Tag Archives: therapy

when fear asks the wrong question

The greatest disagreement Chris and I have had in our relationship is children. He’s always wanted kids, and when we got married, he knew I wasn’t too keen on the idea, but I was very young, and we both assumed I would gradually come around to the idea. I haven’t. In fact, I’ve become more resistant to it.

We’ve had a lot of tough conversations. There have been lots of tears. It seemed like the question we both had to face was, “Do I have to choose between the person I love or the life I always imagined having?” For Chris, that life meant children. For me, it meant not having children. We reached an impasse.

I knew something was wrong with the question we were asking. I’ve always been very analytical and self-aware, and any question that seemed designed for heartbreak made me suspicious. I fully believe that there is no fear in love, and to be so fearful meant there was something going on.

I’ve had to ask myself a million times, why don’t I want children? It always comes back to my mental illness. The idea of pregnancy terrifies me. The medication I’m on has such a bad rap that there’s a thing called “Effexor babies,” where women have sued after being on high doses while pregnant, and having children with birth defects or who died. Of course, the healthcare system insists the risk isn’t too bad, but they have a horse in the race. Reading stories from actual women has convinced me that any kind of strong antidepressant is going to mess with the natural development of a child. However, the other option, going off medication, is just as scary and risky. Severe depression can affect a fetus’ growth just as much as a drug.

My fears don’t stop there, though. No matter what route I go, that’s just 9-10 months. It’s doable. But, then the baby is born, and it’s here for the rest of my life. It’s overwhelming. I’m at a point where I can just care for my own mental state, how on earth can I be expected to take care of a kid? Another human being, who is essentially a sponge? And then there’s the increased risk of the child also developing a mental illness, so that’s another layer of responsibility.

In going over my reasons, I noticed that Chris was entirely absent from my thought process. And then I realized that the reason I’m so overwhelmed is because I imagine dealing with all the complexities of parenting + mental illness by myself. I don’t have confidence that Chris would know how to deal. I’ve never imagined my life with kids because I’ve never known my life free from the ever-looming presence of mental illness, and I’ve never known what having a real partner in the fight is like. That doesn’t mean that Chris doesn’t support me or is unhelpful. It’s just that depression/anxiety has always been my “thing” that he comes in and out of, it isn’t something he lives with like I live with it. If we’re going to be a real team, we both have to live with it. If we were truly united, I wouldn’t feel so overwhelmed about the idea of kids.

The real question isn’t choosing between us or a kid. It is, “How do we get on the same team when it comes to mental illness?” That’s something a counselor can help us with, and has lots of solutions both practically and spiritually. It’s a question we can tackle without feeling like we’re just butting heads. Fear always likes to ask the question that only has one, usually horrible answer, but that’s not how love works.


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. 


4 Things To Look For In A Therapist


With conditions like depression and anxiety on the rise, more Americans are seeking out therapy for treatment, and with the price of medications and therapy’s recorded success (75-80% effectiveness), it is a very popular option. What makes a good therapist? This is a question each person must work through and it may take a few visits to different therapists before the answer is clear. Therapy is an extremely intimate experience and there are several guiding principles to keep in mind when selecting a counselor.

1). Is your therapist understanding and non-judgmental?

Everyone has a unique backstory and lifestyle, and it is crucial that your therapist does not judge you based on either of these factors. It is part of their job to help you work through unhealthy habits, but if you feel like they are disparaging you because of your choices, you should not continue with them. Therapists should be sensitive and understanding no matter where you are in your recovery.

2). Does your therapist provide you with a sense of hope and inspiration?

Motivation is quite possibly the one ingredient than you cannot do without when it comes to recovery. If you are not motivated, it doesn’t matter how great your therapist is in other ways; you will not make progress. Your therapist should be a source of encouragement and prompt you to keep working towards your goals even when you are discouraged.

3) Is your therapist able to track and communicate your progress?

