Tag Archives: counselor

Embracing the Ordinary

For a long time, I was restless with where I was in life. So much of it felt like a waiting game. Waiting to go to college, waiting to find someone to spend my life with, waiting for a job….it felt like I was in the lobby of life. If only something would happen, something exciting, something significant. 

The thing with always waiting is that there is always something to wait for. When I focused on the waiting, that was all I was ever doing. When I started counseling again last year, a big part of it was learning to set goals. 

My therapists in the past were never goal-driven, it was more about exploring feelings and explaining why I thought about certain things the way I did. It got exhausting. I was rehashing my past over and over again and there was no way out. I had one counselor in high school who was a listener, not a talker, so I felt pressured to just talk the whole time. It was helpful for a while, I was able to unearth what I thought myself and the world around me, but I’ve always been very self-aware, so I started wishing she would just tell me how to change what I thought. My counselor my firsts year of college was better, she provided more insights of her own. The depression was really bad that year, I was involved in a lot of dramatic and intense spiritual activities, and my medication was erratic, so we focused mostly on keeping me from having night terrors and being terrified of boys. When I left for Macalester, I had to leave that counselor behind. My next counselor I only saw for a few months. I stopped seeing her when I tried to talk through my confusion about my sexuality and I felt like she was arguing with me. When I decided to go back into counseling and start afresh with someone new, I knew I had to have goals. 

Therapy is not supposed to go on forever. It is not only expensive, but it is ineffective if you have to keep going back to the same person over and over again for the same problems. And I mean consistent counseling. Clearly, some of us will just need to check in with a therapist once and while to get back on track, but one session per week therapy should not go on for years at a time. I was going to have to set goals.

I’ve always had big dreams. When I was a little kid, I asked my parents what the first day of college would be like. I had dreams about being a pop singer in 5th grade. I wanted to be a mermaid when I was thirteen. I wanted to be marine biologist. I wanted to be a lawyer. I wanted to be a writer. For me, it is easy to be motivated about the big stuff, the important stuff. It has always been the ordinary things that brought me down.

When I started counseling last year, my goals were simple: 

Go to the grocery store alone.

Get dressed everyday. 

Do the laundry. 

I was terrified of leaving the apartment. I had this constant anxiety and fear of meeting people and being seen. I wasn’t afraid that they would hurt me. Just being looked at was enough to make my skin feel hot and my eyes dry out. It was like other people could see through my outside and read my mind, see all my fears, all my failures. I was terrified of looking stupid. Being told I was beautiful by Chris and my therapist even made me nervous, because it meant that other people would think that too, and my appearance would draw their attention to me and then I would be exposed. I just wanted to be invisible. 

I didn’t care about achieving the big dreams anymore. I just wanted to be able to walk down three flights of stairs to do laundry. 

I can do that now. Over the past year, I’ve been freed from my agoraphobia and go the store once every two weeks, do laundry, and even drive myself to places I’ve never been to before. Doing the ordinary things used to mean very little to me. Ordinary things are the bare minimum, the expected, the “easy” things in life. Everyone can do those.

Hitting rock bottom told me that is not true. I found victory in walking up and down three flights of stairs with a basket of warm laundry. I can appreciate the elegance of pumping my own gas for the car and going to the grocery store. Embracing the ordinary has helped calm my restless spirit and brought me from my fantasy land to the real world, where anything can be hard and everything is significant. 



The Anticipation is Always Worse



My therapist is strongly considering retiring in a month.

When she told me, I was kind of in shock. I got that feeling in your sinuses like you’re going to cry, but I managed to just stare at her, unblinking, and triumphed over my emotions.

There’s always that initial feeling of selfishnessWhat? You’re leaving me? How dare you have a life outside of this office. One of the reasons she’s so good is probably because she’s been doing this for so long, so it makes sense that she’d be at the end of her career by the time I came along. 

Then comes disappointment. You’re leaving? Oh. That means I have to try and find someone else. Again. Liz was my fourth therapist.

The weirdest feeling is feeling like I’m losing a friend. They always say, “Therapists aren’t your friends,” and they’re right. They feel closer than friends, a lot of the time. You tell them things you haven’t told anyone, or tell them things before you tell your friends. They help ease your fears and encourage your successes. Liz is the first therapist I’ve felt completely comfortable with. I don’t want to let that go.

Anticipating hard things is always worse than the actual experience, at least to me. It’s much longer, that’s for sure.

