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Things I Learned from Bad Therapists, Part 3

Don’t be afraid to break up with your therapist. They’ll understand.

How to be Unsuccessful

therapy

As you may have surmised by now, I’m actually a big believer in therapy.  I’ve suffered from mental health issues (mostly anxiety and depression) for the better part of forty years, so I’ve seen a LOT of therapists.  Some of them have been helpful, and some not so helpful.  Everyone looks for something a little different in their therapist. I want a therapist to be more like a close friend than a doctor, which can be challenging because I don’t have many close friends.

The “bad therapist” i’m thinking about today actually wasn’t bad at all – he just was more like a doctor than a friend (not his fault).  But he taught me a couple of things:

Treat your depression like a medical condition

and don’t be afraid to get a new therapist

This guy (whom I’ll call Steven, because that’s his name) is a psychiatrist, and I was…

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Things I Learned from Bad Therapists, Part 2

Most people would rather be right than happy

How to be Unsuccessful

lucy2

A few years ago, shortly after I made a career change and moved my family from Canada to the United States, I became depressed and started seeing a bad therapist.  OK, maybe I shouldn’t say “bad”, but he was just not very effective for me.  He often seemed bored during our conversations, and once when I asked him what it was like to listen to people’s problems all day he replied, “It’s a real treat.” O-Kay.

He was a psychologist and had written a book, which I dutifully bought and read.  However, all I remember about the book is that it involved some theory of relationships as triangles, and one person in the triangle had to do things differently and stop re-creating negative patterns.  I’m not sure that makes any sense now that I think about it, so I guess neither the book, nor most of his advice, stuck with…

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Things I Learned from Bad Therapists, Part 1

The worst thing about depression is that it makes you believe things that aren’t true

How to be Unsuccessful

lucy

If you have a history of mental illness like me, chances are you’ve had several therapists over the years.  Maybe you’ve had dozens.  I’ve told my troubles, at various times, to psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, and others whose professional qualifications I can’t even remember.

People say it’s hard to find a good therapist, and I think that’s true.  On balance, most of the therapists I’ve seen have not been particularly good, at least for me.  I find some of them don’t listen well, some talk too much, and other offer advice that I don’t find useful.

However, in looking back I can see that even the therapists whom I thought were useless usually said at least one thing that was helpful, one thing that I remember now years later.  What they said didn’t make a big impression on me at the time, but now I recognize it as wisdom, that…

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Be Brave

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I once saw a news story where this guy jumped into the river to save a drowning person. When asked how he was able to be so brave, he said he didn’t really think about it. He just did it. While this is an amazing thing to do, I wouldn’t necessarily call it an act of courage, because he wasn’t afraid. There isn’t really anything courageous in doing something that doesn’t scare you. What’s the risk in that?

I asked readers to share the bravest thing they’ve ever done. A lot of them had to do with taking risks like starting a business, joining the army, going back to school. Most people play it safe–stay in the career or relationship or neighborhood that isn’t fulfilling because of the fear that whatever they choose could be worse. Not many things are scarier than the unknown.

Some people said the bravest thing they’ve ever done was to embrace a painful life experience. Going through childbirth alone, without drugs. Facing a diagnosis of a brain tumor. Watching a loved one die. I had not expected this, but I guess it’s true that life will inevitably throw experiences our way that require us to be brave. No one gets through unscathed.

I would say the bravest thing I’ve ever done was to be single. I had been in a relationship nonstop from 15 to 45, and when I knew that one relationship was about to end, I would start another one so that there was no period of time when I was alone. I was ashamed of this, but I was more afraid of being by myself. And I stayed in a lot of unsatisfying relationships because of this fear. So for me, being single for 4 years was pretty courageous.

In my search to discover how to be a good person, the answer I found was unexpected. To be a good person, to be loving, we must be self-aware. We have to look inward and be with all of those things about ourselves that we try so hard not to face. Our flaws. Our mistakes. Our secrets. We have to accept them, forgive ourselves for them, and understand that this, too, is what it means to be human.

Those who do so can be loving because they know that we are all the same. We all have flaws. We’ve all made mistakes. We all harbor secrets. So who am I to say that I am better than anyone else? We’re all traveling the same road, doing the best that we can. We are all deserving of compassion.

I would say that this is the most difficult kind of bravery of all–to face what is inside us. This is the reason that people come to therapy–and why everyone can benefit from therapy. We aren’t taught how to face our demons. We are told to suck it up, push through, instead. And in the midst of a crisis, that is an important skill to have. But in the aftermath, we have to take time to make sense of what we’ve experienced. That’s when we need to spend some time looking within.

