Thoughts from Group – The Pain of Admission

When J asked where we’d like to start, I said that I would because I wanted some feedback. So I started to explain some context about my selves – about how I have a conflict between the Adult and the Child selves. I also talked about something that I’ve found too embarrassing and even shameful to say – that I feel like I should be entitled to getting help from people, that I think that this world is so unfair, and that because I’ve had many traumas in my life, and that my life has been so difficult and painful, that I deserve to get help, that I deserve people to cut me some slack, and that I deserve a better life. I talked about how financial strain has caused me to reflect on how angry and bitter I am at my life – to be left with a $10K credit card debt, to not have money to do anything I need to do (and now that I don’t have any shifts at the restaurant, to feel like I’m going to be homeless as soon as I run out of my savings), to not be able to focus all that well in school because I had other adult responsibilities, and so on. I told the group how ashamed I feel and how guilty I feel for saying that I want attention. That I sometimes do things to get attention or to elicit sympathy and empathy.

A couple of the group members chimed in and told me that I shouldn’t feel ashamed for being who I am. That I shouldn’t be ashamed to feel like I deserve the things that I’ve mentioned. Brandon talked about how his life had been similar and how he could relate because of how horrible his life has been as well. Then he said that he got over it by learning to love himself better – that he was able to come up with reasons why he does deserve to be treated fairly, that he does deserve to be loved, and that he should never have to be ashamed of himself.

One of the new girls, let’s call her Kayla, told me that she’s a realist and that the way she sees it, that I shouldn’t expect so much from people because then I set myself up for disappointment. She also said that no one is entitled to anything except to be accepted as a human being. Beyond that, we are to make our own life. That we are not to expect help from anyone. She said that she will admit that she comes from a supportive middle-class well-off family and have never suffered from anything traumatic in her life so she didn’t know if her views are just her being a realist, or if it’s her privilege talking. I didn’t feel mad at her though I did feel a slight pull to argue, and to point out that she isn’t even trying to empathize. I refrained myself because I didn’t want to derail our current conversation and get into that. I wanted to get to the bottom of my issue first. I was being selfish.

About 45 minutes into the session, we were still analyzing my situation, analyzing my thoughts and emotion. J, the lead facilitator, chimed in and said, “I don’t know about you guys but I’m currently feeling like you’re not present. Like the things that you’re talking about are not here in this room but rather somewhere out there… Correct me if I’m wrong but does anyone else feel that way?”

I nodded because I realized that I had been distancing myself from the subject. That the way I had expressed my issue and how I’d asked for feedback had been devoid of emotion. I didn’t have any emotion in my voice except for one where I was playing an analytical scientist role. At that point, I knew that I was consciously doing it. I didn’t want to go near the emotions that was related to me feeling like I’m entitled to some attention, care, love, and help from others. Those emotions were messy because aside from the shame (which in itself is already a huge beast to slay), I also had feelings of guilt, anger, bitterness, betrayal, sadness, and confusion all mixed in.

I admitted that I didn’t want to feel any emotion.

Kyle, the guy that I had had a conflict with a while ago, offered his opinion. He said that the group had been dancing around the issue, and no one is really going to the root of things – that people are content to hear my issues, and then just analyze them and find out what they can do to help fix things. He talked about how he’s noticed this happening a lot more with group lately. That we are no longer willing to do the hard work of feeling the emotions we need to feel.

J asked, “How are you feeling towards Jules right now?”

I prepared myself to feel angry at Kyle because of how in the past, he’s never been willing to connect to me. I thought about how I knew what he would feel – that for sure, he would just dismiss my feelings the way he’s always done.

He didn’t. Instead he said, “I can see why you would feel like it’s a shameful thing. I mean… As you were talking, I realized that I do this too… That I also don’t want to feel that. That I wish people would just see my situation as well. How I’m just trying so hard and nobody realizes what I struggle with… I do it too…”

J encouraged Kyle to explain what ‘that’ was.

“Admitting that I want care and concern. That I want that too…” He said, after some hesitation.

I felt my heart fill with emotions. I started to cry because as I’d explained it to the group moments later, “My emotions are catching up and I’ve been keeping them at bay. But what Kyle said has unleashed them…”

I told the group that I felt the connection that Kyle was trying to make. That although I appreciate hearing the more philosophical, and more analytical arguments/suggestions from the others because I am myself so analytical, that I really did appreciate Kyle’s empathy. I didn’t expect it. I felt a warmth emanating from him.

J then offered how she felt that Kyle had come such a long way. That initially when group had started, he had seemed very stand offish, and that he didn’t care about emotions. That he wasn’t at group because he wanted to feel anything. She then pointed out how much he’s grown and how different he is now.

I then agreed with J because I was going to tell Kyle the same exact thing too – that I see a difference in him. He definitely has changed his perspective. I felt a little tug of anger, and jealousy as I said so. I didn’t like that J always paid him compliments like that. I wanted some of that too.

A little later, Kyle took over the topic because we had beaten the dead horse with mine. He talked about how he feels like he’s not cared for, that his friends don’t understand him, or try to empathize. He said that his friends just give him quick answers. And that he recently had been having a pull to feeling like he needs to get back together with his ex. As I listened to him, I realized that what he was saying isn’t too far from what I feel. I wanted to blurt out, “You’re going through something very similar to me!” but didn’t.

J then told Kyle how she felt like Kyle had a good way of bringing the group back to the processing piece of group. That somehow every week, he was just so good at doing that. It was interesting that J had mentioned that.

