Therapy session no… 14? I sort of lost track by now

I was lucky enough to get another trip to M again which also means having another session. Last week, I came across an article about a boy being abused by his father who later killed him and dug him under the kitchen. The part which article narrates “don’t hit me! don’t hit me” caught my attention and although I was not so affected at that point in time, I woke up in the middle of night with those words replaying in my head. It happened for two days.

I preempted my T that I wanted to see her with regards to this because I have been avoiding violence with regards to kids since that one incident where I accidentally saw a documentary on a girl being tortured. The scene and her screaming kept replaying in my head for days and I was either not being able to sleep or that I had nightmares. My mood shifted drastically like I was feeling helpless, angry and sad at the same time. I think this triggered memories of when I was young, I was made to see my siblings being physically punished just so that ‘we don’t repeat the same mistake’. Their screaming would haunt me at night because it kept replaying in my head.

I am actually surprised by her reply. She kept mentioning that it’s because of my need to want to help others that I feel helpless about not being able to do anything. I said that I don’t think that’s the reason because I know I can’t save everyone – that I understand. She then further explained that perhaps I need to think of ways to help them without having to be a part of it.. and I said that I can possibly raise awareness and not sure what else I can do. She kept on emphasizing about my need to help people and that I can possibly volunteer to help children. I told her that no, I am not interested to be part of a children’s foundation etc because I just rather not. And immediately she said well, that’s your preference and went on about how after masters she didn’t want to pursue her career in another country because she prefers home. She said that probably I don’t want to be involved with children because it will affect me. I know that deep down, that is not the reason.She shared that she doesn’t want to work with LGBT group because it is not her interest which to me, I wonder what she would say if she knew about my past.

I felt like she didn’t know what I wanted to ask which is: did my childhood trauma cause me to behave this way? Are these flashbacks as a result of it? And how I do I deal with flashbacks? She said that it’s possible and went on to talk about me being verbal abuse may have resulted it. I told her that no, I have seen my siblings being physically punished and it’s difficult for me to talk about it. Their screaming and pleas replay in my head. Sad to say that she’s not that sharp in picking this up because I mentioned it before about being hit when I was young. If talking about being verbal and emotionally abused isn’t easy, then what makes her think that physical abuse is not present? It is definitely more difficult to talk about. I thought something like this will be considered important information.

She then mentioned that there was a case about this old chinese (muslim) guy who was bringing young boys back home to his house for sex. I was thinking to myself.. why the need to mention ‘muslim’? Kinda ticked me off a bit to be honest. Okay well she did mention ‘chinese’. sigh.

I asked her about how do I deal with flashbacks? How do I deal with the screaming that replays in my head? She said to either distract myself or avoid it. Distract myself by doing something else when I accidentally comes across such articles or entirely avoid it. I said, well I can’t entirely avoid it for the rest of my life, can I? She said, if I were to accidentally read these articles or come across such videos, then I can train my brain to not think about it. I said, well the screaming plays in my head, I can’t stop it. And she said, yes you can if you don’t think about it.

Oh gosh… I’m not an expert but to me that sounds so simplistic. Just avoid it? Don’t think about it? Hmm..I asked, how about nightmares? How do I deal with that? Her reply is that sometimes dreams we are not sure why we get them. Sometimes we dream that we are flying and obviously it is not something we have done or can do. It’s not something that we can explain. Hmm ok….

I can’t remember how we get to the point of bully vs victim. She asked me where do I see myself? I said I’m in the middle – which is normal. She told me to name the traits of a bully vs victim. So bully (aggressive, intimidating, strong) and victim (passive, weak). She said that we will always go back and forth on the pendulum. With different people we will behave differently. For example, a lady is different when she is at work so she is confident and strong to fit in that environment. But once she reaches home, she is a wife and mother so she is gentle and docile I guess. I told her that I used to be a bully in school because at home, I did not have any power to do or say anything so I act out then. I said that I’m still friends with my ‘victims’ and she said that some people need to be in that role because that’s the only role that they know of. Once they leave that role, they need a new identity. Well I’m obviously not a bully anymore.

I don’t know where I am heading in therapy with her. I feel that certain things she is not sharp enough and should be taking notes. At the end of the day, I know that she is also human but really.. not sharp enough. Like for example, at one point, I was frequently doing push ups on my knuckles and it was red and had skin peeling off like I punched someone. I was expecting her to ask me if I had harmed myself or someone considering I have anger issues. But no, nothing from her. M pointed out that it is standard procedure to ask those questions.

