What Cognitive Behaviorial Therapy looks like

I’ve been meaning to post this for a while.

“Everyone Here is in Therapy”

Early this year, I embarked on a deliberate campaign to reassert myself into my own lived experience, the flow of life, to be intentional about how I spend my moments and how creative, connection-oriented or self-reflective I want those moments to be.

In other words, I started seeing a therapist. It didn’t last long, but it wasn’t supposed to. I chose cognitive behavioral therapy, which is designed to be short-term and diagnostic: find the problem (usually self-damaging thought patterns) and pursue specific solutions. I chose CBT because struggles with depression and regular panic attacks were impacting my quality of life, and I’m a solution-oriented person who resists being medicated for almost everything. I wanted to write about it because mental healthcare has a stigma attached to it, in spite of clear evidence that self-care and mental health are vital to overall wellness. This stigma seems especially prevalent in the south, where I’m originally from, perceived as a sign of weakness or only for very serious problems. I remember jokingly telling my father (who thinks California must be a strange place) that “everyone here is in therapy.” I couldn’t bring myself to tell him that I was.

What Cognitive Behavioral Therapy was like, in brief

I picked Dr. G off of a list, prepared to go through a long search to find a good fit. It’s like finding the right hairstylist! Or so I told myself. I enlisted a “therapy buddy,” a friend who was also nervously pursuing therapy options, to motivate me with texts and encouraging emails, and I returned the favor. I drove to Dr. G’s office once a week and perched on the edge of a leather sofa while Dr. G sat across from me in a chair. I talked while she took notes. During some sessions, I just rambled and for others I had specific goals; occasionally Dr. G interjected or asked me to further explore a particular thread of thought. But sometimes it felt like talking to myself (which I’ve always done quite a bit but had virtually zero alone time to do in those months that I was attending therapy). A couple of times, I cried, and that was alright. Tears came when I spoke of a hurtful thing that felt particularly true upon articulation. Crying felt safe, though it took me by surprise when it first happened. I didn’t sob, no catharsis occurred.

What I gained

Through talking with Dr. G, I learned some things about myself, and not necessarily because she did anything special. Dr. G gave me someone to talk to. I talked out my frustrations, my grief and anxiety. I spoke a little about my birth family (like you do), the people I was living with, and about my son. I talked about the grief I felt concerning the loss of meaningful relationships in my transition from Florida to California, and about the sadness I felt about difficulties in current ones. I talked about the cumulative toll of providing counseling of my own to distressed students at my job. It was helpful to look carefully at the complexness of my life, to realize that it made sense that I might be feeling overwhelmed.

Dr. G gave me tools and suggestions to try between sessions, kind of like homework. I offered to journal about the process, and she encouraged that. Mostly, she gave me tips sheets to review and try out. This seemed so ridiculously simple that initially I doubted her effectiveness as a therapist. But then I reflected on my choice of this kind of therapy, which puts the responsibility for change squarely on the patient.

Some of the tips pertained to realigning the stories we tell ourselves, the thought patterns that form the basis of our thinking and coping. Some of them were metaphors, like (for anxiety and fear) The Sentry, who stands on your shoulder and whispers constant warnings in your ear about perceived threats that keep your adrenal response in overdrive.

Here’s a resource link about CBT.

What I’m thinking now

The Thinker and Death, by Bel17b (Deviant Artist). Image used under Creative Commons.
The Thinker and Death by Bel17b (Deviant Artist). Image used under Creative Commons.

Drawing, which I’m not doing.

Writing, which I AM doing, no matter how gross or stolen (or sometimes perfect) those moments feel.

Heteropatriarchy and the damage it does every day.

Women Destroy Science -Fiction, which is practically the best thing ever.

My third, most recent Interzone sale, which I will say more about later.

 

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

Ursula K. Le Guin and the hermeneutics of love.

Clarion West, which is four years ago for me and right around the corner for others.

The desert, Trickster mythology and motorcycles.

Changing my name.

Making the Cut

This post is not about writing, and really, it’s a rant about my inner life. But it could make my writing life better, so maybe it is about writing.

With me, it takes a crisis point to realize something’s wrong. Or better stated, “nature has a way of restoring balance.” Usually, I stress so hard that I make myself sick and have to spend a week in bed with a cold or something worse. Then, I realize that the world doesn’t stop turning if I take a break from all my responsibilities.

Well, I got a big shove in that direction on Sunday. I was nearly frantic trying to fulfill all my obligations, and I just broke. I know my life is out of balance: the things I most want to devote my time to (writing, spirituality, family) are the ones I give the least to, in favor of activities that satisfy the least and best serve others. SO, I’m done!

A little prayer, to the Goddess: “Mother, help me. Mother, heal me. Please release me from all things worldly that do not serve me.”

I know what needs to be cut. I need to be at peace in myself to do the work I most desire.

So mote it be!

Ack

I haven’t posted in several days, and I just don’t know where the time went. It got eaten by the zen-eating monster again, I guess. Lots of little side projects and articles, but no fiction. Gonna try to change that today, even though I’m under another deadline for an article.

At least it’s kept me busy enough to keep my mind off the lack of response from Clarion. Apparently, I am not the only one. Like Oso Muerte, I am in a holding pattern on that part of my life. It’s surprising how many opportunities have come up for that part of the summer, and how optimistic I can sound saying, “I may be at a writing workshop in San Diego then, I’ll have to let you know.” Maybe absurdly optimistic, I don’t know. I get this sensation in the pit of my stomach when I think about Clarion. Whether I get in or not, the process so far has been a touch emotional, which has really taken me off guard.

Whew!

