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Erin Doolittle

Erin Doolittle

I am a marriage and family therapist who so happens to have also suffered from chronic anxiety and panic disorder for at least 15 years. I am thrilled to report that I have dramatically improved the quality of my life thanks to excellent therapy, proper medication, and a wellness retreat named Kripalu and an amazing guest presenter named Rhonda Britten - the expert in fear. Google her! She is awesome!
Wednesday, 22 August 2012 16:19

Feeling Good Feeling Strong

Feeling Good Feeling Strong

If you had told me ten years ago I would be going to Weight Watchers meetings I probably would have punched you in the face. In fact, after punching you in the face I would have laughed at the absurdity of your statement.
I wasn't a believer in the whole "metabolism slows down after 30" thing. I'd always eaten junk food like it was going out of style. I even worked at Burger King for like, two years in high school. Mainly because I had a friend who worked there and she told me it would be fun. And I believed her.
(Are we noticing a certain naivete in my younger self? I think so.)
Sadly, everything I refused to believe has kind of come true. I'm not saying I'm wildly overweight and am on track to need a crane to get me out of my recliner. I'm just saying, I'm not digging my 34-year old body and think I could be doing a better job steering this ship.
I suspect a part of the anxiety I've been wrestling with has been about the belief that I am not strong in body or in mind. Because every time I had to do something out of my comfort zone over the last ten years I'd either have to drug the shit out of myself with Xanax and/or Clonipin (which did not always work, eventually my tolerance for that shit was on par with that of an angry rhino) or have a massive panic attack. Not an "uh-oh, I'm feeling funny and I'm a wuss who can't handle it" attack. No indeed. The best way I can explain my experience of panic attack is: my vision will tunnel so I can't measure depth of field well. My hands, face, and chest tighten and heat to redness and sweating.
My thoughts go from: "I'm okay, I'm safe, everything is okay, just breathe."
To: "I want to die. I wish I would get hit by a car so I could have an acceptable reason for this bullshit. I hate myself. I hate life. I ruin everything and I'm no fun and nobody should ever love me because I am a piece of shit and there must be something wrong with these people because they brought me to their (Fill in the blank - game, concert, batchelorette  party, etc.)
Mixed with explosive diarrhea and nausea and usually followed by a migraine.
So no, it's not "all in my head."
I talk about my anxiety a lot because it has changed the shape of my life. It is not for sympathy. It is to help you understand that if you're the one having the panic attacks in your world  there is nothing wrong with you. You are not defective. You deserve good things. You deserve to live the highs and lows of your life. You can do it, if I could beat it, believe me you can too.
It's also so the friends and family members of the individual with the attacks can understand how awful it is. How debilitating and humiliating and painful. So even though you're pissed that your plans got messed with, no matter how bad you feel, the person actually having the attack hates themselves and feels worse about themselves more than you could ever know. Because the one having the attack not only gets all the effects I mentioned above, but they also feel guilty and ashamed for losing their shit in front of you and letting you down.
Want to help someone in that situation? Tell them it's okay. You just want them to be okay. Hopefully, prior to your event, you listened to them when they said what they were and were not comfortable with. Most of us with anxiety know our triggers and have developed ways to avoid them. Personally, for me it was always of great comfort to know that I could get to an event just before it actually started so I wouldn't have a lot of down time where I wasn't being distracted. It also meant I needed to drive myself places so I could go home if things got ugly at any point.
Therefore, the awful day in Erin History when my husband innocently brought me to the Patriots/Miami game (we're Dolphins fans, well, he is, I just go with it) was one of the darkest we've had. Because despite my telling him numerous times I did not feel good about tailgating, he wanted me there with him because he loves the Dolphins and he loves me. He is a man who wants me to share his life with him and part of that life involves actually going places and doing things. He believed I could do it.
I, on the other hand and despite my best efforts hyper focused on being trapped in a parking lot with NO ability to get out at all in case of emergency (stampede? fire? terrorists?). I knew myself back then and I knew sitting around trying to eat of all ridiculous things would be hard for me. And big surprise! It was a complete disaster that ended with his friends having to drive him home (about 2 hours out of their way might I add) as I went to the hotel next door and got the concierge to have their limo driver bring me to the Home Depot parking lot our truck was in. Because I wouldn't let him leave the game entirely. It's once a year his team comes to town and I insisted he stay.
Afterwards he was furious with me and I can only assume his friends thought I was absolutely insane/high maintenance/selfish/whatever else. Disaster isn't a strong enough word. However, please understand, my husband has been through this with me for four years now. He struggled to believe the limitations his otherwise laid back, easy going wife had. It doesn't make sense that someone can't do simple, fun things. It defies logic and my husband is a very logical fellow.
It took me another two years to find my panic and anxiety cure. And if you've been paying attention you know that was due in one part to a brilliant psychiatrist and the rest was Rhonda Britten/Kripalu wellness and yoga center in western MA. It took me about fourteen years to get to a place where panic does not control me and I feel safe in my own head.
The physical body stuff I'm hoping and praying will be easier. Certainly less traumatic that's for sure. In about six months, I'll be 35. It's my goal to be lean and mean and ready to rumble! With like, muscles, and stuff. Today at weigh-in I was down 2.4 pounds. Go me!
It didn't happen by accident, but neither do most things. Call me Point Tracking Mama when you see me. And I will fight the urge to punch you in the face. I promise.