I have a few months before heading to M again and till then, I can decide on whether I want to continue with her. I don’t believe that I need another 6 – 8 more sessions to work on things like self-compassion. That’s just too long and I don’t even the capacity to go for sessions. In any case, I am considering looking for a local therapist if my flashbacks come back.

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Summary of Session #13

Doing inner work when it is spring

This has got to be one of my favourite psychotherapy articles. And I love the title too.

I had the opportunity of heading to M a few days back and as usual, it would feel incomplete if I did not have an appointment with my therapist. Things have been wonderful on my end. Actually, scrap that. Too wonderful that it feels unreal. I emailed her that I would be seeing her ‘without a problem’ because honestly, I am quite sick of talking about my mom. The last 6 – 7 sessions had been specifically about managing my emotions dealing with my mom. I think moving to a different topic helps me to actually rationalise my thoughts on certain things. Therapy for me now, will be more towards self-improvement as she knows my background and it will be easier to work on my issues based on that.

Last session was mostly chit-chat and self-reflections.. although to some extent it felt like catching up with an old friend. I know I should not consider her as a friend but it felt like even her conduct says otherwise. That she is treating me like a friend. She offers me her personal opinion and experiences which she has never done it before. Therapy actually felt a bit different this time. I’m also more relaxed around her. The first thing I did when I entered the room was to remove my jacket and shoes and sat on her couch cross legged.

A few things we talked about:

1) Told her about how a close friend of mine was sceptical about my job and promotions. I said that I don’t blame her because I got it a month after completing my thesis; my job title is actually the head of department one month after I started working; and I get to travel when I just started. People spend years before being given the opportunity to travel.. what more this title. I received news from my boss last week that I am off probation after 3 months (instead of 6 months).. and my pay is being revised. My T commented that with social media nowadays, people tend to only show a good part of their lives so when we have something great, naturally it is difficult to believe. I told her that look, I am close to this friend and I have known her for years. She had been by my side through difficult times and it was disappointing to receive such feedback from her. It would be crazy if I printed my own namecard and made up stories about my job. My T said, not everyone will be happy for you. From her experience, people pretend to be glad for you but not everyone is genuine. I mentioned that when I told bestie about my revised pay, her first reaction was to ask for a treat. I mean like what the heck..

2) I talked about my relationship with bestie and how therapy is just additional support to whatever non-existent support I get from bestie. Don’t get me wrong, she has been supportive in some cases…but probability of her supporting me if I am going through a crisis would be 50:50. When I share something difficult with her, she would either listen for a while and then change topic OR will not entertain it entirely. I said that she of all people should understand that talking is helpful because she is psychologist (and we talk so much about ‘holding each other’s pain’) but apparently not when I need help. I joked about how I understand psychologists are also humans but then don’t make such commitment if we can’t handle it. I have been hearing her talk about her ex-bf for over a year and till today I still entertain this topic although it is already reaching my limit. But she cannot seem to hear just a part of my difficulty which I don’t talk about much unless necessary. People can be disappointing but I guess adjusting my expectations is important.

3) Another topic we talked about is transitions. I told her how I changed from being  a bit crazy to very conservative and now I am going back to being very open. I said that when some of my ex classmates met me, they were shocked because I looked so different from before. I told her that I don’t understand why I change so much. She asked, how does it affect my current job. I said that it is necessary that I am the person that I am now.. because previously I was so conservative that travelling with a male, let alone talking to one was difficult for me. If I was still that way, it would be difficult for me to do my job having to communicate with all sorts of people.

She also said that first impression is important so yes, people will judge you based on what you wear but we can change that. I told her that I understand and I know people have some form of perception of me before from the way I dressed. I added that whilst I looked very conservative, I am actually liberal in my thinking. And often, people who dress the way I do often think that we have the same kind of mentality. Boy are people usually surprised when they find out that I am quite different from their initial assessment.

I told her about how I left Islam at one point in my life and when I was in A, I had close Muslim friends who practised Islam differently. My parents raised me in such a way that Islam was forced down my throat but these friends were about kindness, gentleness, compassionate.. characteristics which Islam wants us to have. She said that being around these people will shape and influence us to be the way that they are as well. Ironically, I became very religious in A, of all places honestly. I told her that no one forced me to dress the way I used to. It was entirely my choice to do it.

4) She asked me what do I think of people with different values. I said that I am fine with it. We won’t find someone with exactly the same values but we can respect each other for the differences.

