Monday, April 9, 2012

What I've learned in therapy and by independent study

This post is mostly for me.  This is so I can look at it, and see the progress I've made.  I get impatient, you see, and that frustrates me, and occasionally makes me depressed.  So, to try and prevent that, I'm writing this.

In 2003, I made my most successful suicide attempt.  Prior to that, I hadn't really considered traditional mental health measures to be of help to me.  A psychiatrist (whose name I can no longer remember, sadly) actually listened to what I had to say about antidepressants, and how they affect me, and suggested bupropion.  I tried it out, and wow, it worked out well.  It didn't fix everything, but it put a band-aid on, so the bleeding could at least slow down some.

Fast forward to about two years ago.  My husband and I were having some problems with our marriage.  I won't go into what here because, frankly, it's not anyone's business but ours.   We started seeing someone for couples counseling.  After a while, it was pretty clear that we had worked on what we could together, and needed to work on ourselves, so we started seeing the therapist separately.

In that time, my therapist has been working pretty diligently to convince me that I'm worthwhile.  I still have moments of doubt about that, but not as many as I used to.  The big thing we've been working on lately is how I actually do need to feel like I belong.  You see, he's a pretty big fan of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, and likes to hit me over the head with it a lot (though I cannot say he's wrong for doing so).  As I fight myself up the pyramid, I am realizing that the view looks quite a bit better, the farther up you go.  And as I go farther up, I fight myself less and less.

One of my specific problems as far as belonging that I've been facing is my dislike for being touched.  This has complicated my life in that the subcultures which I belong to and/or hang out with seem to love to hug people.  I have a nice big bubble in which I do not invite people to intrude.  Also, some people tend to treat hugging as courtesy rather than a sign of affection.  They hug when they say hello, they hug when they say good-bye, etc.  It seems a little false to me. 

So, I've been watching a bunch of TED talks all this past weekend.  One of the ones I ran across was Paul Zak: Trust, morality -- and oxytocin.  In this, he discusses oxytocin's role on morality, trust, and yeah, belonging.  I knew most of this stuff already, as I'm a huge fan of Patricia Churchland.  That is, I was already aware of oxytocin's role on the sociability of mammals.  But, I don't really think I ever put it together with how it could be applied to me.  So, I had a "perfect storm" moment, in which my previous knowledge from both independent study and therapy combined with what this fellow, Paul Zak was saying.  I was already looking up oxytocin nasal sprays before the video ended.  Then I realized that those are relatively expensive.  Luckily Mr. Zak suggests an alternative at the end of the video, which is to have about eight hugs a day.  That seems a little overwhelming to me, but I'm willing to start out slow and give it a try.

So, two years ago, I've gone from feeling pretty worthless, to tentatively feeling like I should be getting about eight hugs a day to feel like I belong to the human race.  The idea of deserving this is a new concept for me.

Another thing which recently happened was that I had a bit of a meltdown last week.  In the midst of feeling overwhelmingly bad, I had a good moment.  Rather than numb the emotion like I would normally do, I stopped myself, and said, "No!  I would rather feel shitty than nothing at all!" and forced myself to not numb the emotion.  This is actually pretty important, as it seems pretty commonly accepted that doing this to one emotion causes the same to happen in all of them.  It's also pretty startling, as it's something I've done for almost three decades.  I'm hoping I don't backslide into this habit again.

There are other things, other steps which I've taken, that show my progress, but I think these two are particularly poignant, along with being recent.  I think these are both very two important steps I've taken along my journey, and am looking forward to my next steps.  Now, I just need to avoid the temptation of dismissing my previous steps when I'm feeling particularly bad and/or impatient.

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