Their Eyes Are Watching Me

ImageMy therapist and I have been working on why I have anxiety about going to the grocery store alone. It isn’t a huge anxiety, I’ve been able to get there a lot these last few months, but I still have this weird tension when I go into a store, like I’m watching on eggshells. I want to make as little an impression as possible. It’s basically because I don’t like being looked at. I like to control my social interactions, and when you’re just wandering around a store, you can’t control who is going to look at you or not.

My therapist thinks it’s because I’m afraid people will judge me negatively, and that’s part of it, but it’s not completely accurate. She’ll say things like, “If people are looking at you, it’s probably because they’re either just spacing out, or because they think you’re pretty.” That’s not really a comfort to me. First of all, I don’t believe (like my therapist says) that people don’t think about other people at all. One of my fears is I won’t be able to find something and will wander the same aisle a couple times. I don’t want the same people to notice that, because I assume they’ll think, “Oh, she can’t find something. Har har,” or something to that degree. My therapist says that people don’t put that much effort into noticing things. That baffles me and I always stare at her with squinted eyes when she says that. How does that..that doesn’t take ANY effort. I notice stuff like that all the time, I don’t even control it, it just happens in my brain. And people are judgmental. They talk about strangers all the time. For me, the main way of getting over the anxiety is just to not care about what people think. I can’t believe that they just aren’t thinking at all.

The second thing is that I don’t really want or care if people think I’m pretty. I obviously do, but on my terms, y’know? I’m going grocery shopping, not looking for attention. When I was young, I was really awkward with clothes. I wanted to wear certain clothes, but I was afraid to. My mother was telling me frequently to pull my shirt up, such and such was too tight, I shouldn’t bend down, or that my jeans were riding too low, and I got really self-conscious. I just got my first two-piece swimsuit last year and did not tell her (guess she knows now), but I was too nervous to wear it, and now it doesn’t fit anymore. I have ordered another one, FYI. Whenever I decide what to wear, it’s hard for me to not be consumed by thoughts of what people will think, and Chris is no help. He likes everything. In my mind, I’m always agonizing over if something is too “sexy,” but I also don’t like to wear unflattering clothes. This level of self-consciousness is at its highest when I’m out in the world alone and all people will notice is my clothes and body. I can’t talk to them so they walk away thinking something else besides, “Oh, she’s cute. Nice scarf. Cleavage. Hideous face,” or whatever.

I just don’t like to be looked at when I don’t want to be looked at.

Adrenaline Rush


In therapy, we’ve started to focus on anxiety. I’m much more concerned about that right now than I am about depression; depression is something I’ve learned to deal with and to a certain degree, can’t be “cured,” but anxiety is relatively new, and I believe that can be trained out of me.

I don’t remember my life without depression, but I remember it without anxiety, and I want that life back.

We talked about activities that I can practice, the ones that are on the lower end of my anxiety. Leaving the apartment to do laundry, going to the store alone, talking to clerks, and driving are all things I can practice pretty easily, and have made a lot of progress in. I went to my psychiatrist yesterday, and when I saw her last month, I wasn’t even able to go downstairs to the laundry room because of the anxiety. Since then, I’ve done laundry four times, gone to the store twice, and driven myself to every counseling appointment. The changes in medication has definitely played a part in that; when I sleep better and stay asleep for longer periods of time, the rest of the day automatically goes better and I’m able to concentrate my energy on achieving my goals.

There are certain activities that I can’t really “practice,” and those are on the highest end of my anxiety spectrum. Job interviews, saying something potentially embarrassing, and going back to school are all petrifying. When I think about school, it’s not school itself that I’m anxious about. I’m afraid of repeating what has happened before and what can only be described as a crash and burn. I’d start out the semester ok and then over time, get more and more anxious about things, miss more classes, and panic about everything. As I went through college, the periods of time where I could push past my fears got shorter and shorter until I collapsed on Chris’ floor just before midterms of my junior year and stopped going to school. I’m afraid that will happen again.

I’m afraid that when I walk through the school buildings, sit in class, and just navigate life as a Macalester student, the memory of my anxiety will be too vivid to ignore. Simply by being in a situation where in the past I’ve felt a lot of anxiety will be enough to send me spiraling. My brain will go into protection mode and a shot of adrenaline will disrupt the normality of finishing 20 credits.