5) We also talked about my involvement working with refugees. I told her that from my experience, I learnt so much from working with them. I appreciate life better and I understand what it means to be grateful. I told her that one of the refugee kids have been living on the boat for months but she looked like the happiest kid in the room. There’s something different about people who are grateful. They are thankful for the smallest blessings. I said that I am currently practising gratitude in my life for everything.

She also asked me how is it like working with refugees because their stories are horrid and it might affect me. She said that those in the helping professions will need to practise more self-care in this case because if not, they will be affected. I told her that at the meantime, I don’t deal with them personally although I am aware of their stories. I know I am not trained to do so anyway. I rather be the one helping monetarily via fund raising etc. She said to take care of my well being if I do so.

6) I also mentioned that perhaps 10 years down the road I want to do something different which is more towards human rights. She said that I should reframe my thoughts to something better which is how can my current work help me to help others in the future. I said that as it is, my work may be in the financial industry but it is eventually for the benefit of the community. But corporate world feels like it is not for me because I don’t fit in well. People seem so fake underneath our coats and title. Whilst not everyone is fake, but it feels that way. Just recently when I attended a conference, some were not interested to talk to me because they thought I was a student. When they eventually found out what I was doing, immediately they were interested to know more. That’s sad honestly.. I would be happy to help whoever if they needed it.

Where is my therapy heading?

I’ve been updating my progress as requested by my therapist for a few months now. We initially agreed that we will try this out for 6 months and then eventually terminate it.

Last week, I had to send my progress report to her. I raised the question of how many more sessions we should do before termination… and then with termination, comes the issue of me feeling abandoned. I decided that I rather raise these issues upfront before we finally end the sessions and then having to go through therapy withdrawal.

She replied saying that I would need 6 – 8 more sessions followed by check-ins every 2 months. I told her that the main objective of seeking therapy was for me to work my issues out with regards to the relationship with my mom and whether in her opinion, I am capable to handle it if there are any future conflicts. I have other issues that I need to tackle but chose to not bring it into therapy because I wanted to focus on just one thing at a time. I was confident that she would say that a few more progress reports will do because I feel like I’m coping well. I’m guessing 6 – 8 sessions mean that I still have a lot more work to do. The question is – do I have time to travel to the country just for therapy?

Then the question of interpersonal relationships. I wanted her to know that ending therapy would ultimately mean that it would affect me terribly because I feel quite attached to her now. She replied with questions for me to reflect on but have successfully detached herself from it. I feel like she could do with some personal response instead.. something along the lines of, I understand that this will affect you but let’s try to work through this together. I mentioned that the previous therapist reminded me so much of my friend in A that when she left abruptly, I was affected like I did before. She’s being professional by detaching herself.. but where is the human touch then?

Oh well.. I dislike that therapy is left hanging in the air. It’s neither terminated nor can I attend it.

Mother’s day

A dreadful day for those who have conflicting feelings about their own mother.

It has been about 2.5 months ever since I came back home and so far, it has been surprisingly manageable. Thank God seriously.. And my worst fears were that because I work long hours during the week, I am expected to be at home during weekends.. or that she will still try to control me even when I’m working. But really surprised to see how supportive my mom had been all these time ever since I’m back.

So today’s mother’s day and like every mother’s day, I get annoyed by the sheer volume of posts on facebook about how great motherhood is and that ultimately we as children, should sacrifice everything for her in return. Whilst I do not deny the sacrifice, I feel a bit reluctant to actually express it. A year ago when I thought that she changed after being diagnosed with cancer, I wrote her a postcard to say that she is a wonderful mom and I thanked her for everything. She appreciated it and hung it on our fridge. Till now, I cannot bear to even look at what I wrote because it sounded hypocritical. I was sincere back then when I wrote it but I don’t feel the same way now.

And then.. those conflicting emotions start to kick in. How could I be so ungrateful? How could I not appreciate the things she has done for me? Am I being over dramatic about my past? Was it that bad? ..and these questions have been going to and fro lately.

Why is it so hard to understand how I feel about my mom? I cannot put a name to what I feel seriously. I don’t hate her.. well, therapy did a great job in reducing my anger. But I don’t know what to feel about her. Or if I’m behaving authentically in my relationship with her.

In any case, mother’s day relives a little bit of my past which I tried to avoid by filling my time with things. I’m happy for those who have solid relationships with their mom but it’s almost as though people forget that not everyone has that same type of relationship when they post excessively on social media. Mother’s day is a confusing day for me..

