Sunday, May 13, 2007


The central fact of my sensory life right now is depression, but I skirt around it here. I name its source (PTSD), I sometimes go into its effects (meltdowns and financial screw-ups), but I don't often describe it. Here goes:

It feels like a grey, empty place at my center, from my lungs to my belly. It is as though there's a little less light reaching my retina than there should be. My hearing is somehow less differentiated, as background noises fuzz their way up to the foreground. The emotional high notes of my life have been muted, but not the low ones. Happiness will reach me as a trickle coming down, unhappiness as a spring welling up.

My thoughts proceed as though my brain is wrapped in a duvet--it's muffling and hard to get out of. My follow-through is lousy. My memory is patchy. My sense of time is off. My sleep is irresponsible. I think I must prefer exhaustion to remembering my dreams. Books and blogdrift are my anaesthesia.

I started therapy last fall. I felt that being so marginally functional for so long was unfair to A., and I called up a woman whose name my midwife had given me when I was a wreck right after Z.'s birth. I keep deleting descriptive sentences because everything I can think of to say about her would identify her to anyone who knows her even slightly, and I don't want people to think any less of her because of something I write here. Let me try it from another angle, then. Therapy with her has never felt like therapy. Sometimes I leave feeling better, sometimes not, but I don't feel like this is going anywhere. I don't feel like there's anything to be engaged with when I'm not there. I am seeing her again on Friday, and although I haven't told her yet, it will be for the last time.

I realized that in the Fall when I started seeing her, in my heart of hearts I went mostly to demonstrate to everyone who sees me falling apart that yes, I know that I am falling apart and ought to be in therapy. When I met her, I liked my current therapist and I think she would be a good match for me if I were looking for advice and wisdom. Unfortunately, advice and wisdom are not doing it for me. I am not getting better. I don't even see the route to better.

I want to be in therapy to get better.

Surprisingly, I didn't understand this before now. Having understood it, I can't stay with a therapist who isn't really helping me.

Unsurprisingly, this is not at all the first time I've been in therapy. I briefly had a bad therapist in college, and then for a year I had a much, much better one. And finally in grad school I hit the jackpot. I found a great therapist. I was in therapy with her for a few years, jumping in and out as necessary, trying to break some relationship patterns I didn't like, and I stopped therapy with her because I had succeeded in breaking them, which is a heck of a lot to say for your therapist. I think I always knew that if I was really serious about getting better, I would need to call her.

For the sake of bloggy anonymity I will call her Dr. L. Somehow this appeals to me exactly because it's not what I call her: I use her first name, but Dr. Lastname is what she uses on her answering machine.

Last Sunday night, A. asked me to call Dr. L., in a tone that meant she needed me to do this for her. So I did. Dr. L. found a time in her schedule for me. Better than that, she sounded warmly happy to hear from me after 6 years. Thursday morning was my appointment.

Here's where things went to pieces. A. had told me she would wake me at 6:00. I woke on my own at 6:30. A. came up, saw I was awake, waved at me and dashed out of the house for her train. My mother was visiting until Wednesday afternoon, making it the first morning since the previous Friday that Z. had only one grown-up helping her get ready for the day. Heroically, I headed off fuss after fuss and we were both set to walk out the door at 8:30--with parking, it's a 2-minute drive to school, 5 minutes to settle Z. in, 30 minutes for drive in rush hour to Dr. L.'s office, 10 minutes for finding parking, 5 minutes to walk from parking. Eight-minute cushion.

I grabbed my keys from the hook and found no key to the rental car. Now I had a 2-minute stroller-wrestle, 10-minute stroller-walk, 2-minute stroller-wrestle, 5 minutes to settle Z., 5 minutes to walk to SEPTA, indefinite wait for train, unlikely to catch one before 9:00, probably boarding train around 9:15, maybe 9:20. Twenty-two-minute train ride, switch to trolley, not sure which trolley anyway, indefinite wait for trolley, let's say switch+wait is 10 minutes. Not sure how close trolley would get me, let's say 10-minute trolley ride and 10-minute walk. These are probably all low estimates. Now my session is probably ending as I arrive. There is resistance to therapy, and then there is sabotage.*

I called A. at her school and told her to look at her key ring. She said, "Oh no." She said, "I'm really sorry." She suggested SEPTA. It was instant meltdown for me--"I can't make it, how can I make it, I have to walk Z. to school, there's no way I can make it. SEPTA! Do you know how long SEPTA takes?" (She does, she used to live not far from Dr. L's office when we were dating.)

Mama in tears. Z. patting Mama's face, saying "I made you happy." This is not how I want her to grow up.

The next 40 minutes were me forcing function to overcome meltdown. It was a little convoluted along the way, but the final piece was me once again teary, briefly explaining the tears in order to ask the synagogue office (Z.'s daycare is at our synagogue) if I could use a phone to reserve a PhillyCarShare car. The rabbi offered to help me in any way he could, which I believe I interpreted correctly as an offer of pastoral counseling--and very decent since the minyan I belong to within the synagogue is lay-led, therefore he barely knows me. I think once I feel settled in the new therapy I may take him up on it.

