I wanted to write about the therapy session I had yesterday but a piece of news had shocked me so much last night that I feel it pertinent to address.
The mental health community has been rocked by the news that Amy Bleuel, the founder of Project Semicolon, has passed away from suicide. She had been an amazing advocate, a strong voice within the community against the stigma of mental health, a positive, and encouraging person to all those who struggle with suicide. So when the news came to me, I was shocked. Not only that she had passed, but that she had died from suicide.
I felt it ironic because just last night, when my temporary tattoo kit had arrived, I decided to tattoo my arm with a semicolon. When I have something tangible that I can see, touch, and read daily, it helps me keep going. So I figured if I had a tattoo of the semicolon, I’d be able to look at it and realize that my story isn’t over.
Then the news came.
It made me think.
Today, I’m proud of myself.
Now, that’s quite a rare one, isn’t it?
If you’ve been following my blog for a while now, you’d know that I have a high level of self-shame, self-hatred, and I find it hard to self-love.
Lately however, I’ve been coming to terms with how I feel about myself and learning what it means to self-love.
I said to S today, “Part of me can’t believe that I got to the realization that I need to cut off ties with my ex in order to heal in just a matter of days…” (I had come to terms with my decision early this week since having made said decision just a few days prior) and he said something that I’d known in the back of my mind but never really paid much attention to.
S said, “I want to challenge that notion that seems to undermine the amount of work you’ve done here. We’re coming up to 2 years of working together, and in that time, we’ve been dealing with the same things over and over again. You’ve worked incredibly hard!”
I thought hard as he said that and I realized that he was right.
Come April, it’ll have been 2 years of therapy. It’s almost unbelievable how long I’ve been grinding away at this, and how much I’ve worked. It still feels surreal. How could we have known each other that long?
Is that why I could just saunter into CAPS and say hi to everyone there as though I’ve been buddies with them for ages? I walk in through the doors and just casually say, “Hi D! How’s it going this week?” or “Hi K! Whatchu up to?” (K is the new receptionist that was hired to deal with the increasing demands of front desk work)
Is that why I could plop myself down in S’ client couch and just lean back like I was very comfortable? And is that why I can now ask him questions more plainly without having to ruminate over them for months before I bring anything up?
Wow. I don’t know why I am thinking like this is such a big deal – I mean, sure, I’ve been there almost 2 years now, so what, right?
That said, a part of me recognizes just how important this is – how important this journey has been thus far.
I keep undermining my efforts because I’m so short-sighted – I only see what’s immediately in front of me. S, on the other hand, had the privilege of being a third party observer who has his own informed perspective to use.
He said, “I don’t want you to sway you to my perspective but that’s how I see it. I see it as you, having put in so much time, energy, and effort into this recovery process, that it took you only a few days to come to terms with your decision because it’s been a long time coming. All those months of work have prepared you for this. You didn’t just wake up one day and decided that you were over the divorce…”
As I chewed on his words, I realized that I started to feel the warm feeling of pride inside. I started to realize how strong I’ve been – despite all the batterings I’ve endured last year, I emerged through that alive.
I started to realize that I am proud of myself for all that I’ve achieved.
I told S that. He beamed and assured me that I completely deserve to feel that way. He also told me how impressed he was with my ability to pull myself out of a suicidal thought 2 weeks ago.
It had been a rough time for me and I had reverted to the old habit of self-punishment, and suicidal tendency. I wanted to kill myself – I was triggered by my ex, and was led to believe that I was crap. That I should just die so that I didn’t have to feel the awful way that I do. I had also hurt Cherie’s feelings – something that I couldn’t believe I would do. I felt worthless.
While beating myself and telling myself that I deserve to hurt myself again, another voice chimed in. It was a different voice this time – it sounded nothing like the critical voice that I was used to hearing. It was a strong, confident, pleasant, and kind voice.
The voice said, “No! You’re not worthless. Why do you have to hurt yourself? Why do you have to die? If you do that, he wins. If you let him get to you, he wins. You’re better than that, Jules. You’re stronger than that! You’re worth more than what you’ve ever been told. You are too valuable to have to resort to self-harm, and suicide. Punishing yourself doesn’t do anything but hurt you more. You’ve already hurt enough”
When I had shared this with S last week, he had beamed so brightly, and told me several times how happy he is to hear that, and that I was able to get there. Today, he told me that he was impressed with my positive self-talk. He said that in the past, my pattern had been suicide –> self-depreciation –> worse thoughts of suicide –> visiting CAPS for emergency sessions –> have good sessions –> leave feeling better –> if lucky, the good feelings last for a couple of days –> get triggered again –> suicide –> rinse and repeat.