What has basically happened to my brain is that my adrenaline is overly sensitive. While most people only experience that level of intensity when there’s an actual crisis (running from danger, gaining super strength when a car falls on a child, etc), I will begin feeling a sense of danger when I’m just doing everyday things, like asking for help in a store or meeting with an academic adviser. The physical symptoms of adrenaline kick in and I interpret that as meaning something is actually wrong, and my thinking follows. Why can’t I stop shaking? Why is my mouth so dry? If I talk, it sounds like I’m going to cry, and that will make me seem weak and weird. I can’t be around people right now, they’re making it worse. Now I can’t breathe. The fears going through my mind only make the adrenaline rush worse and that can cause anxiety attacks. The physical and mental panic build on each other until I can’t tell the difference between them.

Since my anxiety is so physically based (shaking, difficulty breathing, dizziness, feeling out of control of my body), the solution is also physical. What I basically have to do is calm my physical state before my mind can interpret the situation as one involving actual danger. In my head, I know that sitting in a class is not scary, but when my body is responding to the situation with shakiness and cold sweats, it’s hard to convince my mind that everything is peaches ‘n cream. When an adrenaline rush happens at an inappropriate time, I need to make some physical adjustments to ease the adrenaline back to a normal level. Deep breathing is key. When breathing gets out of control, everything just falls to pieces. Focusing on maintaining deep, even breaths calms down panicky feelings and concentrates the mind on something other than the non-existing peril. My therapist also suggested carrying water wherever I go, since getting a very dry mouth and not being able to swallow are very common symptoms for me. Drinking water helps so many things. The dizziness might even be caused by partial dehydration or low blood sugar, which I also tend to have, so having water and keeping a good blood sugar level are possible solutions. It certainly wouldn’t hurt.

I may not be able to go practice going to school by actually going to school, but thinking about it is all it takes for a lot of my anxiety to kick in. I can use that to practice breathing and other techniques to calm myself down. Simulating anxiety-causing situations and then learning to control the feelings that arise is definitely a new goal on my list.

Moving On


How do you move on from something that happened a long time ago, but still feels emotionally fresh? When the person who hurt you will never really know how you felt and it’s impossible to confront them? When you are doing well without them, you live a full life, but there’s still a cove of bitterness inside you, echoing with old conversations and emotions. Even though this person no longer has power over me, they have power over my past, over my memory of the relationship. I’ve let go of them, I don’t miss them in my life, but I still can’t quite get free. Their name is like a trigger and the bullet is anger. 

I’ve been talking to my counselor about this for two weeks. I was a little reluctant to bring it up, I mean, it’s been YEARS, I’ve talked to other counselors about this, shouldn’t I be over this by now? The thing about letting go and moving on is that there isn’t a “should,” there isn’t a timeline. It doesn’t even matter if it seemed like a little thing, one friend in a score of relationships, one breakup, one hurtful conversation…if it feels like a big deal, it is a big deal, and should be dealt with as such. Otherwise it’s just delaying the recovery.

This person made me feel crazy and as if they didn’t care about me. I spent years going over every exchange, every memory, trying to achieve clarity, but when another person besides oneself is involved, it’s impossible to know anything for sure. Their intentions will forever be shrouded in mystery, and my counselor has told me again and again that I can’t feel responsible for their responses. “Their reactions were about them, not about you,” she says. “They made you feel like you weren’t worth it, but that doesn’t mean you weren’t.” That I have always known. People have rarely been able to make me feel as if I’m not worth loving or worth the effort. It’s not so much about needing the person to validate my worth. It’s about meeting my aggressive need for them to know that I don’t need them to validate my worth. If they don’t know that, I get angry at them. How dare they possibly think that they still affect my well-being? How pretentious.

I just really, really want certain people to know I’m doing great without them, because deep down, I care about what they think of me. I’m still assigning them credibility. Moving on is stripping away that credibility. Moving on is sometimes perceived as being flippant of that entire person. Oh, them? Pff. They’re a jackass. I’ve moved on. Hmm? Have you? I want my moving on to be gentler, but still complete. Oh, that person? Yeah, I used to know them, but now I don’t. Simple. Not mean. Not bitter. Just simple.

I just want to let you go.

The New Therapist Update

ImageI’ve only been to “Liz” twice now, but I’m very optimistic about working with her. She seems more qualified than the other therapists, maybe it’s just her method, but she just seems to know what she’s talking about, and most importantly, what I’m talking about.

