Autobiography · Mental Health

Something New

"New York Transit Museum" © Geoff Wilson, 2008. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
New York Transit Museum” © Geoff Wilson, 2008. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

My new therapist gives me homework. Tells me to notice when I’m triggered and my thoughts try to get away from me. “All you have to do is recognize that it’s ninety-percent old hurt. You don’t have to do anything. Just recognize that you’re reacting to a situation you’re no longer in,” he says. His voice is soothing, but firm. I can imagine him in a lecture hall with hundreds of students nodding their heads and scrawling notes on yellow legal pads. He tells me, “It’s easy to get swept up in it. It’s an instant reaction. But we can start to recognize it for what it is and then we can work to change it.”

I nod my head. At first because I’m intimidated by him and I want to be agreeable, but then because I know he’s right. I can feel myself opening up to him. A flower unfurling its petals. Slowly at first, and then all at once. “I can do that. I can do this,” I tell him. The sweet sigh of realizing that there are things I haven’t tried yet.

He looks at me over the top of his notebook and says, “You know, it’s not just the big traumas that shape us. Sometimes it’s just a steady drip. It works itself into everything you do, really just ingrains itself into you. And no matter how safe you feel later, or how different your environment is, you are always expecting that drip.”

My breath stops and it’s a moment before I’m able to let out a slow shudder. I crack a smile because it’s the only thing that makes sense. “Yeah, I am.”

On the train ride home I repeat a line from a Shane Koyczan poem over and over again. “If you believe with absolute honesty that you’re doing everything you can, do more.”

It is so easy to think that I’m doing everything I possibly can with the tools I have to work with. Simple to assume that I am at my limit. I swear I feel the strain, the edge of breaking. But I wonder if I’m made of stronger stuff than I think.

At night I find myself curled up in bed, my knees to my chest, and the blankets pulled up over my head. “I can’t do this,” I whisper soft into my palms, my cupped hands catching my breath. But it’s just pulling back, not fact. It’s the automatic reaction to being challenged, to having more thrown at me than I think I can handle. But I’m capable of dealing with it. Of taking a breath and recognizing that I’m not threatened in the way I think I am.

In the morning I put on my running clothes and head out into the dark. One foot after another, I let my body go. My mind finally settling into a rhythm. And instead of submitting, instead of telling myself again that this is too hard and I’m never going to get it, all I say is, “Do more. Do more. Do more.”

13 thoughts on “Something New

  1. First, I love your therapist. I need to write down his words of wisdom so that I can remember them for myself. I definitely find myself frequently reacting (or should I say, overreacting), to my past.

    One of my grad school professors once gave an entire lecture about people doing their best. Even when a person doesn’t follow through or doesn’t seem to be doing what’s in his or her own best interest, it is the best that person can give in that moment. If I’m late for work in the morning because I’m so anxious it takes me 10 extra minutes to get out of the house, that’s the best I can do in that situation. We can all always do better, try harder, put forth a more valiant effort, but everything you’re doing right now counts. Every step you take in your running shoes is your best foot forward in that instant, propelling you into the next moment. There is always more work to be done, but I hope that you can appreciate yourself for all that you already are and everything you already do.

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  2. “And no matter how safe you feel later, or how different your environment is, you are always expecting that drip.” – Wow, that just… That is IT. That’s exactly it. Your therapist sounds wonderful.

    Something I heard a few years ago that has really helped me is this: “When a painful thought or feeling occurs, watch it like a bird crossing the sky. Don’t try to stop it, or judge it. Just acknowledge it. It comes, and then it goes.”

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  3. This is such an eye opening post. I struggle from getting over past experiences and it’s nice to read advice given from a professional to help you get past similar hurdles.

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