“So the fact that the affirmation didn’t come from me, or anyone here at CAPS, but rather, from yourself… That is very strong. It makes me happy to know that you’re reaching a stronger point”
I was already proud of myself but hearing his words made me even more proud. It added to my affirmative feelings and validated me.
This, I believe, is my first step toward breaking more bad habits, and being a stronger individual. I know that I will regress – as S kept reminding me, “Progress and recovery is not a straight line upwards. It looks more like a zig zag upwards, where there will be times when you will slip. But that’s okay. All that matters is that you keep going”.
Anyone who follows my Facebook, my blog, or knows me personally knows that I’ve been through a hellish year with processing the traumas of my life, processing a painful and messy divorce, battling suicidal thoughts and intents, battling self harming tendencies, processing my sexual orientation and what it means to be Christian despite it, dealing with the pain of intense self-shame, self-punishment, self-defeat, as well as experiencing all those feelings as I project them onto others, working two jobs while contributing as a Peer Educator, and struggling with financial issues.
At the end of the day, we’re on the cusp of the beginning of the final month of the year – I’m still here, after all that shit, I’m still fighting.
I’m going to fail all my classes – in retrospect, that shouldn’t add to more shame for me right?
Then why do I still keep feeling like I’ve wasted an entire semester doing nothing? – Even though, I’ve done more in this semester where my mental health is concerned than I’ve ever done in my life.
The critical voices in my head need to stop.
After all the shit, I should get a medal for still being here. What are 3 F’s in a transcript compared to how I’m still alive?
It’s been a difficult weekend but I’m still here.
I promised my group that I would be back next week despite the difficult thing I shared with them during group on Friday. I had initially been silent – I kept quiet for the first hour of the 1 1/2 hour session. I didn’t want to say anything despite the fact that I was getting triggered and reacting to all the things that the other members were saying.
Finally, after about an hour, J – the lead facilitator – asked me what I was reacting to and what I’m thinking. I had been abnormally quiet in my corner of the room.
I hesitated. I didn’t really know if I wanted to take the attention/focus away from M, who had been sharing his experience being abandoned by friends that he thought he was close with. He didn’t think he would be betrayed like that and was expressing his anger, bitterness, and sadness over that. I reacted to all that he had said because I have experienced betrayal, and abandonment as well.
When I finally spoke, I unleashed a floodgate of emotions. I was overwhelmed as I spoke – my voice trembled and tears streamed freely. I tried to control my outburst but it was difficult. I talked about how distressed I was last week when we had cancelled group because half the group didn’t show up and how that had led to self-harm. I talked about how abandoned I felt when that had happened. I had had a bad week (dealing with the aftermath of my divorce and my ex’s remarriage), and thought that I could be helped at group – I also thought that if I was at group, then at least I can focus on helping someone else. That usually gets me out of my rut. But since the group therapy session got cancelled, it really triggered feelings of hopelessness in me.
Inevitably, that led to me opening up about how I felt about my divorce and the remarriage. As I started to speak about my divorce, I had to quickly stop because I was going to start sobbing really hard had I continued. “I’m sorry, guys…” I said, as I tried to compose myself again. When I felt a little more composed, I continued and gave a short summary of all the things that I’d been feeling the past 2 weeks. As I spoke, M, who is also experiencing a break from a 7 1/2 year relationship also broke down. I felt bad for triggering that and I apologized to M for making him break down too.
With 10 minutes left to the clock, I said I’m at the point in my relationship with the group that I start to withdraw because I’m starting to feel like a burden again. S noted that it seems like I have been starting to do that again. That I am being more withdrawn than usual. I said to the group that I felt like a burden and that no one should have to help me with this shit that I have to deal with.
T, the co-facilitator, told me that he hates that we have to end at such a point in the discussion, but that we were running out of time and he wanted to check in with M to see if he was okay first before we ended. M said that he was okay, but that he was experiencing the grief that he has been having over his own break up. Then unexpectedly, R spoke up (he’s the quietest member of the group but always has something valuable to offer whenever he speaks). He addressed me, “Jules, I don’t think you’re a burden. I hope you keep coming back here and keep telling us your problems. At least on my side, I don’t think that you’re a burden at all. We’re here to support you. And that’s why we’re all here, right? I just want you to know that so that you don’t beat yourself up…”
I started crying again. I thanked him and told him that it was a very genuine gesture that really touched me. Then the other two members also offered their support and kind words. We actually went over time by 5 minutes but after group had ended, and the facilitators had left, 4 of the members hung around to give me more support. It was very touching.
