I always thought of blogs as being narcissistic, business related, or as my sister's, a way of keeping in touch or memorializing.

But, by necessity, I am learning a lot about myself. I find I need to get my thoughts out, and it helps me to know that someone else will read them. So I have created this little space for myself, to express the things I have trouble saying (be it emotional or physical trouble), to share what I'm going through, and what I'm learning through it.

I absolutely welcome comments. It's nice to know how people relate to what I'm saying.
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Saturday, 9 February 2013


This one's going to be personal. I know what you're thinking, all my posts are personal. Yes, they are. But not like talking about therapy. I mean really, you can't get more personal. So why? Because it's come up a few times in the last little while, that I end up talking about my experience with therapy, and I happen to have an awful lot of it to share!

So what is therapy? In many ways, it's easier to say what it's not. It's not someone telling you how to fix your problems. It's not a friendship. It's not about exposing every aspect of yourself. It's not about just getting validation or being told you're awesome. It's also not about "oh poor me" "there there." It's not about blame or shame, or navel-gazing-style, or wallowing, or self-aggrandization. It is most definitely not just for people with mental health issues, severe or otherwise. It's not hard, but it's also not easy.

It is more like an exploration of what it is that shapes you and your relationship to everything in this world, including yourself, guided by someone who is able to compassionately help you see things you don't necessarily want to see, so you can get past them and live a happier healthier life. It's about airing the things you can't talk about with your friends and family and in doing so taking away their power over you. It's about getting through the harder bits and pieces of life without crashing and burning, and it's about personal growth. Sometimes it's fun, and sometimes it's really really painful.

I have been through a total of 7 therapists in the last 15 years with different specialities. It's true. And no, I'm not nuts. Ok, maybe a little, but not certifiably (like Sheldon Cooper, I've been tested). First, let me say that the 15 years have not been constant - most of the time, I've seen a therapist for a few months at most, because I needed support with whatever was going on in my life at the time. My longest therapy relationship is the one I've got now, and it is ongoing because my extreme healing situation is an incredible opportunity for self-growth and exploration which I am not willing to waste. At first it was also an emotional landmine, grieving my own self, which is why so many people with chronic illness develop depression and anxiety and agoraphobia and all kinds of other lovely mental health issues.

The reason I've been through so many therapists is that finding the right therapist is like finding the right spouse. For some people, the first is great, and that's fantastic. For others, like me, it takes some looking, luck and coincidence. I have, however, learned and grown from each of these therapeutic relationships - each had something very unique and special to offer me. Some of these relationships came to a close because my work was done, but most ended because the therapist and I did not see eye-to-eye on certain key issues, or more importantly, because I felt misunderstood, which is absolutely counter-productive and even dangerous to one's psyche.

My first therapist, for example, opened my eyes to a great many things. After a while, though, I realized she was really very focused on my father as being the only source of and key to my ongoing issues - and if you know my dad, you're probably either rolling your eyes or your jaw is hanging open. In all his glorious imperfection, he is a loving, caring and respectful man who did everything he could to make life better-than-good for his daughters. His journey has not always been easy (whose has?), and every time we really talk, I am more impressed by his ability to grow as a person and overcome and persist and enjoy life while doing it. And yet my time with therapist started to create a wedge between us that had not been there before, which I really did not like. Not only that, but as I soon learned with my next therapist, my issues do not have a single source. Nobody's do. As Sir Ken Robinson says, our lives are a constant discourse between our circumstances and our characters. I had many imagemakers, not just one. There were many adults who played a significant role in my life growing up, and they all have had something to do with who I am today. So maybe it was my therapist who had the real daddy issues...

But it took me a while to figure out what was going on. What happened really is that I started resisting therapy - I mean really resisting. I found myself wanting to talk back to her, and not wanting to go in at all. So I talked to people about it, and the helped me see what was happening. When I realized this therapist was so focused on my past and my father in particular, I realized how easy it is to get stuck there, and became determined not to do that. And that is when I can say the adventure truly began. She was a garden-variety therapist. So I started exploring. An uncle recommended Gestalt Therapy, and looking into it, I decided it might work for me. It did. It sill does. It is a very holistic, now-centered approach. Many of the techniques used are playful, dramatic and artistic in nature, and it is, as a philosophy, very much in line with mindfulness and Montessori. My time with my first Gestalt therapist was incredible - I wanted to be there, I wanted to hear her thoughts, I wanted to share things with her. I started getting excited about life again, and began to see that where I was, who I was with and what I was doing were all choices, and that I could change those choices anytime, so long as I was willing to pay the price and deal with the consequences. I also realized that not changing had consequences and was very costly. I learned to love myself again, and for the first time in a very long time experienced what it is to be whole. And after a while, I didn't need her anymore.

