The Perils of Being So Sensitive

Wednesday is trauma therapy day, so I usually start getting a bit anxious on Tuesday night in anticipation of the session. It’s only been one week since I approached my therapist with the news that I need to pull back a bit on the intensity and extent of the trauma stuff covered at one time in a session. I suggested we keep the trauma focus, but intersperse the specific discussions and explorations of the event in shorter, digestible discreet blocks during one session around more in depth work on any of the other multitude of problems I have. Although it was nerve-wracking to bring it up (because I don’t like to complain or “disappoint” someone), she reacted with understanding, stating that that was a wise idea. That said, I was still nervous about yesterday’s session, in the way that I would be prior to a scheduled hard track workout when I was a younger runner. In both cases, I knew the work would be difficult and painful in a way, even if desired benefits will ultimately be derived from it.

I have been having a tougher time emotionally this week so far anyway it seems, so it’s understandable that I felt a perceptible degree of additional trepidation for the session. I tried to stay calm and positive beforehand though, and limit the amount of time that I spent worrying about the therapy before even getting there. This is easier said than done, and I found that I had some trouble effectively diverting my attention while doing some editing, so I actually opted to take a work break.

Instead, I worked on a puzzle. (While I’m on the subject, we successfully finished the daunting bird migration puzzle, and I’ve moved on to a fish species one.) I obviously would have preferred to maintain my typical work schedule and just take the isolated time out of the day for the session itself. Although I’m honestly disappointed in myself and what I consider babyishness (for not being able to work without getting upset and obsessed with anxieties about the impending session), I recognize that it’s a good step in my emotional growth to notice the problem (perseverating unnecessarily about therapy and working myself into an anxious mess because I wasn’t mentally distracted enough) and take concrete steps to halt the problem. Play time with puzzles may not be the ideal behavior I’d like to see (it’d be more honorable and mature to just be able to carry along with my usual responsibilities), but I feel it’s still a step in right direction because it was an effective strategy for the intended goal: take my mind off the upcoming session so that I wouldn’t become more anxious and potentially (likely!) call to cancel. In all fairness, it’s not like I took the entire morning off from work; I took off exactly 54 minutes before I intended to leave for my appointment. Over the next few weeks, I hope my anxieties to mount as noticeably as I anticipate the session, but even if they do, I can attempt extend the length of work time up to the session and reduce the puzzle activity time. I’m not overly concerned either way, because it’s not a major problem or significant cut back in work.

The puzzle time served to keep my nerves reasonably low, so I arrived to therapy decently relaxed and upbeat. My therapist even commented that I seemed less agitated than usual when I first sat down. There’s a win! After the typical brief week synopsis, she jumped right into questions about the trauma, even asking me to close my eyes (an action that makes me tremendously uneasy) to visualize certain moments from the attack to conjure up suppressed feelings. I protested about shutting my eyes, but she insisted that it would be far more effective. As an obliger, I complied, although reluctantly. Perhaps this is one instance where my inability to really visualize anything on command in my mind was beneficial. I think it would have been too disturbing to actually conjure up a realistic mental image or “movie” of what happened. As it was, just listening to the questions she was asking and the thoughts and feelings they issued in my mind started making me feel physically sick. I became immediately overheated and started frantically removing my many layers of winter clothes. Nausea overcame me and I slammed my hand over my mouth, unfortunately in a failed attempt to stop myself from vomiting all over my undershirt. Yuck. The silver lining is this enabled me to have a valid excuse to run to the bathroom and squander session minutes removing my clothing, washing up, and putting on my clean outer layers soared from disaster. I returned, humiliated, to her office and flopped back down on the chair. At least she had the wisdom to change topics for a bit.

We did continue to return to the trauma discussion twice more during the 45-minute session. I handled those “visits” to the traumatic memories in a less somatically visceral way, though they still rattled me psychologically. I don’t feel that these subsequent two discussions were detrimental or set me back in my progress. Unfortunately, I don’t feel like the same can be said of the vomiting incident because shades of the that experience and the questions that brought it on were in one of my nightmares last night. I woke up from that feeling startled and nauseous.

I’m glad to have six days before my next session to breathe and recuperate. My goal is to not let the embarrassing and upsetting incident of yesterday’s session cause my normal pre-appointment anxiety to increase. I will try to convince myself that that was more of an isolated incident. My one concern is that the physical ill feeling that overcame me didn’t surprise my therapist. She called it “totally normal and part of the process.” This makes me worry that she’ll see no qualms in potentially invoking it again. I’m all for doing hard work to make progress and heal, but I draw the line at throwing up. I already mentioned last week how stress aggregates my autoimmune disease and my overall health. It seems that there’s hardly a more explicit and observable manifestation of this reaction than an immediate vomiting! Hopefully, I’ll start to feel less affected today and by next Wednesday, I’ll be ready to delve into things again. Maybe I better order another puzzle now so that I have one to work on then…

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