I felt touched to know that if nothing else, I have this group of people who actually know me better than people I’ve known for 10 or more years, because this group of people knew the core of me – all my problems, all my genuine and truthful opinions and thoughts. We are in this together and we’re all working hard to help each other. I really liked that about group.
On a different note, financially, I’ve been struggling badly as well. I’m not making the tips that I need at the restaurant that I work at and often, I feel like I’m wasting time at work when I could be working on my programs, assignments, and Calculus homework. However, when I get home, I am too tired to do any of those and I feel bad too.
I’m pretty stressed out about having to work so much while going to school full time, but I don’t feel like I have a choice at the moment. I have way too many credit cards and bills to pay for and my situation just looks really bleak.
It’s hard to get out of my rut sometimes. Also, my computer – the one I take to school to program with – just broke so I just had to spend $150 getting a refurbished Chromebook to replace that. 😦
So yeah, I’m still here. Still struggling. Still trying hard to do better, to BE better.
I find it ironic that therapists/psychologists are so very calm, collected, and seem to have their life so perfectly balanced when you see them in their office – their comfort zone. However, once outside of that space, they are just like all of us with insecurities, fears, dreams, hopes, and such.
Sometimes, it’s easy to forget that they’re just as human as we are, especially when we sit across from them in their office and we’re the ones getting their help and expertise. It’s so easy to forget that they too have their own preconceived notions, their opinions, their strong emotions, their principles, and their own lives essentially.
I hold my psychologist to a high regard because he has come through for me multiple times and he’s shown me that he deserves my trust and respect. He is also essential to my growth as a person, as it is because of his help that I am who I am today. Sure, I did a lot of the leg work myself, but without his gentle (and sometimes not so gentle) nudging, his patience, his calm and collected nature, and his great skills, I wouldn’t have been able to do the work.
I have developed a strong attachment and some very strong emotions towards S as a result. Initially, I saw him as my rescuer – the person who came through for me when I needed someone the most. I put him on a pedestal as a result. For the longest time, I couldn’t ever be angry with him, or have any emotions that in any way were negative because of how highly I thought of him. Even when he messed up one time and reacted in a way that made me think that he was dismissive of my thoughts, I couldn’t bring myself to tell him or to even accept that he had messed up.
Then, as therapy progressed and I started to learn and grow, I started being able to speak to him more about our relationship. Slowly, through the months and weeks, I lowered the pedestal until now, he’s someone who I deem as my partner in this journey of recovery. He’s finally on solid ground with me and though I still hold him in high regard, I am no longer idolizing him as I once did. I’m able to speak more candidly about how I feel about him when the situation arises. I’m actually quite proud of the fact that I could do that now.
At our session today, I was actually able to finally reveal my strong emotions towards him. I even said, “I have great affection for you, S. And sometimes, I even say to myself, ‘I really love S’. But it’s not the kind of love that you’d think. I mean, it’s like you’re someone I really hold dear but I’m not attracted to you – well, that’s the thing you see… I don’t think I am. I’m sometimes confused and that’s why I’ve never really brought this up before. I have a lot of fear that I may be attracted to you so I don’t want to be that person. I mean, first of all, you’re married. And secondly, you’re my therapist! I mean, I don’t want to be that client that crosses the line… So I’ve always been afraid of my own feelings towards you…”
S looked bemused. I was somewhat babbling because I felt like I had to make myself as clear as possible so as to not cause any misunderstanding. I truly did care and even love him, but not in that way, you know?
“So you have these strong emotions for me. This strong attachment with me. And somehow, you feel that it’s wrong. And that you shouldn’t have these feelings…” S said. He wasn’t reacting in a way that I thought he was going to (i.e. freak out). He was in his comfort zone after all – every week, he is in charge even if it may seem like I’m the one who brings up issues for us to talk about but really, he’s the one in control of the flow of the conversation. I wonder if the situation would’ve been different had I revealed this to him while we were outside of CAPS.
“Yeah… Because I’m confused you know? I mean, I don’t think I’m attracted to you but I didn’t want to take the chance… I was afraid… I don’t want to ruin this relationship!” I said.
“So you push the strong emotions away. You try to bury it. And you tell yourself that you shouldn’t feel this way,” S said.
