Rainy days and Mondays always get me down. I believe that is a line from an old Carpenter’s song. It’s true, though. Today isn’t actually a rainy day, it’s a perfect Indian summer type day; warm enough for short sleeves, sun shining, but with just enough of a chill to the air that if you want to curl up in a cozy sweater on your porch swing, you can. I’ve woken from yet another nightmare, though, and 4:00 am is far too early to be up.
I have therapy in a few hours. Bea met my parents on Saturday. I wonder if I should talk about my parents. Particularly, my mother. She met them. Most likely, she liked them. If she’s like the rest of the world, including me, she will feel protective towards my mom. It’s something that can’t be helped. People meet my mom, and they can sense her kindness, her goodness, the fact that she she would readily help anybody who needed help. That tends to bring out a protective side in those of us who have one– myself included.
My mom is fragile. I don’t know all the reasons why. Her mother became very ill with cancer when my mom was young, and she died when my mom was just 18. Her Dad remarried very fast, and he and his new wife have had nothing to do with any of his children from his first marriage. All of those things have had to cause deep pain. I don’t know if that is what caused the fragileness that I, and others, can sense in her, or if there is something more to the story.
My mom has memories of her childhood. Some of them are the funny, the told again and again type of memory. A lot of them are the mundane, the everyday. And yet, she has them. In my twenties, I used to love the annual wine tour because my mom, her 3 siblings and 6 cousins would all be there to tell stories of growing up. So many of those stories were the mundane, the everyday. They were the type of memories that I didn’t have. I thought these people simply had exceptional memories. I was envious.
But back to my mom. Bea has met her, and is most likely feeling protective towards her now. How do I share my anger at this point? I already hate the very fact I am angry. I already feel guilty and terrible over my anger, I wish I could erase it, make it disappear. Bea was the one who encouraged me to let the anger have a voice. I thought that today I would try to finish this conversation, or at least this “chapter” of it. Things with my mother are so complicated, I’m not sure they will ever be finished.
Certainly, meeting my mom has to help Bea see why it’s so hard for me to really be angry with her. But it’s put me in a spot where I feel like it might not be okay to let out my anger to Bea. And, like 15 year old me, I feel a bit as thought my parents have invaded me safe place. “They met my shrink, now she likes them and is on their side!” I keep having to remind myself there are no sides, and if there were, Bea is most definitely on my side.
It’s 8:00am. I’m late. I park, pay, and run up the stairs to Bea’s office. There is no being shy about entering today.
“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry,” I say.
Bea is not phased, she tells me it’s 8:01am, and that I’m not really late.
I sit down in my customary spot on the couch, and curl into my therapy position.
Bea doesn’t say anything. I don’t say anything. I start to feel really uncomfortable, and begin picking at my fingers. I finally break the silence with a cheery, “How was your weekend?”
Bea gives me one of her “shrink” looks. “It was fine. I’m not saying anything because I’m waiting to see what comes up for you. It was a busy few days for you, a lot happened.”
Well. Crap. I knew that, that is why I asked about her weekend. I still say nothing. I am dying to know what she thought about my parents, namely my mom, though. But I don’t want to ask. I want her to give up that information.
“It was interesting with my parents, wasn’t it?” I ask. I continue on, telling her how I had filled hubby in on my mom and her eating disorder, how I always had to be perfect as a child, I fill her in on what happened prior to all of us arriving at Kat’s session, and how texting hubby was so wonderful. And then, I tell her I want to know what she thought, what she saw from my family.
And so, in no particular order, here are my shrink’s thoughts on my parents:
They are very well put together, I can see where you learned your manners and your ability to put others at ease from.
Your mom seemed a bit defensive, like she was not quite sure she wanted to be in a therapist’s office. I wonder what Kat senses about eating and your mom. It’s interesting that in all our play sessions, Kat never feeds any of our “characters” but she was very intent upon feeding your mom’s character. I also noticed that your mom the “good kitty get treats… Bad kitty no treats” play happening, and I wonder if that is part of how she views herself. Both your parents know how to play, to focus on a child, and that seems very natural to them. Emotions seemed a little foreign to them. I thought it was really funny, almost ironic when Kat got out the kimochis (little stuffed emojis– emotions with facial expression on one side, word on the other) and we were having a “war” with them. That seemed to really throw your parents for a loop. Your mom doesn’t look unhealthy, but she doesn’t look healthy to me, either. Kat definitely feels empowered with them, she feels like she can direct them, and they listen to her which is great. You can see that appearances are important to them, maybe more so to your mom, with your Dad supporting her in that. I could see a tendency to steer away from negatives, or “bad” feelings, or stories.