I said, “I agree with you, J!! I was just going to say that. That he’s the last person I expected to do this. I mean, judging from how he was in the beginning, I really didn’t think he would be the one who would be bringing everyone back on track every week. I think it’s so awesome!” I said. I started feeling empty. That what I was saying was just so forced. That I was trying to find some positivity instead of showing my grudge and bitterness towards him. “Although, a part of me does feel jealous. I mean, not jealous in a bad way, but envious I guess… I’m envious and I wish I could be good at that too”

“What’s that?” J asked me.

“Um, to be good at bringing the group back to processing. To be able to process and to know what that’s like…” I said. I felt myself burn with envy. And how I wished that J had told me something so powerful too – that I play a pivotal role in creating a positive time for group. “You know, Kyle, I feel like we are both going through so much that are similar. As you were talking, I thought to myself, ‘You know… You’re not that much different from me at all…’ and I realized that we really aren’t… I guess that’s why in the past, when we had that conflict, I felt so upset because I felt like you were just constantly pushing me away. I was trying to connect but you weren’t letting me. So I felt like I was getting the impression that you just didn’t want either of us to be the same. Like there’s something wrong with us being the same…”

Kyle reacted in a surprised manner. He looked like he was going to disagree.

The new girl, Kayla, interrupted.

“Can I just say just how much I loved that? That interaction was amazing! It was so sweet to see that. Wow… That was so cool how you were able to tell him all those things!” she’d said.

As she spoke, I felt a huge tug in my gut. I realized that I needed to recant my words. I needed to be truthful and I felt that it was time. I had been carrying the anger and bitterness around for 3 semesters now. It’s time for me to let it go. So I mustered up all the courage I had, and threw caution to the wind.

I said, interjecting Kayla as soon as she stopped, “Actually Matt… I want to take back what I said. I just realized, as Kayla was talking, that I want to take it back… The part I want to take back is the part where I said that I felt like you were constantly pushing me away because you don’t want to be like me” I hesitated. I was trying to find the right words but couldn’t. I didn’t want him to be mad at me. But then the other part of me said to myself, Just go for it. The worst that could happen is that he’ll stop talking to you.

So I did. “Kyle, I realize now that the reason why I said that is not because you were trying to push me away, but it’s because I was. I didn’t like you. I mean, not 100% didn’t like you because we do have good interactions, but I think in general, I just didn’t like you. I felt that your point of view was different than mine and how you approached empathy was so jarring for me that I felt like you were attacking me. I was wrong to say that and to put it on you because I realize now that it’s on me. I was projecting all these things on you because I didn’t want to change my views to look at yours. I wanted you to conform to me but since you didn’t, I was angry and bitter. I have been holding a secret grudge against you since we’ve met. I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed, but I have. And I know that it hasn’t been overt but I want to apologize. It wasn’t right. And now I feel differently towards you. Today, when you reached out to me, I felt a connection. I felt like you were really trying to feel how I felt. I realize now that I had been bitter for no reason. I didn’t want to tell you this because I was afraid too. I was afraid that now that I’m being real with you, and telling you exactly how I’ve always felt, that since this is the beginning of a better relationship, that it would end because you’d be mad at me for saying all these things. I’m afraid of potentially losing this relationship because now I actually like you. And I realize that we’re not that different after all. I think the reason why I had not liked you before was because of how I realize that we are not actually pretty alike. And I hated that because I don’t like myself. So seeing how you are just like me, I hated you because I hated myself. I get that now. I’m expecting you to be mad at me…”

Kyle looked extremely shocked. J gave me the impression that she was smiling on the inside, and that she had not expected that either.

“How do you feel, Kyle? To hear that from Jules?”

Kyle was flabbergasted. He couldn’t speak for a few moments. When he finally did he said, “I feel… A happiness in me. I feel happy that she said that to me. I never knew she had a grudge on me. I feel happy… This is what I’ve been wanting all along. I want people to be this way…”

“To be brutally honest?” J asked.

“Yeah! To just tell me how I really am. How they perceive me. I am happy because she told me exactly how she’s been perceiving me. I mean, I don’t know how to react to it yet… I’d have to think about it… But yeah… Wow… I didn’t know that at all. I’d rather someone tell me something like this than to pretend to like me!” Kyle said.

“How did it feel to hear that, Jules?”

“I’m glad that you didn’t take it badly, Kyle. It wasn’t my intention to start a conflict. I just felt a strong pull to say that. To let you know that… I also feel relieved because I’d been holding on to that for so long. That being real makes me feel better. I no longer feel the anger, and grudge the way I used to. And I hope that we can now be real friends. But I understand if you wouldn’t want that because I did say some horrible things…”

“You don’t seem to trust Kyle’s words…” J said.

“Well, not fully. I mean, part of me is hopeful that going forward things will be better, but at the same time, another part of me thinks that he’ll be angry. I mean, if someone told me something like that, maybe I’d be angry at them…” I said.

Then our attention turned to Brandon. I don’t know how we’d transitioned but we did. I wiped up all my tears, felt so much relief. It felt like I had let go of a heavy burden and now I’m able to walk better.

We started to talk about Brandon. He kept talking about the presidency issues, the civil right issues that are going on right now, and about how the world and society is just messed up. How he wishes he could just fix everything. He talked about how angry he is at the idiots who support Trump, and how paranoid he feels of his life now because of his LGBTQ+ status. I empathized. I knew how he felt. It’s painful. He also talked about how misanthropic he feels – how he just wants to withdraw and stop connecting with anyone. He also talked about how depressed, hopeless, confused, and desperate he was. He told us that he just doesn’t think that he can ever find such a vulnerability. He said that he was jealous of the vulnerability that both Kyle and I had showed each other. “I’m like an outsider looking in on that interaction, and here I am wishing that I could have that too… I don’t feel like I can feel that way. I’m just so unable to feel any kind of vulnerability…”

Kayla interjected and told him that she doesn’t believe that such a thing could ever be lost. Brandon snapped back at her and told her that he’s hard a difficult traumatic life. That his vulnerabilities had been beaten away by his rageful alcoholic father. That he just can’t feel anything a normal person can. I felt his pain. I realized where he was coming from. Brandon was standing in his own little island – wanting desperately to connect with people but also at the same time, vehemently denying that he wants anyone to care for him. He was concerned for humanity and the way we’re headed. He talked about his philosophies of life and how there are just so many simple solutions that if man were smart enough, they would realize how to fix our shitty lives. He started to float back into the upper strata of philosophizing this life, and society, etc. It was a good intellectual discussion topic, but J insisted that we stay down on Earth where all the feelings were.