Thursday, 16 August 2012 15:08

EMDR Part II

Yesterday I talked about how great EMDR is. I explained how it works by essentially allowing you to change your old negative pathways of thinking and develop new, positive ones. This allows those old, negative pathways to heal over and eventually disappear. I tried to describe the feeling and experience of EMDR but in the interest of time I decided to make this a 2-part essay.

Going to an EMDR therapist you should probably be prepared to see and experience things differently than when you go to your regular therapist. While you are doing EMDR it is probably best to put your regular therapy on hold so you can focus solely on your work in this model. A lot of the time, you will only see your EMDR therapist for however many sessions it takes for you to reach your goals. This depends completely on the therapist you choose. Some only do the intense EMDR work and that is all they do. Others mix traditional therapy with EMDR and you may end up seeing them for longer. My main point here is, EMDR is intense, it's draining, it's real, actual work. Going to your traditional therapist while trying to do EMDR may be too much to handle and if it is, that's totally okay. If your therapist cannot or will not work with this, find out why first and foremost. Your therapist knows you, they may have very good, clinical reasons for their opinion. Hear them out and try to figure out what will work best for your specific treatment. If they try to talk you out of EMDR but you still feel strongly about it, then I would say you may either want to wait or visit an EMDR specialist in your area and see what they say. They will likely be completely happy to talk to your therapist and attempt to work out a treatment plan for you together with your therapist.

I should also explain that EMDR is different than a traditional therapy session. Your therapist will ask you questions and will most likely ask you to close your eyes and really visualize your answers. This is helpful in getting you to relax and feel open and ready. Your EMDR therapist will ask you to be aware of your thoughts and your body - how does it feel? Do you feel any particular sensation anywhere in the body and what do you feel or hear as a message when you pay attention to it? Your therapist will ask you to allow your mind to go wherever it needs to go, you may see memories in your minds eye of events you had totally forgotten about. You may experience sensations in your body - warmth, tingling, aching, tightening - pay attention to these sensations and make note of them and what they mean to you.

Your EMDR therapist also uses tools to help speed up your brains processing and building new pathways. These tools can be one or all of the following things - an approximately two foot long bar with small colored lights inside held up on a tripod or set on a desk or table - you will be asked to follow the lights with your eyes. Another possibility will be what I have experienced with both of my EMDR therapists. Small rounded paddles, approximately two inches around held in your hands that vibrate intermittently while you are searching through old memories. Or, your therapist may just ask you to follow his finger with your eyes and stand in front of you moving it back and forth while you focus on the movement with your eyes.

Remember - EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Re-processing. Studies have shown that moving your eyes or focusing your attention left-right, right-left, etc, directly effects the building of new neuro-pathways and brings symptom relief for PTSD, anxiety, and depression sufferers.

Through EMDR I learned the following pathway was alive and kicking in my brain. I began focusing on the sensation of anxiety in my chest, my therapist had me hold the paddles and close my eyes. I let my brain bounce around, go wherever it needed to, and after a minute or so I saw my teenage self sitting on the porch of my boyfriend's house when I was about 17. I recognized this as a memory of my smoking pot and completely freaking out. I was not the pot-head type but the boyfriend was so I had gone for it. Only to find out, it made me want to die (I believe this may have been a panic attack brought on by the paranoia I got from smoking pot. Awesome.)
My brain then bounced to several other long forgotten incidents of my throwing up or panicking or freaking out. Eventually my brain bounced its way to a memory I had completely forgotten. It explained why I hated Boston and didn't want to go there ever. Apparently, in college I had gone to Boston with some friends and at some point, the T (metro) broke down. Underground. And it was really dark and really freaky for about 15-20 minutes. Surrounded by strangers, clinging to my friends and amazingly, not freaking out during the period of darkness, probably because I knew instinctively it wouldn't do any good.