I tell her that I don’t believe my parents were all that different with me growing than what she saw with Kat in that hour. I believe they played with me, gave me that focus and attention. Bea agrees. She says I have a “core” sense of self that I am able to come back to. It’s like being dealt a hand of cards. We get some good, some bad. Bea compared it to Kat; she was dealt the neurological card of autism, social deficits, ext, but she also got the card of me as a mother who has the organizational skills and the will to fight for her, to always keep things going, the card of a mom who will accept her as she is. I was dealt a card of parents who could play and focus on me, but also a card of parents who needed perfection and who don’t know what to do with emotions.
We paused there, and I started thinking about the year my mom was hospitalized for her eating disorder. Bea realized I was going away, that I wasn’t so much “here” and suggested we do some grounding. She tried something different this time, where she grounded herself out loud instead of directing me to ground myself. But, she stayed mostly in her head, as I had requested. So she named 3 things she could see, 3 things she could hear. She keeps trying to tell me that the scary feelings aren’t in the now, that I will feel safer if I would try to do these exersises. I feel so scared, alone, and vulnerable that reaching out and trying something different seems like a big deal to me. Listening to her brought me back, though, and I reached for my coffee. Smelling my coffee gave me another grounding tool– coffee, or coffee beans! Very grounding, maybe even more than mints.
“I’m sorry,” I said.
“No, this is trauma therapy,” Bea tells me, “you can’t be sorry for going away. These memories are state dependent. We just need to keep you on the edge. Otherwise, it can be retraumatizing, and even worse than the first time it happened. You don’t have anything to be sorry for, this is what happens in trauma therapy.”
“Ok,” I say, “not sorry then.”
Bea smiles. We are working on my incessant need to apologize for everything, almost as if I want to apologize for existing.
We talk about my mom then, and that year she was so sick.
“No one really explained it. It was just she’s in the hospital, the doctors will make her better,” I say.
Bea nods, but she is quiet.
“I thought…” I say, but I don’t finish. It’s a stupid thought, a kid’s thought. I’m an adult, and yet, a piece of me still clings to this belief. I can’t admit to it.
“What did you think?” She asks.
I answer. I’m aware that I answer because I think Bea expects an answer, although I think Bea asks because she is trying to help me see things clearly.
“I thought it was my fault,” I finally say, “my fault she got so sick because I wasn’t good enough.”
Bea nods. “That’s common. It’s how kids think, especially at that age.”
One minute I’m in Bea’s office, and the next I’m not. I’m trapped in a memory. I’m nine years old again, alone and scared. I have no one to talk to, and it’s my fault my mom is so sick she is gone in the hospital. I can’t think or breathe, all I can feel is fear that is freezing me in place. And this memory is different, because while I have come to expect emotions I forgot I had to flood me, to practically drown me in feeling, and while I now expect to remember details I forgot I had forgotten, I am sitting in Bea’s office, but I am back there, and I can feel what is happening to me — not intellectually, like I have in the past, but in a ghostly physical way . It’s terrible and awful, and I feel like I am losing my mind.
Bea, of course, is calm and wonderful, and she talks me through it, only focused on bringing me back to the “here” and making sure that I am aware the “there” is not really happening now and that I am safe. Even after, I can’t talk about it, and Bea won’t push. (I still have not shared the crazy making feeling memory with her.) I’m shaking, and still have that scared feeling inside. Bea still wants me to try the deep breathing, but I can’t, I ask her to talk, and so she does. Once I’m calm, we discuss how deep breathing will calm the nervous system quickly, instantly and make me feel more in control of my body and how I am feeling. I argue that if I know having someone talk to me works, why change what I know works? It’s worked for my panic attacks for over 15 years. She says okay, but that she isn’t giving up on breathing, or getting me to connect to my body. We end things with her asking that I email her tonight, so we can email between now and Thursday.
When I leave, the sun is out, and it’s a beautiful Indian summer kind of day. But it still feels like a “Rainy days and Mondays” kind of day to me.