Five minutes before my appointment, I was finally on my way. By the time I got there, with the end of rush hour in my favor, I still had 20 minutes in my session. Those 20 minutes were fairly breathless since I had to fit 6 years into them, but even so I felt like I was returned to good hands. She listened, she asked the right questions, she knows me already and I know her (at least as a therapist). She asked to see Z.'s picture and saw in her face just what I would want her to see.

She told me that even though I am clearly distressed, I seem to have bloomed in the past six years. I can't tell you how hopeful that makes me feel.

*On sabotage: A. lurks here and some of you know her as well or better than you know me, so I don't think I can just say this and move on. I think it's clear from the post--but worth restating--that I don't think this was conscious. A. says it was not the case, she was simply enormously tired, forgot she had told me 6:00, and didn't look at her key ring because she saw I was up and so she didn't lock the door (our front door opens into a fenced and gated sideyard, and we have two very barky dogs to scare off bad guys ... so we don't always lock it). Since A. didn't take out her keys that morning until I called her and told her to look at them, she didn't remember that the rental key was there. It's certainly true she has been tired, and still shaken from the accident. And although I thought of it independently, she did leave messages suggesting PhillyCarShare and called daycare to make sure I checked our messages. I do believe that she wants me to be in effective therapy, but going back to Dr. L. is the first step towards us finding a couples counselor and the fact I can't get past is that A. could not have undermined it more elegantly and effectively if she tried. She brought me roses on Friday as an apology for doing it, whatever the motivation. They are red, long-stemmed, and organic.


niobe said...

Depression sucks the joy out of your life and leaves everything, as you say, in shades of grey. I'm so sorry that you're struggling with it.

Your attempt to get to your appointment sounds horrible. But (am I missing something here?) won't you be able to make another appointment to see Dr. L and have a more leisurely, productive session? Or is it just impossible for Dr. L to fit you into her schedule again? Or is it that you needed to see Dr. L right away?

As you may have gathered from my blog, I'm pretty much where you are on my therapist. I don't really like him and I don't feel like I'm getting better or that he has a plan to help me get to a place where I'll feel better.

But I know I've had problems with all of the many, many therapists I've seen over the years, so it may be me, rather than him. In fact, I'm pretty sure that it is.

liz said...

Many hugs and supportive thoughts.

S. said...

Liz, thanks so much. You give such great bloggy support!

Niobe, yes, I did make another appointment once I got to my session, though I'll have to float for awhile until a regular slot that fits my schedule opens up. But Dr. L. did take me on as a regular patient again, as I hoped she would.

The meltdown was about feeling a threat to the hope of the return to therapy (good therapy), even though rationally it would only have been a postponement. I'm just not so healthy that I can have bad luck and not see omens. And then there was that desire we all have to make a good impression at a reunion.

Without knowing more than what you say on your blog, I do think that if you repeatedly have problems with therapists, the problem may be an inability to walk away from a bad therapist or a bad match. You're going to react to a bad match with all of whatever your defense mechanisms are.
(That's healthy, btw.) I was lucky to have a first therapist so bad that she couldn't remember my name, among other insults. Not that l felt lucky at the time, but it was good to learn early that I needed to walk away if my therapist actively made me feel worse about myself.

My consumer advice would be that to expect even the most Freudian, blank-screen style of therapist to be working from a foundation of sympathy for you, no matter how you present yourself coming in. That's what makes the therapist's job possible. If that foundation is lacking, you should keep shopping.

Phantom Scribbler said...

Hugs on the depression, and sympathy on the feeling of being sabotaged.

Magpie said...

I'm glad that you've been able to get back to your old good therapist, even if the first session was so fraught with accidental problmes. I love, too, that Dr. L said you seemed to have "bloomed" - I think of you as a gardener. Stay well and grounded, and move your plants around - it's good non-talk therapy.

Julia said...

Sorry about the stress-filled return to the good therapist. I am glad to see, though, that you are moving forward. I hope the grayness lifts soon. I only now read the whole story of Z's birth and NICU stay. It sounds like a lot. No wonder it is taking so long to recover.
I hope better times are coming your way.

The Goldfish said...

You write a very vivid and powerful description of depression; I hope things get better for you soon. The move back to Dr L. sounds an excellent step forward, despite what went wrong. Take it easy on yourself.

S. said...

Thanks, everyone, for expressing support. I am hopeful, really for the first time since I acknowledged I was swallowed up by this thing. But I have no illusions that it will be easy.

purple_kangaroo said...

I hope the old/new therapist is helpful

E. said...

It takes courage to ask for help, especially when depression is an issue. I'm glad you have a good rapport with Dr. L. I'll be sending lots of love and support to you through the ether....

S. said...

Thanks PK and E.