Last week after my therapy session J sent me an email saying he would not be in the office the week of July 4th, and that he forgot to tell me during the session. I am glad he remembered to tell me at all! (Last year he told me he was going on vacation the day before he left.)
So I didn’t want to get into anything serious today, knowing that I would be waiting 2 weeks to talk again. But I did have some serious things going on. It worked out well though.
When I got there I said that I was anxious, and I think it was because I was uncomfortable. J asked why I was uncomfortable and I told him that I was very uncomfortable in the shirt I was wearing. I kept having to adjust it up and down and sideways, I think it is too big. When I put it on it was fine, and it was fine when I was standing up, but when I sat down it got baggy and my bra was showing, and I was uncomfortable. So my usual pre-therapy anxiety was exacerbated by the discomfort.
J asked the dreaded question, “How are you feeling physiologically?” I hate that question, it involves thinking about my body and I don’t like to do that, but I was able to tell him that my stomach didn’t feel well and my hands were shaking.
Then he asked another dreaded question, “Why are you anxious?” I told him that I still have the fear of telling him things and he might think badly of me, or think whatever I am saying is not interesting. He asked if that anxiety has abated over time, and I said that logically I know that it has, but emotionally I still feel that it could happen. I told him that I am only anxious before therapy, I am never anxious any other time. He said, “Can I respectfully disagree? I think that you are anxious 100% of the time.” But he said there is a normal level of anxiety that everyone has, so one can never be totally anxiety free. He told me that when I am weighing and measuring my food I am anxious, I am using coping mechanisms to deal with the anxiety, but the anxiety is the underlying reason.
J told me that a few years ago he had four or five women that he was treating and they all had anxiety, and he found that although they were anxious so much during the day, about daily things like work, when something major came along they were able to rally and get through it with no problem. J said that maybe the pre-therapy anxiety is a habit. I asked if anxiety could be a habit and he said it could, and I asked how to “unhabit” it, and he said that it is easier to make a habit than break one. But usually to break a habit involves making another habit, one that is better. I was going to suggest that he put out some peanut butter m&m’s and I could get into the habit of eating them during my session.
Then I told J that I didn’t want to talk about anything serious today because I wouldn’t be there next week and he started a discussion about my therapy. He asked me how I’ve felt about therapy in the last month or so, dealing with the food/exercise issue. I told him that I think it has been productive, and a good combination of practical things and insight things. J said that he feels that in the last month or two he thinks that we have really been working together collaboratively, more like a team, and he thinks that is really good. I didn’t feel very comfortable with him saying that, I’m not sure why.
That led to a discussion of surface vs deep work, and how even though it is not the food that it is my problem, it is something deeper, but working on the food issue can get us to the underlying issue. J told me another story (he always says, “Can I talk about myself for a minute?”) about his research project when he was getting his Psy.D. He worked with a 9 or 10 year old boy whose mother was in a coma in a nursing home, and everyone told him she would get better, but she really wasn’t going to get better. J would play chess with the little boy all the time and the boy would always do the same thing – lose his queen and then get his pawn all the way to the other side to reclaim the queen (J said that represents the boy’s mother and getting her back), but one day the boy cheated and won. After that he never wanted to play chess with J again, he wouldn’t even go into that room, they had to go into a different room and play connect four. He mentioned something about the boy being aggressive and then backing off.
After I left the session I remembered this story very clearly, but for the life of me I could not remember the point of it. I sent J an email asking him to remind me, and he said the point “was how sometimes working at the “superficial” level can be very valuable in addressing the underlying issues. For instance, talking about eating, going to restaurants, and shopping for clothes can be very useful in addressing one’s underlying issues related to self-perception and self-worth.”
Oh yeah, now I remember.
We moved on to some of the things that I was supposed to do for the health coach. I told him that I ate frozen yogurt, but I ate it instead of dinner. And my health coach had given me a recipe for chocolate pudding and I was supposed to make it, which I did, but I never ate it. And last night when I saw her I told her that I didn’t do my assignment of finding an outfit that made me look and feel fabulous, because I don’t feel fabulous about my body and a piece of clothing isn’t going to make me feel better. But her idea was that if I found something that I felt good in, it would start to help me feel better about myself.
It was kind of emotional with the health coach last night because we got into how I hated shopping when I was young. No clothes fit me because I was so tall, and everything looked terrible and I couldn’t wear the cute clothes everyone else wore. My sister loved to shop and she is small and cute, so everything looked good on her.
Anyway, J and I got into a discussion about looking in the mirror, and how I don’t see myself the way others seem to see me, and when I see a photograph of myself I see myself differently than I see myself in the mirror, but I can’t believe it is me in the photo even though people tell me that is how I look.
I brought up something I’ve been wanting to talk about, but haven’t ever felt comfortable enough. It seemed like a good time, so I told J about how people stare at me. It happens frequently, and I would always tell myself it was my imagination because I am self conscious, or I am paranoid. But last month when I went out to dinner with two friends we were walking down the stairs and a guy at the bottom of the stairs was staring at me so much that I instinctively put my hand in front of my pants thinking my fly was open. And after we walked by him one of my friends said, “Did you see the way that guy was staring at you? He looked you up and down.” In a way it was a relief to know that this wasn’t in my head, but it also freaked me out that it really happened.
I told J that I think people stare at me because I am tall. You know, anyone who is outside of average or looks different gets looked at. I, myself, look at tall people. J asked if perhaps the guy was attracted to me. That was kind of a shocking comment, I said why would he be attracted to me. J said that is normal human behavior, people are attracted to other people and like to look at them. I said, “I’m sure people are attracted to you because you look like that…” Whenever I bring up anything about J looks, or his talents, or skills, he just ignores it. I said it would be very icky if that guy was attracted to me. We got into a discussion about being attracted and how would I feel if I knew people were looking at me because they were attracted to me, and this whole thing was very uncomfortable for me and I can barely remember any of it. There was more, but it’s just a fog right now.
Later in the day I was thinking that when I was in my 20′s I really liked my body and showed it off. I met my husband at the beach and I was wearing a black bikini. I felt good then, even being a little exhibitionist, but I was also doing a lot of drugs back then. And I think I used my body as a defense against my insecurity about myself. Anyway….
Once during the session J asked me if we could talk about this, is this too serious? I thought it was nice that he was being cognizant of my wishes.
So we did cover some very uncomfortable things for me, I totally don’t feel good talking about body stuff, especially with him. But I tried, because I know I really need to get to a place where I feel better about my body and my appearance. It must be difficult for therapists to help their clients in this area. My health coach says I am “tall and thin and gorgeous” and of course I don’t believe her. It doesn’t do any good for a therapist to say that to a client. But how do they work with a client to get to that place themselves? Especially if they are not attractive, or at the weight they want to be, or have any other physical attribute that is a problem.
What I didn’t get into is all of the medical stuff that has been going on, I didn’t tell him the results of the blood tests, or that I had follow up tests (I haven’t gotten the results of those yet.) That would have been too serious to talk about this week, and the next time we meet I’ll have more information from the doctor anyway.