easy for you to say: hard for me to do

On the Threshold of Eternity
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I remember the day very clearly. I was in my early 20s dealing with IBS (back then, there wasn’t a name for it), extreme PMS, and migraines. But underlying these physical issues was depression; chronic, clinical depression. I couldn’t really remember being totally happy; there was always a tinge of sadness.

My doctor (who was ahead of his time in many ways – he referred me to a naturopath) thought, rather than give me antidepressants (this is pre-Prozac), I should see a therapist and work my way through my mental health issues. He suggested I see Dr. XYZ, so I made an appointment.

I was nervous; I had never really talked to anyone about the darkness that lay just below the surface. So, I babbled about feeling down, how I could burst into tears at any moment, blurted out about an experience that had made me afraid of being alone at night. I stopped to take a breath, and the therapist cut in.

“There is nothing wrong with you that being active in sports wouldn’t cure. You have the thinnest arms I’ve seen someone in their 20s. Join a team sport like softball, and you will feel better.”

Easy for her to say; I was thin due to the IBS and recovering from an eating disorder. I was active in that I went for long walks/hikes. Previously, I had played recreational softball, but when the league became too competitive, I quit. Within a short period of time, she had defined me, confined me, and pronounced her decision. Easy for her to sit in judgment and proscribe. Hard for me to take anything of value away from the session.

Fast forward 30 years (that’s how long it took til I thought I could be in the same room with a therapist). I was dealing with circumstances truly out of my control and by then, in addition to the IBS, I had chronic pain and other health issues. Antidepressants, as usual, were only barely keeping me from hours of inconsolable crying. So I tired therapy again. I explained the situational depression as well as the chronic depression. I discussed the steps I had taken, suggested that I wasn’t looking for answers, but for ways to cope with the never-ending stress and sadness.

I saw the therapist weekly; she took notes, asked questions. We were getting no where, and I had to go back into my family caregiver role (which was one of my issues). She sat back and said, “Since this is our last session, I’ll tell you what I think.” Once again, it was easy for her to say: “tell your mother she has to listen to you and do what you suggest for her own good, and then go get a job.”

A stroke and dementia had turned my original mother into my “other” mother; telling her she had to listen to me was NOT going to result in her agreeing. If said something was blue, she would reply, “No, it’s red.” Finding a job was hard when I was spending half my time trying to keep my mother’s life in order (and she lived hundreds of miles and a country away), now had health issues that made employment more difficult, and had been doing extensive job searches and applications with no success. Perhaps if I had super powers or pixie dust, these goals might have been achieved. I was looking for how to deal with the realities of my life; she really hadn’t listened and was tossing out what she thought were easy solutions to my hard problems.

This isn’t meant as a tirade against therapy. There are excellent therapists out there. Instead, it’s a critique of how easy it can be for some one to tell you to just do X, then Y will happen without them understanding or considering just how hard that is for you to do emotionally, physically, spiritually, mentally. Folks with invisible illnesses hear these easy for you to say solutions to their health issues on a regular basis. Perhaps folks are trying to help. If they tried to understand, that would be so much better. Easy for me to say, “Try and understand my situation, health issues, predicament, realities.” Hard for people to do so.



12 thoughts on “easy for you to say: hard for me to do

  1. Hayzell March 24, 2011 / 10:35 am

    So sorry to hear about your experiences with mental health professionals! As a therapist and someone who has chronic pain I was shocked to read about your experience. I think you’re right in your opinion that therapist are not meant to offer simplistic and unrealistic prescriptions to complex problems. I found both personally and in my work that the best therapists are those that truly listen and try to understand what their clients are feeling and experiencing. Only then can you begin to work collaboratively on goals. I really hope you don’t give up on therapist completely. Some clinicians are not great, but when you find one that is good, it’s worth it.


    • phylor March 24, 2011 / 7:51 pm

      Hayzell: I do hold out hope that I will find a good therapist. I know they are out there. It’s the matter of how to find them. And, they have to be within my health insurance plan, which puts some restrictions on the choices. I agree that listening and understanding is SOOO important in therapy. I bet you are one of the good therapists! As you experience chronic pain, you instinctively will understand the ways in which chronic pain can impact on your life, your emotions, your outlook.
      Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment.


  2. phylor March 20, 2011 / 9:44 pm

    I’d love to go to one of Judith’s workshops! I have a nephew and niece in law in Southern California, but I don’t know if they live anywhere near Judith. I’ll have to get out the atlas and see!
    Sorry your therapist is retiring. Hopefully, you will find someone else as good to continue to help you with your family issues!
    I should try again to find someone, but I’m constrained by health insurance in the number of appointments within a calendar year, and who I can go see: they have to accept my health insurance and a less than full slate of appointments.


  3. hibernationnow March 20, 2011 / 1:20 pm

    I once wrote the amazing Judith to ask for a 3 or 4 or 5 day workshop for US! out of town friends with fibro. if we all saved up maybe she would consider it. I have a therapist who is now retiring, he was really amazing and helped me to deal with issues with both my mother and sister. Now, back to square one….
    Let’s start a Judith campaign :)
    All of you gals, help keep me sane!


  4. phylor March 20, 2011 / 9:35 am

    Kathy: I’m glad you’re got a good counsellor!!! I have a friend who is a fantastic therapist/counsellor, so I do know they exist. It makes such a big difference whether its a doctor, specialist, cousellor, clerk, customer service rep, manager/supervisor, government official, politican that the individual cares about their job, cares about the people they come in contact with, and try and be helpful and fulfill the requirements of their position!


  5. Kathy March 19, 2011 / 11:15 pm

    Unbelievable Phylor. I’m so grateful for our counsellor. A wonderful man.


  6. Rosemary Lee March 19, 2011 / 2:37 am

    Wow! I’m overwhelmed by their callous disregard of you and your feelings. Is it any wonder why we turn inward? It seems as though clinical psychology is lacking in empathy. As in any profession it’s difficult to find someone that “gets it.” Where is the passion for their profession?

    I get angry reading this. If they’re not going to take their oath seriously they should get out of the business.

    You know who I would love to see? Judy Westerfield. Her blog is Creativity to the Max. I’ll bet she wouldn’t say those things. You should read her blog she’s wonderful!!


    • phylor March 20, 2011 / 9:33 am

      Rosemary Lee:
      I’d love to see Judith! If I didn’t live on the opposite coast, I would attend all her workshops and participate in her various group activities. I agree — she must be an amazing therapist! And, her blog is fantastic!
      Without a passion for your profession — whatever that profession might be — the job becomes something you do by rote, it seems, using routine rather than imagination.


  7. hibernationnow March 18, 2011 / 9:40 pm

    There are a few good therapists out there but they are in the minority. Apparently now the profession for Psychiatrists is to toss them instant “happy” or “anxious” pills. I’m sorry you had such bad experiences and it really angers me when people say ” I know what you are going through” when they sure as hell do not.
    That’s why my dream is to have a Rheumatologist who has Fibro or a Gastrenterologist who has IBS……empathy? Telling you your mother should listen to you is pure garbage, she was your “new” mother now and would not, could not listen. We have all been through a lot to get where we are today, not all of it is good but I hope you have “more laughter than tears” in your life going forward.


    • phylor March 20, 2011 / 9:30 am

      HibernationNow: I know there are good therapists out there; a friend in the real world is an excellent one and Judith must be amazing! Trouble is, I keep running into the “wrong” ones. Same with specialists. I agree, practioneers with the disease/condition/health issues they are treating would be great! There wouldn’t have to be the explanation dance that has to go on with each visit! Thanks for the wish for laughter; I wish you the same!


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