This blog category is the journaling and journey-ing of my quest to say (with cautious sincerity) “Hello, Anxiety” and to take a look at the condition from my “me-andering” views.
[Today’s post is an overdue continuation of “Hello Anxiety: “‘A Christmas Memory’ and My Therapist(s)” Part One, from a couple of weeks ago: https://nealenjoy.com/2021/12/30/hello-anxiety-a-christmas-memory-and-my-therapists-part-one/]
After finishing my teary-eyed reading to Robert of Truman Capote’s A Christmas Memory, and seeing my own quirky parallels to the story, we finally arrived in Statesboro for my weekly therapist appointment. And I was ready to “BE FIXED!” As I am at every session. And come to think of it, as I am every new morning. Isn’t that what I’m paying for?! And living for?
I really love therapist Lori Gottlieb’s beautifully humorous and heartwarming examination of therapy in Maybe You Should Talk to Someone.
Which, okay, I’ve read three times now, so my copy should be called You Should DEFINITELY Talk to Someone. In the book, Lori (first-name basis now) explains to me that … “One of the most important steps in therapy is helping people take responsibility for their current predicaments, because once they realize that they can and must construct their own lives, they are free to generate change.” She goes on, “A therapist will hold up a mirror to patients.”
Oh gosh, that sounds like far too much work. And the mirror is not one of my best friends.
It’s a bit of a challenge to drive to my therapist’s actual office, at least if you’re arriving from the main avenue out front. You see, he shares this beautiful, slightly crumbling but genteel old white house with several other therapists (Oh, if walls could talk!), and when you turn onto the paved driveway, a little narrow wooden garage appears straight ahead, or what you think is the garage. If this is your first time, you are a bit confused about the layout because the garage doesn’t seem to have a back wall. “Should I keep driving through? Surely you don’t park in a carport with no back wall and where the drive seems to continue.” You slowly inch forward, trying your best not to bring the entire old structure down by grazing the rickety walls. Your effort finds you, slightly exhausted, finally pulling into the mostly-dirt-with-a-little-gravel parking lot out back.
Whew! You haven’t even darkened the therapist’s door yet. You wonder if there’s a trick entrance there as well.
And then it hits you. At least it hit me: I just drove through wooden metaphorical therapy! [TIB (Truth in Blogging): it didnt hit me that first day, but weeks, maybe months later it did.]
Negotiating through therapy can be a confusing and hazardous drive.
You think you know where you’re headed, but then the lane narrows and you find yourself in unexpected, unsteady and unexplored spaces. “It’s too tight in here. Even breathing can be a struggle.” But effective therapy shows you doors you may not have noticed before, in unanticipated places … avenues through. Even if the ways aren’t paved, perhaps covered with dirt, challenging and uncomfortable to push through.
I can’t just keep referring to my therapist as “my therapist” ad nauseam. And I can’t just tell you his real name, because then you might try to go through the garage to see him and claim him as YOUR THERAPIST. And we patients (consumers? clients?) can get very possessive and territorial.
So let’s call him Rubinstein, Rubi for short.
Today, leaving Robert and “A Christmas Memory” in the car, I open the back screen door and walk through the porch into the practice’s common waiting area. I sit down, albuterol inhaler in hand, onto one of only two small, ancient, uncomfortable and rickety-squeak ladder-back chairs. (Don’t get me started on metaphors again.) Soon I hear Rubi walking down the steps from his second-floor suite to fetch me.
Metaphorically Climbing the stairs, I position myself onto the left side of the little couch (everything’s not quite right yet), arrange the oversized throw pillow into its weekly fit behind my back and sit into the session.
Rubi has this simple yet Superpower ability, without saying a word, to slow down and ground my rushed, shallow breathing by making eye contact and then deepening and lengthening his own breath. I follow. It works every time.
After therapist/patient chit chat, I ramble on about the drive, my reading of the Capote story, Robert’s response to the story, my tears and my dysfunctionally functional, alcohol-soaked family backstory. (HOW does he listen to people like me?) And of course I get moist eyes for the second time in an hour.
One of Rubi’s most practical and helpful pieces of advice is to “assign a number level to your anxiety when it comes, Neal. Attend to it.”
Most of the time, however, when anxiety raises its head, I forget ME and just see HIM/HER/IT. “I must fight this monster!” But Rubi is teaching me that anxiety is not the real enemy. It’s how I try to “manage or control” my anxiety.
I have such difficulty “owning” my anxiety as a part of my lived experience because I often get so caught up in the belief that anxiety truly is my great enemy, instead of perhaps an overprotective friend trying too hard to help.
“It’s all about noticing what you feel, instead of just feeling what you feel,” Rubi explains. “And it’s SO important what you tell yourself about what you feel.”
I usually tell myself that I’m weak, that I need to try harder, that other people don’t deal with these crazy issues. And, by all means, to put up a good front! Be “the best little boy in the world.”
So I’ve got some work to do, and obviously some tight garages to drive through, some ladder-back chairs to sit on and some stairs to climb.
My “homework” assignment from this session is to continue giving a numeric value to my anxiety. To attend to it. To see it. But casually, not too intensely, he emphasized. (I tend to overdo homework.)
I think Rubi is holding up a mirror.
Until next time.