Basically, my brain had built a pathway with all sorts of delightful stops along the way, that I had largely forgotten. And somehow along the line they became tangled and the messages I received from these long forgotten experiences were "You ruin everything. You kill the fun. You suck. You can't do anything right so you should just stay home. Boston hates you, it's out to get you. You ruin everything. You ruin everything. It is all your fault."

Um...well if that's not a Panic Attack Cocktail I don't know what is! And there were loads of these pathways in my brain created by many other incidents and traumas that had stuck with me. Never processed or resolved, just...basically squatted in my brain rent free for years. Years. Many of them. Seeing these memories allowed me to take the power out of them.

The best part of EMDR is using a memory of a time when things were amazing or wonderful. This is the heart of the experience - you will use this memory to flood your brain with delightful, delicious endorphins  and dopamine! Yum! When you end your session you will likely end it on this memory. You will use this memory like a mouthwash to rinse the icky off the session and replace it with minty freshness.

Find your truth and own it baby!
Wednesday, 15 August 2012 15:00

EMDR Part I

"If it's hysterical, it's historical." - Words to remember when freaking out. My former therapist used this phrase to explain to me how far back the anxiety and panic response goes. It wasn't until I began EMDR therapy that I began to understand exactly how true those words are.

EMDR is an amazing form of treatment that is slowly gaining attention in the larger world thanks to the power of Google. EMDR is: Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprogramming. In a nut shell it helps you build new neuro-pathways in your brain which allows old, negative pathways to grow over. Picture your brain as a forest. If you walk the same way day after day, you will create a path. EMDR allows you to see, in your minds eye, all the stops along that pathway. What will blow your mind is how seemingly random the events that created that path appear. By bringing these old, buried memories to the surface of your conscious mind you are able to process them and take the power of negativity away from them.

You are then able to build new, healthy, happy pathways by flooding your brain with powerful, sensory memories of a time in your life when things were wonderful. Eventually, like any other trail, when your old pathways go unused, nature will reclaim itself and those old pathways will heal over. This is also why positive affirmations work. Because by repeating something over and over it eventually wears a pathway, affirmations are great, but it can take a long time to get results whereas with EMDR you have a direct line to your subconscious. EMDR is used to treat trauma but can also be used for just about anything you can think of.

In my case, EMDR blew my mind. I experienced it in my mid-twenties with my first therapist. I was nearly phobic of travel but really wanted to see my godmother and cousins who lived in Mexico. My brother and I planned a trip together and I was desperate to ensure my panic disorder wouldn't stop me from having a good time. I did the EMDR once and seriously had the best trip I have ever had. We climbed pyramids and ruin sites, we went into Mexico City and shopped, ate at awesome restaurants, and all without a hint of anxiety or panic. I became a believer of EMDR.

More recently, in the past year and a half I switched from my traditional therapist to another EMDR therapist. This EMDR experience was much deeper and more intense than my first one because I had a whole new decades worth of trauma, hurt, panic, and pain to dig through. It was hard. EMDR is serious. You will feel exhausted and wonky after a session. You will be more sensitive because you have literally dragged your subconscious into the light of intense examination and that feels awful a lot of the time.

Nobody ever tells you this so I'm going to - Growth and Change - the biggies that everyone wants? Feel awful. AWFUL. When they are happening. It is in the moments of struggle and hopelessness that we experience true growth. Lasting change. Intimacy. All of those things come from being vulnerable. We, however, are hardwired to avoid pain.

We're taught that pain is bad, we should make it go away as fast as possible. I challenge you to stay in the moment next time you find yourself trying to shut down when things get uncomfortable. See if you can allow yourself to feel whatever it is you're experiencing and name it:  Fear, Guilt, Shame, Anxiety, Panic, Hurt, Worthless, Angry, Awkward, Silly, Stupid, Sad, Frustrated, whatever. 

Feel it. Feel it and see - your feelings will not eat you up, you are not what you feel, you are separate from your emotions. Just because you feel worthless or guilty doesn't mean you are either of those things. It means that you are experiencing them and you have a responsibility to yourself (and your loved ones) to find the root of those feelings and make peace with it.

I couldn't have said it better myself.
Friday, 10 August 2012 21:26

The Break Up

One awkward thing about treatment is, what do you do when you've outgrown your therapist? I mean, it's great, they probably helped you a lot. So how do you end treatment with them?

Technically, the therapist is supposed to see when things are at an organic end point but that doesn't always happen. I saw my former therapist for almost three years. She was exactly what I needed when I needed it but when my life finally began to change and stop sucking so much all the time, I actually felt like she didn't trust me. I felt that she was overly critical and even territorial when it came down to it. I didn't feel that she understood the extent of the suckage that was my life. I was legit living in the ghetto for just under two years. And my original land lord had died and left us with her horrible partner in charge.  

