.”
“Yeah the one with the Holy Grail…”
“Yeah! Elsa kept saying, ‘I can reach it… I can reach it…’ and her fingers kept brushing on the Grail. But then… She fell… She fell and died…” I started to get quiet because I started to realize what S was getting at. “Indy kept telling her to let go… To let it go… But then he fell and he did the same thing! He tried to reach it too! He kept saying, ‘I can reach it… I can reach it…’ and he almost could. He was slipping but his father called out to him with his real name, instead of saying “Junior”. And Indy snapped out of it and was saved… But you see… Indy had a third party there to tell him to stop. Daniel had Jack to grab him and take him back through the Gate. They had people there to tell them that they had done enough and that they can’t reach it. That it’s ok. See. That’s why it’s so important for me to have these people. To tell me that it’s time to stop…”
“Yeah. They had people there to tell them that they’ve done enough…”
I was crying at this point because I realized that the TV show that had meant so much to me and shaped my life as I went through puberty was again teaching me an important life lesson. I was crying because I realized that I identified so much with these characters. I know it’s extremely nerdy but we find meaning in things we care about right?
Then S said something that I hope I will never forget. The takeaway message that I hope will fuel me for the rest of my life.
“Another thing is… These people – Indy’s father, Jack – also told Indy and Daniel that what they were reaching for didn’t matter. That what they were trying to get aren’t important. That what’s important is you. You are important.”
The realization came crashing down on me. I realized that I had been working towards and invisible goal – a goal that I had set because I’m a glutton for punishment – but it all would be for nothing if I perished in the process of trying to reach for this goal. It also made me realize that it was a two-person process. That not only did Jack/Indy’s father have to reach out to help but that Daniel/Indy would also have to be willing to accept that help and be willing to concede that yes,they’ve done enough. That sometimes, you just can’t reach the thing you want. Had Daniel stayed on the planet that Ernest was on, he would’ve died because the structure that the Stargate was in was on a crumbling cliff. Had Indy continued to reach for the Grail, he would’ve fallen into the crevice. In both cases, they would’ve died and they still wouldn’t have reached their goals.
I get it now. I get what S and my husband and my close friend have been trying to tell me all this time. All it took was for S to speak in nerd language – a language that I understood. Only through seeing it from the perspective of fictional characters can I really come to terms with some of these important and difficult concepts. It’s strange, I know, but I think I relate more to fictional characters than I do with real people.
When I later told Hubster what S and I had talked about, he exclaimed, “Thank you! FINALLY someone was able to get through to you!”.
I’m thankful for S. I have been since I’ve met him but I just can’t express how grateful I am to have found a psychologist that I not only got along with from the get-go but also one that I could relate to on a nerd-level. Is it any wonder that I don’t want this therapeutic relationship to ever end? Of course, that’s another topic for another post.
I left the session today with a spring in my step. I felt a great boulder roll off my shoulders and for once in months and months since my depressive episode began, I was able to walk away from the CAPS building without looking back and pining for my psychologist. I was able to walk away without feeling lost, lonely and disoriented as I’ve been feeling for a while now. I had wanted to talk more about a few other things that were bothering me last week which had led to me checking the box that said “Very Distressed” on “How distressed have you been feeling?” on the BHM43 but realized that though they did bother me, that I think I am able to hold off on dealing with them until next time I see S again.
I’m amazed at how easy it is for someone to affect someone else positively – and vice versa. And I’m glad that I was able to have a positive day today for a change. It’s been too long since I last had a spring in my step.