“Yeah… Because transference seem to be a kind of stigma in the psychology community – that if your client has transference, it means that it’s bad… I mean, from everything I’ve read…”
“So you’re getting all this from the psychologists’ perspective,” S said.
“Well, not just psychologists but also clients who have had bad experiences by crossing the line…”
“Jules, it’s okay to have these feelings. And I don’t think that it’s the case here with you, but even if it’s sexual, that it’s okay to have these feelings. What’s not okay is what happens after you have these feelings. It’s not okay, for example, for you to show up at my house. It’s not okay for us to engage in anything inappropriate. Or to blur our boundaries. But your feelings are valid. Those emotions are there so that you can better connect with people. When you push them all away, you don’t get to fully experience this connection because you’re holding back,” S said.
“We’ve never really established our boundaries before,” I said.
“Yeah, I was just thinking about that recently and realized that we never really did…” S said.
“Yeah, so I’ve sometimes been confused about that. Whether something is okay or not. And then I feel bad about stuff…”
“Well, it’s my job to set up these boundaries. It’s on me to do these things. Like the time when I told you that maybe you shouldn’t bring me anymore Starbucks. It was on me to make the call. It’s not on you to do that…” S said. It made me feel a little better because he was taking the responsibility that I had taken on myself. “I do want to check in with you about last week…”
Here we go, I thought to myself. I nodded.
“How did you feel that went?”
“Well…” I said, hesitating. “A part of me was thrilled. To be honest. It’s kind of embarrassing to admit… I mean…. Yeah… But I was thrilled because I don’t think we’ve ever been outside of CAPS together for a length of time”
“Nope!” S said.
“Yeah… So I was thrilled because I got to see you again. And this time, outside of your office. I wanted to talk to you again so that was nice that I was able to. But I’ll be honest… I was actually expecting you and so I was prepared because I overheard the grad students talking and they let it slip that you were coming to relieve one of them. So I had time to prepare myself… But it seemed like you weren’t expecting me”
“Yeah. I wasn’t expecting you. But ever since I found out that you were going to be a Peer Educator, I had already thought to myself that at some point, we’d bump into each other in one of these events.” S said.
“Yeah, I know. And I was determined to not make it weird. So I tried really hard not to be awkward. But… I did feel like you were awkward around me,” I said pointedly.
He sheepishly smiled and said, “Yeah… Yeah I was… Let me normalize this… I don’t think any of us are really comfortable seeing our clients outside of our office. I think it’s definitely awkward and that it’s normal. We usually just go with the client’s lead and see how they respond and we’ll act accordingly…”
Aha! I thought to myself, I knew it! He was being weird and awkward last week during the Alcohol Screening event. He seemed a little embarrassed by it. I then explained to him that I just wanted to be able to treat him normally, like I would any other person. I also told him that when I see him outside of the office, though he’s still my psychologist, he’s also at that point just S, who’s getting lunch, or S who’s getting a drink, or S who’s manning an outreach booth, etc. I said that I was fine with him interacting with me normally.
“Yeah. Well, we can say hi to each other and talk. Say we’re at the campus center and both of us are getting lunch. I can talk to you but I can’t be your friend. This means that I can’t go and sit with you and have lunch together. We can’t have dual roles – so that means we can’t be friends because I’m your psychologist.”
I nodded. I knew that. I’d done my research back when we first started working together and learned about the fact that psychologists aren’t allowed to be anything other than a psychologist to their clients.
Anyway, I then told him that I was glad that he outlined some of our boundaries. It’s going to make it easier for me to know how to respond to him or how to act around him. I was glad we had this talk because it’s been a long time coming. It only took a year and a half for us to finally address the elephant in the room. XD
After today’s session, it made me realize that S felt vulnerable last week during the event and so acted awkwardly around me. It made me realize that S too experiences these negative emotions, the way that I do. It makes him all the more endearing to me because it means that he’s as real as real can be. I appreciated our candor and our time together.
Today was a validating session – despite the fact that I still shed some tears because I had brought up some difficult emotions – I left feeling largely stable (though unsettled by how stable I was feeling) despite going in to the session thinking that I was going to leave with distressing feelings and thought as I usually do because we’d been “stirring the pot”.
It was a pleasant feeling. It was a feeling that I haven’t really experienced in a while now since my depressive episode had lasted 9 months now. It felt good to be calm and stable.
“I want to die”
4 words I posted on Facebook that gained almost immediate attention from one of my coworkers and an old friend whom I’ve not seen in 5 years. It was touching.
