Thursday, July 7, 2011

Balancing Life and Therapy: Background

When I first started therapy, I thought it was something I would do, work through, and then move on with my life. I started therapy over Christmas break my senior year of high school. I thought I would go to therapy for the 8 months before I moved away to college and then I'd move on with my life. Little did I know I would only scratch the surface during that time...

For lots of issues, 8 months is plenty of time. For child abuse and PTSD issues, I'm not sure there is a finite period of time. I did leave for college on time, and for undergraduate school, I managed both school/life and therapy pretty well. Sometimes school took precedence and sometimes therapy. Luckily school work came easy for me, so I could still pull good grades even during times when I didn't have the energy or mental capacity to do school as usual. I thought for sure that I'd be finished with therapy before or by the time I graduated college - that was 4 whole years after all!

Unfortunately, while I was definitely making progress in therapy, things were beginning to unravel in the same way that cleaning out a closet makes a huge mess before it's all put back together nicely and neatly. I chose to stay at my university and start a graduate degree b/c I would be able to continue to see the same therapist I'd been working with for the past 18 months, and I didn't know what else to do with myself. A dear friend, suggested that I was using school as a distraction from dealing with real stuff, and I should take a break from school and focus on healing. I'm not sure I agree with her in regards to my first semester of grad school, but she was completely right for the rest of my master's degree program. At the beginning of my 2nd semester of grad school, the therapist I'd been working with for 2 years terminated with me b/c she didn't believe she could help me enough. She referred me to a therapist who was an hour away who claimed to be an 'expert' in child abuse and DID. The new lady was a quack! And my world spun out of control. I buried myself into my school work. It was a total distraction, but in some ways it was my saving grace b/c it's all I had to focus on outside of the abuse and flashbacks.

After my second psych hospital stay in a 4 month period, it probably would have been smart for me to take a break from school and get stable again. However, I was stubborn, and I pushed on. I was young, and stubborn, and so angry! I was mad that my life was in some ways being controlled by abuse from so long ago and everything felt like it was falling apart. My way of retaliating was to tell myself that my past wasn't going to run my life and I pushed forward as if nothing was wrong and I wasn't affected at all. I did manage to graduate on time and with a 4.0, but the week after graduation, I was admitted to a psych unit where I stayed for 2 months.

Upon coming home, I got a full-time, high stress job in my field. Again, I wanted to prove that I could live a 'normal' life and not be controlled by my past. 3 months later I was inpatient again for another 6 weeks. After this stay, I went the opposite direction, totally putting my life, dreams, and everything but therapy on hold. I did manage to stay outpatient for a year, but I think that's more b/c I was out of hospital days than b/c I was doing well. I was miserable during this time period too. All of my hopes and dreams for my life and future were all but crushed, and I had pretty much been convinced by treatment teams and doctors that I should just apply for disability - that my life would never be better or anything near 'normal'. I spent 2 years in this space... giving up on life and mostly being ruled by my past and internal world.

By the beginning of 2008 (10 years after starting therapy), I'd survived (it wasn't really living) both extremes. I did life and tried to mostly ignore therapy and my past. I did therapy and embraced my past while not participating much in my current life and external world. I've heard theories on why either of these approaches may be good or better than the other, but in my experience, neither are a place to be long term. Sure, at times in our life, the past is going to be stronger, more influential, and require more time, and current life will sometimes require more attention and energy that therapeutic healing. I think this healing and growing and adjusting perspectives may be a lifelong journey; So, I want to balance this therapetuic work with living a real life in the present right now.

My new goal has been learning this balance. And that leads me to part II of this post.

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