The only exception

This is how I’ve been feeling lately. I would like to share my life with a significant other someday but the fear has prevented me from doing so.

When I was younger
I saw my daddy cry
And curse at the wind
He broke his own heart
And I watched
As he tried to reassemble it

And my momma swore
That she would never let herself forget
And that was the day that I promised
I’d never sing of love
If it does not exist, but darlin’

You are, the only exception
You are, the only exception
You are, the only exception
You are, the only exception

Maybe I know, somewhere
Deep in my soul
That love never lasts
And we’ve got to find other ways
To make it alone
But keep a straight face

And I’ve always lived like this
Keeping a comfortable, distance
And up until now
I had sworn to myself that I’m content
With loneliness

Because none of it was ever worth the risk

But, you are, the only exception
You are, the only exception
You are, the only exception
You are, the only exception

I’ve got a tight grip on reality
But I can’t let go of what’s in front of me here
I know your leaving in the morning, when you wake up
Leave me with some kind of proof it’s not a dream, oh

You are, the only exception
You are, the only exception
You are, the only exception
You are, the only exception

You are, the only exception
You are, the only exception
You are, the only exception
You are, the only exception

And I’m on my way to believing
Oh, and I’m on my way to believing.

Overview of my therapy sessions

5 months ago, I decided to see a therapist because of some underlying issues that I was facing (of which I came in to talk about anxiety attacks instead). I had been isolating myself inside my room for days then.. and would only leave the room to get food, go to the toilet etc. The real reason is because I felt like no one could accept the real me if they knew who I really am. I portray to the world a pious person and it was reflected in my speech and clothing mostly. But little do people know that I was struggling with attractions to my friend then. I was confused with my feelings and why I felt so intensely towards her. How do you reconcile the religious facade and at the same time contradicting my values for having those thoughts and feelings? I don’t believe anyone can because for myself, I hold strongly to my beliefs but my needs say otherwise.

Turns out, my therapist left and then my mom started her drama after a year long of ..no dramas. I was not able to even bid my old therapist farewell for her kindness. I had strong transference with her in just a couple of sessions because she reminded me of another person I had intense feelings for back in A. My objectives for therapy then changed immediately to focus mostly on the toxic relationship I have with my mother.

The work done with my current therapist is mostly on how I can learn to live authentically even around my mother. I’ve had anger issues which I never addressed till then. Therapy with the current therapist really felt like how it should feel like in therapy because there is no transference so far, and that I never had someone who was able to sit with me whilst I grieved. I’m used to holding back tears and biting my lips just to put up a brave front to everyone. Yet, inside I was slowly crumbling. Being able to just be brutally honest with someone who has shown a lot of empathy, support and given me the space to air my anger, annoyances, destructive thoughts.. is not what I expected to find in therapy. That is something I treasure greatly because I have yet to find a friend (except the one in A) who could do that.

If there’s one thing I miss tremendously, would definitely be going to therapy. I grew up not being able to express how I felt and therapy is like a relief to my soul when I could say whatever I felt and not feel afraid of being judged. I told my therapist that I am grateful that she has made the environment safe and non-judgmental. No raised eyebrows, or “How could you say that?” expression on the face. Thank you my dear therapist. We have a weird relationship because I don’t know who she is and yet I was more open to her than I am with my bestie of 20 over years. Going for therapy gives me the jitters no matter how many sessions I’ve gone and yet I always find myself back on her couch. That 1 hr sessions have a greater impact on me than turning to some friends to ask for advice when I was in need of one. How powerful!

I still have a lot of work to do and I know the reality is that, I need to find another therapist back home even though I really hate having to go through that jitters on the first day of session. I am not financially stable yet so I’ll most likely wait for a year before I actually find one. One of the best experiences I had to be honest!

No more travelling :(

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It had been rather hectic the last few days. I travelled out of country and then came back to have a final discussion with regards to my new job. Things to settle.. you name it. Just endless. One thing I am thankful for is the short time I had to travel. I managed to meet a few friends and had uh-may-zing coffees during my time there.

When I came back, something hit me. Really hard. That it was time to move on to the next phase in my life and most importantly, moving back home. I told my therapist that I wonder if the job came too soon because I am still trying to navigate my life back in home country + at home. I told her that I get lost in my own country (haha I know right) because the development here is so fast that I can’t catch up with it. There’s always something new being built and then I see so many unknown faces who are obviously foreigners. I am thankful for the job but I find that I still need some time to adapt to things. It feels odd to not be independent anymore – food cooked for me, sent to work, clothes washed and ironed. Not that I am not grateful for these things but it is different from what I am used to.