Brandon was angry that J kept asking him how he felt and made him reconnect back to his emotions every time he floated up into the world of philosophy. I felt so bad for him. I see how hard he is working – how much of his passion is expended on trying to make people see the truth. How disappointed, and disillusioned he is with life, and with people. I get it because I used to be the same exact way. I felt a tug to tell him how I really felt about him though.

“I have something to say. And I wasn’t going to tell you at first but I figured since I’ve already been negative and said such horrible things to Kyle, why the heck not?”

Jenny sighed loudly and said, “Oh no…”

“Well as you were talking, I thought about something. And this might make you really mad but uh… I was thinking about how you sound like all those preachers who come to campus and tell people they’re going to hell. But instead of those things, you’re telling people they need to be vegan, and that they need to be awake to the political things that are happening… You’re out there screaming at people and no one gives you any care. And all you want is some recognition that you’ve worked hard. That you’ve done so much. It’s so lonely being there by yourself screaming at people who don’t care. It’s so painful… I totally see where you are and feel how you feel. It really really sucks…” I said.

“How did you hear that, Brandon?” J asked.

Brandon looked angry.

“It was painful. It was painful to hear that because I now have a similarity with the people I hate. The preachers I hate so much. I don’t like that. It’s definitely so painful…” Brandon said. Then as he mused some more, he started to philosophize again.

Kayla and Jenny jumped in to try and fix things for Brandon. I felt like it was too soon for them to do so. I felt like no one was pointing out the obvious.

“Okay, I have something else to add. It’s another bad thing. I mean, I hope not… But it kinda is, I think…” I said. I started to tremble.

“You seem like you’re having a hard time, Jules” J said.

“Yes I am! I’m shaking!” I said. I took a deep breath and just said it. “You know, it definitely sucks being there by yourself. To see others and to see the whole picture but no one else does. When no one else agrees with you. Yeah, it’s super hard… But… Uh… But…. Have you ever… I mean… What would it be like if you stepped down from the pedestal? I mean, yeah, I know it’s scary. It’s super scary because you don’t know what’s down here. But what if you tried? If you step down from the pedestal, then you can stop seeing everyone from just the perspective of someone really high up, but rather, face-to-face. Right now, all you see are everyone’s heads. How is that connecting to anyone?”

“That’s vulnerability!” J exclaimed as I said what I said.

Tears sprang to my eyes again and I started sobbing in my seat. I was terrified of saying that – to tell Brandon to get off his high horse and join us down here.

“Yeah!” I exclaimed too. I was afraid that this was the last time I’d speak to Brandon again.

“Well, it’s painful to hear that. And I don’t know if I can do that anyway. If I were to go to an activism group, no one would know me. I make things awkward for others. I don’t have any social skills. What if my friends don’t want to go with me? Yeah, I’ve also been doing meditation. You know, trying out some self-love because I know that will help…”

I was a little disappointed that Brandon didn’t catch my meaning – or perhaps he did and was trying even more to not feel it. To not feel my hand reaching out to him.

Jenny tried to help. She told Brandon that it seems like he’s just speeding off somewhere and that he’s not stopping to see the signs even though both Kyle, and I have been trying to reach him. That he’s not willing to pull over and get the help he needs.

Brandon’s anger flared up and he snapped, “What would you have me do?! I’m stressed, shut down, angry, depressed, not feeling anything… How can I do what you’re asking me to do? I told you I can’t!”

J said, “I want to take this opportunity to bring it all back to the beginning when Jules said, ‘You just want some recognition that you’re working your asses off’ and you are!”

I took a deep breath and spoke again, “Yeah. I see you, Brandon. I see you working hard. I see that you’re standing there yelling at people and you’re working so hard to have people look at you, and stop to listen. You are working so hard. I recognize that. And I know how hard it is to take that first step. I know it feels unreacheable right now. But at the same time, I can’t help but ask you if you could take the hand that I’m offering you. I’m reaching out to you. Let me help you take that first step. Let me help you get down from the pedestal so that you can see my face, and reconnect with people… I see you, Brandon…”

“I think instead of asking Brandon that he just needs to do this and that, that maybe we need to be on Brandon’s speed. I mean, it takes both sides to do something. And we’re all just telling him what to do. Maybe one of us needs to get up on the pedestal with him. And then help him down. We need to meet each other halfway.” Kayla interrupted.

I didn’t completely agree with her because I felt like I wasn’t trying to tell Brandon to do anything. I am already offering my help. I am already offering my love and care for him. All I wanted him to do was to hold the hand that I was offering. I could sense a reluctance.

“I have a lot I definitely need to think about. I want to get there. I do… I just don’t know how…” He said.

J then had to wrap up the session because we had gone 5 minutes over.

“You all did hard work today. But unfortunately we have to stop here because we’ve already gone over time…” J said regretfully. “We’ll meet same time next week though, right?”

We all nodded our assent.

