The other morning, my husband asked me if I had stopped therapy and if I was planning to resume. The questions, though completely devoid of criticism, instantly irritated me. Because this gut reaction was unfounded, I spent some time considering why I felt defensive and offended by his comment. It should be a perfectly normal and reasonable (if not helpful) question to ask, yet it struck a nerve because it insinuated that I was somehow needing more therapy and not doing “well.” Despite growing up in a household with parents employed in the mental health sector and becoming conditioned to the normalcy of psychotherapy, it still has the cultural stigma that we are routinely inculcated with that it is something “shameful” that should be stolen away as a coveted secret. My logical conscious brain scoffs at this concern, but I see that when I’m pressed to address the potential need for more therapy and to justify my current involvement, this unconscious discomfort of being tasked to engage more frequently in “disgraceful medicine” comes to the forefront. I’ve clearly got a lot of growing and maturing yet to do.
Needless to say, my husband’s inquiry stemmed from a non-judgmental place of genuine care and concern. He has seen how tremendously helpful therapy has been in my processing of trauma, anxieties, physical and mental health challenges, and overall emotional wellness. When I’ve been fortunate enough to have an experienced and patient therapist and have committed myself to working hard through the process, psychotherapy has been an undeniably useful tool in working through issues, understanding my thoughts and feelings, and developing healthy coping mechanisms. However, I’m not always able to schedule regular therapy or find a skilled therapist with time in their schedule, particularly because I have relocated many times over the past few years and have had several changes in insurance. I also suffer from “giving up” on it when, after a string of a couple of frustrating or useless sessions with new providers, I’ve decided it’s not worth the hassle and I focus my “available appointment time and dedicated energy” to other necessary outlets: physical therapy, occupational therapy, medical appointments, etc. I have a limited operating window of viable energy and interest in attending any sort of appointment, so when one problem (foot, joints, stomach, PTSD, sensory overload, etc.) takes precedence over another, appointment for the more critical issue supplants whatever had been the focus. Recently, talk psychotherapy has admittedly taken the back burner for joint, muscle, and connective tissue issues, so Ben is accurate is his assumption that I’ve let trauma therapy largely fall to the wayside. To my credit, it’s the most upsetting and least gratifying type of appointment focus as well. Although PTSD and chronic depression and anxiety (and all my related issues to process) are persistent obstacles in my life, sometimes, I am so accustomed to their presence that the more readily-changing (and exacerbating) physical ailments supersede these psychological needs. Because I can only emotionally and physically handle a handful of fairly local appointments a week, I have to be very judicious in my scheduling and focus.
While my initial reaction to Ben’s question was short and irritable, the conversation lingered with me throughout the day and I considered his good intentions and honestly evaluated my therapy participation. My knee-jerk response was that I “didn’t need to focus on therapy” right now because “I was perfectly happy and had far more pressing issues.” Later when calm, I decided that although it was true that I had likely more pressing issues, being “perfectly happy” was an incorrect statement. I was feeling frustrated and depressed with several recent hurdles and just burying my head from facing those issues rather than owning them and attending to rectifying them. I swallowed my pride, apologized for my childishness, and thanked him for helping me take care of myself and caring. I also scheduled a new trauma therapy appointment with the therapist that had been selected to me after a lengthy intake process at a local mental health center. I’m dreading the appointment because facing trauma is painful and disturbing. The work hurts and stirs up awful memories that I work tirelessly to tamp down, but ultimately, if I can get through the processing, there may be lightness and freedom at the other side. In truth, I’ve done very little “trauma-specific” therapy for the attack. I’ve done plenty of therapy, but most of it has simply been talk therapy talking about the incident’s current implications in my life, rather than actually working through the thoughts and feelings of the event and the constant flashbacks and nightmares. As a markedly sensitive person, I don’t take well to the idea of stirring the pot, disturbing the fragile equanimity I tiptoe around on a daily basis, where just an excessively deep sigh can topple the delicately arranged components over. However, I can always remember that I’m in the command room running this mission: I only need to push as much as I feel ready to on any given day. The therapist is there to help guide me, but I’m the one whose needs matter in the session: If I’ve had enough, I’ve had enough. With that, I’ll try to fret my appointment this afternoon as little as possible and remain as positive and proud of myself in the meantime. The things I’m asking of myself and the challenges I face are not that easy. I have made plenty of missteps and outright mistakes, but I’m mostly doing my best and that does count for something.