Therapy is Exhausting

Therapy wasn’t that bad yesterday, thanks to my good attitude. I started to feel really grouchy as I was driving there, largely because I was hungry. I couldn’t eat my normal full breakfast right before it because when I do, I’m in and out of the bathroom a few times per hour. It gets pretty awkward (and expensive!) to take multiple bathroom breaks during a 45-minute one-on-one session with someone.

With just a small snack beforehand, I only needed to leave the appointment once, after using the facilities there while I was waiting for her after I checked in. So, I had to ignore my inadequately satiated stomach’s rumbles and delay the rest of my meal until I returned home after the appointment–not a comfortable feeling but better than suffering the repeated need to run to the bathroom during therapy. Ah, the logistics that someone with a chronic digestive disease has to worry about. At least at this point, I’m so accustomed to this sort of planning and stomach distress that I’m immune to feeling mortified about it; it’s just my reality. I’m only reminded of how jaded I’ve become with such a chronically-limiting digestive disorder when I meet with new doctors and they ask explicit questions about my bathroom habits and when I relay my typical frequency and discomfort, their jaws inevitably drop, opening a gaping mouth that I can only assume is an indication of shock.

I hate the waiting room at the facility where my therapist works. It’s a really large mental health center with many therapists on staff plus a med clinic. Because all appointments operate on the same schedule and start on the hour, the waiting room is always packed. Yesterday, it was standing room only when I arrived about ten minutes early. I always feel like everyone is staring at me, although I think this is my self-conscious nature rather than the reality. That said, as I’ve mentioned before, it doesn’t help that the receptionists sit behind this thick glass window with just a tiny slot opening for passing paperwork and receipts back and forth. They have all sorts of fans and white noise machines on their side of the glass and so you have to shout your name to be heard. For some reason, it seems that I’m the only one (at this out of the contingent there every time I go) who has a copay. The receptionist projects loud enough for the whole room to hear that I owe thirty dollars. No wonder all heads snap my direction on a synchronized fashion. I feel their eyes bore holes in the back of rapidly-overheating back. Since there was nowhere to sit anyway, after paying my fee, I used the bathroom then pretended to be interested in the sole photograph in the hallway, out of the way of all the other waiting patients.

As physically and emotionally uncomfortable as I was standing around beforehand, I tried my best to diffuse my grouchiness and replace it with energy and a good mood. I actually pulled out my phone and jotted down some things for a gratitude list and when I ran out of ideas, I switched over to brainstorming potential benefits of the upcoming session to help right my attitude and power me to a place where I felt better about being there. It worked. I looked back at those two lists this morning and had to chuckle at how much I must have been digging for items for my list and had a low bar for qualifying what made the cut for things to be grateful for. “That my socks aren’t wet right now,” “that it doesn’t smell like cheese in my house,” and “green” (with no context or explanation) are particularly funny to me right now. Silly as it may seem, deliberately thinking of things to be grateful for and physically jotting them does help me pull out of a bad headspace and if unable to bring myself all the way up to joy, I can at least get myself less upset. I thought adding the benefits of the impending appointment while I was standing there hungry, tired, and dreading it would be useful for specifically altering my attitude for that unappealing event. (I think it was also a good strategy since I had exhausted my readily-accessible ideas for things I was grateful for. When the list feels short in the moment, it can be counterproductive and depressing in and of itself.)

By the time my therapist came to retrieve me from the waiting area, it had mostly cleared out because she was six minutes late and most other providers seem to grab their patients at or before the clock strikes the hour. Six minutes may not seem like much, but she makes a hard stop at forty-minutes after the hour on any work or discussion and then we schedule our next session. By the time we walk the long hallway back to her office and take our positions in our chairs, six minutes easily becomes ten. Throw in my emergency bathroom break halfway through (this part is, of course, my fault though!), we only talked for twenty-five minutes or so. After not seeing her for five weeks and with all the various balls I juggle representing different issues, a 25-minute talk hardly scratches the surface of any major updates.

That said, since I wasn’t jazzed about the session anyway, it’s not a huge deal to me. Perhaps this is a big part of the reason why I haven’t found the work accomplished in formal therapy to come close to the progress I’ve made on my own time. In my hour per week (two 30-minute sessions), I’m focused and driven to stay on task and delving into my most imminent or significant troubles at that time. With my therapist, she has an agenda that sometimes conflicts with what I want to discuss. I try to steer her to the topics I most need to talk about or work on, but I never seem that effective at changing the course she’s set in her head. Frankly, we waste time talking through trivial things sometimes or “yesterday’s issue” when a different problem has taken center-stage. I have so many challenges that it’s not surprising she wouldn’t always know which to focus on or where to start exploring, but that’s why I think she should heed to my direction of emphasis on any given day. I’m not the trained therapist though, so maybe there’s a rational method to her approach. I just haven’t found it overly effective. Instead, it frustrates me because I feel steamrolled into dwelling on less-urgent problems and left with the same questions and problems I entered with, without the benefit of her expert advice.

The time flew and before I knew it, I was sent on my way with another appointment on the books in a month. Despite the truncated session, I felt completely talked-out afterward. I couldn’t even call Ben hours later for our usual lunch chat. I couldn’t rebound socially. That’s how exhausting it can be for me to undergo the whole stress of an appointment and talk a lot and discuss difficult issues. So, I spent the rest of the day in silence, tried to catch up on work, and went to bed early. At least there are thirty days left until I have to go again!

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