The Lonely Path
Maintaining a blog seems odd to me when I no longer have a theater nor some concrete reason beyond being human yet whether out of habit, my own hubris, or because writing has always had a healing element for, me I continue to do it. I’ve found it more difficult of late because of the intersection of a pandemic and my own journey. I vacillate between okay, oh today was good, fuck it, depression, anxiety, and nihilism.
This week during therapy a couple of things struck me. One was being told how I’m perceived which is just another version of the same thing I’ve been told since my earliest memories. At some point, when that’s the message from voices of those who seem to carry gravitas over the course of 40+ years then it just seems logical that it would be true and coming to terms with what that means. I don’t know what it means. I know how it feels. It sucks but that is a different topic for a different time.
Another thing that came up highlights how impossible it is to be a parent and more specific a mom. There are larger societal norms playing out daily and to pretend that doesn’t happen in therapy is naive. No matter how hard I try, I won’t get it right as a mom. My kids (and one already has) will find themselves in therapy and at some point, it will come down to understanding how as a child their needs weren’t met because their mom shared too much, shared too little, said too much, didn’t say enough, allowed negativity to permeate, didn’t have enough boundaries, had too many boundaries, was too self-involved, not self-aware, too busy being a victim, was depressed, had anxiety, and on and on and on. There’s no winning this and that exploration is another blog for another time.
What I am going to explore was a quick thing that was thrown out by my therapist in conversation. “If you could just trust me for one minute”. Yeah, trust is hard. Thing is, it's not the person who is making it difficult. It’s the nature and set up that makes what I need to be doing feel impossible and definitely not created for the deep trust (the way I define it that is) required for the hard work known as therapy.
People find themselves called to this profession for so many reasons. However, it is a profession. There’s a structured work week and that includes clients, paperwork, admin stuff, colleagues, meetings, ongoing continuing education, certification, and on and on. In one week a therapist could have 20-30 clients. Each of them with a variety of maladies, history, stories. All of them valid and important. As they should be. The human experience is hard.
The therapist is trained to sit with a person for about an hour and hold space. They have positive regard, attune, connect, listen, work toward some resolution with the ultimate goal to get the client to have these skills locked and loaded so that they no longer have to sit across one another.
Last time I checked, therapists were also human. Thus, they need built-in boundaries and ways to shed that work persona when they go home. Sitting and thinking about all the clients and all their woes not only leads to burnout but it isn’t healthy for their work-life balance.
It’s a very unbalanced and difficult system to navigate as the person on the receiving end of therapy. For many, it might be the first time they share stories of trauma, loss, and grief. It might be the first time they have had a relationship where a person genuinely seems interested in who they are and care about their interests. It could even be the healthiest relationship they’ve ever had. There are so many things that make therapy uneven. Even trust in this set up is uneven. The clients are part of the profession and while the therapist genuinely can do their job and care about their clients' well-being it's still a transactional relationship. A unique one, yes but transactional nonetheless.
The way therapy in our society currently works is you see this person for about an hour once a week. Cost and access seem to be the biggest reasons why it’s set up this way. Your therapist gives you their undivided attention for that full hour but you live with yourself 24/7. There are 168 hours in a week. Let’s take away 50 of those hours for sleep. That leaves you with 118 hours. If you look at it from a percentage it isn’t even 1% of your waking life you spend in therapy over a course of a week. Even if my math is off, and let’s be fair improvising has been the bulk of my life these past 15 years it very well might be, the percentage is minuscule.