A very common fear when it comes to therapy is that it will last forever. No one wants to keep spending time and money on something that seems to be going nowhere, so it is imperative that your therapist be able to tell you where you are succeeding and how to keep making improvements in your life. Some therapists do a regular check-in where you are asked a series of questions and scored on a 1-10 scale. The lower the number, the better your well-being. However they chose to monitor you, a good therapist will be able to tell you how effective their guidance has been.

4). Do you feel like the therapist is a partner in your recovery?

The last principle to keep in mind is perhaps the most important. There are many different kinds of therapists, including ones who serve more as listeners than coaches, but the key is if you feel like the therapist is on your side and invested in meeting your goals. It is irrelevant if a therapist is sensitive and inspiring if you feel like you’re doing this thing on your own. The whole point of therapy is that you have someone who is walking alongside you, and if your therapist seems detached or uninvolved, they are not the right therapist.

When searching for a therapist, it is perfectly acceptable to be selective. Don’t settle for a therapist you feel is only “ok,” but instead keep looking until you find someone you really click with and who can make a strong impact in your life. Utilize resources like client reviews to gather information about the kind of therapist you want to work with, and be patient. A therapist is a person who will be developing a very close, unique relationship with you, and you want to be confident in their ability to help you.



Novotney, A. (2013, February 1). The therapist effect.. Retrieved May 3, 2014, from http://www.apa.org/monitor/2013/02/therapist.aspx

Whitbourne, S. (2011, August 8). 13 Qualities to Look for in an Effective Psychotherapist. Retrieved May 3, 2014, from http://m.psychologytoday.com/blog/fulfillment-any-age/201108/13-qualities-to-look-in-effective-psychotherapist

Change of Plans

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Instead of lowering my medication dose like I planned, my therapist has suggested I stop messing with it for now. She said there might be a “better” time, but pessimism tells me that no “good” time exists. It’s basically trying to anticipate the pitfalls of lowering medication (withdrawal, depression and anxiety coming back stronger) and plan life accordingly. If I’m in a job, that could be tricky.

My therapist is retiring, too. I had my last session with her. So now I have to find another therapist at a time when the depression and anxiety has actually been increasing again. Liz even said she feels that she isn’t finished working with me and that I should definitely keep seeing a counselor. Merg. I have a couple names, but starting over with a therapist is always kind of exhausting.


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.

Seeing It Through


I’m at that point in therapy where you don’t think you need therapy.

I no longer have a long list of grievances to vent, or a terrifying event coming up that’s giving me nightmares. The hour sometimes seems like it’s going by really slow, and I find my mind wandering to other things I could be doing with this time.

Given my past with therapy, I know that I have to see this through.

Every time I’ve hit this point in therapy before, I’ve just stopped going.

I get a few good techniques, I’m no longer petrified by things I used to be petrified by, and the cost, even with insurance, seems like money that might be useful elsewhere. I get overly confident.

I’m not going to stop seeing my therapist. Why, you ask?

Because life can change in a second.

I could get into another car accident. Major family changes could happen. A pet could die. I could get into a big fight with someone.

Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not living in fear of these things, but I know that they can happen. I want to go through as many different experiences as possible with this therapist, so when they happen again in the future and I’m not seeing a therapist at that time, I’ll know what to do.

It might look like cutting back on therapy so it’s just once a month. It might look like going back to once weekly. I’m not making a clean break with this therapist. Not this time.

Living On The Outside

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In counseling this week, Liz talked about how people with anxiety tend to over think things. We’re so focused on what’s going inside our heads, that we end up ignoring what’s happening around us, and it’s hard to just enjoy things. That makes sense to me. For the periods of time when I’ve had especially bad anxiety and depression, I don’t remember much besides the nervousness. The last time I was in school, for example, is just a blur of fighting panic attacks, falling asleep in whatever class I actually managed to go to, and avoiding people at all costs. Large chunks of my childhood are also hazy and my perspective on how long certain experiences took is off (I was at one school for just a year, but it seems like it was much longer than that when I think back).