The partner (Slum Lord Biotch or SLB for short) was truly the most horrible human being I have ever met. And let's face it, I attract assholes like moths to a flame. So I wasn't surprised that she was awful, I was just surprised she was THAT awful.

When we got the opportunity to move out of there 2 months before the lease was up we were all over it. We did everything by the book but...being a psycho SLB, she continued to hound us and hound us for more money. The last time I ever saw her I had been cleaning the apartment top to bottom for about 4 hours. And it was HOT. I so happened to go outside to put something in my car when she appeared out of nowhere. She claimed to have paid the handyman to remove the giant pile of trash we'd left on the sidewalk. I told her the town was going to pick it up for free as I had called them and spoken to a very nice lady about it. But she'd already paid the guy so I figured I would suck it up and pay the $150 just to keep the peace. (Apparently peace pricey!)

Except she followed me upstairs. And stood really close to me. And then demanded more money. And I completely lost my shit.
Lost. It. (I suspect now, looking back, I was angry at two other women who'd had some form of power over me and I never got to tell them off so this was kind of my moment.)
Anyway, I think I may have blacked out. Because I could hear myself screaming at her and calling her every name in the book. The C-bomb, which I try to only use on special occasions...stole the show. It was as if I developed Tourettes Syndrome and that word was all I could get out. Loudly. Very loudly. Until I finally came back to my body a bit and had the sense to scream "GET OUT! Get out of my house you evil crazy bitch!"
Then called my husband and cried "I just called Lori the C-word like, 87 times and I'm totally freaking out!"

My therapist's response to our moving out of the ghetto was that it was wrong of me to break a lease and that renting from my landlord was wrong because he was the step-dad of a former client. Her exact words were, in fact, "I will fire you as a client if you do that. For as long as you live in that house you will be going completely backwards."

I went back one time after that. It was okay, I did tell her I didn't appreciate what she'd said. Or her weird denial of the fact that we have the same job. (Seriously! I felt so judged by her!)

I didn't call her and she never called me. I consider that not just poor business, but poor social skills.  After three years of treatment, I feel a client falling off the face of the earth would merit some form of communication.

The real deal breaker was later that spring, I had a horrifying experience trying to wean off Effexor (My med of choice for years. Too bad it was the wrong one!) I basically went into withdrawal and could not function.
I have no idea why, but I thought I had an appointment. I called her and stated, "I am extremely ill, in withdrawal from Effexor, the doctor gave me cancer meds to stop the nausea and I'm so scared but I really hope I didn't mess up your schedule because I hate missing appointments and I am so sorry and baaahh..."
Her response? "No, we didn't have an appointment."
That's all.
And she never called me again.

It may be crazy of me, but if one of my clients dragged themselves out of a withdrawal stupor to call me and apologize for missing an appointment that didn't exist, I would have called them again in like, a week, to see if they were alive.

Anyway, if you want to stop meeting with a therapist, it's okay. Really. We are surprisingly resilient and don't take that personally. It's okay to tell your therapist face-face that you're ready to move on. In my case, you could even text or email. No hard feelings. Come back and see me sometime if you'd like a tune-up.

That about sums it up. It's not always about you!
(But it is usually about me.)
Thursday, 02 August 2012 20:47

Who Are You People?

In case you haven't noticed, I put a lot of my personal story into this blog. For me it's been almost a therapeutic exercise at times to share parts of my life that aren't exactly high points. About five years ago I went to Salem, MA with my godmother, cousin, and sister. We went to Laurie Cabot's shop - she is the unofficial (or possibly official?) Witch of Salem. While there we asked for a recommendation for psychic readings and they sent us to The Oracle Chamber. It was run by a husband and wife, small and unassuming you'd never guess this little shop could house something so special. Upon entering and meeting Therese and her husband (John? I can't remember, don't judge me) I was immediately put at ease. Never having ventured into the world of psychics, tarot cards, or palm readings I had no clue what to expect. What I got was an hour long intense and somewhat confusing tarot reading followed by a five minute palm reading that put words to something I never could but had somehow subconsciously sensed for a long time. Those words have brought me if not a sense of relief, at least a sense of peace. Therese so happens to be my grandmother's name so that alone made me interested in her reading and after hearing her read my cousin's palm and basically hit it out of the ballpark with her specificity I had to try it too. After grabbing my hand and shining a strong light onto it she started the reading and although I can't remember everything I do remember she pointed out to me that my palm creases in the shape of a five-pointed star and that I was a healer but a wounded one. A wounded healer.

This theme also came up loud and clear when I had my Numerology done. Huh.