I felt light as I stood up and collected my coat. Sure, I still was recovering from all the crying I was doing but I was definitely feeling a lot better than I have. Lately, I’ve been disconnected from my feelings and it felt good to feel them again. There were a lot of uncomfortable feelings today but at least, I had embraced them instead of pushing them away as I’ve been doing a lot lately.

I felt a lot more love for my group members than I’ve ever had. I realized that this was more evidence that just because you’re real with someone, or that if you call them out, or say something negative, that the relationship not only can continue, but will continue in a better, and stronger way because it means that we are all being brutally honest with each other.

I felt so proud of myself as I walked out of group today. It was incredible how I was able to stick through the uncomfortable, and terrifying feelings as I spoke my mind (something that I rarely do). I realized that this is how it feels to stop protecting people – to stop making excuses for them, or to just shield them from pain. It means to say tough things, and hope that the other person doesn’t blow up on you, and that you’ll be better friends/partners/colleagues/family/etc in the future.

I learned so much today in just an hour and a half. It was such an incredible session!

Another Update

I know some of you have been worried about me because I haven’t been active on WordPress or written in my blog.

Things have been a whirlwind of intense emotions. I’m sometimes very distressed and depressed, and then other times feeling okay, feeling “fine”.

The only good news I have for myself right now is that things are well in my personal life – with Chérie, things have progressed smoothly with us since the last update. I had gotten a chance to meet her for the first time and we behaved as though we’d known each other our whole lives. She makes me feel so appreciated, so loved, and so encouraged. It’s a foreign feeling (being happy) that I’m trying to cope with and accept.

School has been my main source of stress and a huge downer. I’m failing.

I didn’t realize how badly I had needed a semester off until now that I’m about a month away from the end of school. Finals are creeping up and I don’t know if I can pass all my classes. I’m not utilizing my time very well either because despite my anxiety over my grades, I really don’t want to do anything. It’s almost like I can’t do anything.

S and I have been talking about my relationship these past few weeks (which is why I haven’t written any Thoughts From Therapy posts – I figured, who really wants to hear about all that, right?). This week though, I’m going to have to steer us back to my school struggles. I’m really experiencing intense depression – the kind where you don’t want to get out of bed, and you don’t have energy for anything, and food doesn’t taste good, and sleep is restless – all because of school.

I’ll write again sometime – for now, thank you for all those who have been asking how I’ve been. You guys help keep me going because I realize that there are people out there who care about me.

 

Crawling Out of The Rut

It’s been quite a while since I’d written and I do apologize but life has been a roller coaster lately.

Since I started crawling out of my post-divorce rut, I had taken a misstep and had fallen back into another rut – the school/academic rut. As I am slowly recovering from the post-divorce rut, I realize how badly I’ve been doing in school lately.

I’m doing 3 classes officially with the fourth class being a supplemental 1-credit hour class and despite only doing 12 credit hours, I’m floundering really badly. I am failing Discrete Computational Structure (which is essentially just Discrete Math) and can’t keep up with the class. I am not doing well in Calculus despite this being the second time I’m taking the same class (the number of homework and tests/quizzes for this class is truly relentless!) and I’m also struggling really badly with Computing 2 (mainly because the midterm project has crushed all motivation that I ever had in me).

All this has led to an unfortunate amount of stress and tension. I kept backing myself into the corner again – telling myself that I am so weak, and that perhaps I need to reconsider my dream of being a computer scientist. That perhaps, I had made a mistake in thinking that I was smart enough for this venture.

Thankfully, through all this, Chérie has been steadfast in her encouragement and commitment to me. Despite all the whining I’ve been doing about school, she has been very supportive – she even sat me down (figuratively since we’re almost 400 miles apart) one day to help me reorganize my schedule. She and I both successfully helped me cut out 8 hours of work from the restaurant as well as 3 and a half extra hours from private tutoring. Just having her sit with me and discuss my plans was very useful. It calmed me down considerably. It allowed me to refocus.

We’ve only been together 2 weeks so far and things have been going really well for us. It’s interesting how well we’re doing and how much we’ve planned and discussed. I suppose that since we’re both in our thirties, it’s not hard for us to be mature in our outlook and steadfast in our decisions. I truly am fortunate to have found such an amazing person to share my life with.

Group therapy had been very interesting on Friday. The issue between Kyle and Brandon came up again (see: A Most Intense Group Session for context) and I pointed out that since this came up again, that the issue must be pressing enough to warrant another look.

This time, the gloves were off as both Kyle and Brandon got heated with their ideas and opinions. Brandon still didn’t understand why Kyle would not empathize with him or just show him some compassion while Kyle didn’t understand why Brandon is so “fanatical” in his beliefs. Brandon took offense to Kyle’s w0rd choice. Kyle responded that he had no idea why Brandon would so arrogantly presume that everyone should see things his way.

As the conflict got more heated, J was good to jump in and diffuse things before they escalated even more. She cut in a lot and mitigated the conflict very well. At one point she said, “Okay, the content of the disagreement is not what we’re trying to discuss here. We’re trying to discuss how we can approach each other when something like this happens!”

She was right. The content of the argument was not important at all. As both men continued to argue, I interrupted them and jumped in. I didn’t think that I would ever have the guts to do something like that but I did.

