Today’s Happy Note: Herbert: Herbert George is my big, soft yellow stuffed duck that I got for Easter when I was 14 or 15. I fell in love with him at the store; I don’t know why. He is just special to me and makes me very calm. He has been to Michigan, New York, California, Canada, and Paris.
Marathon Training: I got over my weird running anxiety that I’ve had for the whole week! Well, it took me about 45 minutes of running to get into it, but once I got into the zone, it was all good. I think I just needed to take the speedwork pressure off myself. I did 8.5 miles in about 90 minutes.
Last night I ended up doing 35 minutes of strength and gymnastics moves (like back walkovers and such — I was a gymnast until I was almost 14).
Today was an intense day – and not in the normally intense way, either. It wasn’t about me opening up about something that has been locked inside me for a while, although I did tell her that I think I am starting to love USB, which might just be the most terrifying feeling I’ve ever felt. The intensity and fieriness came from what was happening between L and me. I meant for today to be about my body and my weight and my anxieties surrounding the dissonance between the shape of my body and my lifestyle and blah blah blah but sometimes, therapy just goes in a whole other direction entirely than what you had planned. And when that happens, I accept it, and go with it – usually my random thoughts end up turning into deeper musings and then we have a lovely, revealing dialogue. I think that a big part of my journey through therapy had been about recognizing that sometimes things want to go in a different direction than what I had planned, and that accepting this (rather than fighting it) might be a little bit fun and adventuresome. I like to be adventuresome.
So I began today by talking about pillows. I told her that I love the four main pillows she has on the couch (which I always rearrange to my liking when I come in – is that weird?) but that she has these two little ones that just don’t fit in. One of them matches the coverings on the couch but doesn’t logically fit anywhere (it’s a small couch) and the other one has no actual pillow fluff content and clashes with everything else. It was obvious that it was there for some sort of sentimental purpose, which L readily confessed. I wasn’t mean about my pillow-criticism at all; I was pointing it out unintentionally at first just because it was something I wanted to say, but then I realized how much my frantic pillow rearranging (and the degree to which I get upset about their mismatched-ness) is a reflection of anxiety. I tend to go through anxiety phases every few weeks or few months. They are periods, lasting from a few hours to a few days, and usually not much longer, where I feel very anxious, tense, nervous, and uptight. I am easily rattled and shaken. Last night, I dropped my water bottle as I was getting into the elevator. There were a few people already in the elevator who had obviously seen me. I felt humiliated – like I couldn’t be in the elevator for another second longer. The feeling went away relatively quickly, thankfully, but it’s an illustrative example. I guess I would say that I go through brief periods of heightened self-consciousness.
During these moments, I find that controlling my external environment – for example, the pillows on L’s couch – can be a huge source of comfort and relief. I am famous for rearranging scrabble or rummikub tiles such that they are all perfectly straight. I hate when books on a shelf are not properly arranged. There are a few big sources of anxiety in my life right now, and as I talked through all this with L, I noticed more and more where the anxiety is coming from and where I reroute it. This might sound pointless, but it is actually very useful and calming for me to be able to sort through the tensions in my life in a quiet, non-judgmental, comforting environment with someone who cares about me deeply. Big sources of anxiety: body image issues, LSAT, and USB. USB isn’t making me anxious in a negative way at all; it’s just that the intensity of my feelings for him (and the fact that I have never felt these things before) is scary and wonderful and confusing all at the same time. The word ‘love’ entered my head for the first time this week. I’ll leave it at that.
A lot of today was about what therapy means. That probably sounds vague, and if you have never been in an intense therapeutic relationship, I don’t know that I can explain it to you. But there is a lot that goes on in the relationship between therapist and client – far more than you would ever think. There is a lot of complicated material and tensions and meaningful things in what happens between the two of us. We spent the rest of the hour talking about this. In an email L sent me a few days ago, she expressed that many people in this world – herself included – would be sad if I were to leave it. I don’t know what exactly her wording was, but it was the simplest, most powerful expression of caring that I have ever felt from her. I told her this today. Then we got into this whole thing about why she cares about me. I know that many people don’t want to know anything about how their therapist feels or his or life, but as someone who has struggled tremendously with a pretty solidly formed identity based around non-lovability, it is very important for me to hear how and why she might care about me, as my therapist. Wow, that was a long sentence. So we went back and forth on that for a while, her telling me the ways in which she cares about me and why, and explaining that she can care about people in different ways (I hadn’t thought about this before). This might sounds really self-centered, but I have a sneaking suspicion that it’s actually true: I think she might direct slightly more caring-energy to me than some other patients. In other words, I think she just plain old likes me a lot and feels close with me in certain (appropriate) ways. She said one of the biggest reasons for the intense mutual caring we have for one another is simple: that I’m genuine. And this is true. I have been looking for that word for a while, actually. I am intensely genuine both in my life and in therapy. In her words, if I don’t want to fucking talk about something, I don’t.
We spent a long while after that talking about me revealing things versus her revealing things. It’s a fascinating subject, for me. Both because I am curious and I like to know things about her (I also think it’s useful in many cases, which I’ll get to in a minute) and because the idea behind therapy – this relationship where one person is sort of the caretaker and receptacle and the other has the entire burden of identity – is of genuine interest to me. L has told me in the past that some patients really ask very little of her, or nothing. Some people just talk. Some people don’t know that she has two sons or anything about her basic life facts, let alone what she is thinking. For me, it’s important to know both of these things. It helps me contextualize her. Otherwise, she is just an empty figure sitting a few feet away from me. My guess would be that I probably know more about her than 90% of other patients. Mostly just because I ask. Only once has she not wanted to talk about something.
Today, something happened that has never ever happened before. I was trying to think about love and relationships – I have a rough idea of how this has worked in her life. I probed a little deeper, intentionally but gently. I can’t stand the idea of never taking care of her, in a weird way. I sometimes genuinely just want to listen to her. If other people don’t want that in a therapy relationship, fine. But that’s not me. I obviously won’t talk about what it is that I asked her or what her response were because that is her business. But she cried. She cried. I pointed out that she had never cried in front of me before and she said that she has cried in front of a patient very, very few times.
I wanted to hold her. I think I did provide some verbal comfort. It was a fascinating, humanizing experience for me. It was both heart-wrenching and touching. The saddest thing was when she first started to cry and I realized that she was going to cry and she said “you’re going to make me cry now.” It was like suddenly a shade had parted between us and our relationship was in color and I understood something very tender and painful in her life. And this made me connect with her in a different, deeper way than I have before. A good way, for me, although I certainly don’t enjoy seeing her in pain. I wanted to make her pain go away. My heart ached for her.
I don’t think that it was a waste of my energy or time to feel so intensely towards her, because in a way, that caring was redirected back at me. Listening to the outline of her experience (she obviously doesn’t go into nearly as much detail as I do), the pain and reality of it was so stark; it made me realize that sometimes my own experiences are exactly like this and I need to be kinder to myself.
So in sum: L cried in front of me, for the first time ever (and not because she was emotionally moved by something I said – it was entirely about her) today and it was immensely moving and helpful for me.