I broke down into tears that night and decided to call bestie to have a chat. You know what’s sad? It’s sad that when I really need to talk things out, I can’t find someone who will sit with me and let me grief. Halfway through the conversation, she decided to change topic and talk about her problems instead. So the 30 – 40 minutes phone chat was spent with me crying over the phone for 10 mins and her dominating the conversation for the remaining time. I mean come on, most of the conversations we have are about her. It doesn’t hurt to focus the attention on me once in awhile especially when I need it the most.

I am most disappointed that she doesn’t bother to ask about my condition when I told her that I went to see a sports medicine doctor about my leg. No question about “So what’s wrong with you? Are you ok?“. Just oh ok, you are seeing a doctor now. And I was excited about meeting future boss about signing the contract (which turns out to be tomorrow instead!) and there wasn’t any excitement or asked how it turned out. THAT’S SAD SERIOUSLY. It’s more about, what should I do now.. what is your opinion on this etc blah blah blah. And I thought best friends should be supportive and concerned about you? Hmm..

Summary of Session #11

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Summary of my therapy session #11:

  • Told my T that I finally got a job and that my brother wanted to rub it in my face that I was jobless. I said that although I kept myself busy during the time I was not working, I still had that nagging feeling of being unemployed.. to some extent helpless. She said that perhaps me feeling trapped at home could be the reason why I felt that way. I said thank God for the job and also that my brother has gone back to another country so I wouldn’t have to deal BOTH him and my mother at home
  • I noticed that there is a toxic dynamic between my brother and mother. It used to be that when my mother says/does something bad towards me, my brother will follow suit, mimicking her insults and put downs at me. And when it is my brother cruelly making fun at me, I would of course be unhappy and instead of him getting into trouble, my mother would get mad at me for my ‘sulky face’. I get told to lighten up because he was ‘just joking’.. Seriously? Joking my ass.
  • I mentioned about getting the job and my mother was excitedly telling my sister about my brother instead. I said that it was good that he got the internship but why can’t the focus is on me for that day. Why steal my thunder? She asked: How does that make you feel? I replied, jealous of course. He has ONE testimonial which he wrote himself and yet my mom parades it around like he won first prize. I don’t believe that my testimonialS were even read through and shown to other people.
  • I told her that I will see a therapist in home country if after assessing my situation at home with her, after I start working, and she starts with her tantrum. She was worried that when I start working and spend less time at home, my mother might start with her ways. That’s when I need to see someone to make sure that my sanity is still intact. I also said that I have a contingency fund already in mind which I might activate when things go bad. She said, what does the plan looks like. I said that I will want to change my name and disappear for good but it’s not fair for my father and sister because they have been kind to me. I said that I feel like I am a runner – because I run away from situations (and possibly future relationships). She said that it’s ok to get away from a bad situation especially if you fear you might hurt someone. I added that I still worry that I lose control of my anger and I might end up hurting someone.
  • Lying has become second nature to me and this actually goes against my values. On one hand I want to be very honest but then being honest means the consequences are great. I said that sometimes I amaze myself because the lies seem to come easily for me. I have been quite creative in my lies so far and that I feel perhaps I should write a book. She said, well since speaking the truth results in consequences, then I am actually fulfilling both our needs. My needs to do what I need to do, and for my mother too.
  • Asking for help: Duration, intensity and time. It might have to do with my self worth when I don’t want to ask for help. What do I think of when I ask for help? That I’m a burden.. and where does it stem from? I said, do you think I should always blame my childhood? She said, how I was brought up, my worldview and my view of relationships with others is due to what I was exposed to so yes, it does reflect how I think and act now.
  • With regards to asking for help, I need to consider how everyone is different in wanting to help. For some, they are willing to help all the time but others might not feel the same way. I said that asking for help is synonymous to being weak and that is why sometimes I find it difficult to ask for help. She said that yes, asking for help can be seen as being weak because it means we are unable to do something but I need to consider the three things (Duration, intensity and time). Duration: How long will this help be for? Intensity: How easy/difficult is the help? Time: When do you need help? There is nothing wrong in asking for help especially if I need it.
  • I told her that I might see another therapist back home but I really dislike changing therapist. It’s so difficult trying to get used to another therapist AGAIN, having to trust someone .. I think it took me a few sessions before I could open up to her but even so, there are certain things which I don’t think I can talk about to her yet.