So that's why my life tends to fall apart? So I can help other people more? I have always said, Erin Land is a great place but when things go wrong, they REALLY go wrong. The answer, apparently, is yes. Due to the epic mess of my life at certain points in time I have definitely grown more compassionate, gentler - with myself and others, and more open minded. Judge not lest ye be judged peeps. Or, more simply - don't judge anyone unless you have walked in their shoes.

I am fully aware that by putting personal details of my life on the internet I am opening myself up to criticism and God only knows what else. But if I'm helping someone get through their day or understand that they are not alone and there is nothing wrong with them, it's worth it. What I really want to know is, this page has almost 2000 views. And maybe 8 comments? What's up with that? Who are you out there reading this? Why don't you introduce yourself? Do you know me in real life or am I a total stranger you've managed to find? The anonymity of the internet allows you to read all about me and my little world - so what do you do after you're done reading? Here's an idea - leave me a comment - here or on Facebook or Twitter or Blogher. I'm all over the place y'all and I want to know who you are. Because I'm interested and curious and excited to know you and to hear what you get out of reading this blog.

Help me out here peeps. I promise to love you even if you don't but I sure will dig it if you do.


I didn't want to have to say it but...kidding! Sort of...
Wednesday, 01 August 2012 13:23

Why I Became A Therapist

The question I get asked the most - Why did you decide to become a therapist? This is a completely acceptable, normal question for pretty much any therapist but I know I am extra mysterious and confusing because my bachelor's degree is from the Hartt School of Music and has absolutely nothing to do with my current (and correct) occupation.


Hartt = fun. Period. I was 17, had visited a friend there and met kids who were doing a major in music business. Perfect! I get to play piano and sing and get business training! Yay!

So I started in there and absolutely loved it. I loved my ear training classes and being in a master choir and having a great roommate who was a music theater major. Freshman year was amazing.
Sophomore year? Not so much.

I did manage to land another excellent roommate who was also a music theater major so that was cool. And I managed to live in the same suite as my best friend and have easy access at all times to see friends because dorms are cool like that. I lived in RCA - Residential Complex of the Arts - so I was surrounded by amazing artists and musicians and basically given the experience of living in an artist colony that so happened to require walking up four flights of stairs because two years in a row, I managed to be on the 4th floor. I had thighs of steel from those steps I tell you.

Sophomore year was looking like it was going to be just as awesome as freshman year, if not more so. Sadly, however, that was not meant to be. You see, going back a little ways to high school, I met Shannon when I was a high school senior. Shannon was a boy btw. With a very Celtic name. And he was The One. We literally met at a friends house and that was it. From that moment on I loved that boy. It was the first time I'd been seriously deep down in the trenches of love and it was intense.

To provide a little background info - he was the perfect broken baby bird for me. I have always been a rescuer. It's encoded in my DNA I swear to you. His parents were divorced. He technically lived in Mass but he went to school in Manchester, CT hence how I met him. His mother was awful, I literally saw her twice in the entire three years we spent together. His father was very wealthy but never showed it and preferred the friend role, he was also a cheater who was more concerned with his girlfriend and the effort of cheating on his wife to really give a shit about what his son was up to. Shannon had zero parental supervision unless you counted my parents and you probably should seeing as how they let him stay over for at least one night most weekends. This was largely so I wouldn't have to drive him home to Mass more than because of their interest or concern for him. I don't think my parents ever liked him and that hurt. It hurts to have your parents dislike the person you're head over heels for.

It's also a basic guarantee you will fight like hell to stay with that person rather than be proven wrong.

The biggest difference between Shannon and I, was that he loved to party. With drugs. And alcohol. And I...didn't. But I put up with it because I loved him and because he was a brilliant liar. Truly, he should be on the NY Times bestseller list because he had an amazing imagination when it came to lying. And I had an amazing ability to not see anything I didn't want to see or didn't know to look for. One of my clients read through my blog entries and he said he thinks I am a person who loves too much and he is right.

So even when he did coke at a party and I threw a fit, or when he did 8 hits of acid at my senior prom, I pretended not to notice he was a zombie and ruined everyone's night. I refused to see he was on the thinnest of ice with his drug use. Until he discovered heroin. That freaked the shit out of me. Because, of course, he loved it. He loved it so much I didn't realize he loved it more than he loved me until I had no choice but to see it and accept it. I had many opportunities to get away but I never had the heart to keep to it. I broke up with him at least three times but each time he said he was going to die without me and I was the only person in the world who loved him. And, honestly, he was kind of right. His parents sucked, he had no extended family, and friends aren't the same kind of love as what he was searching for. What made him impossible for me to quit was knowing he was completely alone and needed love. (Love addict? Pathological rescuer? Yes to both.)

