I had my last therapy session with my second ever long-term therapist last month, on June 22. I started seeing her in late May of 2018, almost a year after I moved to the Washington D.C. area. In contrast to my first long-term therapist L’s snarkier and more detached yet caring style, this therapist had exuded warmth and nurturance from the beginning. We spent this last session celebrating my growth and wishing each other well.
One theme that came up a little bit during our four years together included how I reacted to my mother’s consistent emotional abuse in my childhood. We talked about flight and freeze and how some people feel an urgency to escape a traumatic situation (e.g., me) whereas others become immobilized in the face of it (e.g., to an extent, my father and brother). From a young age I devised a plan to get out of my childhood home, worked hard to make that plan happen, and then I left. Over the past few days though I have dedicated some mental space to honoring the pain I felt seeing other members of my family suffering under my mother, who had less of a desire to extricate themselves from her completely and move away like I did.
As an empowered bottomTM, I like to recognize the ways my tendency to approach issues instead of avoid them works out for me. When I felt mental distress and wanted to deepen my self-awareness, I went to therapy and persisted. With my closest friends, I put in effort to make our long-distance friendships work so that they provide a similar if not even more profound level of connection than any romantic relationship would. I invest effort into my work and invest even more effort into maintaining a strong sense of self outside of my work. My second ever long-term therapist always told me that I never get in my own way.
This tendency to approach poses problems for me in certain situations though. Most recently, I felt this strong desire for an unavailable man. I won’t go into more detail just in case he stumbles upon this post, though I will say that he’s a beautiful Asian man and amazing inside and out and he’s also perfect
not like I’m idealizing him at all lol idealization never heard that song! Anyway, I wanted to solve the issue of my attraction toward him and make myself stop feeling attracted to him and yet I could not. I had to sit with how I felt pulled toward this m*n and could not engage with him the way I wanted to.
This whole approach tendency issue reminded me of one of my favorite television shows, Fleabag. Without spoiling the show, at one point a character shares a super vulnerable emotion with another character. The other character responds, with a profound gentleness, “it’ll pass.”
That line struck me because it reminded me of how sometimes in life, you just have to wait for certain events or emotions to pass – you can’t action your way out of everything. For example, when I think about the grief I felt about a couple of my past friendships ending in 2019, I did do things to process those experiences, like talking about them in therapy and with my best friends, reflecting on them while taking walks, and writing about them on this blog and in my journal. Still, the emotions associated with those friendships ending simply needed time to pass, even with all those tangible action steps I engaged in. This notion of waiting for things to pass feels a bit uncomfortable to me, because I want to take action like I had been forced to as a child to survive. I want to make a plan to address the issue, to overcome the obstacle, and to emerge only a little scathed.
With emotions though, sometimes they just take time. And the nice part is that I’ve never felt an emotion, no matter how awful, that hasn’t eventually reduced in intensity at some point. I think the combination of active coping with giving space to let the emotion simmer tends to work out the best, at least for me.
Last night as I contemplated how I wanted to structure this post, I went on a walk on the Charles River and thought about my second ever long-term therapist. In the dark path next to the river, I thought about how I’ll always associate the town I lived in near the D.C. area with her, a compassionate lesbian with many dogs and many cats and many other animals too. I reflected on what she helped me realize about myself, about how I can loosen up my desire for control even when it feels difficult to do so, about how I can set the terms for my friendships how I want to. I felt a mixture of gratitude, nostalgia, and hope for her wellbeing. I let the feelings happen, and I walked back home.
What adaptive traits do you possess that sometimes may turn not so adaptive, and how do you cope? How do you sit with emotions or experiences that elicit pain (and, I also recognize that certain things that create pain like systemic oppression need to be dismantled for sure)? How have you managed to continue thriving when the most beautiful man you’ve met is unattainable (I’m joking I think??) It’s been a few weeks because residency has been *wild*, from June 30 to mid-August I’m in-person everyday from 8am to 3:30pm with tons of additional work, 99 million research projects I have going on outside of residency, men who want to go out on dates with me who I don’t have time to see nor really much interest to see, etc. I wanted to share this post though and would love to hear how folks are doing! Until next time.