Anecdotes from therapy

There’s officially no hope for me.

My therapist recently explained that those who are happiest in life have this crazy amount of faith – faith that things will turn out okay, faith that not only is there a heaven but also that they and everyone they know/love are going there. When someone dear passes they’re fine with waiting out their remaining time on earth until they’re reunited, etc., etc. It’s not the minimum requirement mustard-seed type of faith, like it’s a faith in the form of virtual certainty.

He explained to me that very few of these people, these faithful ones, actually exist – like he’s only ever encountered like two, one being a woman from his neighborhood whose husband was fighting a terminal illness. Apparently one night he ran into her as she walked her dog, and they had this great conversation, and then, when she arrived home, her husband had died without her.

And then, only a few days later on another dog walk, this woman informed my therapist that she had missed her husband take his last breath because she was basically talking to him instead, and he was like, “Oh my God I am SO sorry.” And she gave him the biggest smile and was like, “No worries! He is in a much better place now, and I am SO happy about it!!” And I get that when someone passes after being terminally ill there’s probably some sense of relief that comes from it, but even my therapist seemed shocked by her enthusiasm.

This makes me kind of lose hope, because I am sure these people with this faith are indeed the happiest, especially in the face of adversity, but I will never remotely be one of these people, as much as I (only sometimes) wish I could be. Like it isn’t in my DNA. So like, what am I supposed to do? It feels like my life is an Olympic balance beam competition, and not only have I already fallen off the beam, but my routine had a low start value to begin with…

Do normal people have these thoughts?

I recently asked my therapist about whether the tough stuff about which he regularly hears scares him. You know, because if he doesn’t keep me under control, I’ll start to psychoanalyze him. (Maybe there’s a reason therapy is challenging for me…) But I genuinely wanted to know, because not only do my own tragedies/problems affect me but sometimes others’ do too. So I asked, “Like, do you meet someone like me and then wonder if one of your kids could die too?” (I’m definitely his favorite client.)

And I appreciated his honest answer – that sometimes, others’ problems do make him think, and sometimes they even affect his behavior.

“How so?” I asked for him to elaborate.

“Well, after years of dealing with combat veterans, I now find sometimes, actually, more often than not, when I dine out, I make sure I sit facing the entrance. But it’s not only this… I also look to identify the closest weapon of opportunity, like in this situation a steak knife…”

“I do this too…” I whispered, as he looked at me like, “Da fuq?”

So there’s a 50 percent chance my, or anyone’s, life will be total shit. And this is supposed to be encouraging?

As I mentioned in another post, my therapist and I have possibly identified the key to my ability to function on a regular basis – I must be able to better deal with life’s ambiguity. We agreed that I take much of the meaningless nonsense that occurs on a daily basis and attempt to make meaning out of it – like I’ll take a Joel smile to mean he’s happy/healthy or a Joel cough to mean he’s dying.

I’m constantly looking for signs that things are either going to be relatively okay/not okay (from here forward, because clearly not everything in my life will be totally okay ever again), and I seek reassurance like a drug addict seeks heroin. When I get the reassurance I think I need, it only fuels my desire for more, and when I don’t get it, I’m left crying and shaking in my bed.

“You need to learn to stop seeking reassurance, which in the long-term fuels your anxiety, and accept life for the crapshoot that it is… For any of us, whether life turns out relatively okay with loved ones dying in order and of old age, or whether life turns terribly tragic is a complete crapshoot. You could say it’s 50/50. But you need to acknowledge this and put equal weight on the 50 percent chance that things could go okay for you from here forward.”

“But what if I do put equal weight on it?” I asked, “What if this is precisely my problem? What if I do acknowledge this 50/50 crapshoot of which you speak, and I decide that 50 percent is just not very good – not something I can easily live with? After all, I’m thinking that it isn’t. I’m thinking the majority of people can get through life on their perceived 98 percent chance that things will go fine for them…”

“This is an interesting point you make…” he pondered.