I definitely had denial. Like, superhero strong denial. All my friends tried to tell me he sucked and I should move on. I wish I had realized at the time how bad things were but even when presented with glaringly disturbing evidence I stuck by him. Like the time he decided to break into his dad and step-moms house with me and he stole a bunch of silverware. Like, a lot of it. Because apparently it was real silver and worth money. I can't remember how he sold me on that one. I don't think he told me the plan prior to getting there. Or the time we went to this terrifying motel so he could buy heroin and he told me it was too dangerous for me inside so I had to wait in the car. Alone. In an extremely bad section of town. Until I couldn't take it anymore and went to the room door and knocked. Only to have it opened by a spaced out junkie who was panicked because his friend had just OD'd in the bathroom and they were all running away after calling 911.

Or even the awesome time a girlfriend of mine and I went to pick Shannon up to go play pool when I SAW needles on the floor with my own eyes. And I pointed them out to Shannon and he insisted he was just selling clean needles to junkies for the money. And I believed him. That was about a month before sophomore year began.

It was about a month into the new semester when I got the call. That he couldn't hide it from me anymore, my friend from the night of the needle sightings knew because she had hung out with him after I'd gone home that night and he'd confessed everything to her. But she didn't tell me. Because she fell for his bullshit as well. I cannot express in words how good at lying an addict is. It is their entire life. Everything an addict has is built on lies, they have no choice but to be brilliant at it.

But I was then 19 and still naive. After everything I had seen. So when the phone call came from Shannon when he said "I'm a junkie. I've been lying to you. I've been shooting up for months and months and I can't stop. My dad is sending me to rehab" I just went into a kind of shock/coma thing.

Ah rehab. That he ran away from. And then tested positive for cocaine in.  The last time I spoke to or saw him was at his father's apartment where his dad gave me the money he owed me. (It would be 10 years before I saw him again.) His dad, had actually come to see me at school while looking for Shannon when he was missing. He accused me time and time again of hiding him in my dorm but I think he was just hoping that was the truth. It upset and traumatized me to have someone else's dad leaning on me so heavily. We went for car rides and talked about what to do. He'd call me to check to see if Shannon had shown up and would get angry and frustrated when time after time I would have to tell him I hadn't heard from or seen him. I think his dad cared about me and maybe I haven't been fair to him. He loved his son, he just didn't know how to be a parent. He was much better at being a friend.

Essentially, that phone call from Shannon, where he confessed to being a junkie who shot up so hey, I should probably get tested for HIV and Hep C...that broke me. I was terrified, traumatized, and had absolutely no idea what to do. My friends did the best they could but at that point I was unreachable. I just wanted to go to bed and never wake up.

And then it got worse.

Shannon's dad had been cheating on his wife with a woman named (I shit you not) Candy. And because it's a tiny fucking world we live in, Candy knew my mom's entire family because she'd grown up across the street from them. So, Candy, in all her wisdom, purposely told my aunt about Shannon (at least it was the best aunt possible). Because she knew who I was and I think she hated my mom because when she asked about her she got this look on her face like something smelled bad. Bitch. And, of course, my aunt told my mother. (Apparently she took her for a car ride and gave her a cigarette which, according to my mom, made her nauseous.)

So as I was tucked away in my dorm trying to find the ground beneath my feet, I received a totally unexpected phone call from my mom. "We know about Shannon. When were you going to tell us? Were you going to ever tell us? You know your father doesn't know yet. I'm going to have to take him out to a restaurant so he can't totally freak out in public." She probably said she loved me and attempted some words of comfort but I don't remember them because I was shattered. I was barely keeping it together with Shannon being missing and my thinking I was going to die from some horrible needle disease. I could not do this. I could not comfort my parents and I was completely humiliated and broken. Lost. Traumatized.

And Candy? To this day, if I ever see that bitch I will punch her in the face. I have yet to forgive her because I knew then and I know it today, she did that to fuck with me because of her weird issue with my mom. Psycho. Bitch. Life ruiner.

My poor roommate. She thought she was getting a fun roomie. She put up with the crazy phone calls and with me literally being in my bed as much as humanly possible giving her virtually no privacy in the room because I was always there, usually sleeping. Classes were not my priority anymore. Everything lost its meaning. I was clinically depressed and had been changed on a cellular level. I was not the same girl any more.

I attempted to use the on-campus counseling service, I think my friends recommended it. The intake lady was amazing and if she'd been my therapist I probably would have been about a million times better off. But she wasn't. My therapist was an intern and when I told her what was going on she basically fell out of her chair. Not exactly helpful. But for the first time, I was exposed to therapy land. A seed was planted.