I said, “Okay guys. I hope you don’t take this the wrong way but I can really see both sides here. I can empathize with both of you and I do. Brandon, I am part of the LGBTQ community too now and I understand how you feel. I get how angry you are and how much you just want to punch everyone who even utters a tiny homophobic comment. I get it. It makes me mad when a Christian acts like total assholes. At the same time though, I see Kyle’s point – I see what he means by how the Westboro people are just lunatics – it’s because they are. No matter how much we fight them, we’ll never win because they are not only brainwashed to hate people who are different from them, they are also delusional! Doing nothing sucks but sometimes we just need to have compassion for these misguided people. That said, Kyle, I feel like you’re not really empathizing with Brandon. I mean, this is what I perceive. I perceive that you have a great reluctance to just say that you care for Brandon. There were easy outs and you refused to take any of them. J asked you if you cared to be here and your answer was ‘Well if I didn’t care I wouldn’t be here’. Brandon asked you if you could just give him some empathy while T flat-out told you that Brandon just needs to feel some connection from you. Yet you refuse all three offers to let you off the hook. It makes me wonder then if you’re just afraid to show yourself to us – that is to be vulnerable and humble. I have two theories. One it’s that you’ve invested too much into this argument between you and Brandon that if you don’t get any resolutions from it, then it would make the last year for us to be pointless. All I’m saying is that, I feel like you could also be a little less judgmental toward Brandon and just reach out to him, offer some support, and just be there!”

I felt my heart hammer in my ribcage as I spoke. I was afraid of how I was going to be perceived. This was why I didn’t like conflicts. I was afraid of the fact that Kyle and Brandon could both hate me because I was being blunt.

It turned out that what I said opened up the conflict into smaller more manageable chunks. We were able to mostly sort through our emotions and reactions toward the conflict. When asked what we learned from the experience, I talked about how fearful I was to share my opinion and how uncomfortable it was to be amidst the conflict. T pointed out that he was glad that I came to that realization and reminded me that through this experience, we’re able to see that just because we’re not directly involved in the fight, we are actually still a part of the conflict as it still affects us “bystanders”.

I learned a few things from group this week – one was that I don’t always have to follow my instincts and pick a side (I’ve always felt like I had to pick a side. Otherwise, both sides will hate me…) because chances are neither of them were right and choosing a side merely makes everything even more petty. I was able to resist my instincts this time and was able to overcome the discomfort of not knowing what to do. I was also able to sit through the discomfort of being in the middle of a conflict and not run away. I was able to do this without having a meltdown. I was also able to realize how brave I was to say my thoughts and perceptions.

At the end of the session, I called Chérie excitedly on the phone and conveyed everything that had happened in group. She was ecstatic to hear that I was able to do what I did – “Good job!” she had said.

“I actually feel kinda proud of myself,” I said, feeling the same kind of embarrassed shame creep in to my cheeks. I was proud of the fact that I was proud of myself because self-validation has never been my strong suit. I think I’m really moving forward towards a mentally healthier me with my improvement in self-validation, self-pride, and self-encouragement.

So that’s been my week so far. I hadn’t had time to really write any Thoughts From Therapy posts either but as assignments pile up, I barely have any time to be online anymore, much less spend time writing blog posts. I hope to be able to post more thoughtful posts when things start to cool off for me. Until then, I’m just grateful that I still have people I trust here in the blogverse and people who care enough to come back and check to see if I have new posts.

 

A Most Intense Group Session

Wow… I just walked out of the most intense group therapy session ever. I’ve got stress muscle soreness all over my shoulders and neck – the trademark physical sensation I feel when I’m extremely stressed and anxious.

What caused this? – you might be curious to know.

It started out innocuously enough. (Since I’ve been using so many initials and it’s starting to get confusing who’s who, let’s give my group members actual names – of course, they’re not going to be their real names).

It started when Brandon said that he was upset over the Westboro Baptist Church showing up on campus. It was unsurprising seeing that Brandon is gay and that he had been raised in not only a conservative but also abusive household. He was forced into conversion therapy and somehow managed to survive it – albeit he was broken and traumatized from it. Brandon is an intelligent guy – and I relate to him in many levels – so I was unsurprised when he launched into a tirade about how despicable people are to not be empathetic towards him, as well as the LGBTQ+ community in general. He talked at length about how he felt like nobody cares to listen to his views – that nobody cares about him.

I added to his line of thought by talking about how I felt when I was at the counter protest and about how despite the fact that I was only there for 10 minutes, that it had impacted me in a way that I never thought it would – it made me wonder if God hates me and is therefore punishing me for my sins. I told him that I related to him and how he felt. I told him that he is right in saying that people so cruel to want us to die just because of our orientations.

When J (the lead psychologist) asked Brandon how he felt when I expressed my empathy and agreement, he told her that he felt good to know that someone understood him, his position, and how he felt. He expressed that he hadn’t felt the same from any of his friends or even family. That no one truly understood how he felt.

I chimed in and told him that no one truly will understand because unless they’ve been through something similar, it’s a very difficult concept to address. After all, how many people can say that they’ve had to grapple with ideas of their faith and their very being? How many people can say that daily, they wish that they were normal, or that they weren’t judged for who they can’t help but love? Not many people can say that unfortunately because people like us are still in the minority.

From there, that was when it happened.

For the first time in 2 semesters, our group walked into a conflict. It wasn’t on purpose.

Kyle meant well. We all knew that – he was always someone who is very kind, and honest. We’ve promised each other that we would all be honest with each other while we’re in the safety of the group therapy room. We promised we would say what was on our minds. And Kyle did that. He told Brandon that he felt that he could understand what Brandon felt but that he could also see why the WBC protestors feel the way they do. He told Brandon that he just simply can’t pick sides because both sides are right in their own way – who is he to say that one is more right than the other.

Brandon was upset because he didn’t understand why Kyle could say that. He didn’t understand why Kyle felt that the WBC could be right in their beliefs. J intervened and asked Kyle what he felt. Or why he said what he said. Kyle explained that he just always thinks that way – that that’s his opinion and that he can’t take sides.

“Kyle, in this case, Brandon was asking for some empathy. That you feel for him…” J said gently.

