Friday, June 30, 2006

Jennifer's Construction Zone

Ever since colic and post-partum depression struck, I have – in true Dutch fashion – been busy plugging holes with my fingers (I’ve only got 10 that can’t span very far) instead of taking the time and energy to rebuild and refurbish the dam. Patching the smaller breaches as they pop up allows you keep yourself in denial. It allows you to overlook the fact that the ultimate source of those breaches, if not dealt with, will someday cause a violent rupture. It’s a rupture that could have been prevented by thoughtful and perhaps costly maintenance. Patching additionally affords you a sense of control. “My life isn’t crumbling down around me. See – I took care of that.” As long as you avoid honest introspection and keep your defenses up, all can be well in your world until that next breach starts leaking.

It’s been two months now since I’ve decided that instead of waiting anxiously to drown when my dam broke that I would prefer to take stock of what is good in my life, what requires a tune up and maintenance and what needs to be demolished. As I mentioned in April, a visit with new OB/GYN woke me up. Until that time I believed that my dark, wacked-out, compulsive thoughts and feelings weren’t dark, wacked-out and compulsive. They were God’s truth and valid. Her words were the slap across the face that I needed to start down the right path. I was in such a daze of depression that I lost some sense of what was real. Had I realized that at the time I would have been very afraid – or at least very afraid for the right reasons.

Dr. M prescribed me an anti-depressant and referred me to a therapist. I filled the prescription and made the appointment. Both are the best things I’ve done for myself in a long time. The medication helped to clear up the sludge in my brain so that I could do the heavy duty work in my heart and soul. S, my therapist, is just the person I needed in that role. She has a great sense of humor and uses it well to pin me to the wall and make me see things that I need to notice.

During our first meeting she listened to my story. There is a release in paying someone to listen to you. I could say what I wanted and needed to say without worrying about being a burden or being judged. She explained to me how depression contorts one’s perception of the outside world as well as one’s internal thoughts. After I explained how looking at Allison made me relive her birth and go around and around in my head about how if I had only done X or only done Y that things would have been different. In those times that I drifted away from my life, I imagined that I did every thing perfectly that day and as a result Allison was always born vaginally, without pain medication and my problems were solved. She reminded me that Dr. G told me at the time that Allison was born that I had done everything that I could have possibly done to have a natural childbirth. Dr. G said Allison would never have been born on her own. Contrary to what I had been telling myself, he wasn’t saying that to trick me into feel better. Although it’s not something I’d ever thought about, he hadn’t even been speaking to directly at the time. I was semi-coherent at the time. He had been talking to the others in the room. What happened was not my “fault.” She even questioned that fact that I used the word fault at all. She said, “So you’re blaming and beating yourself up day in and day out because you used your common sense and chose to trust your doctor to help where biology was lacking? You’re blaming and beating yourself up because you chose to have a healthy baby by surgery as opposed to delivering a dead baby the old fashioned way – if you were lucky to make it that far yourself?” Why couldn’t I have seen it that way myself? I should be proud that I chose a good doctor and made the best decisions I could for Allison all along. Instead, I beat myself up because I didn’t live up to standards I put in place for myself that weren’t really my own to begin with. That’s when I started to see that my thoughts were indeed dark, wacked-out and compulsive.

At the end of the meeting she gave me some ideas for ways of stopping the compulsive thoughts I was having about Allison and about her birth. She also told me to be kind to myself. I was able to put a good stop to the thoughts. I know when they are getting started and I can pretty easily move on. I haven’t looked at Allison and thought about the c-section for a long time now. It’s seems odd to me now that I ever did. However, being kind to myself is still problematic. What does that mean exactly? I know better than anyone else how much I don’t deserve being treated kindly. If anything, I feel as though I am already too kind to myself. If I only I was stricter I could be [fill in the blank]. I worry that if I let go of the restrictions, rules and laws that I have spent a lifetime constructing (but not living up to) in order to be kind to myself that all hell will break loose. Am I not underneath a raging, ugly beast just dying to break loose of my confines anyway? What would happen if there was nothing to keep me in check?

After about four weeks I could say that I was free or at least becoming free of the depression. I certainly am more aware of thoughts that were not rational. I’m also more aware of what an anxious person I am. During our first meeting S said that if she weren’t seeing me for depression she would be seeing me for anxiety. I had no idea what she was talking about. When the depression lifted, the anxiety began moving in. I can see what she meant. Getting help with the depression made it possible to see the underlying cause.

S has pointed out that I have issues with perfection. It made me cry when she said that. I guess because it struck a chord. I would never have thought of myself as a perfectionist because I’m not in the ways that I would typically think of a perfectionist. To me a perfectionist is someone who is organized and keeps things clean at all times. The difference is that those types of perfectionism are pointed at the outside world. I point mine internally. It’s an all or nothing, now or never viewpoint. If I’m not the ideal, I am the polar opposite. I’m either following Weight Watchers to the letter or I’m eating out of control. I either experience “the virgin birth” or I am a failure. No wonder I am anxious. The real kicker is that those ideals that I fall so far short of aren’t necessarily even my own. They are someone else’s – and more often – what I assume are someone else’s. I jump to the conclusion that things are done and said as a criticism of who I am, my work, you name it. Paranoia light with headaches, tight muscles and clenched jaw. When I’m in that mode, even dark movies can raise my anxiety so high that my stomach hurts, that I can’t sleep and once even made me throw up.

My second major piece of homework thus far is to decide what my standards are. To determine what is important to me. And guess what – because I want to or because it makes me feel good is reason enough. I don’t have to justify my thoughts, actions or decisions. It is okay for me to think, feel and act for myself. I can be my own advocate instead of my own worst nightmare. Just as with being kind to myself, this is difficult for me as well. How does one go about determining personal standards? How do I know whether something that makes me feel good is actually good or bad? I don’t really trust that I can make these decisions correctly.

There’s a lot of work ahead. There’ll be an “Under Construction” sign beside my dam for a long time to come. Still, it feels good to start making sound structural changes slowly instead of spackling cracks and hoping that they stick and are not noticed by others. I am on my way to living my own life instead of the life I assume others would want me to live. I am on my way to becoming my own architect.


the quists said...

Jennifer, thank you for all that you write! I have thought quite often in this past year that it might be really nice to go to a counselor. We have had so many changes and if it didn't cost so much, I think it would be a good idea for me. Good luck with it, and thank you for being so honest! I love ya!

Kary said...

Jennifer, This blog entry sounds so optimistic. It may not feel that way to you, but it sounds so much better to be dealing with it (even though it isn't fun), then to be in denial. I am so proud of you! If only everyone in this world could take life by the horns like you do. I'll be writing more by email....