I made it through sophomore year by the skin of my teeth grades-wise. Piano was no longer fun but a necessary evil. I met a new boy and he was amazing and just what the doctor ordered. A complete distraction from the suck that was my life. It was at that time I began experiencing panic attacks. I didn't know what they were. That's also when my anxiety started. I remember running to the campus store to buy Immodium because my digestive system had shut down and I was constantly dealing with what can only be described as ass-plosions. For what would be the next 14 years.

By junior year I was a completely different person. I barely cared about my major. I did my work because I had to but that was about it. My required internship was a plum job at Sony Music in Boston - just what I had wanted. That internship was so good in so many ways and so awful in so many ways. I liked doing the work but I couldn't stand most of the people I had to deal with and I think it showed. The extreme extroversion required to work in the music industry went against my core make-up and I didn't really connect with anyone that strongly. They were nice and it was fun to meet artists and get tons of free stuff but it was also frustrating to not really enjoy something I knew my classmates would kill for. The music industry is an ego-fest. I couldn't keep up and barely tried. I knew by the end of summer I needed to do something meaningful with my life. This shallow world held no appeal for me anymore.

Senior year I was hit with another bomb that someone else in my life was addicted. To heroin. And it knocked me down. Again. But it was almost over. I was almost free of school. I kept plugging away as best I could. I sucked it up to graduate because I just wanted to be done. I wanted the degree so I could move on and start my life. I had been working with special needs children for years by that point and knew I loved it. I knew I didn't want to be with kids who had physical special needs but I was extremely drawn to the trouble-makers. The outsiders. So upon graduation I took a job as a special ed paraprofessional in an alternative middle/high school. I loved it. I decided to get my masters in special ed. But then I hated the classes and realized I didn't want to teach kids math, I wanted to help them survive life and channel their hurt into positive things. While at St. Joseph College one day I noticed a pamphlet for their Marriage and Family Therapy program. I was instantly hooked. I got in without problem despite my music background.

Some shit is just meant to be. Because despite all of that, I wouldn't trade the life I have now for anything. There's even more to the story but frankly, I'm tired and this post is redonkulous long.

Monday, 09 July 2012 01:22

Weighting Around

Yet again, I find myself home when I really should have gone to the gym. It's yoga for God's sake. I love yoga and I'm always happy after I go to a class. I'm not sure what's going on with me about working out. I was doing really well for like, 2 months but now I'm slacking. Today the excuse was: I don't really like that class. The instructor isn't interesting or challenging and last time I went there were only two of us in there. Also, if I don't go to yoga, I will stay home and write something.
Well at least I'm keeping up that end of the deal. Typing burns calories and builds lean muscle right?

I guess I'm just like the rest of the world - I want instant gratification. When I decide to work out and eat right and cut the shit...I don't get immediate results. Logically, I know that is impossible. However, since when am I run by logic? I'm run by emotions most of the time. Unless I'm making an effort to be logic based and to hell with what I'm feeling, I will go with what makes me feel good every time. I think a lot of people are like this actually. Because if we don't FEEL something, it ain't happening. And a lot of what I've felt since undertaking this challenge, is frustrated, fatter, and failure. I've been proud of myself here and there but mostly...not so hot.

Logically, I know that things take time. A lot of time. My friend, Lindy, told me to give it six months so I'm still clinging to that. I'm not overeating or indulging. Diet changes are relatively easy for me. As long as I can have sweet stuff, I don't really care what else I eat. It doesn't matter to me if I eat chocolate or an apple for a late night snack. I know eating then at all is foolish but old habits die hard and how bad is it really to consider an apple an indulgence?

I'm also aware that Fear is at work here. Fear of trying because if I really try, like really for real real, I risk a lot. Failure is something I've felt many times. I don't want to feel it again. So, my old pal Fear whispers in my ear, reminding me of all the failures of the past, how much that sucked, how it felt, and how much safer it is to just stay home, on the couch, maybe take one class per week so I can say I'm trying and nobody will argue with me. Fly below the radar.

Fear also plays dirty. It will straight up lie to keep me safe. It will tell me, being overweight is better because I draw less attention, it helps me fit in. Being overweight is normal but being fit is not. That I look foolish in workout classes, that I'm weak and can't keep up.

Arguing with Fear takes a lot of time. A lot of energy right now that I tell myself I don't have but really? I totally do. I'd just rather invest the energy in writing or reading or watching movies and Reno 911 re-runs. I've been toying with the idea of making a vision board or a few vision boards really, to have around the house and in my car. Something visual to remind me of what I want and what it takes to get there. Something that doesn't lecture or judge. Just sits there looking at me filled with motivation and inspiration. Hmmm...I'll let you know how it goes...

