Eating my vegetables

It’s been exciting to really get this blog up and running.  I wish I was more chipper, but it’s been a tiring week thanks to work.  I keep pulling extra shifts, which are nice financially but still a bit draining.

This week I had my first session with a new therapist.  I moved to a new city in the spring, so I’ve had to find somebody new and get acquainted all over again.  Once we get settled in, I think it’ll help to have someone to work through all the upheavals in my family with.

People tend to act surprised that therapists see other therapists as clients.  I think part of it is still because there’s a stigma against mental illness still built into the profession–there are Them, who are mentally ill and lack insight; and then there is Us, who are the sane healthy fixer people who have all the answers.  There’s this idea that if you just had all the answers, if you just knew all the right things, you wouldn’t need therapy, because you’d just figure it all out on your own.  Or more generously, the mechanisms for fixing it all would already be built into your life.  This is a myth and not based in reality, but it’s a tempting myth, especially among the shrinks that are trying to live it.  Find all the answers, and never more experience pain, confusion, and loss!

And there certainly is pressure on mental health practitioners to keep their mouths shut about their own personal experiences.  Francine Shapiro was open about EMDR’s genesis in her own personal thought processes, and I’ve never been able to convince myself that the skepticism that met one of the most revolutionary and effective treatments for PTSD to date was entirely separate from that fact.  Other practitioners and researchers have tended to wait until they’re established in the field before speaking out, like Kay Redfield Jamison and Marsha Linehan, even though it’s pretty obvious to me that their intuitive leaps and profound understanding are due in large part to personal introspection.  (A thought for later days: the field of psychology has a great unpaid debt to mentally ill women, and will one day have to pay for its emphasis on detached objectivity)

So anyway.  The bitch of psychotherapy is that it works even if you know how it works.  It’s not actually about having all the answers; it’s about the experience of telling someone what you’re thinking and hearing what they have to say.  Unwinding far enough to hear yourself say the words out loud, or letting the tears uncork.  A lot of the time the only thing your therapist can do is sit there, but they can do that very well.  I’m not convinced we will always need psychotherapists, but as a Catholic I’ve been to Confession enough to realize that cultures keep finding a way to nurture unique, socially-sanctioned, emotionally intimate healing relationships.  Some still have huge issues with doing it particularily well (like I said, I’ve been to enough Confession to know) but all of them find a way.

So some people try to duck out on therapy when they really need it because of mental health stigma, which is not my deal, and some because they want to go it alone, which I’ll argue with at least some merit isn’t me either.  I, meanwhile, try to squirm my way out of going to see a therapist because it is screamingly uncomfortable for me when someone else knows more about me than I do.  SADLY, a willingness to let go of my control over how people view me is also an essential requirement for intimacy with other people, so I make myself do it rather in the same way I make myself eat vegetables.    I like holding all the cards and knowing all the answers, but doing it all the time isn’t good for me.  (There is also, not that I like to remember it when I’m being grumpy, something absolutely delightful in being known, recognized, and understood far beyond what you ever anticipated; but in my bad moods I try to forget that wholesale.)

Being mentally ill is tedious in a way I can’t quite describe.  I know how to be healthy; I know what it’s like when I’m healthy; but damned if I can just make myself do it sometimes.


5 thoughts on “Eating my vegetables

  1. An alternative thought to why shrinks don’t get therapy: My current attending is burnt out as heck and wants to make some changes in her life, and when asked why she doesn’t go see a psychiatrist or therapist for herself, she says, “Are you kidding? I don’t want to sit there and bitch about the same shit they’re going through, too! I don’t want to deal with it, much less hear about it! Why would they?”

    Which is probably partly her avoiding something she doesn’t want to do and/or saying she’s scared her issues aren’t important enough for someone to listen to them, but I have no doubt that’s also sincerely part of why she isn’t seeking it.

    And also there’s the fact that she knows established psychiatrists and therapists in her area, and she runs a solo outpatient practice for a reason–they either work with populations she’s not interested in/isn’t a part of, or they have major, incompatible differences in how they practice.


    1. I don’t want to sit there and bitch about the same shit they’re going through, too! I don’t want to deal with it, much less hear about it! Why would they?

      The other thing I’m hearing in that is a kind of hopelessness. “This thing sucks and nobody can make it any better.” But… I bet that if someone turned up in her practice and said, “I’m a mental health professional and I feel totally burned out and disgusted by my job,” she would not fold up her clipboard and go “Welp! Nothing can help you and you’re fine as you are. Move along.”

      If she has no expectation that therapy will do any good, of course all those things sound like insurmountable obstacles. (Never mind that a therapist not in your social networks is optimal for several reasons.)

      (I love hearing your psych rotation stories. ^_^)

      1. I said something to that effect, but she started listing off excuses other excuses, and I figured she wasn’t ready to go so I dropped it (and I just got her to accept me carrying water for us both as we’re doing our thing and handing her a bottle and saying “I’ll drink if you drink”, so, you know. Baby steps. At least she’s not making as many decisions while dehydrated and jacked up on Mountain Dew, these days :P).

        It’s hard to find a therapist not in your social network if you’re not in a big city! I grew up in the country, so I figured that issue resolved once you lived in a place where the nearest grocery store was less than a half-hour drive, and…nope. Lots of grocery stores, here, not so many mental health professionals! I’m shocked and appalled at it in a way I didn’t expect of myself. I’m starting to understand why my attending works herself into complete burnout with her outpatient practice even if she hates the outpatient stuff–if she started doing inpatient-only psych, she couldn’t find a psychiatrist within an hour’s drive to refer her patients to. It’s pretty terrifying. On a similar note, my aunt is a therapist setting up a private outpatient practice in the biggest city in our state (she used to do inpatient therapy/management in a rehab center), and she hasn’t been able to find a psychiatrist she trusts and who is taking patients to refer her people to. She had a bipolar patient who couldn’t get into a psychiatrist and she just had to call the patient’s mom every day and try to catch the mania in that window where the patient can be committed against their will, but hasn’t managed to hurt or kill themselves, yet. They did catch her in that window, and the patient was committed to a facility that stabilized her and will manage her meds, but damn. What a crappy situation for everyone.

        I’ve told my aunt she needs to move to my city and do my attending’s outpatient therapy. They’d get along–they don’t pull their punches, they work their butts off, my aunt doesn’t try to mess with meds that are working, and my attending is totally cool with any therapy that works (and I’m told my aunt is a good therapist who gets good results).

        Unfortunately they live half a state away from each other, but a girl can dream!

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