“Please, just be empathetic for me. Feel empathy for me. Just feel empathy for me,” Brandon pleaded.

Kyle didn’t understand what Brandon was asking for. In his mind, his opinion that he should be impartial was his way of communicating his empathy. He didn’t understand why Brandon was upset and why J was pushing him. I decided to speak.

“I’m curious, Kyle… Where did that come from? I mean, did you pick the impartial side because you feel like you can’t be judgmental of either side? Is it because you don’t want to feel empathy for Brandon? Or is it just because you can’t reach that emotion?” I had asked. I was genuinely curious. I didn’t mean anything cruel by it at all.

Kyle responded negatively, “Why is everyone saying that I don’t have empathy? I feel like everyone’s just focused on me right now. That you’re all on me…”

J intervened again, asking Kyle what he was feeling at that moment. Kyle couldn’t answer. He tried to answer, several times, but kept coming up short. He told us that he was just so stressed out that his thoughts aren’t being articulated and that we were all just misconstruing his true meaning.

The exchange continued and I started to feel extremely distressed and uncomfortable. I started getting the stress-related muscle soreness that I often feel when I’m stressed out and anxious. I knew that we were in the middle of a conflict – I didn’t like it and I wanted to withdraw. I caught J looking at me several times, like she was keeping an eye on me or something.

J managed to get Brandon and Kyle to a point where they were both able to express how they felt rather than what their opinions were on the political issue. J stressed that we weren’t interested in the political issue, however important they may be, but rather that we wanted to know what Brandon and Kyle were feeling instead.

That was when Kyle just broke down and cried. When J asked, “Kyle, do you often feel this way? That people don’t understand that despite you having shown empathy, that people would say that you didn’t?”

He said that he has experienced that numerous times – that he didn’t understand why people would think that way.

Moments later, he started sobbing.

“Is this why I always feel so alone? Like no one cares? Is it because I can’t show my empathy? Is it because my friends, family… My ex… Thinks that I’m just brushing them off and not showing them empathy? But that’s how I’ve always communicated. There’s little difference between opinion and how I feel…” Kyle said, between sobs.

“It’s hard, Kyle. It definitely is. I mean, it’s so much easier to push people away with a well-intentioned but intellectual comment, than it is to tell us how you feel at any given time. I recognize that because I know that I do the same exact thing myself. I mean, it’s hard… It sucks. It makes you feel so vulnerable… And I get it, you don’t want to be vulnerable. But that was why I asked the question I did earlier. That was why I was curious. I was wondering if you were doing what I usually would do myself. It seems like you do…”

It was quite a breakthrough because Kyle stopped sobbing and became thoughtful. He started to realize what we were all trying to say – that none of us felt his emotions whatsoever. We heard his opinions, but that was it. We didn’t know how he felt.

“Do you think this is what you need from the group? That in the future, you want them to help you recognize that you’re not showing your feelings?” J asked, “Now I know it’s been hard and you can say that you’re done… But, if you’d like, do you think that’s what you need?”

After some thought, Kyle said that he sure did. He said that he felt that he had been stagnating for a while now. That it was because he didn’t want to keep doing this anymore – this hard work. He said that he felt the same with individual therapy as well.

We continued to process a few other thoughts and emotions from the group about this interaction for a few more minutes. I admitted to the group that I felt so distressed that I had wanted to withdraw but I was glad that I stuck with it, no matter how uncomfortable it was.

J then said, “This is hard work!” She sounded almost triumphant. She sounded proud and impressed at the same time. “You did hard work!” She said loudly, looking around the circle.

She was right. We did. We didn’t shrink away. Instead, we pushed each other to the precipice of a breakdown. We pushed Kyle harder than we’ve ever done.

J admitted that she was pushing very hard. That she was doing it because she knew that we would benefit from it, that Matt would benefit from it. T – the co-facilitator – spoke up and said that he felt that the group had been teetering on the verge of a conflict for a long time now but that we’ve never really been ready to embrace that. He was right. We have been close to conflict many times but we’ve never really followed through with it. Somehow, one of us would break away and that would be the end of that.

Today though… Wow… I’m proud of us. That was impressive. That was hard work. I’m still left reeling from the session – an hour after it’s ended, I’m still feeling like I could curl up in a ball and cry. I still have the stress aches… Unfortunately, I have to put that in the back burner and go to work now. I have to stop here. I have more thoughts about today – about how J had been courageous herself for pushing because I noted that she had looked like she was emotionally struggling with the decision to push Kyle as well…

I am just so impressed by the people I interact with – especially these people that I trust my life and secrets to. I feel so fortunate to be a part of this group!

 

Good Group Session

It just occured to me that I’ve been in my depressive episode for 6 months now. This is definitely the longest I’ve been depressed since the last depressive episode only lasted about 3 months.

Wow. No wonder I’m constantly tired.

On a better note, today’s group session went really well. We talked about conflict and how to handle it, how group is not for us to come in and pretend to be someone we’re not for the benefit of others but rather a place for us to be ourselves without apology and just seeing the reactions of people, and also how a couple of us (I’m one of them) have instinctive protective tendencies towards other group members.

I got feedback from the other members about how they have noticed my protective tendencies and how quickly I jump in to say something to be supportive and positive. I really can’t help it. I don’t even know that I’m doing it until I’ve done it! And I expressed that to the group which they accepted. It felt good. It also felt good knowing that others felt good when I expressed that I have been looking out for them.

J, the lead facilitator, pointed out that I’m always just deferring to what others are experiencing and how they’re feeling towards me but how am I feeling about it? What about my experiences?

I told her that doing what I do makes me feel good. It gives me a sense of purpose because a lot of times, I don’t feel like I have a purpose. Then after I said that, I also confessed that sometimes I wish that people would also do that for me without me having to ask. It felt good to hear the other person who had been taking up the protector role also confess the same feeling of wanting to be protected.