In that moment when I posted it, I had meant it. I did want to die. I was overwhelmed and exhausted.
I had a Discrete Computational Structures assignment that I barely understood and therefore had barely done that is due on Wednesday. I also have 3 sections worth of Calculus homework to turn in. And on top of that a programming assignment that I hadn’t started yet. That was just a matter of school alone. On top of that, I was just so discouraged by the fact that I had gotten such terrible marks for my Calculus test – I was just so perplexed as to how I could get a 56. I thought I had a good grasp on limits.
I also didn’t think that my ex’s re-marriage was such a big deal to me – that is, until it happened and I was hit by the realization that I still hurt. Maybe not as much as I did before, but it’s still there.
So, in the heat of the moment, in my discouragement and despair, I posted that status on Facebook. Almost immediately, my phone rang. I was in class so I replied to the call with a message, “I’m in class, booboo”. I asked my coworker/friend if she needed something. She asked me if I needed anything or if I needed to talk. I told her that I was ok. That there’s nothing to talk about. I just have too much to do and too little time.
“Don’t push me away, Jules” – her message was insistent and clear.
“I’m not. At least I’m not doing it consciously. I guess I’m just pushing everyone away. I need to regroup somehow. I just don’t know how” – I’d responded.
“It’s ok. I understand you need your space. But when I see ‘I want to die’ on Facebook, the last thing I’m giving you is space. Push everyone away when you’re stronger. Not right now. You are wonderful and valuable, and your coworkers, your family, your friends, those who look to you for support, need you. You are needed and wanted. You’re always smiling. You have a natural smile, you don’t even have to work for it”
As I read her messages, tears welled in my eyes. I didn’t think I’d receive such sweet and kind words so instantly. I felt heard and almost immediately, that felt like enough. I was whining, and someone answered to the whines.
I know that I do have people who care about me. I know that – especially here on my blog, I know that there are those who would respond immediately to my posts. I also know that there are people in my life that I can rely on for comfort. Yet, my EQ hasn’t caught up with my IQ. Despite all this knowledge, the heart hasn’t learned it yet. The brain has, and the brain is frustrated with the heart.
Multiple people after the initial two responses I got, started posting supportive messages and it felt good to read them. Q, and PD, both sent me messages that I needed to hear – most notably, “Give yourself a break, take care of yourself”, which gave me something like an excuse to have ice cream today. I’m also going to turn in for bed early without doing any homework.
I am burnt out. I need to be honest with myself on that. I am so burnt out that I’m barely functioning. I am honestly a zombie; just dragging my feet around campus, trying to keep awake in classes, trying to stay afloat.
Physically, I’m also not rested enough. Dark circles have formed under my eyes, my hair is some days very difficult to tame (because I desperately need a haircut), and my skin just looks tired, and pale. My nose had been bleeding for the past 2 days. I’m amazed that I hadn’t fallen asleep driving yet, like I used to back when I lived 30 minutes away from campus.
I’m just suffering on all the different aspects of life. I know I need a break and I promise myself (and everyone else who cares to know) that I will be taking a break 10 days from now. I can’t wait. I am going to go out of town and hopefully if all works out, be better rested when I come back.
It’s definitely something I have been looking forward to for maybe a month and a half now. The last time I was going to go out of town, my plans fell short so I’m not trying to be too hopeful this time.
Anyway… I called the Crisis Line yesterday. I am thankful that I did because the lady that spoke to me was very kind and empathetic. She and I spoke for 40 minutes or so (I had to be put on hold twice for about 5-10 minutes each time). She helped me feel a little better. Just having someone listen to me was definitely what I needed – to feel that human connection, to hear that person’s voice… It was comforting. I was skeptical at first and didn’t want to give it a chance because I hated speaking on the phone. I didn’t think that anyone could say anything that I hadn’t heard before. It turned out that despite having heard some of the things that the Crisis Intervention Specialist said, it didn’t sound condescending or old. In fact, hearing it from someone else who’s a complete stranger, felt really good. It just reaffirms what others have said to me.
I don’t think I’d have done anything harmful to myself – after all, I don’t have any more knives with me, and I’d surrendered my rope to S as well. I certainly wouldn’t have been able to go to bed without feeling terribly restless though.
The 4 words that I’d posted on Facebook was dramatic and probably unnecessary but it was a helpful reminder that people care. That I need to stop the knee-jerk reaction of pushing people away.