Monday, January 30, 2012

The Three Terrifying Words of Therapy: I NEED YOU

January 30, 2012

I was driving back home on the highway this morning after my appointment with Dr. B., feeling a mixture of relief and vulnerability, and not surprisingly, I wanted to hang a U-turn and spend the rest of the day on his couch talking to him and listening to him and maybe even allowing myself to really cry.  This morning, in a rare moment of suspended control, a few tears managed to eke their way out of the corners of my eyes—genuine sadness began to surface.  But then I squashed it back down. 
Dr. B. brought his new puppy with him to the office, a very well-behaved, very calm Labradoodle, and the puppy was content to snooze beside him in a curly heap.  Dog lover that I am, I was resolved to remain unmoved by this adorable cuddly puppy, would remain invulnerable, would not succumb to such easy tactics.  In fact, I didn’t even reach out to pet its head.  Why?  I mean, I am a Mom to two beloved dogs and I volunteer at the Humane Society for goddsakes.  So why such resistance?  I suppose it has something to do with the squashed tears.

Commandment Eleven: Thou shalt not collapse in puddles of sadness or longing or neediness.  Especially not in front of your therapist.
How insane is that?  Isn’t that exactly who I am supposed to be collapsing in front of?  Isn’t that the point—that Dr. B. is the person I feel safe with (I do), and trust (I do), and so I can let go with all else, but this—why?  Why? Why not?

It’s why it is so hard to tell Dr. B. that I need him.  Desperately need him.  To say it out loud.  Easy to write in an email which I did last week.  The typed interface doesn’t require eye contact.  Can’t reveal vulnerability.  Doesn’t expose all the conflicting emotions running rampant beneath those three little words: I NEED YOU. 
Three easy words to say to the people I love who love me back.  Christopher and the kids.  My close friends.  I need you.  I love you.  I’m fairly confident that when I say those words, the words will be returned in kind.  I love you, too, Kerry.  I need you, too, Kerry.

I’ve had my fair share of therapists and psychiatrists—starting at age sixteen.  All of them, up until now, only got bits and pieces of me, half-truths, evasions, downright lies.  I was always too afraid that they’d judge me as too crazy or too much to take on or that I should be sent away to permanent psychiatric incarceration if they knew all of me, all of what went on in my head, if they saw all the damage I inflicted (besides, most of the time, I believed that was probably where I belonged—locked away from the sane world that I could and would damage). 
I’ve been working with (you might say attached to) Dr. B. now for seven years.  Pretty hard to dodge, manipulate, lie, or artfully conceal anything from him.  Nor do I want to.  I think he knows me pretty much inside and out.  Has seen me at my very worst—and is hoping to see me at my very best. 

But actually telling him that I need him—looking him in the eye and saying those three words?  Panic sets in, chest tightens at the mere contemplation of such a crazy idea.  Any of you who have an important relationship with your therapist might understand.  Needing your therapist is difficult, sets off a complex tangle of emotions: Needing my therapist is terrifying because a) my therapist could end our relationship and then where would I be? Needing without having that person = abandonment; b) “needing” at times feels more like “desperately needing,” hence more than I should feel for someone who I am in an essentially professional relationship with, so am I becoming that crazy, Glenn Close character in Fatal Attraction? c) I am doing all the needing; my therapist maintains professional distance; there is no reciprocity—so it feels sickeningly scary to feel this much on one side.
Therein lies the risk with therapy, but, too, the path to repairing my broken mind and heart and soul.  Dr. B. can help guide me out of my terror of trusting and feeling.  He hasn’t cut and run, nor committed me to the State Hospital, nor said I was too much, nor said I was hopeless (unlike a previous therapist and psychiatrist this past summer, who, in a tag-team throwdown, said that they thought I would never recover from my Eating Disorder, thus was beyond help).

This morning, after my few drip-dry tears, I told Dr. B. why it was so frightening for me to tell him that I needed him.  And told him that I needed him.  I think.  Maybe not.  Maybe I just dodged it in my roundabout discussion of my fear of telling him.  So I guess I have to have a go at it again on Thursday.  Maybe my challenge is to tell him at every session.  To normalize my needing him, his help, his hope for me.
Afterwards, when I was leaving, Dr. B (his puppy in his arms—it needed a pee outside), and I walked out of the office together.  I watched them from my car for a few moments as they tramped around in the snow.  Even though Dr. B. has only had the puppy for a few days, it is obvious the puppy is already whole-heartedly, without reservation, devoted to him.  No leash needed.  He scampered by Dr. B.’s feet, doing that joyful puppy leap at his knees with every few steps, unabashedly needing to be right by his side, trusting Dr. B. to lead the way.   

