We’ll start with the “this and that.”
Every year I like having an Amaryllis in the winter/ over Christmas. I prefer the unique varieties (favorite being a pink one I had years ago that I haven’t been able to find again) but sometimes I run out of time and just get the common red or white ones available at Lowes. I love those too.
But this year I planned ahead and ordered this beaut’ and it’s on its third bloom stalk. This was my first double amaryllis, and my first striped one… it worked out pretty dang well if I do say so myself!
We’re also still working on the brick patio in the back. It’s… it’s going to take awhile.
The bad news is the cats have found the sandpile and are using it. But not like that!
They’re also pooping in it. So yeah, it’s also like that. The kids are no longer allowed to play in the sand.
In other news the oldest came home with a letter about mental health from her school and we had a quick talk about how depression/anxiety runs in the family and it’d be good to learn about and how mental health is just like physical health and something to pay attention to.
And lo and behold, that’s what I’m doing for myself, but I totally wussed out on discussing that in the moment with her. (is baby steps.) But maybe it’s time to stop wussing out on talking about it.
So… therapy. yeah. Okay… hmmm.
So why did I start? A lot of it was just some generalized feelings like maybe I make stuff harder than they need to be on myself. A knee jerk to being afraid of the unknown. A growing understanding that I’m a perfectionist about so many things because I’m overly afraid of failure. Being extremely hard on myself. Taking other people being mad or upset too personally and feeling guilty about it… even when I know I didn’t do anything.
And it’s like INTELLECTUALLY I knew what I needed, but I couldn’t ever just “think” my way there- if that makes sense. In the past I spent a shit ton of time thinking about it and never quite getting there. I felt stuck. And while meditating one day, pretty soon before my birthday, the thought just kinda rose up: “40 years is enough.” I found a therapist a week later.
So, therapy itself.
A lot of it was learning about the coping strategies that were developed as a kid raised in an alcoholic household and how it was those coping strategies that were what made existing in my own head a bit difficult, 40 years on. The terms trauma and chaotic upbringing were bandied about, kinda a lot, in the early days of sessions. My immediate response was rejection of the terms. Especially to the word “trauma”- like, no. I wasn’t abused, you know? It wasn’t a word I wanted associated with myself.
I mean sure, I’d have to toss cold water on a parent passed out in the tub so they didn’t drown occasionally/kinda a lot/more than any kid ever should have to. And just that “fun parent” thing where a drunken parent tosses your cat in the bath with you because they thought it was funny when you’re nine. (It was not. It required a shit ton of bandaids. I was made to feel like a spoilsport because I didn’t also find it hilarious. Cat was of the same opinion as me.) Or being made to feel like my feelings of being upset or angry about stuff was just me being a drama queen. Of never quite knowing what to depend on/where things stood. I remember looking at myself in a mirror once, in high school, and going… “What’s so wrong with me? Because I think I’m okay… but what is it? Why don’t I fit in?” I clearly remember that memory. It was sunny. October. Afternoon. Mirror next to my bookcase… yeah.
So yeah. That was hard.
Turns out the coping skills that I developed during that time don’t exactly serve me well now. One of the main ones is just existing, at a normal level, of heightened anxiety. Gotta stay on my toes and be ready, you know? I learned that as a kid in my household. But therapy wasn’t about being mad at my parents either- I love them. They have/had their flaws. This is also okay.
If you’d asked me before I started therapy I’d have said I wasn’t an anxious person. I certainly never felt it. But it’s just because my baseline since I was a kid was set at a higher state on what my therapist calls the anxiety arousal continuum. (goes from calm, through unsettled, heightened awareness, mild anxiety, increasing levels of anxiety, to full blown panic). I wish I could find a picture of this thing- she usually draws it on a white board when we discuss it.
So anyway- my baseline was a notch or two higher than it should be. I never really started at “calm” where many people exist as their baseline. I can also climb through the next few levels blazingly quick. That jump from “normal” to “extreme anxiety/fear/ panic” can happen pretty damn fast for me.
Okay! So like, there was a lot there for me to unpack with these concepts. I had to accept that I’d developed some kinda detrimental coping strategies. And I then wanted to excise them completely because they were “wrong” and therefore I wanted nothing to do with them! Then I had to realize that wasn’t going to happen. Also accept some anxiety- because I sure didn’t want that term associated with me! Also that the coping strategies and anxiety weren’t “wrong”, that I wasn’t wrong for having them, and that they didn’t in fact make me inferior. That I’d probably always have a bit of them. And to come to terms with that fact and that no one could tell me really how long that would take to counteract/unlearn them and when it would be accomplished and I’d be “better.”
Over the last 6 months this has gotten WAY better, though. The thing that helps with it is understanding the pathways the brain follows, becoming more aware of those anxious moments. Working on reseting my baseline starting point. Not spiking as high, and coming down faster. That kinda shit.
