I arrived for this session feeling somewhat ‘under par’ and was surprised, on arrival, to find that I obviously wasn’t the only one – it transpires that a nasty bug has swept the class, and only 6 of us managed to make it to college. So, a much depleted group checked in, reporting a mixture of feelings – me, being unusually blunt and candid about just how rubbish I was feeling. For some reason, in the car on my journey in I had been overcome with a terrible wave of upset and tearfulness, despite my best efforts to put my ‘chirpy, sociable College hat’ on, and I just felt too upset to pretend I wasn’t – sometimes it is just impossible to carry on, regardless; particularly in an environment where you are being encouraged to be in touch with your feelings, as we are.
So, it was with a level of discomfort that I began the first assignment of the day – a review of psychodynamic theory, and how we have personally related to it. We were given only an hour to get our thoughts down (in preparation for the exam conditions we will face) and I disappeared off to the LRC to place myself in front of a computer, where I could access my notes. The hour flew by in what felt like seconds, and I returned to the class to share my findings with the rest of the (tiny) group. In retrospect, I think that the group size, combined with my already delicate demeanour, made for an extremely intimate and particularly open debrief.
Feeling somewhat vulnerable, yet unafraid to be fully present in the activity (as the level of support that I feel within the group is huge) I began the next exercise – a set of open ended questions designed to reveal to us what really is lying within our subconscious. *sigh* Well, what can I say? By the end of this exercise I was close to flat on the floor. I’ll publish this exercise as a separate blog post so you can read how it works, if you want – or breeze over it – whichever…
What a thoroughly depressing set of answers I put forward! The obvious truth was glaring hard at me; I was sliding – I could feel myself sinking further and further, and I was getting more and more anxious and frightened about it. This feeling had begun a few days before, when I had received some bad news in the post from the welfare support benefits agency. It was probably a bit of a trigger, as the depression that I had been trying so hard to keep at bay for the last few months –certainly since the beginning of this academic year – was hovering around my peripheries, waiting for the moment it could sneak back in and swallow me up again, and it was getting perilously close to finding one.
The practice counselling session that followed on from the quick answer exercise began with me as the talker. I probably made a mistake there – maybe if I had composed myself enough to be the listener, I would have held it together for the rest of the day? No point in wondering about that now though, because I didn’t.
I started talking, and then I started crying, and once I had started crying I found it nearly impossible to stop. All of my fears came out – I told J (my counsellor for this session) about my psychological assessment I had last week, and my fears of an official bipolar diagnosis, and a change to a stronger medication as a result of that. She questioned me as to why I was afraid of that – after all, I hadn’t been so upset when my son was diagnosed last year? I had been relieved that he was finally going to feel better. But on further thinking, I decided that relief was my own – I wouldn’t have to worry so hard if I knew he was being ‘treated’ correctly – just as I felt that those around me wouldn’t have to worry so much about me if I am medicated more heavily than I am currently. But there is a big part of me that is scared that I will never feel happy again if I take these stronger meds. I mean, I know that when I am down I am really down, but at least when I am, what they call, ’hyper’, I feel productive and successful. It may be a somewhat deluded perception of self, but it is preferable to the negative, hopeless, lethargic underachiever that I am the rest of the time. The other big fear that goes with that, is the fear that I will become even more like my Grandma – that I will spend my life suppressed by drugs, and will die lonely, having never truly lived my life, having had a mere existence.
Wow! Rollo May or Irvin Yalom would probably have a ball dealing with my overwhelming existential angst that this personal setback, combined with the shock and realisation that some psychodynamically orientated introspection has brought on, but I felt quite guilty that I put this much onto a fellow student. It was probably too much for her to deal with – I could feel her instinct as my friend (within the group) even though she was my counsellor (within this setting), and she was struggling with her inbuilt desire to rescue me, to make it better. Credit to her, though, she resisted well.
The level of upset within me was indescribable – even after the session stopped, I couldn’t stop crying – it was that really deep, really snotty and wheezy kind of crying (you know, that Juliet Stevenson did so well in ‘truly, madly, deeply’ – remember that? I’ve never seen such realistic, hard crying on a film since then) and the inbuilt instinct to close my eyes and sleep after that, was close to overpowering me through the process group and the supervision part of the afternoon. I am extremely embarrassed to say that I even answered a question with “I don’t know” – a phrase you will not hear me offer very often (I am someone who generally has an opinion, or wants to offer input to most discussions) but I really did feel completely spent – a bit broken, even. I couldn’t concentrate – even now, writing this journal the next day I am finding it hard to concentrate.
Still, it is done now; my bad day is over – I may still feel the remnants, but the journal is written – I can put this to bed, and hope that this Thursday’s extra workshop goes better for me. It will, I am sure; it has to!
- From Aaron Beck to Irvin Yalom: 10 psychotherapists with lasting influence (westallen.typepad.com)