I sat down and got to work.
Before my first session with my current therapist, I had to fill out some paperwork. I drove over to the building, made my way down the carpeted stairs to her office, and then it was time to fill out an intake form. I’m sure I’ve filled out this form before, but for some reason, I only remember this specific time. There were basic questions like date of birth and insurance provider, but those aren’t memorable. What was memorable was a question that was waiting for me towards the end. It asked me to identify my problem areas, my weaknesses, my flaws, at least, how I saw them. I looked at the question for just a moment, and then I dove in. It was time to tell myself how I felt about the person I had become. It was time to take stock. It was time to give myself a piece of my own mind. This question came after one that asked me what I liked about myself, and one answer was much longer than the other.
If you haven’t guessed, the negatives far outweighed the positives. I had a lengthy list, which included a few new adjectives that now seemed to apply. I wasn’t happy, and I would describe it as either a moment of clarity or abject frustration (possibly both), the moment when so many of these thoughts and feelings were clear to me. I dug in deep, as if I was someone passing judgment on a person they didn’t like. Rather than painting a favorable picture, the person passing judgment dismantled the poor soul sitting in front of him. The judgement was at once savage and dispassionate: I let myself know what I thought of the person sitting there, who was once again seeking solutions for problems that had persisted for years.
I’ve gone for long stretches of time without a therapist. Almost every one of these relationships has ended, not because of something that was said or because of a falling out, but because I’ve moved. Almost every time I’m moved, I’ve decided to wait on seeing someone else, and there’s a reason for that. Deep down, I hoped that I’d gotten past all of the things, whether real or perceived, that were holding me back. I wanted to see if I could make it out there in the world, without needing the “crutch” of therapy. I didn’t want to need someone to vent to, to help clarify my thoughts. I didn’t want to need help the rest of my life, and yet, I always found myself back in another office, surrounded by mostly comfortable furniture and muted or calming colors. Somehow, I’d be back once again, ready to open myself up and to tell the same rote stories. Maybe this would be my breakthrough, and although I’ve had one, two, maybe a few more, they never were strong enough to offset the damage that had been inflicted by a tumultuous life, or maybe even by myself.
I’m a strong advocate for therapy, and yet, a certain frustration came with knowing that I never fully healed. No matter how much I kept talking, I was never truly back to normal, whatever that meant. I had unearthed so much. I had talked about the feelings and emotions that these experiences evoked. I had gotten so much better at communicating the way I felt, and to me, that seemed to be the way towards healing. No longer holding something in, no longer frustrated by an inability to express myself, it would seem like that was the end of the therapy life cycle, and yet, there I sat, realizing that I was repeating certain things, and knowing that no matter how many times I said something to the person sitting across from me, I was still confused as to what came next. Every now and again I’d say something to my therapist, and they wouldn’t know how to respond, which is its own form of frustration, or maybe even helplessness. If you don’t know how to fix me, then what am I supposed to do?
Wow, that was more than I expected.
I didn’t think I was still holding on to all of that, but I am. I think about it all less than I used to, but it’s still there, in a darkened corner of my mind, waiting until I’m ready to shine a light on it, to bring it back up, and maybe discover something new in the process. You can say a lot about me, a lot of unflattering things, but I’m not scared to dive into these corners and talk about them. I know that it’s important to do it, to keep searching, to live all facets of your life rather than trying to pretend they don’t exist. When you pretend something is no longer a part of you, it only seems to gain strength.
I’ve come a long way since I first sat down and filled out that form. It was hard for me to do, and I almost want to ask my therapist to see it, to see how much of what I wrote is still true. I know that petty was one of the words I used, and I’ve done some really solid work on this front. Still, I know that I am not always kind to myself. Rather than treating myself with compassion, I’ve become my own harshest critic. I’m not always kind to the person I am, and I also know that some of the words I wrote down on that form, that there’s no way they were all true. It’s not that I have an inflated sense of self, it’s that I seem to be much more adept at letting air out of the balloon, a balloon that was never full to begin with.
I’ve gotten much better with how I view myself, my self image getting more positive all the time, and yet, when I look around me, I see so many of the people I know treating themselves the same way. Before we’ve even left for the day, we’ve already been hard at work taking ourselves down a peg, as if this is a useful exercise, but we fall right into it comfortably. It’s what so many of us know. We’re surrounded by successful people, and rather than realizing that each journey is unique, we look inward and wonder where we’ve gone wrong. We wonder about the mistakes we’ve made that are holding us back, and we punish ourselves. It’s not fair, and it doesn’t help us in our pursuit of whatever it is we want, but so many of us look at ourselves and just decide that rather than think positively about ourselves and what we’ve accomplished, that negative self-talk is a better and more productive approach.
I’m not saying we should walk around being arrogant or cocky, I’m saying that so many of us when we wake up, before we even walk out the door, we’re already behind on where we should be. There’s no way of knowing what the day may hold, but the best thing we can do is set ourselves up with a solid foundation of positive affirmation that we are doing our best, trying to make the right decisions, and doing the most we can to help others and maybe even ourselves. When we do that, we approach the day with an attitude that says, “Maybe I’m a little out of my depths, but I’ll give this a shot,” rather than an attitude that says, “Of course you can’t do this, and you’re an idiot for thinking it was possible.”
Instead of putting ourselves down, we need to approach our days with an open mind, and maybe even a positive mindset. If we encounter something that we can’t do easily, don’t be afraid to ask for help from others, and do your best to offer help when it is asked of you. Don’t destroy yourself before you even start the day. Negativity may be your default setting, but it won’t bring you to a good place, so maybe it’s time to try something a little different, something that maybe, just maybe, will have you feeling better about yourself. Thanks for reading.
One thought on “Behind”
Increasingly, as I read what you share in your posts, the more I sometimes feel you are writing at me, for me, about me. It can be uncanny how aligned your thoughts and observations are with my life. So I thank you for providing food for thought; it’s almost like a reflective invitation.
To this post: “therapy as a crutch…” For we who are intimately familiar with therapy, I’m wondering (aloud) if it’s constructive to view it as a crutch. I believe I understand your reference. I simply acknowledge it as one of many tools in my exploration and discovery tool belt. For me, “crutch” carries a bit of a dependency connotation and I am so not about dependency.
For ages, I sought help for and felt the need to be “fixed.” I’ve since shed that need and instead learned to comfortably accept who I am and ‘what is.’ It’s part of a journey and a lengthy process but I like who and what has unfolded and is still emerging. Which finds me wondering what compels your ‘searching’ versus being at peace with who you are and who you are becoming? No need to answer the question, Adam (as it is personal), it’s more rhetorical.
You comment about treating yourself with compassion. I think many of us actively seek that. What I have long struggled with is the concept and practice of self-love. I have always freely loved family, friends, some close colleagues and my two dogs! But in a similar vein to compassionate action, I wish I could love myself more. I know… sounds a bit weird. One of my warts.
Props for your self-image getting more positive all the time. I sense that is an outcome from a lot of personal work and development. I hope you accord due pride to that growth!
And your closing encouragement to set ourselves up, daily, with a solid foundation of positive affirmation(s). That, my friend, is wise advice. Well shared. Thank you.