“You can name your emotion as an emotion,” my therapist L told me, in one of our first sessions six years ago. I showed up in his office beat up and bruised, at least on the inside: a close college friend and I had broken up a few months prior, my friendships with a few folks from high school had imploded, and I was experiencing mental breakdowns in several different buildings on campus. I asked L how to cope with emotions that felt overwhelming, and he directed me to an exercise called cognitive defusion, which I started to enact alongside mindfulness meditation on a daily basis. I practiced these mental health techniques rigorously, often multiple times a day, and in conjunction with weekly sessions with L, my PTSD symptoms started to dissipate.
Flash forward six years later to now: I have spent over 800 hours in L’s position, as the clinician sitting across from the client. I am applying for my residency year and reflecting on where I may go. Similar to my grad school process, I have selected sites all over the United States. By May to July of next year I may move to another city and leave where I have lived for the past four years.
Looking back on these past four years, I have grown tremendously as a clinician, researcher, friend, teacher, and mentor. Yet this past segment of my life has not felt perfect, mostly because of my frustrations surrounding a potential male romantic partner. I feel so happy without a man and always will, and at the same time I am giving myself grace and allowing myself to acknowledge the difficulty I have experienced trying to da** m**.
Flash back to high school twelve years ago. My mom traumatized me almost every day, I starved myself, and I focused rigidly on my goal of getting good grades to escape my home life. Back then I thought that life would feel perfect one I left for college, though once I got to college I experienced intense PTSD symptoms which sucked. Life did suck then, though I also enjoyed undergrad a lot: dancing with friends on classroom tables at night, driving to Panera with one of my current bffs blasting “Side to Side,” kissing another guy for the first time and [REDACTED FOR THE PURPOSE OF KEEPING THIS BLOG PG-13].
I want to apply this perspective to the past four years of my life. Yes, men have sucked for the most part and not in a good way. At the same time, I have grown even more healthful, self-aware, and mindful. Beyond that general psychological glow up I have experienced so many moments of joy. Crying on my couch in the most cathartic way while reading Jhumpa Lahiri’s short story “Hell-Heaven.” Jogging to “Feel Special” by Twice on the nature trail near my apartment in the crisp 50 degree weather with the sun out. Visiting my best friends in Charlotte and Seattle and eating great food and processing our feelings and laughing and roasting men and talking about books. Supporting people I care about. Still writing on this blog.
Six years ago, before I started my graduate program, I used to view therapists in a more idealized way, as people who possess some greater form of emotional intelligence and interpersonal awareness. Now I find some humor in that conceptualization because of my own provider position in the mental health field. When I walk the halls, often wearing casual-ish cardigans or comfy white sweaters, I occasionally pause and think: wow, now students look at me as the person who can help them help themselves. Whether working with folks healing from sexual violence and trauma, anxiety and panic attacks, or depression and self-defeating cognitions, one of my go-to first techniques to try includes: you can name your thought as a thought, or your emotion as an emotion. I talk concisely about the rationale behind the intervention, explaining the science behind why it may help. And to myself, I think, just like it did for me.
How do you reflect on your life’s disappointments as well as its joys and positives? General reactions to this post? I just finished my first residency (for those in my field I know we call it something different but I’m just gonna use “residency” because it’s most understandable outside of the field) interview yesterday and am going on a date with this super funny and cute guy this evening wish him luck! Until next post.