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

A Little Bit Gangsta

January 17, 2012

Neville Bardos.  That name might not mean anything to you, but he made the front page of The New York Times this week.  The name of an Australian gangster.  Only he’s a horse.  A miraculous horse who has made an impossible comeback from near-certain death (almost fatally killed in a stable fire) a few months ago to win the title of International Horse of the Year this week.  As a writer, I am always attuned to the ways in which the stories of others—humans and non-humans alike—can show, by metaphor, analogy, or plainspoken example, the ways to contend with suffering, to act courageously, to love without conditions, to forgive without resentments, to reveal the unbridled (to stick with the equestrian theme) force of Spirit harnessed (giddy up!) with Will to Survive and Thrive.
Thus, I have been thinking a lot about Neville Bardos.  It is also fortuitous that Neville also happens to be my maiden name, so his comeback story seems necessarily yoked to mine.  But then again, I’m a writer and as such, am compelled to create meaningful narratives out of the random coincidences of living—that is the essential design of plot.  To make the ways in which these weird connections bump up against each other significant. 

Neville Bardos the Gangster Horse meet Neville Bakken the Mad Momma

Neville Bardos’ story is that of two redemptions (to use a favorite word of Dr. B.’s).  He originally started off as a not-so-successful thoroughbred racehorse in Australia who was at auction, destined for dog food at the slaughterhouse until Boyd Martin, a competitive Equestrian Eventer bought him for the grand sum of $850.  Yes, you read that right.  Martin saw something in Neville—beneath his failure as a young racehorse--that would make him a superstar at Eventing, the equivalent of an equine Triathlon: horses compete in a cross-country obstacle course, show-jumping, and dressage.  It takes years of complex training to get one horse competitive in all three areas.  Five years after Martin purchased Neville, he started winning titles, and in 2010, he was a top finisher among American horses in the World Equestrian Games which meant he was well on his way to the 2012 Olympics.

Then on May 31, 2011 at 12:30 a.m., Martin received a call that his barn was on fire.  Several horses died, Neville survived, barely, and was taken to an emergency facility at The University of Pennsylvania where he was treated for burns on his body, but more significantly, placed for treatments in a hyperbaric oxygen tank as his entire open airway was burnt.  A breathing tube was inserted into his nose.  Martin abandoned hope that Neville would ever compete again.  As he says in the Times interview, “We were happy he was alive,” and assumed his horse was fated for a life of grazing.  Neville returned back to the farm for rehab, spending time grazing, but as his handlers describe, getting “anxious,” pushing for more, demanding more, so they began short workouts.  Within three months of the fire and his near-life-ending injuries, Neville placed 7th at the Burghley Horse Trials in England, one of the world’s most prestigious equestrian events. 

For some reason, LL Cool J’s 1990’s “Mama Said Knock You Out,” has just strangely, and surrealistically come to mind—maybe it’s the background beat?  Maybe it’s the Rocky-esque parallel I want to draw with Neville?  Neville Bardos’ Australian Gangsta M-Fucker self looking Death in the eye, looking his handlers in the eye who wanted to say , “Take it gently,” but knowing that Champions Take IT (and I’m speaking of IT, my IT here, too) On at Full Force?  So LL seems just right (If you can, try to sing it.  Or better yet, YouTube it for full effect):

Don't call it a comeback
I've been here for years
Rockin my peers and puttin suckas in fear
Makin the tears rain down like a MONsoon
Listen to the bass go BOOM
Explosion overpowerin
Over the competition I'm towerin
Wreckin shop when I drop these lyrics that'll make you call the cops
Don't you dare stare, you betta move
Don't you ever compare
Me to the rest that'll all get sliced and diced
Competition's payin the price
I'm gonna knock you out!  HUUUH!!!
Mama said knock you out!  HUUUH!!!

I think I need to download this song to my Ipod.  Lately, I've been feeling a bit put out to pasture, a little less Gangsta, a little more headed for slaughter.  It's been a rough, debilitating few months.  Somehow, I've managed to contract a bizarre parasite: Dientamoeba fragilis.  Sounds like a lovely, exotic nosegay, something to pin to the lapel?  The experts aren't sure how I picked this up, as it's associated with pig and ape contact.  For months, though, everyone assumed I wasn't following my meal plan as I was vascillating between gaining weight and losing weight (an assumption that I can understand given my usual MO).  For months, I've been plagued (Ha!Ha! Literally!) with intense pain after eating, and all the symptoms associated with Irritable Bowel or Colitis, so eating has become an anxious, difficult process.  Lots of tests, including an Endoscopy/Colonoscopy, all negative, but then my doctor discovered that my body wasn't absorbing fat (hence my inability to gain/maintain weight), and then, like some episode of House, I was tested for parasites, and low and behold, Bingo!  Dientamoeba fragilis, which accounts for nearly all my symptoms.