The weird thing is I’m pretty good at actually experiencing things as they come. My social anxiety isn’t especially noticeable to others because I’m able to engage and pretend that I’m an extrovert at a convincing level. It’s the anticipating of events that creates the worst anxiety. Am I supposed to “live in the moment” during those times, when all I can do is wait? Something that could help with that is to not give myself too much time to get agitated. Yes, I may think that I need an hour before a class to get ready, but realistically, do I, really? It might actually help to feel a little rushed, to focus on getting dressed and so forth, instead of getting ready with twenty minutes left to just sit and think up excuses for why I can’t leave the house. If I’ve got a social engagement that is making me uneasy, I sometimes just watch TV right up until the moment I absolutely have to find my shoes and get my purse and get out the door.

Anything that directs my attention outwards instead of inwards has got to be a good idea, when the inside is unstable and only serves to agitate.

Biting Down On Anxiety


I suddenly had a mild spell of anxiety tonight. My “big thing” this week is something out of the ordinary, so my anxiety is automatically raised to a higher level.

I have a dentist’s appointment.

I have never liked the dentist. Who does? I had braces for about ten months when I was in middle school, and one time one of the assistants made a mistake and ended up slicing up into my gum with a sharp tool. Ow. Another time the Novocaine made me feel super sick and I ended up throwing up into a plastic bag on the drive home. If I even thought about the taste of the cleaning paste, my stomach would turn. My most recent toothy adventure was probably my wisdom tooth surgery, which in itself was fine, since I was passed out. I did however have some continuing pain and kept bleeding, so I went back in to get it checked out. The dentist, who I was not familiar with, poked and prodded around, and ended up jamming an instrument directly into my socket, causing me to literally gasp with pain. When my mouth was freed, I asked what the deal was, and he chirped, “Oh, you have dry socket.” Thanks for the head’s up.

So the dentist isn’t something I look forward to. I’m always paranoid that something is horribly wrong with my teeth, and since I’ve recently been discovering all these things I’m allergic to (artificial sweeteners, sodium nitrates in processed meats), my gums have been suffering the consequences, since apparently the manifestation of any allergy is horrendous gum itching. I have had one cavity in my life. I’ve got to be due for another one soon, and it has been like two years since my last cleaning.

I’m anxious about driving there, even though it’s extremely easy. I’m worried that there will be ice on the road and since our car is not made for Minnesota winter, I’m worried it will skid off into oblivion the second I tap the brake (that has happened, though I obviously came back from oblivion). I’m anxious about finding a parking spot, even though the lot is quite large and there probably won’t be that many cars there at 10am on a Wednesday. I’m anxious about the paperwork. Did it go through? Do they accept our insurance, since I technically gave them the wrong one when I made the appointment? How much will it end up costing? What if there isn’t enough money on the card? I even get anxious about leaving the appointment. I don’t feel relieved until I am in the apartment. There is the time I got nervous driving and made it successfully to the bus stop where I dropped off two friends, I was relieved then, and moments later, got into the car accident that shattered my nerves for months to come. That experience taught me to never relax, even after the anxiety-producing situation is over and home is on the horizon.

Writing down my anxiety is supposed to help. It puts things unto paper and I’m supposed to be able to see how each negative thought is not based in reality and it then loses its power. We’ll see. I’ve still got some days to struggle with this beast.

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Since I started this round of therapy, goals have been very important. It’s a tangible way to measure progress and to keep tabs on how specific actions and environments are affecting me. It’s also a way to ensure that I don’t feel “stuck,” or trapped in a cycle with no way out.

I’ve always made resolutions every new year. In the past, they’ve included things like “get six-pack abs,” “read more books,” and so forth. I like to mix both fun and serious goals into my resolutions, otherwise the year can look overwhelming and exhausting.

2014 Resolutions:

Make a homemade pizza

Yoga 5-6 times a week

Ace my class

Perfect a a donut recipe

Read more

Drink more water

Watch one movie on Netflix a week

Try one new recipe a month

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.