In teaching clients how to practice mindfulness, I tell them that they are learning how to feel their feelings but not respond reflexively to them. Just because we’re anxious doesn’t mean we have to avoid flying. We can still book the flight. We can be afraid but do it, anyway. We can be brave.

What will your next act of courage be?

Words of Wisdom, Part 2

UVA basketball 2018

I don’t know if you know this about me, but I love Tony Bennett. Almost as much as I love Federer. In fact, Bennett might have a slight edge because he’s local, and Federer is rarely in the U.S. Not that locality increases my odds of being with either of them, but it is easier to be in the same building with Bennett, at least. The last 3 tennis tournaments I’ve gone to for Federer I did not get to see him. But when I go to a game, Bennett is always there.

By the way, if you don’t follow basketball, I’m not talking about the 80 something year old Tony Bennett who sings “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.” This is the men’s coach for the University of Virginia basketball team. Not only is he really, really good-looking, he is also a great coach, a great leader, and a great human being.

Last weekend UVA had a loss in the NCAA basketball tournament that has been described as the biggest upset in all of sports. Not exactly the way you want to make history, some might argue. Although my brothers and I take a more positive spin on it: if it’s the greatest upset ever, we must be that good.

And we are. We are the only team to start the season unranked and end the season as the unanimous #1 seed in the country. The ACC regular season and tournament champions. The only team to go undefeated on the road in the ACC. The only team to win after being down by 4 points with .9 seconds left on the clock. The overall #1 seed in the NCAA tournament. A huge favorite to make it to the Final Four. To win it all for the first time ever.

And then we lost to a 16 seed. The weakest 16 seed in the tournament. And we lost badly. Embarrassingly. The worst loss we’ve had all season. Praise for Tony Bennett as the favorite for National Coach of the Year has turned into criticism of how he isn’t capable of winning in the tournament. Doesn’t have what it takes. Maybe UVA should just fire him.

It was painful and heartbreaking to watch them lose. I couldn’t bear to watch the Retrievers celebrate their victory. I went to my room and lay down on my bed and thought about crying. Because, as you know from my last post, I’m on the verge of crying all the time.

But I didn’t. I thought about what I teach clients about mindfulness–how what goes up must come down. Happiness, sadness. Success, failure. Love, loss. They all come in waves. When you’re up, be sure to take it in. Be fully present to it. Savor it. Memorize it with all 5 of your senses, rather than focus on when the other shoe will drop. Because it will drop. That is how life goes. That’s the ebb and flow of it.

And when you’re down, take that in, too. Comfort yourself. Console yourself. Then put things into a larger perspective. And know that you will not always be down, because that, too, is the ebb and flow of life.

But the next morning I still didn’t want to get out of bed. I had been looking forward to watching basketball all day, and now I would just hear about UVA’s loss over and over again. But eventually I got hungry so I had to get up. And I was going to avoid social media so that I wouldn’t have to see what all the haters had to say, but then I decided to just get it over with.

Luckily, one of the first things I came across was Tony Bennett’s press conference after the game. I was so moved by it that I have included the majority of it below:

A week ago we were cutting down the nets at the ACC tournament. They had a historic season, they really did. And then we had a historic loss, being the first 1 seed to lose. And that’s life. The adulation, the praise, we got a lot of it this year. But then on the other side there will be blame. But in the end that can’t define these guys, or our team, or us. Because it was a remarkable season. But we got thoroughly outplayed, and that’s the reality of it. If you play this game and step into the arena, this stuff can happen. Good basketball knows no divisions, or limits, or qualities. All that matters is who plays the best. They earned their right to play in this tournament and we earned our right. They earned their right to move on. It’s who played the best for those 40 minutes and they absolutely did.

It must be so great to have a coach who can say this to you after what may be the worst loss you will ever experience as a player. Someone who tells you to enjoy the highs, accept the lows, and know that none of it defines you. Don’t get too caught up in the hype, and don’t believe the haters. Be the same person in victory and defeat.

If you watch UVA, then you know that’s exactly what they do. What Tony Bennett teaches them to do. As an alum, I am loyal to UVA, win, lose, or draw. And right now I couldn’t be prouder to be a Wahoo, even after the biggest upset in all of sports, because of Tony Bennett.

Tony Bennett

I’m So Tired I Could Cry

Life is poop (4)

Have you ever felt so tired you could cry? No? Apparently it’s just me. I am the only person I know who still feels like a toddler.

I used to wonder why toddlers cry when they’re tired. And when they don’t want to sleep. And when they wake up. What are the thinking and feeling? I asked a parent once, and they were just like, I don’t know. He always does that. And this is perfectly acceptable behavior. Yet if I were to cry upon awakening and sulk and be out of it for a period of time afterwards, this behavior would be frowned upon. That’s totally unfair.