Unfortunately, the cure, the antibiotic Flagyl, is as wretched as the nasty, wormy buggers colonizing my insides.  For the past two weeks, I've pretty much wanted to crawl into my own worm hole and die.  Round the clock nausea and headaches and what feels like melodramatic taking to my bed and couch at all times of the day with extreme fatigue.  What the worst of my hangovers used to feel like in college only I don't have the hazy-memory-of-the-fun-I-may-have-had-dancing-on-the-bar-the-night-before-to-console-me.  And piled on top of feeling like utter and complete shit, like an incapacitated invalid, I feel guilty for feeling so sick--unable to summon up the energy for my kids, unable to summon of the energy for my husband (What does he come home to?  His wife on the couch, moaning, ready to vomit at all hours of the day, gurgling stomach and rancid flatulance (Thank You! Dientamoeba flagilis and Flagyl at war), pasty face, UTI infection caused by the Flagyl.  I feel like one of those gout-ridden, Rennaissance English kings, swollen-toed, splayed across his throne, belching and bemoaning his fetid self.)

And on top of this, mania escalated, so sleeplessness and irritability, so an increase in my mood stabilizer.  And on top of that, a few hours last week in the ER because I thought I had a hernia, but it just turned out to be a severe muscle strain due to a chronic cough I can't shake, and on top of that, my daughter getting over pneumonia, and on top of that, we just found out from her chest x-ray she might have an issue with her heart, and on top of that, my son puked mac 'n cheese all over (my) bed again last night because we've forgotten to give him his acid reflux med the past couple of days because of the pile ups of all the "on top of that's."

Is this kvetching?  Sounds like it to me.  This is me at the mercy of IT, throwing my hands up in despair, defeat, and exhaustion.  Okay, yes, I'm allowed to be exhausted.  Anyone would be with all of these "on top of that's" coming at once.  The war between parasites and Flagyl has been lengthy and exacts collateral damage, so I should give myself a break.  As my husband says, "I give you permission to take it easy on yourself.  You can take a nap, you know."  Only I don't "know," not really, not in Gulity-Punishing-Kerry World.  But of course, I broke my arm all those years ago testing out the theory that I was Wonder Woman and discovered I was NOT Wonder Woman.

But I am Neville Bakken the HorseWoman, if not Neville Bardos the Horse.  But like Neville Bardos, who was redeemed once by his owner for $850, on pure discerning speculation that there was that something waiting in him that would make him a champion in the most grueling, the most challenging of Equestrian Events (and Martin gambled right!), he was redeemed a second time by whatever Spirit (yes, a deliberate use of capitalization) moved through him, pushing him from a life finished out in passive pasture (To graze or not to graze?  That is the question!) to a life of flying again over fences, of feeling his lungs expand with air, of feeling his heart thrum against his chest, of feeling his sense of purpose and mission return.  That is Neville Bardos, gansta, taking back his territory, eyes on the prize.

So it is for me.  I feel like shit.  But I get my ass out of bed or off the couch.  Go see Dr. B., who is a 45 minute drive (not a negligible distance when one feels like roadkill).  Keep the house clean and tidy.  The laundy under control.  The kids in good working order.  And keep eating, each meal and snack despite wanting to hurl at every bit.e  And am now going to dash off to my noon AA meeting, my own hyperbaric oxygen tank.

Neville Bakken.  A Little Bit Gangsta.  I'm Gonna Knock You Out.  HUUUH!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Pink Snowpants and The Path to Loving Kindness

January 10, 2012

A bad Momma moment this morning.  The usual chaotic run through of the checklist as I was sending the kids off to school:  Did you brush your teeth?  Your hair?  Lunches?  Backpacks?  Gloves?  Where are your gloves?  Where did you last see your gloves?  I have one glove.  Where is the other?  Where is your book report book?  Snowboots?  Snowpants? 
Okay, Alexander checked off.

Sophia, cramming her bright pink snowpants into the extra bag she needs to bring to school to fit all the extra snowgear she needs in winter, turned to me, smiling, and said, “Yesterday, for recess I lent Morgan (not her real name) my snow pants because she didn’t have any.”
Instead of complimenting my daughter on her altruism, my anger immediately took hold.  “Absolutely NOT,” I said sternly.  “You do not lend your snowpants to anyone.”

Sophia looked crushed, confused.  After all, haven’t her father and I been teaching our kids that it is important to share with those less fortunate, to be charitable, to be kind and when possible selfless?  “Why not,” she demanded, her voice taking on an anger to match my own.
“You don’t share your snowpants.”  Even then, in my irrational ire, I knew how ridiculous that sounded, like an absurd decree from the Monarchy of Rigid, Inane Rules.

