Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The Slog



Hi oh faithful reader! So much for that nutrition series I promised, eh? What? You have no recollection of said series? Forget I said anything then. For the two of you that might still be waiting for the series to materialize, I must be honest and say that it ain’t happening. At least not right now. I was on a roll for a hot second (three posts – ha!) and then I fell off the wagon. In the most positive of ways one can fall off a wagon, I would argue. Technically, I guess you could say I jumped.

The old me would have powered through my verbal commitment to the internet, made the arrangements, written half-heartedly and pushed myself to the point of resentment (of whom, I’m not entirely sure) to pull off the promised series. But then I would have felt annoyed and unfulfilled because my energies were needed elsewhere, and I found myself experiencing a heavy sense of obligation, even if entirely self-induced.

I teetered on the edge of the wagon for a good long while, fighting the inner voices that screamed that not following through on a writing series that NO ONE HAD ASKED ME TO DO somehow made me a failure. Totally crazy, I realize (spoiler alert: I’m in therapy – but we’ll get there….)

Anyhow, I battled those self-inflicted negative thoughts of failure and eventually stocked up enough grace for myself to don my knee pads and jump off the wagon ON PURPOSE, intentionally trading my laptop and my promised writing series for a bedside table towering high with novels that I have been reading as if my life depended on it.

So that’s where I’ve been. Reading my novels and entertaining my 4-year-old whose preschool began their “summer” break WAY earlier than his mother feels was necessary. But I digress… It still bothers me that I didn’t finish the writing series but I’m sitting with it (which I’m told is all a part of the process). I say all this not to justify my absence but rather to give permission. For some of us, the harder choice is to say no to productivity and yes to this life-giving thing called rest. (You all know who you are).

Back in December, I began a new kind of therapy which I’ve eluded to in some of my recent posts. Graham and I did some significant work together with a couple’s therapist but then determined there were some issues that needed to be addressed individually before we could continue to move forward. There are many, many layers to the struggles I (we) have experienced, but one significant contributor that I bring to the table is my anxiety. I don’t suffer from the panic-attack-fearful-of-flying kind of anxiety, but rather, a form that presents itself as intrusive thoughts that can literally consume me if not held in check. Our couple’s therapist provided me the verbiage that these thoughts “torment” me and I can think of no better way to describe it. So, I’ve been engaging in some pretty hard work the past 7 months to kick decades of anxiety struggles to the curb. Or at least out of the driver’s seat. At this point, I would consider even that a win.

My individual therapist (who specializes in anxiety and trauma) uses a method called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and, to be totally frank, it sucks. Which is one of the reasons establishing times to REST and creating MARGIN in my life has become of utmost importance. There is just no way around it: the process is dang tiring. Part of the reason for this is because it pushes you out of your comfort zone in about every way possible. It is no secret that I like a plan. Give me a verbal prescription of what you want done, exacting in detail, and I will not disappoint. When I began CBT, I came in with a list, an agenda of all that I wanted to accomplish. I was ready to get down to business and “get it done.” I would leave my appointments asking, “What is my homework for this week? What should I be working on? What do I need to be doing to achieve my goals?

My therapist saw right through this piece of me and seized the perfect opportunity to make me sit in the gray. Some weeks, she INTENTIONALLY didn’t give me homework. She let me carry the sessions all over the place ON PURPOSE. There was so much less structure in our times together than I’d envisioned. I found it super annoying and remedied these feelings of discomfort by labeling her as incompetent. Certainly, she was unskilled, and the problem was her inability to “keep us on task.”

As it turns out, she knew what she was doing. And I hate being wrong.

I don’t have a check-box therapy plan (so frustrating). There isn’t a map showing how she plans to get me from Point A to Point B (infuriating). The process has been very organic in nature (drives me literally bonkers). But now I’m started to see it. She’s pushing me. Testing me. Stretching me. Forcing me to be okay when things aren’t black and white.  

It’s awful.

And at the same time, it’s good.

Because the process has been so ALL OVER THE MAP, I often feel like I have no barometer on which to measure myself to determine if I’ve made any progress. It’s been hard to know if I’m “getting anywhere.”

This past week, we paid our couple’s therapist a visit for the first time in 8 months to “check in.” She's been in our lives for awhile now. She knows where we started, knows what I looked like before I began this most recent journey into therapy. I went into our time together wondering, Had I made any progress with my beasts? The appointment itself didn’t provide this feedback, which I found hugely disappointing. But a follow up session with my individual therapist, who collaborates with our couple’s therapist, provided the affirmation I needed. She shared the following observation that had been passed on to her: “Kelsie appears visibly stronger.”

VISIBLY STRONGER! I can think of no better praise right now.

What do these words do for me? They help me see that all this yucky-feeling unknown I’ve pushed through, all these sessions that have felt all-over-the-place have actually been doing something. I’m not following a check box, step-by-step plan (at least not that my therapist has shared with me) but it is working. My intrusive thoughts have diminished by at least a fraction of a hair. If not twice that! Or more! I now have an answer for all those times where I’ve left a session wondering “Did that really accomplish anything?” Maybe not in that immediate moment. But in the long term? Absolutely.

And my sitting on the couch reading novels instead of “doing something more productive”? This practice has held an important therapeutic role too. I’m learning to chill. I’m learning to let go. I’m learning to NOT function out of anxiety and spend my hours writing the thing for the people who didn’t even ask for it and DON’T EVEN CARE. I’m no longer operating solely under the dictatorship of those intrusive thoughts. Has it been easy? Heck no. Does it seem counterintuitive that my BEST THERAPY right now might actually be to quit doing and simply put my feet up and indulge myself in a novel. Yep. But it’s working! And that gives me such hope.

So, what does reading all this offer you, the reader, beyond just a bird’s eye view into some of the juicy details of my life? (We all love a good juicy detail - send me yours when you have a sec – j/k!) I know that some of you are in a process that isn’t fun. You might be working toward something, working on something, stuck in the middle of something, enduring something. You might be in a place where it is difficult to see the forest for the trees. The process might be feeling hard and ugly. And you might be wondering whether it’s still worth it to continue.

I have a friend who often reminds me it’s the middle that’s the hardest. The middle is the place where you could just as easily fall back from whence you came as exert the hard push needed to make it to the finish. The middle is the point where it’s most tempting to give up on progress and abort the mission.

I know the feeling. I’ve been there countless times. My word for the year is HOPE and I hadn’t had much of it until this past week. But God is meeting me here in the middle and, through the affirmations of others, reminding me He never left my side. 

I pray for the same for you. I pray that wherever it is that you are working or waiting or longing or hurting, that you would see glimmers of hope shining through the trees as you try to get a visual on your own personal forest. That you would see God showing up along the way. Stay strong and stick with your slog through the middle. Don't be afraid to do the work, no matter how much ugly it brings up or how awful it feels. You are in process and there is light at the end of this mess.

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posted by kelsie