Life Happened After

In 2019, I started a clinical placement at a community health center in a city near where I live. This upcoming May, I will end my time there and my relationships with the clients I have worked with for over a year. Because I feel that people in helping professions should practice consistent self-reflection and because I enjoy over-disclosing about my various emotional experiences on the internet writing, I want to process what it feels like to say goodbye from my perspective, the clinician’s perspective. When I soak in my emotions about my impending goodbyes with my clients, I first think about the goodbye I experienced four years ago, with the first therapist I saw long-term, L.

When I reflect on my goodbye with L now, I feel a sense of calmness and serenity, that even though our work together felt difficult, I processed my PTSD and grew a lot as a result. However, when I reread the post I wrote four years ago right after our relationship ended, I remember all the emotions I experienced then. I woke up many mornings feeling an aching sadness about it, I sometimes wondered whether he would miss me like I would miss him, and at my worst I would go back to doubting if he had cared about me at all. Looking back at it now, I recognize that it made sense to feel grief about losing someone I trusted with my deepest fears and emotions and joys, that he definitely would miss me, and that he had cared about me a lot, enough to play Ariana Grande in his waiting room before my sessions, back then when I still obsessed about Ariana’s music. Still, all of my feelings of grief and sadness felt so immense four years ago. Even though I still functioned well in the days and weeks after our relationship ended, I sometimes struggled to envision exactly what my life would look like after my relationship with L came to a close.

As I type out this blog post sitting on the couch in my east coast apartment, I think about how so much has happened since I said goodbye to L four years ago. Since May of 2017, I made two new close friends, one of whom I broke up with and the other who I still talk to and contort with pretty often and in the best possible way. I have maintained and strengthened bonds with two of my closest friends, both of whom I met in college, one of whom I talk with twice a week and burned a man’s essay over a grill with while listening to Ariana Grande, the other whom I also speak with often and once visited in Seattle where we enjoyed quite the scandalous weekend together pre-COVID. I’ve gone on some dates most of which have bored me, and I developed a crush on an emotionally unavailable former labor organizer and then got over him I also have a crush on a different attractive Asian man right now but that’s another story lolol okay bye. I discovered BlackPink and have spent hundreds of hours jogging and dancing to “As If It’s Your Last,” “How You Like That,” and “Lovesick Girls.” I’ve published over ten peer-reviewed research articles, have obtained over 600 clinical hours, and I’ve kept blogging on a consistent basis. I colored my hair red for three years and then shifted to pink.

Here is a candid shot of the view from my couch as I wrote this blog post! You can see the draft version of the post on my laptop, the new bookshelf one of my closest friends bought me for Christmas, and one of my favorite books, Appetites by Caroline Knapp, which L actually read when I saw him all those years ago.

I share all of that to say: life happened after my relationship with L came to a close. At the same time, the skills I gained and the healthy – though at times tumultuous – attachment I formed with L influenced my life afterward in several positive ways. Through learning more skills to regulate my emotions, I process my feelings in more effective, complex, and intelligent ways which benefits my own clinical work. Instead of trying to be nice all the time and not communicating my boundaries or wants, I now speak directly and assertively which eliminates unnecessary conflict in my relationships. I imagine that if I do ever date a man, the secure attachment that L role modeled with me will help me eventually trust my future romantic partner.

In a recent clinical supervision session, one of my supervisors reminded me that I have done great, deep work with my clients. I am taking time to honor that, that even in some small way I have helped some people help themselves live more healthful and meaningful lives. All I ever wanted to accomplish from a young age was to help others and to honor my grandmother’s spirit through providing empathic and compassionate support. I’m happy that that’s happened and I’m letting myself feel sad too, because goodbyes are hard, even goodbyes that are healthy and planned and caring. In reflecting upon my own experiences, I feel more confident acknowledging, though, that my clients will continue to live their lives and will encounter more pain and more joy. All I hope is that I’ve helped them help themselves make their journeys a little easier, just like L did for me.

Wow, it feels surreal and powerful to honor how much has shifted since I last saw L in 2017. I’ve changed my hair color twice, I no longer find white men attractive (not like I ever idealized whiteness though, I crushed on Asian guys since I saw Jonghyun from SHINee lol), and I discovered BlackPink. Anyway, yes, here’s a selfie I took ten minutes ago to broadcast my pink hair once again.

How have you coped with the ending of therapeutic or nontherapeutic relationships? General reactions to this post? I feel proud of myself for still finding time to write on here even with my immense amount of work. Until next post!

6 Comments

Filed under Personal

6 responses to “Life Happened After

  1. I usually just read the strike-throughs on your blog. I hope you’re ok with that. j/k…

    You do great work Thomas. I’m glad you are using this time to reflect on your work as you say goodbye.

    Your grandmother is doing a fist pump knowing that you honour her with your compassion and empathy. “That’s my Thomas!”

    I wonder if L reads your blog. I’m sure he’ll smile and maybe wipe away a tear.

    So when are you going to write about your next crush? lol…

    Have a wonderful week and pls continue to stay safe.

    • Haha only reading the strikethroughs is totally fine with me! Thanks so much for the kind words about my work Matt and for helping commemorate my grandmother. L did mention reading my blog after I left therapy with him at some point, so maybe he is! Regardless in my heart I tell myself that he knows how much I appreciate him. Hope you’re staying safe as well.

  2. What a lovely post. I’m sure you’ve done real good in your client’s lives, and I know how hard it is to work at that intense work while working on your academic career too (10 articles!!!). I was sad when I ended with my therapist, however it was left open to come back if I needed her which I have done for one session when I needed to. I also run past her house at least once a week; I don’t actually know if she still lives there but I always wave. So that was quite easy in a way and she did say she would miss me. In fact I think she wanted to stay in contact more than I did, as she asked if she could send me a Christmas card (I declined; what can I say?).

    I am however traumatised by seeing an empty bookcase. WHAT? I think I’d better a) send you a box of random books, b) fly over there and fill it with my overflow.

    • Aw Liz thanks for sharing about your experience with your own therapist! It’s nice to hear about how the bond can endure, even if not through continued sessions. Also lolol okay the only reason the bookcase is empty is because I’m using it as a repository to store books from my other bookcase which is very full. So I imagine it’ll be fuller soon. (:

  3. Kartavya Ratate

    It is heartbreaking how some people enter into our lives and then go away just like that, while we practically can’t control anything. This profession that requires you to deal with several people who allow you to be a part of their lives for a short while just exacerbates the pain of goodbyes. I wonder if you have ever feared forming strong bonds with some people just because you knew they are not going to be a part of your life long term. Have you ever regretted that? Or have you always tried developing strong and meaningful relationships with others, irrespective of whether they stay with you or influence your life in the future. Also, thank you for this introspective post. 🙂

    • Awwww thanks so much for this thoughtful and kind comment Kartavya! Hmmm when you ask about the fear of forming strong bonds with people just because I knew they wouldn’t be a part of my life long term – generally I don’t fear that actually. For example, with clients and students, when I enter the relationship I assume there will be an end date, so working with that in mind doesn’t hinder the relationship and in fact may guide it to be even better. However, with my closest friends, I try to develop strong and meaningful friendships and don’t really envision it ending; though as I’ve gotten older certain friendships that have ended have been worthwhile too even if they didn’t last. Hope this post help you reflect on something relationship-oriented or meaningful in your own life!

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