Also- turns out those “going to sleep and the mind dredges up things (sometimes from long ago) to fret over” moments? Those happened a lot with me. That’s because I’d get calmer than my “baseline” anxiety levels and the mind goes “Hey, hey, hey- you’re supposed to be up here remember? How ’bout we go over that cringey time from 6th grade for the 8,00th time!”
This was hard.
And that’s just like… ONE of the things!
There was kindness! Like- jesus. It feels terrible to say but I kinda always prided myself on not being soft/kind. I was strong! I’m strong enough to shoulder anything! (The fact that maybe I don’t have to never entered into my mind.) So like, I remember MULTIPLE sessions about trying to learn self kindness. How many times did I hear “You just need to be kind to yourself” before I finally replied: “I don’t even know what that means.”
And I didn’t! I mean- I took long hot baths and went shopping and enjoyed the shit outta my life! Self kindness isn’t indulgence though. It isn’t about happiness either. I was VERY hard on myself- turns out that’s self-unkindness. I’d beat myself up for the smallest thing. Turns out “being kind to yourself” is really more accepting that you’re just a human existing in the world and will therefore make some mistakes, accepting I’m doing the best I can, and cutting myself some damn slack.
This sounds easy but was actually really hard.
Then- there was also this thing about not having in internal compass to know if I was okay or not. (A lot of this ties into the other two things and is pretty common in children of alcoholics, turns out.) Example: Someone is mad at me for something I didn’t do= extreme feelings of guilt and anxiety, even when I know I didn’t do anything wrong! And this isn’t about moral behavior or anything- not that kinda compass. I have a well honed one of those. No this more the capacity to respond to others and myself something along the lines of: “Nah, that thing you’re feeling is about you, it isn’t on me.”
The visual I have for this is like that scene in Apollo 13 where the ship is out of control and they need a stationary object to orient on so they can stabilize the ship. They do this with the moon. I didn’t have my own “moon” to stabilize myself from, and so used other people for those cues. Yeah… that’s less than fucking ideal.
And here’s the thing- it doesn’t mean I was a people pleaser or overly influenced by people or anything! Because I wasn’t and so this was a hard concept to grasp! But it’s also why I thought I was getting fired every time I messed up at work or felt it in my chest when my parents or anyone was mad at me, even as an adult.
So this was hard.
Hell! Even admitting to others that I needed therapy was hard. I had trouble talking about it at first, especially to my husband. (We literally just had a conversation about this very thing, like, RIGHT now!) And even after I could talk about it to others, I still had trouble talking to him about it. Because it made me feel flawed for a good long while, and I didn’t want him to see me that way. And he loved my strength… what if he didn’t see me as strong anymore? Would he love me less? First I had to realize it didn’t make me weak. Then I had to realize the strongest thing in the world is being vulnerable.
This was also hard.
And so we get here. It wasn’t easy. And many I time I went: “And I pay for this shit!”
But here I am, with my own moon in my window. With a less anxious baseline. And I do feel kind now. And I do know what being kind to myself is and I do it.
None of this, by the way, meant I was unhappy! That was the hardest thing to realize- that I needed therapy even in the midst of my beautiful life and awesome marriage and with these amazing kids and life! I wasn’t at rock bottom or anything! It was just that I came to feel like existing in my own head didn’t have to be so hard. And that, I had a fear about turning into my mother. I just really wanted to make damn sure my life outcome was going to be different/on a different trajectory.
When will I be done with therapy? That’s a hard one. I decided to go weekly because I wanted to achieve results as quickly as possible- I didn’t want to drag it out. For months I felt like Sisypus, pushing that boulder uphill and worried it’d be forever I’d be doing it. But I stand now at the hillcrest and that boulder is rolling down the other side. Breakthrough is too big of a word for it. Or maybe it’s not, I don’t know. But I GET IT now, I understand me so much better.
So while I arbitrarily gave myself a year of doing this I think I can start ramping that back fairly soon. Will I keep going? I’m not sure a check in every now and then would be a bad thing- but it may not be needed. I don’t know. We’ll see. Not to mention, this has all been out of pocket since my insurance covers exactly zero of it. That isn’t a main factor, and I’d say it’s honestly been priceless to me, but it isn’t not a factor either.
And why do I write about it here? Because I have been wanting to talk about it for a long time, honestly. Because I didn’t ever want this blog to just be about gardening or cooking (not that there is anything wrong with that! It just wasn’t my personal intention for this space to be solely that.) It was SUPPOSED to be about deeper truth and doing some “writing” style writing, along with cooking and gardening. And… I just. It isn’t something to be ashamed of, though I struggled with that concept in the early days and somewhat still.
Hell. Maybe it’d help someone. That’d be nice too.
So there ya go. That what’s been up with the therapy thing.
Next week we’re back to fucking gardening though, I swear to god.