Her office is small. It’s a suite in an office building, with a little waiting room with warm, slightly dim light. Her office itself is brightly lit with natural light. She has a fountain she plugs in that fills the room with the sound of water. The environment is calm, but not sleepy. The couch is insanely comfortable. It’s also significant to me that she sits at a very balanced distance from me; she’s not too close or too far away. Most therapists I’ve been to seemed very far away. There was this empty space between us. I felt a little like I was being observed in a zoo. With Liz, we’re in this together.

The second time I met with her, she had typed up all the problems I talked about, and had a section for goals and methods. Here’s a sampling:

Panic Disorder/Mild Agoraphobia – move to reduction of social anxiety, agoraphobia resolved, no panic attacks – learn and practice coping skills, desensitization, identify factors that cause anxiety

No other therapist ever handed me a piece of paper with something concrete on it. I want to attack this illness from a rational viewpoint; it’s the emotions that are the problem. I’m used to studying. This is familiar ground, this is my court. CBT seems to have the tools I’m looking for.

The biggest thing I’ve noticed with Liz is that unlike with other therapists and even with my current psychiatrist, I don’t feel like I’m performing. I usually feel the need to have the “right” answer, to always be articulate, even funny, but with this therapist, I don’t always know the answer. That’s why I’m seeing her. Why do I often feel crippling physical and emotional anxiety when I’m in a group of friends? Liz is able to help me break down the question into smaller questions that I can better answer. Am I afraid of rejection, even from friends? Am I afraid that when I get quieter, withdrawn, that people won’t like me? Is that why I feel like I’m always performing, pretending to be an extrovert when I’m around people, and then the consequence of that is exhaustion and anxiety?

These are the important questions. I don’t have all the answers, but maybe simply asking the question is where the real change begins.

My Grown-Up Wish List

ImageI’m looking at my intake sheet for my new counselor and it is eleven pages long. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. This should be thorough. I’m asking this person to help me learn how to live. They should know just about everything about what’s up with me. I’m looking at the section where it asks, “What do you hope to get out of counseling?” Hmm. I’ve only recently developed a more concrete idea of what I want my life to look like. I’m starting simple.

  • Keep the apartment clean
  • Go to the grocery store alone
  • Cook more
  • Read more
  • Socialize more
  • Go outside and exercise

These things may seem basic, and that’s because they are. It’s been pretty difficult to admit to myself that I can’t do the basic stuff. I tried to jump right into school, work, etc and I couldn’t even vacuum a room. Ya gotta start from the bottom rung of the ladder and climb up. Jumping around on a ladder usually results in falling right off. Some people can do it (like those insanely smart 13-year old kids who go to college and they can’t even start driver’s ed), but those people are the minority, and there’s probably a lot they missed out on, too. The world looks a little different from each rung, and I want to take my time enjoying the view. Or at least learning from it. Some rungs are harder than others, especially since I’m afraid of heights. It’ll be ok though. I’ve got a safety harness – people who support and love me. They’re helping me climb and they’ll be there if I fall.



Image(Therapists’ names have been changed)

I saw my first therapist at about sixteen. Candice was nice, but as I continued to see her, I figured out she was a passive therapist. They are just there to listen to you sort things out; you simply talking leads the patient to have personal revelations. Or something. The problem with that for me was that I wasn’t coming to anything new in talking to her. I was telling her everything so she could help me. That wasn’t her style. Eventually, I just stopped seeing her. Rehashing everything in my brain was exhausting.

The next therapist I saw was at college. She offered more insight and tips on how to manage my night panic attacks. I really liked Donna. That year was especially lonely for me, and I felt depressed that my closest friend was my therapist. And therapists aren’t supposed to be your friends. They care about you, but there’s a delicate balance. The therapist-patient relationship is not like any other relationship you have. When I left the school, I had to leave my therapist. The thought of finding another one was too difficult.

It took a while for me to see another. Sandy had more active techniques and used some CBT and anxiety-coping skills. It was promising. Then something came up that I hadn’t discussed with other therapists and I felt that Sandy was arguing with me. I felt, for the first time with a therapist, that she wasn’t listening. That was the last time I met with her.

On Tuesday, I go see yet another new therapist. I feel more prepared. She specializes in CBT. I have a concrete idea of what my goals are. I’m hoping this therapist will stick.