I’ve been working with a new therapist.
After group therapy ended last year, I saw my old therapist a few times when I found myself in a low place. A few months ago, I found myself in another low place and realized it was time to find another consistent way to work with someone. Instead of trying to get on my old therapist’s calendar in three weeks when she had an opening, and by that time I’d hopefully no longer feel the same acute need during a hard time, I’d have a weekly relationship with someone.
If I’m honest, I harbor hope that having a relationship with a therapist will prevent these hard times from happening in the first place. I’ll sit in his office each week, talk about what was hard for me since I last saw him, he’d give me some insights into why my brain works the way it does, and together we can keep my anxiety and depression locked up in a box in the corner—we know it’s there and a threat but manageable and controlled.
Those of you in therapy will be shaking your heads by now. Cause this isn’t at all how it works.
In fact, the reason this therapist “stuck” for me was him picking up, in our first consult session together, that spending time trying to figure out what was “wrong” with my brain and why was triggering for me, and instead his philosophy is one of acceptance and not getting stuck in destructive patterns of thought.
In other words, the goal isn’t to stop the anxiety and depression, because they aren’t something wrong that need to be fixed, they are characteristics to recognize and notice, and choose to see as separate from me.
Because they aren’t something that need to be fixed.
I wrote about this shift in perspective back in May, so I was immediately thrilled to find a therapist who could help me on the journey.
And then, yesterday, the first tears were shed in his office, after a month of sessions that felt like the getting-to-know-you kind.
What made me cry?
I had been describing the way my thoughts tend to get all jumbled and sticky, that I try to figure everything out before it happens, that I analyze things that have already happened and script out what’s yet to come. These thoughts perhaps start out productive, in that I’m preparing and planning, but then soon run away, and I can’t focus on any one thing and they turn into a fear-driven cacophony of voices telling me that I might not do it right, or I didn’t do it right, and what’s wrong with me for doing it that way, and there’s no way to do this in an easy way so keep overthinking so I never make a decision at all.
I was sad for the woman who has it deeply engrained in her that she has to do things right, be right, and whose inner voices are constantly convincing her she isn’t doing anything right. Who can sit on a therapist’s couch and nod and agree with the acceptance idea, and even get excited on a cellular level that this sounds like the way in to the work she wants to do, but whose fear that it will be hard starts to tell her that something is wrong with her and if she was “doing it right,” she wouldn’t have anxious or depressive thoughts in the first place.
Above all, I was sad for the woman who finds it hard to have compassion for herself and truly believe that she doesn’t need to be fixed.
This woman has her work cut out for her.
Thinking about working on self-compassion and disconnecting from the need to fix everything seems a much more spacious, delicious thing to work on than does stopping the runaway train of inner voices, which seems very forceful and gripping (because it’s about fixing rather than acceptance).
It’s scary to think about noticing when I’m not being compassionate, because it happens all the time, starting from being annoyed at myself for hitting snooze on the alarm. And it will continue to make me sad. And it will continue to be hard to not be hard on myself for being hard on myself—but all of this is one giant paradox, so why should this be any different?
I don’t need to be fixed.
I am okay.