I am finally reviving the old blog, after a long hiatus. Time slips away when I schedule it to the hilt, and that means I’ve finally realized something basic that anyone could have told me: I didn’t lose my zen, and no one took it. I gave it away. I’m still doing that, but I’m slowly getting better.

I gave it away to:

–PCC, every time I signed a full-time contract.

–Waste, to where, I don’t really know, but it went, and I’m unhappy about it.

–Television, a profoundly addicting escape.

–Time spent wishing I could write but not doing it.

–Volunteer work, which gratifies me but is also slowly sucking life out of me.

What I’m doing to make it better:

–saying no.

–practicing magick.

–gardening, which means slowing down.

–writing. Ah, writing.

Wow

This is my first post since April! I think what happened is all that responsibility stuff I was raving about finally overwhelmed me to the point where I stopped thinking and just kept moving. Survival mode. Then I purged it all at a bonfire. All-night dancing and celebrating. I was caught off-guard by the level of catharsis I experienced. People talk about that word, catharsis, but I wonder how often they actually experience true release. I think that was my first time.

So now, I have no excuse to procrastinate, haha. While all those pressures have eased up with the ending of the spring term, I am at risk of becoming overwhelmed by the summer to-do list I’ve made for myself. You know, all the fun stuff I never have time to work on. I realized that I tend to pile stuff on, like I’m afraid of sitting still. So, I making myself take a day off, sit still one day a week, all summer. I’ll see how long that lasts, I guess.

Progress

At last! Well, in one area, at least, at the expense of others.

You see, I haven’t had a working kitchen since sometime in February. My dishwasher leaked water everywhere, resulting in a parade, in and out of my house, by insurance adjusters and contractors. All the cabinets were ripped out, and the appliances had to be moved into the dining room. The floor was dried out and refinished by tough-looking men with noisy machines. This was all uncomfortably smelly and stressful. Then the Doing Nothing began, and that seemed worse.

Not being able to cook or do dishes is sort of novel at first, but then one gets tired of trying to figure out meals that the microwave can produce or that are electricity-free. And washing dishes in a dishpan on the dining table is not all that much fun. It’s a little like camping, without the good parts. So, we started using paper plates and plastic utensils (gasp!) and eating out a lot (which also sounds like a good time, at first).

The Doing Nothing phase meant lots of wistful staring into the empty kitchen but no actual painting or remodeling or anything. We’d decided to do it ourselves (haha) to save money. Paint was purchased and even a new sink cabinet and other kitchen-remodeling goodies. But Nothing happened. I felt too confused and crazed by all the other things going on (once again, ladies and gentlemen and other non-existent readers, the Main Point), so not much happened after that. More wistful staring and some fantasizing with IKEA catalog in hand, mostly while choking down yet another frozen Lean Cuisine or an instant something-or-other. Meanwhile, my child whines that there’s never anything good to eat and gets constipated from eating too much instant something-or-other (mostly generic Easy Mac), and I get depressed (more).

But today, there is progress! Happy day! The kitchen is almost entirely painted, and all systems are go for the sink and stove to be put in SOON. It may be that I am euphoric from inhaling paint fumes all day, but I’m so thrilled at the prospect of having a working kitchen. I’m not even especially worried about the fact that I didn’t spend any time at all today on the research project that’s due in three days.

Why I Miss Douglas Adams

Some time ago, Douglas Adams, of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy fame, wrote a silly little book entitled The Meaning of Liff. This is a dictionary of words for concepts everyone recognizes but has no words for, such as “the vaguely uncomfortable feeling you got from sitting on a seat which is warm from somebody else’s bottom.” Thanks to Adams and co-writer John Lloyd, this can now be expressed as “shoeburyness.” Apparently, Adams, Lloyd and others came upon the idea as the result of a drinking game, in which a player stated the name of a town, and another player had to assign it a meaning. They quickly realized that there are quite a number of things that are universally known but for which there are no words. Hence, shoeburyness. It helps that English towns often have ridiculous names.

I mention this not because I am a fan of Adams’ work (although I am), but because one of the words from The Meaning of Liff gave me insight into The Main Point of this blog (see previous post).

The word is “farnham.” I experience farnham on an almost daily basis, and it’s somewhat depressing. Farnham is the feeling you get at four in the afternoon when you haven’t got enough done.

That’s me. I miss Douglas Adams.

Why "fragmented"?

Where to begin? Part of the reason I began this blog was to have a place to put my head, which is too full of too many ideas, responsibilities, anxieties, frustrations, and desires.

This may come out like a rant: it’s the one thing about my life that make it “hard.” Even suggesting my life is difficult seems totally arrogant because I live in a safe, generally happy environment where people are mostly nice to me. I eat regularly, it’s unlikely that anyone will try to shoot at me (like in Iraq) or bulldoze my house while I’m in it (Palestine) or kidnap me for money (insert African country here) or stone me for sleeping with someone (insert unpleasant middle eastern country here). So, what’s the problem?

It’s less of a unhappy problem and more of an uncomfortable dilemma. My time is split (or should be) into all these tiny slivers, between service to my community (multiple places and levels), my own personal interests, my desires (like writing), my homework for a class that may not do me any good, and the pressures of homeschooling a child who has Asperger’s Syndrome (this is a new name I’ve been given to understand why my child is so difficult, but more on that later).

At the risk of sounding like a whiner, I started this blog, with hopes of connecting with other people who feel as disjointed and confused as I do every day. I wake up with a sense of dread some days, wondering how I’m going to do it all, and often I go to bed at night reflecting on how little I was able to accomplish. In between those moments, however, there are bursts of energetic action and insight, and moments of satisfaction and wonder. Sound familiar at all?