The time is minuscule, the impact is not. Not for the client. I can only speak for me so here’s what that impact often looks like. I have losses. Things that I haven’t even begun to address. I have traumatic events. I’ve developed ways to protect myself from pain and sorrow because I know if I don’t I will drown. In fact, I am drowning. Every day I feel the cold bony hand of death around my neck. I’m also really good at pushing it aside and showing up for whatever obligations I have and days have become years of doing just that. I show up week after week to therapy hoping this is the week I can finally fall apart. That this is the week I can talk about memories that I’m not even sure about but they definitely make me queasy and shameful. That this is the week I can talk about that thing I know we need to talk about. That this is the week I can talk about what it was like to hear your kid has autism. That this is the week I can talk about how your other kid has mito. That this is the week I can talk about what it means to process this new thing your other other kid shared. That this is the week I can talk about how I’ve had to be alone as a parent. That this is the week I talk about how regretting leads to shame. That this is the week I can talk about how I’d just like to catch a break. That this is the week I can talk about how I’m convinced I am a terrible person because otherwise, all this other stuff doesn’t make sense on why it’s happening. That this is the week I can process losing my identity when I spent so long not knowing who I am and when I finally figured it out it was ripped from me. That this is the week that I can talk about how I knew the moment I ended up in the hospital 6 months ago that I would become irrelevant and I see it every day in a community and industry where you are so easily forgotten and tossed aside. That this is the week I can talk about how lonely I feel even sitting in a room full of humans I know love me. That this is the week I can talk about how I have no idea if I’m going to ever not be dizzy. That this is the week that I can talk about how shitty I feel that it’s not enough that my identity isn’t just wife and mom. That this is the week I talk about how much Mother’s Day sucked. That this is the week I talk about how much I hate myself. That this is the week I can talk about how much I've come to hate terms like joy and hope because every time I allow those into my life it's taken away. That this is the week I can talk about just wanting to disappear. That this is the week I can talk about even when I have a win how gross that makes me feel. That this is the week I can talk about just wanting to find some peace.
But I don’t. Not because I don’t trust that person across from me. It’s because I have to live with myself. This isn’t a friendship. Sure, you need to have a commonality and figure out places where there are shared experiences. The client needs this to move through whatever brings them to therapy. But it’s not a realistic relationship and it only exists in this one hour.
This less than 1% of my week interaction shouldn’t take up 99% of my time. Except it does because it’s devised to mess with my default. When you start taking apart and dismantling everything there’s going to be a huge mess. I’m going to be a huge mess. I’m going to have to navigate that alone 99% of the time. I’m already convinced that I walk alone on my path and the very nature of therapy reinforces this belief system. What is happening in therapy often is not what happens in the everyday. It can’t because we are human and to think we will never be rigid, reactive, or shut off isn’t realistic. Often friends and family, even those supportive of your therapy journey, tell those of us in therapy to stop doing “therapy” when you are with them if you are trying a different approach to communicating or shifting your lens on your reality. It’s the nature of how therapy works.
The challenge is that I come into therapy with all these big emotions and thoughts and I leave with an even bigger emotional suitcase. The setup and expectation at the end of the session are that I navigate this on my own until the next time. The next time consists of me not even feeling safe in my surroundings for a solid 20 minutes and then being told time’s up when it finally does feel I can take a risk and make a move forward. It’s painful and even at times heartbreaking to do this dance week after week. So instead, I keep traversing the same path. One where the treads are deep. It leads to confirmation bias and reverting to what’s worked to make it through this far. For me, that’s shutting off emotions. Pragmatism. Realism. When things really start to kick up then checking out and dissociation. Instead of spending 99% of my time working on healing, I spend it on just trying to exist.
On the off chance I do have some breakthroughs at home and sit in some of gunk and ooze of unhealed, profound, and rooted wounds it won’t get processed as it should. What will happen is finding myself with my 1% of a professional’s time in a conversation about something I don’t even want to talk about because there is no point until this other stuff, my stuff gets sorted. I won’t bring it up because it’s a cycle of I want to bring it up, I can’t find the words, another session passed and I’m still shitty at this therapy thing.
The set up of therapy is unbalanced. There has to be an off button for the therapist. How awful would it be if there wasn’t? There isn’t an off button to being human or of the self. The 1 hour in my 118 hours isn’t going to help me and yet I haven’t quit. Trust me, I think about it a lot. I keep going because I tend to stay in situations that are difficult just to prove I can. I keep going because I like the receptionist and frankly I no longer have places that need me or to be. I keep going because maybe just maybe that 1 hour one day will actually work which I'm aware sounds like hope so I bury that deep inside. So it’s not about trusting for a moment but about finding a way to be okay that this isn't a relationship created to be fair or easy. Learning to be okay that I'm alone 99% of the time on this path. Learning to be okay with figuring out to do what seems impossible. That something being healing.