Thursday, 28 June 2012 01:00

Mask

I find it interesting when people tell me they could never imagine me as an anxious person. I've been told time and again that I exude a peaceful, calm energy and it is difficult to imagine me having panic attacks. I think I have always seemed calm to other people due to my introverted nature. It's just who I am hard wired to be. Over time, as I've grown and matured I had to develop the skills to act extroverted. It did not come naturally, it had to be conscious and undertaken in steps. It did not happen overnight. In fact, it's something I still consider to be a work in progress.

As an introvert I prefer small gatherings of close friends over large parties. I love and need my alone time. Relationships or interactions with other people can be very draining for me. The holidays, for example, kill me every year. Giant family gatherings, parties, pressure to see everyone I barely speak to for the rest of the year and who show little to no interest in me is exhausting. Having to put myself out there is hard and when people ask how my work is going, it's hard if not impossible, to explain. I mean, really, what can I say? Yes, it's awesome, I love my work. But I'm a therapist and it's hard to explain exactly what it is that I do. It's not like I can talk about cases, nor would I want to.

People have oddly skewed ideas of what a therapist is and what we do. I'll never forget this one woman I worked with when I was acting as school social worker to the Catholic schools in my area. To begin with, I am a Catholic drop-out. I took CCD classes until I was maybe thirteen or fourteen then finally put my foot down when it came time to do my confirmation. The kids in my youth group were awful, I didn't fit in, and there were and are so many things I disagree with in that particular church that my parents couldn't ignore me. I provided well thought out and organized arguments. Also, I had a hissy fit and refused to go. Yet, here I was, doing my best to stay sane in a Catholic high school and try to overcome the stigma associated with the title "school social worker". I attempted a conversation about this with the guidance counselor whose office was next to mine. This was a poor decision on my part. I said to her that I wished there was a different name for my position so kids would feel more comfortable about meeting with me. Her response was, "Maybe you should call it Professional Friend?"

Seriously?! SO IGNORANT. Granted, that woman was an asshole so I didn't take anything she said seriously, ever. She would tell kids they were too fat, or too slow to succeed and that depression was really just an excuse for laziness. In those exact words. And she wasn't the only one. The other guidance counselors (with one exception) were just as bad. One of them was a nun and she was the worst offender. She literally told kids they were unattractive and lazy. If a student wasn't on a path to go to a fancy college she wanted nothing to do with them. So the kids who needed her the most, the ones who struggled, were the ones who received zero support.

But I digress. Explaining to people what my job entails is extremely difficult. Over the years it has become apparent that some people in my life and in general, believe I just sit and talk to people all day. Yes, that is what it looks like but that description invalidates and insults me and my clients. I sit and talk to people all day about things they have never said out loud, let alone to another human being. I use skills I have sought out and learned such as hypnosis, reiki, energy healing, circular questioning, attachment theory, everything I have learned and continue to learn about fear, biology, medications, family patterns, addiction, and on and on and on. I take my work extremely seriously and by the way, so do my clients. They don't come to me because they need a friend. They have friends. They come to me because I am not their friend or family member. I can be 100% objective, I have no agenda with them other than to help them through whatever it is they're going through.

It is a surreal experience to be seen as an expert and highly respected, whose feedback is considered to be important and necessary when at work but in my "real" life I am just me. Especially with my husband who is just as stubborn as I am. To him, I'm just a person and my opinions and feedback are constantly up for debate. It is incredibly difficult to, as he says, "be humble", when he disagrees with me. Nobody else disagrees with me pretty much ever so I don't always handle it well. I'm working on it. Even with my family, I'm pretty sure my parents don't understand what I do. As far as I know, neither of them has ever been in therapy so they really can't wrap their heads around it. It's the kind of thing you have to experience to understand.

I believe everything happens for a reason. When I started college I had a plan to work in the music industry. Then events that changed my life forever came along. The rug was ripped out from beneath my feet and I haven't been the same since. I recognize now that is a good thing and I am where I'm supposed to be without a doubt. But those events highlighted the importance of defenses against the world. Up until that point I hadn't really developed any form of self defense. Things changed in a matter of minutes and I was completely unprepared. My go-to instinct was to hide and that is where and when I developed a mask to keep people from getting too close to me so I couldn't be hurt by them. Part of the effectiveness of that mask was actually looking fine and calm at all times. My face acted on its own accord and created a neutral expression that gave nothing away, therefore, no one could see how I was feeling. Such safety! I no longer really feel the need to keep this mask on but it stubbornly refuses to go away completely. Bit by bit, however, I'm chipping away at it and getting braver every day. Who knows, one of these days, I may be ready to take it off completely. I encourage you to ask yourself are you wearing a mask to hide from the world? Where did it come from and what does it do for you? Mine helped me keep people at arms length for many years. Bit by bit, I'm letting them back in and taking that risk empowers me more and more every day.

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