Last week, my therapist told me he was taking a new job and could no longer have a private practice or see me. I had mixed feelings about this. I have been working with him for about a year and he is the first therapist I have worked with who has provided valuable information that has really helped me make changes I thought were impossible. I have a way better understanding of how my mind, body, and spirit all work together. I am so much better at combating anxiety, worry, and the fear of negative interactions with other people. I have become more assertive and do not let myself believe that my needs and feelings are less important than those of others. I have a lot more clarity, strength, and overall sense of calm.
While it is hard to end that relationship, it is clear that now I am equipped to do so. As a counselor, I know it is important to discontinue seeing, or “break up” with my therapist. If done right, the point is to be able to take what I have learned and put it to practice. There comes a time when it is up to me to continue without a regular appointment. Discontinuing therapy does not mean that now I am on my own and have to face the world with no support. The support just starts to look different. Sometimes, part of therapy is to build support and know how to support others. I have no problem building my community and being someone who cares for others, so I am sure I am not alone moving forward.
One of my goals was to start being more independent. I have never been afraid to ask for help, but sometimes, that left me being dependent on others and not pushing hard enough to do something on my own. It can be hard to know if I am able to do certain things because sometimes I lack clarity and don’t trust myself. At times, I am not sure if I am scared, frustrated, or if I actually cannot physically or mentally complete the task.
To practice my independence this summer, I tried to do things I had never done on my own. These things had to be concrete so I knew I was making progress. One of the things I did was go camping and figure out how to set up and take down my site all by myself. In the past, I always shared a tent with someone and was never very helpful. I depended on others to do it the “right” way while I mostly just sat back and watched. Doing this a few times has been just the thing to increase my confidence and I know I am able to do things by myself.
I am aware that most people are able to pitch a tent without second-guessing themselves. This is just symbolic of how I have been able to step back and recognize that I had some pretty big misconceptions about what I can and can’t do. I live in a beautiful state with endless opportunities to play outside any time of year. For some reason, I have always lacked the confidence to make room in my life to play outside more often. I relied on other people to take the lead. While I know it is not smart for me to explore the outdoors by myself with little knowledge, I have the courage to take a more active role. It is so good for me to breathe fresh air, challenge myself with new activities, and just get super dirty. Having done this simple thing this summer, I have noticed myself taking more opportunities for independence.
I am so grateful to have had the experience of working with my therapist. I love knowing that I am able to do more than I think I can. Over the last year, the work we did has changed me. No matter how hard it looks, I will now try new things on my own. SO, now that we all know that I can pitch my own tent, who wants to go play outside with me??
I went looking for a song about being an independent woman, really liked this one, and then saw it was at a Stand Up To Cancer event. How interesting… Enjoy!
The best way I get through life is to be prepared. I have a plan in place for times when I need to address my bigger feelings such as sadness, anger, loneliness, hurt, disappointment, fear, nervousness, excitement, love, inspiration, hope, and anticipation. When you read through that list, you may not have been expecting “positive” feelings. In my life, my emotions can be very big and magnified. I have learned to accept this because it is hard to change who I am and I don’t think I necessarily have to.
Because my emotions arrive somewhat like a tidal wave, I have discovered they aren’t going to magically go away and I have to find ways to feel calm and safe when they rush in. Even my excitement and motivation come with a strong force. People who know me have most likely seen the wave pretty quickly. I sometimes feel apologetic. Really, I want to apologize to myself for the discomfort.
Instead of getting into the big cycle of judgement, blame, or embarrassment, I have learned that I have to feel my emotions, AND I have the choice to handle them however I want. The way I do this is to accept my discomfort and use my VERY LONG list of coping skills. Coping skills don’t have to be this big ordeal. They can simply be a distraction. Sometimes, they are very productive. Many times, the first thing I try isn’t the thing that works. At times, I have to try and combine multiple things in hopes for a good outcome.
My top coping skills are:
- Calling my friends and family to ask for help
- Walking around the lake
- Doing laundry
- Going to the movies
- Working out at the pool
- Making crafts
- Going out to eat
- Talking to my therapist
- Scrolling through Facebook
- Leaving my house
- Getting a pedicure
- Using essential oils
- Looking through my pictures
- Using grounding techniques like tapping, meditation, and observing things around me
- Spending time being silly with my Best Friend/Roommate, Rob
Those are just a few of my many. I found this list of 99 coping skills if you are interested in creating your own list and need inspiration. These skills are good to have handy in your mind because we all need them at some point or another. There does not even have to be a big event or feeling to use them. For the most part, we are all coping with simply being alive.
Facing your fears is not always easy. Looking at yourself and reflecting very honestly about who you are is extremely difficult. We all have our “elevator speech” about who we are and how we want to “sell” ourselves to both others and ourselves. It is nice to have a handy little speech about your interests, hobbies, likes, and dislikes – as long as it is not too personal and won’t offend anyone. While the elevator speech is mostly true and how you perceive yourself, it is just the tip of the iceberg. What is the rest that is hiding underneath?
The things underneath are down there for a reason. Some of those things are pain, disappointment, fear, insecurity, pride, ego, sadness, frustration, or assumptions. There are also phobias, broken relationships, hopelessness, loss, secrets, betrayals, and more. Some people are better than others at making sure to keep those under the surface. It doesn’t mean there is nothing there.
This is a topic about which I could write for days. I want to address some of those things hiding under the surface for individuals with chronic illness- whether the illness is invisible or not. One big question is often, “What will others think?” This is valid. Not everyone has information about your illness and sometimes respond out of fear or stereotypes. I can’t even count the number of times I have heard “He/She is so bipolar!” Usually this has a derogatory tone and is made to be a strong judgment. Living in Colorado, I often hear that our weather is bipolar. What!!??
For years, this has exhausted my courage to speak out about my mental health diagnosis. There is no comfortable way to respond to something like that. There is no way I have the energy to address every person who says something ridiculous like this. It isn’t my full-time job. What I must address is my fear. If I am able to find a way to not take this personally every time, I consider it a success. It is so easy to say, “Who cares what other people think?” To tell you the truth, I do. The more difficult question I have learned to ask is, “What do I think?” It is the only way to remember what I think about myself is way more important than what others think. I have often been told, “What others think about you is none of your business.”
Another question we ask ourselves is, “Am I enough?” First of all, what in the world does it mean to be enough? How is that measured? You certainly are enough. In the most basic sense, we are all enough just because we exist.
The last question I will touch on is, “How will this effect my success?” In so many careers, there is pressure to be the best, strive to move up, and work long hours. None of those things are my values. I want to be happy, help people, and create tools for success. I want to do this in my own time, in my own space, and in my own way. When I have a goal, I work hard to achieve it. Most of the time, I do achieve it in one form or another. My illnesses have made me stubborn, push hard, and fight. I am not fighting to be on top. I am fighting to go at my own pace, acknowledge and forgive my weaknesses, and celebrate my gifts. I am the first person to take a break when I need it. I ask for accommodations. I am honest about what I can do. If I need to, I will take all of my sick and vacation days. Isn’t that what they are there for? Isn’t that why I made sure to have a job with benefits (unfortunately, I am speaking of the past right now). It makes me tired to feel like I have to explain that I have different goals when I leave when my hours for the day are up and others are working tirelessly at their desks.
Whatever is below the surface will most likely stay there unless you look at it directly, invite it to come to the surface or tell it to go away because you just don’t need it anymore! I invite you to reflect on your goals and values- whatever they may be and see if they align with how you are living your life.