“But WHY?  WHY?”  Foot stomping now.
“Because they’re expensive.”  When searching for some rational reason, parents can always fall back on how much things cost, right?  Because I wasn’t even sure why I was so angry that she’d lent Morgan her snowpants at that very moment, except they were Sophia’s, except that it meant that Sophia went without her snowpants for recess and it was pretty damn cold and Sophia isn’t exactly a hurly burly girl, so that meant for the twenty-five minutes or so, she probably froze her tiny butt off. 

But why?  I had my niggling speculations, but those didn’t surface until Sophia swept up her various bags for school, and I had to re-emphasize one more time (why did I?  why couldn’t I just let it go?)—“You don’t lend your snowpants, Sophia!”—“I KNOW!” she shouted back—and  headed downstairs to the car, kicking over the dog gate—Whack!  Bam!-- for her added emphasis, angry at me.
“Don’t you want to make up with her before she leaves?” Christopher said, grabbing the car keys.

“Not really,” I said.  “I don’t like the fact that she’s thinks she needs to buy friends.  That’s the girl that brought her to tears the other day.”  Bingo!  Niggling speculation.
“I don’t think she necessarily thought that’s what she was doing,” Christopher said.

I shrugged.  He left.  They all left, leaving me to feel like shitty Momma.
Because of course he was right.  I’m sure Sophia was just being Sophia, her usual big-hearted self, compassionate to all in need, whether it be kittens or puppies or penguins or bitchy girls who treat her like a BFF one day and then turn on her the next.  She forgives and forgets.  Not like me, with my steely heart, and despite ECT and the exception of the past year’s memory wipe-out, I remember everything, every slight, betrayal, wound, word.  I’m not proud of this; I wish I could be more like my daughter, forgiving, letting bygones be bygones, always seeing the good heart in everyone.  For instance, the other day, she remarked, “Even murderers in jail must have something good in them.  They can’t be all bad.  And I bet somebody loves them.  And they must love somebody.”

Because of all I have been through, part of me wants to toughen her up; her vulnerability to heartbreak terrifies me.  Won’t her generosity be taken advantage of?  i.e., the pink snowpants?  Because you see, I have been studying the trajectory of her friendship with Morgan.  And yes, I understand the nature of friendship between girls at this age (9) is complicated, fraught with gossip and the intricacies of shifting loyalties.  But I also know that the so called “minor” hurts inflicted (and if inflicted on a regular basis) by “friends” at this age, can scar you for life.  Believe me, I know. 
Just four days ago, Sophia received from her teacher a “change-your-seat slip.”  Her teacher gives these out as rewards for academic success and good behavior—you can cash it in to change your seat in order to sit next to whoever you want to in the class.  (Don’t get me started on the appropriateness of such a reward and the kinds of catty tensions this might create—the evidence is forthcoming).  So Sophia cashes hers in and chooses to sit near her friend Morgan!  Except Morgan, too, receives a slip, and quick as lightning, cashes hers in and chooses to move away from Sophia to sit near another girl, her “newer” BFF.

When I picked Sophia up from school, she was able to walk a half a block maintaining her composure, and then broke down in sobs.  “When Morgan did that,” she said, “my eyes got all teary and my legs started shaking.  None of my friends want to sit near me.  No one likes me anymore.  I don’t know why.  Why Momma?”
I just hugged her and kissed her and cried with her and kept my ball of fury contained—wishing I could have been in the classroom with Sophia to protect her from the heartbreak of being left behind, left out, left alone.  To gather her shaking body against mine, to let her cry in my arms, to let her know that I understood because it happened to me—singled out, set upon, suffering for so many years
alone. But then, magically, by chance, in 6th grade, I found my BFF: Erin.  My teacher assigned our seats randomly, and we thought, initially that we hated each other—but as it turned out, we became inseparable.  Twenty-nine years later, we are still BFF’s. 

What I want to tell her is all you need is the One.  The one friend who will matter the most.  Who will sit by you.  Stick by you.  Won’t break your heart.  And if you lend her your pink snowpants, it will be because she truly is your BFF and you won’t get cold anyway or you don’t care if you do because she’s colder than you.  And if she tears a hole in the knee?  Then I won’t care even if they are expensive because I can see how happy you are because when I pick you up from school the two of you will be whispering about some secret I can’t know but you’ll both remember and laugh about, maybe even twenty-nine years later, too.   
I know when I pick Sophia up from school I will apologize to her and try to explain some of this, and of course, tell her how proud I am of her good, kind, big heart which shows me, every day, the path to loving kindness.