When I found myself in another difficult situation years later, and my Gestalt Therapist could not take me in again, I went looking and found another wonderful Gestaltist, but her location was very inconvenient. I tried Positive Psychology next. That was really neat, and I have a great deal of respect for that process. However, that particular therapist was (and yes, I do know how bad this sounds) not as deep or smart as I am. When I need someone to guide me further into explorations of self and the world, that guide needs to be someone who has at least taken part in and is preferably ahead of me on that journey. This was an experience I would describe as pleasant, encouraging and totally fluffy.

The next time that I needed support, was when I first went into a state of extreme healing. My onset was very sudden, and the ups and downs of getting diagnosed, losing control of my body and energy, not being able to work... it was very overwhelming. I knew I was at risk for depression, and I was determined not to go there. I also knew I could not get out to see my last great therapist. That was when I went to a traditional psychotherapist. She came highly recommended, and I can't say anything negative about her as a person or about her approach. What I can say, though, is that psychotherapy is not for me. I found that while it was very liberating to speak in stream of consciousness, and see where my thoughts went, it was easy to "cheat" - to hide from those nuggets of truth I didn't want to see - to talk circles around them until they were completely obfuscated. I found it easy to slip into old habits of mind, often feeling judged by my therapist when she had done nothing to make me feel that way (obviously I was projecting my own self-judgment onto her) without my therapist making note of them or reflecting them back to me. If I am perfectly honest, I even lied to her a few times, just because I could, and I felt crappy about it - I felt like she didn't really see me, or what I was doing. And I found it harder and harder to go to therapy sessions. So I stopped going and asked for more recommendations.

My next therapist, a Psychologist who practiced a combination of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Talk Therapy, was very helpful in concrete ways - problem solving, making physical adjustments and so on. She helped me figure out how to best log my symptoms, energy levels and medicines, and what to do with the information I was getting out of these logs. It was tremendously helpful at that moment in my life. But that is the only level at which she could really help me, because where we differed greatly was in the definition of the term acceptance. I knew then that I needed to accept my physical state in order to be at peace. She felt, however, that accepting it meant giving in to it. She told me I needed to fight my self-imposed limitations, and that acceptance was not conducive to healing. By now I knew enough about myself and my relation to therapy to know that this was not going to go well.

I am glad that I stood my ground, went back to Gestalt, and found a therapist who did indeed help me accept my situation, and find a way forward towards healing, both emotionally and physically, through acceptance, and still helps me figure out practical ways of conserving energy. This therapist has done her own work. I feel understood by her. We are not mired in my past - in fact, we only talk about my past if and when it impacts my present and future. We talk a lot about my physical sensations, both as regards my symptoms and my emotional states. We problem solve. She calls me out on it when she thinks I'm hiding something or not being completely honest, or when she feels there is something I'm not seeing and need to see. She notices when I'm clenching my hands, and is very skilled at reading my body language and expressions. She sees me.

I have read that the most powerful element in terms of getting results is not the type of therapy but the relationship the patient and therapist have. I believe this, and I also really like the Gestalt way - perhaps because of the kinds of people it attracts, perhaps because the process of becoming a Gestalt therapist means going through a great deal of personal demon-chasing. Maybe it's because it is a holistic approach, and because it is so aligned with my own personal philosophies of life. Maybe it's because it's fun (much of the time anyway). What I do know is that for therapy to be effective, you need to want to change, you need to be willing to ask for help, and you need to be willing to do the work. And you need the right partner to help you figure out what that work is.

What therapy gives me is a space in which I can unpack my baggage, have a good look at it, and put it away again, keeping the pieces I still need, and letting much of it go. It is a safe place to express my anger, frustration, sadness, and joy, my wants and my wishes and desires without anyone telling me that I need to take a chill pill, or to look at the other side of the situation, or that it's not logical or anyone trying to soothe and console me. It's a place where I can see myself clearly, warts and brilliance and all, and see clearly the ways in which I can be happier - and I mean true happiness, not the fleeting up and downy elusive kind. Lasting, authentic contentment with my life and what I'm doing with it. I almost always find I leave feeling more energetic than when I came in. That, in itself, tells me a lot.


  1. And there's the difference between therapists and psychiatrists - the shrinks are in control of your meds, and therefore switching can feel so very risky. And it's easy to forget that a psychiatrist isn't necessarily a good therapist. Mine is particularly knowledgeable about mental health issues as they relate to pregnancy, breastfeeding, PPD, etc... but, in your words, she's not as deep or as smart as I am (it may sound bad, but it's also true.) So... useful for some things, not so much for others.

    1. Great point. Intellectual understanding of mental issues does not automatically make someone a good therapist, just like having a PhD in marine biology doesn't make someone a great fisherman :) different functions, personality traits etc... Thanks :)