I have an advantage over toddlers in that they do not have the cognitive development and verbal skills to articulate what they’re thinking and feeling, but I do. So it’s almost like I can read a toddler’s mind. If I had to describe how I feel in that moment, it’s something like, this sucks that I’m struggling to stay up but I still have to stay at work, drive 45 minutes to get home, go to the grocery store, cook dinner, do the dishes, and get ready for bed before I can sleep! I could seriously fall asleep right now!

OK maybe that’s not anything like what toddlers think. But I still feel their pain.

When I feel like crying when I wake up, it’s more like, that wasn’t enough sleep! I don’t want to get up and do a bunch of chores! I’m hungry! I’m anxious! I have to pee! I’m just going to lie here and sulk for a while as a small act of rebellion against adulthood.

This is probably not normal, either.

I fight sleep like a toddler, too. It’s not even conscious. I’ll feel myself drifting off into a dream state and I’ll do something like roll over and wake myself back up again. Maybe it’s because I have to will on a hypomanic episode just to get ready for bed because it takes about an hour. But then once I’m done my brain is still all hyped up and I can’t turn it off. So then I can’t fall asleep and have to take extra Ativan. So then I wake up tired the next morning, and I feel like I want to cry. And the cycle repeats.

These are the kinds of things that make me feel like I’m not handling adulthood well.

But perhaps there are advantages to being in touch with my inner toddler. Maybe it’s a gift to able to access every version of myself from infancy to the present. Maybe it helps me to be more self-aware, to know myself better. Maybe that’s why I’m able to empathize with people so well. Maybe it helps me to be a better therapist.

Or maybe I’m just making all this up and I’m really just crazy.

That’s OK, too. Maybe there is no such thing as normal. Maybe that’s just some idealized version of ourselves that we can never live up to. Maybe it wouldn’t even be a good thing if we could live up to it. Maybe we are all just different degrees of craziness, and on that continuum, I’m probably average. More than just a little crazy, but functioning well enough to write this blog post without crying.

Adult toddler

Words of Wisdom

Be You

I’ve been playing a game with some friends where we alternate asking a question to get to know the other person–and ourselves–better. One of my favorites was: what advice would you give to your 16 year old self? My answer was not to date someone just because you’re afraid of being alone, because that habit gets harder to break with age.

I enjoyed hearing people’s answers so much that I decided to ask the same question to followers on my Facebook page and to share their answers on my blog so that we may all benefit from other people’s wisdom. Many of the answers were similar, so I’ve grouped them into categories and have given some of the actual responses.

  1. Be yourself.
    • Find acceptance within yourself first. Don’t look for acceptance from anyone but you.
    • Don’t believe all you hear about what others think, they may be jealous of what you have accomplished.
    • My 16 year old self would just need to be told that she is loved! That’s ALL! The rest will come.
  2. Be mindful.
    • Slow down!!!! I was in such a rush to be “grown”! Now I miss having just One Day where I don’t have to be an adult!
    • Life is a marathon…not a sprint…be patient and stay focused…the best is yet to come..
    • Enjoy every moment…don’t wish time away!
  3. Be kind.
    •  Kindness is magical; it is a real superpower that saves the world one little life at a time.
    • Love much and forgive often.
    • Whether you are struggling or at your very best, turn around and lend a hand to someone behind you.
  4. Be discerning.
    •  Wait a while longer for intimacy; it’s still too early and a decent guy will understand that.
    • You can’t make someone love you if they don’t.
    • Be careful who you choose as friends… not everyone is your friend.
    • You aren’t going to be an old maid….no really, trust me. Don’t cruise in cars with strangers, as the world isn’t a safe place.
    • Don’t believe any boy when he says “I love you”!
  5. Be open to advice.
    • Listen to the people who truly love you…they know life and will never steer you on a wrong path!
    • Listen to advice from your elders or parents but at the same time search for what is best for yourself.
    • You are not the best driver in the world, the ink isn’t even dry yet.
  6. Be prepared.
    • Study harder, do better in school, it only happens once!
    • Wear clean underwear in case you are in an accident.
    •  Invest in Google, Samsung, Apple, Microsoft, etc. And I’d give myself a list of the winners of every Superbowl, and World Series for 20 years.
  7. Be brave.
    • Take chances- you may not ever get the opportunity again.
    • Don’t be so self conscious! Go for it!!
    • Take setbacks with a grain of salt. Things happen for a reason.
    • Don’t be afraid to go to prom alone.

Thanks to all of the readers who offered advice! If you’re reading this post and your words of wisdom are not represented above, feel free to include yours in the comments section.