Then when group wrapped up and we had left, I waited for the elevator. The private door that the CAPS staff uses opened and S walked out. I said hi to him and it felt good to see him one last time before this week ended. I know I sound like I’m obsessed with him but just seeing him makes me feel more stable and calm. I wished him a Happy Father’s Day and he told me that he appreciated it.

It just felt great being able to end my session at CAPS today with a good note like that. It makes me having to go to work in half an hour not feel as bothersome as it usually makes me feel.

Walk-In Therapy Session That Bombed

I’ve had a bad day. Mondays seem to trigger me every single week and down the rabbit hole I fall.

As always, when I’m extremely distressed, I head over to CAPS. Maybe I’m being hopeless in my coping skills. Maybe I’m being needy. But every time I fall down the rabbit hole, I force myself to march to CAPS to talk to someone.

As I’ve done dozens of times this semester, I walked to CAPS again today. And for the first time ever, I was there for a walk-in session that barely lasted 30 minutes. And for the first time, I actually felt like I wasn’t heard at all. The therapist I saw asked me what brought me in to CAPS and I had said that I was triggered this afternoon by an email from the financial aid department regarding my accrued debt so far.

I started to panic because I didn’t realize before this that I had a maximum limit of how much aid I can actually receive. Thoughts of not being able to make it through Calculus and having to retake it (meaning I’ll eat into the funds) ran through my mind and I panicked inside. Thoughts of being a failure and not being able to finish school ran through my mind.

I wanted to add that my Space Planning project has also been a huge source of panic for me lately because of how much we’re expected to do in the project (9 pages of drawings and thoughtful consideration of BOTH a residential and retail space). I’ve been trying to keep up with it because I know that I have less time than my classmates (I actually clocked in 60 hours of work last week WHILE being in school so I have no time for anything). So today, when my Professor told me of all the things that I didn’t address and how my design had many problems, I felt so discouraged and demotivated. For half an hour after she gave me the feedback, I stared at my work – my mind blank and I felt lifeless. I couldn’t force myself to pick up the pencil to work; to brush off the negative comments and plug along. I couldn’t.

I wanted to tell the therapist that I was unable to function after that – being twice triggered in the space of 10 minutes. I got the email and then I got the negative feedback. Thoughts like, “What’s the point? What’s the point of working so hard only to get a job only to pay bills? I can’t see the point in going on. There is no point to anything. No point to life. I might as well die!” were strong in my mind. I wanted to tell her all this but before I could, she cut me off. Right after I told her what had triggered me (the email about my financial aid), she told me that education is a worthy investment, that I should consider it like I’m buying a car. That everyone has to go through the same issue – not everyone’s fortunate enough to have their education paid for.

Essentially, I felt like she was minimizing my feelings and thoughts at that point. I didn’t know how to feel because on one hand, I feel a great loyalty to CAPS because I’ve never had a single bad experience there but on the other hand, I felt a red flag go off. I didn’t say anything. I decided to see where this was heading. She continued to tell me that college is difficult and that’s why people are often so proud of their degrees – because Professors make it hard on purpose.

She then asked me if I was hungry or tired. I told her that I was tired. I tried to explain that I had just finished a 60 hour work-week (46 hours in 4 days at the restaurant I work at, 12 hours at the Math Assistance Center (MAC), and 2 hours of private tutoring) and had only had 32 hours of sleep in the week (I’m at a 22 hour deficit). She then cut me off again and told me that we’re physical creatures – that often, the first reason someone’s down and negative and can’t get out of a rut is because they’re hungry or tired. So she gave me tips on carrying snacks with me everyday and to have a meal after I finish the session. She also told me to take a 15-minute nap to recover. She said that by doing so, I’ll usually immediately feel better.

At this point, I was annoyed because she didn’t take the time to find out what I’m actually dealing with. She treated me like any other student who’s just stressed with finals week looming – I guess I can’t blame her. A lot of students do reportedly go in to CAPS during these 2-3 weeks because of how stressful exams are (S told me that it gets crazy during this time at CAPS) but I’m someone who is dealing with so much more than just school. However, despite my annoyance, I tried to play along with her. I couldn’t muster up the courage to speak up about how I really felt at that moment. She didn’t ask me how I felt anyway.

She then asked me what I do when I’m upset to relieve that feeling. I told her that I don’t really know. I don’t really have a coping mechanism that worked – not even self harm works for me. I told her that I had a history of cutting. “So that’s how you cope huh? That becomes a bad habit and you don’t want to continue to do that… When you’re upset, you need to do something else to cope. What do you do to cope with being upset?” – I didn’t know what else to say. I really didn’t know how to cope. I shrugged and finally forced out, “I guess I listen to music” – which is not entirely the truth because the notion of using music to help me cope was something that I had invented just this afternoon after being triggered. I tried to use some EDM trance music to relieve my panic.

“Good! Listening to music is good. Except, you shouldn’t be listening to heavy metal or anything. You should listen to some Beethoven or something relaxing…” She had said. I didn’t bother to tell her that I like trance/EDM/dance music. At this point, I felt like nothing I said mattered. I was upset and I didn’t understand where the teenager was in all this. I didn’t understand why I wasn’t angry or that I can’t get angry at strangers or friends. I only get angry and violent with myself, Hubster and my parents. I can’t seem to get angry enough to defend myself or stand up for myself. I often shrink away in fear when I’m confronted and I never do any confronting myself.

She then told me to practice some grounding exercises – “Surely S has taught you some grounding exercises… You need to do those…”

“Yeah… It’s so easy to forget that you know…?” I said weakly, forcing myself to act like I was on board with all of her suggestions. I didn’t know why I felt like I had to play along. I don’t know why I do this every time. Someone would bother me and instead of telling them that and standing up for myself, I pretend like they’re right and I play along.

“Yes… And that’s why you are always here, aren’t you?” she said. This time, her words pierced me through the heart. I know that she would have known that I’m at CAPS a lot – not only because whenever I am waiting for S, I sit at the bench across from her office, but also from my visitation records. I immediately felt like I was asking for too much – that I didn’t deserve to be there. That I was just overreacting and that I should’ve just stayed away from CAPS today. I felt ashamed for making the decision to go to CAPS. “It’s your fault you’re too weak to know how to cope by yourself!” – the mother voice suddenly interjected. I hadn’t heard from her in a couple of days… The therapist then said, “But… I’m glad you came in anyway…”

At this point, I wanted our interaction to end. I was starting to get distressed again.

“Is this helping at all?” She asked.

I knew that this was my chance to say that she wasn’t helpful at all but I didn’t say it. Instead, I played along. “Yeah. You’ve given me some ideas that I’ve never considered… Who would have thought that being hungry could cause someone to be so distressed that they’d consider suicide!” I had responded. I hated myself at that point because I was just playing along. I wanted us to finish.

“Are you from around here?” she asked abruptly.

“Um… No. I’m from Malaysia…”

“Oh! Where’s that on the globe?” she asked, as she grabbed the globe from her desk and asked me to show her. I pointed at the tiny appendix looking country in South East Asia. “Oh wow! Okay… Well… When you’re listening to some relaxing music, I want you to visualize some nature scenes – maybe from your country, Malaysia…”

I wanted to say to her, “But I hate Malaysia… Why would I want to visualize something from there?” – I didn’t have very good memories of my time there. I didn’t want to think about Malaysia if I can help it. If she had taken the time to get to know me a little bit, she wouldn’t have suggested that. But I didn’t say any of that.

“So don’t you have anyone else to talk to? You can’t talk to your husband?” She asked.

I then told her of the difficulties that my husband and I have in communication because of his autism and my ADHD. There are plenty more of other things that I won’t divulge here in public but suffice to say, I need to talk to S and the psychologists at CAPS more than anyone else.

“Have you tried marriage counseling?” She asked. I had to explain to her that Husbter is autistic and so going to CAPS with its bright fluorescent lights, claustrophobia inducing narrow walls and deafening noise makers are overwhelming to his senses. That and a myriad of other issues have prevented us from doing some of the things that would be beneficial to us. “Oh I’m sorry to hear that. But self harming and suicide really aren’t the best ways to cope…”

After a couple more suggestions of what I should do, she jotted them all down on a Post-It note and handed it to me, “I live with someone with ADHD so I know how you all are. You need your visual reminders… Here’s a list of the things we talked about and what you should do… Now what are you going to do after you leave here?”

Mentally, I thought to myself, ‘Jump off the parking garage’, but I didn’t say it. “I’m going to go have a meal…” I said, “I didn’t realize what time it is and you’re right. Being hungry does affect my emotional state…” I wanted to leave so I just said everything I knew she wanted to hear.

So we wrapped up then. She asked me if I was in any danger and I said no. She asked me when I’d see S next and I said Wednesday. She asked me if I could last two days without seeing him and I said that I should be fine since I have group tomorrow. Then I gathered my things, got up, thanked her and left.

As I walked out of her office, I mentally berated myself for coming to CAPS today. I came because I wanted to talk to someone – talk to them so I could ease my troubled mind. Instead, I left feeling like I was needy and just desperate for attention.

I decided to send a message to an acquaintance I had met over at The Mighty’s site – a fellow mental health advocate who also suffers from suicidal tendencies from time to time. I told him what had happened and he responded with: “But she didn’t help you cope. She just pointed out more perceived failures”. Yeah she did. I felt judged and like I wasn’t adult enough to cope.

It also reinforced the idea that I have trouble relating to female psychologists. I had that initial impression when I met JS, the female psychologist who had administered my ADHD test and I’d had a pre and post test interview with. I liked her enough to get along with her but I didn’t feel the level of warmth and care that I would with a male psychologist. Seeing this therapist today reinforced the idea that I must have some trouble with older female authority figures – unsurprising since I have this huge issue with the female authority figures in my life.

I noticed that I am less trusting of female psychologists; less willing to open up and feel more judged. I am able to get along just fine with the two female psychologists that run my group therapy sessions but that’s only after getting to know them after 2 months of interaction. Besides, being in a group setting, I am able to detach a little more from how I feel about them and focus instead on the group members. Also, B, the lead psychologist in the group therapy, had shown me compassion when we talked a couple of weeks ago. She showed me evidence that she cared and that she was trustworthy. Otherwise, I don’t think I’d be as easily accepting of her.

So, that was part of my day. I know I’ve left some details out but those of you who have read up to this point, can you tell me if I’m overreacting? Am I wrong to feel annoyed at this therapist? I felt unheard and uncared for. I felt like I was just a bother – she did act like she just wanted to give me a list of coping skills to do and that was that. Her mannerisms suggested that I was eating into her time and that she was merely doing this because she needed to. I didn’t feel welcome.

When I told Hubster all this, he was really angry. He was so angry at the therapist, saying that she didn’t listen to me at all. He was also angry that I couldn’t be angry – that I never stand up for myself or defend myself. He asked, “Where was the teen in all this? Why didn’t she say something? Why didn’t she get angry and scream at this therapist?”

I wish I had the answer.

Anyway… Like I said, I’ve never had a single bad experience at CAPS but this looks like it might be my first. Something I never thought would ever happen.