And we debated it for a while, and I wondered for the rest of the day whether 50 percent is reassuring. I thought back to an old friend with whom we’ve lost touch. His mother died from Huntington’s disease. There’s a 50 percent chance that he has it. A coin’s flip. Heads or tails. A life involving normalcy or one involving him becoming a prisoner in his own body years before he meets his premature, bitter end.

My therapist guestimates life is a 50/50 crapshoot for anyone, but in a very ambiguous way. Our old friend’s life is absolutely a 50/50 crapshoot in a defined way. There’s a test he could take to find out his future. Extensive psychological counselling is required beforehand because of the percentage of positives that result in suicide attempts. Some take the test, some don’t.

And I think this is because 50/50 isn’t that good.

On a side note, I think it should be a thing that after one horrible tragedy, we’re guaranteed a relatively struggle-free life into perpetuity… But no, I guess the crapshoot-o-meter gets reset.

So how do I learn to live with 50/50 not being that good and also the knowledge that my crapshoot-o-meter has been reset? Like is it even possible to acknowledge these truths, as my therapist does, AND also be happy?

If only these things (like preventing stillbirths and infant deaths) were so simple…

So this conversation happened last week… (Conversation is simplified.)

Me – I need to get into more of a routine. This living day-to-day isn’t really working for me.

Therapist – You could start by going to bed at a set time, setting an alarm to wake up…

Me – It will be difficult for me to motivate myself… I feel like even if I’m well rested my anxiety will take over and exhaust me.

Therapist – But more sleep can’t possibly make you feel WORSE than you already do.

Me – Okay… Then I will try it… But in a few weeks, when I’m later into my pregnancy, this will all go out the window. Because I’ll feel the need to stay up all night to monitor this baby. Because most babies who die go into distress at night – they die at night.

Therapist – Really? Do they know why?

Me – I’m not sure. I can’t remember… There are different hypotheses about it – something about the combination of melatonin levels, drops in blood pressure that can occur during maternal sleep, sometimes the positioning of the baby – maybe baby’s in a bad position he/she can’t get out of… Bad things in general happen disproportionately at night, and I’m not sure anyone knows why – it’s when the majority of code blues in hospitals occur… It’s estimated that 75 to 80 percent of babies who die during pregnancy die at night.

Therapist – But wouldn’t it be reasonable to assume that if your baby goes into distress during the night, there will be some kind of natural mechanism to alert you – like the baby will be able to wake you up?

Me – Actually, in many cases, no.

Therapist – Oh.

(NOTE – I can forgive his question, and I still consider him to be very smart (or I would have dumped his ass long ago), because maternal fetal medicine isn’t his area of study, though his question does make me wonder how many people out there might think I’m just this idiot who slept through Matthew’s distress as he tried to alert me to it, which my therapist in no way implied, but STILL.)

God how I wish things in life (anything in life) could be this cut and dry.

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16 thoughts on “Anecdotes from therapy

  1. Firstly a huge congratulations on your pregnancy! I haven’t been on WordPress for a while to comment and didn’t know if you were ‘out’ on your Instagram to comment there! Is it any easier second time around?!

    I think there must be more to those seemingly blissfully faithful people than we know. I would see that as a form of delusion and I would suspect that it is papering over some major cracks which will show up every now and then. The reality is that sorrow and joy are two sides of the same coin and we can’t have one without the other. If we care deeply, we will have deep pain. I think unless we accept the pain we will always be at war with a part of ourselves.

    I’m glad you’re getting on well with your therapist, it sounds like you’re getting a handle on how your mind tends to work and when that is helpful, and when it’s not!

    Hope you’re keeping as well as can be xx

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    1. Thank you so much! I’m not “out” on Instagram. Don’t know if/when I will be. Yes, my therapist understands the way I think, so, despite any imperfections, this has probably been his greatest gift of all. I agree with you that some of these blissfully faithful people are delusional or somewhat disingenuous about it, and they’re about to lose their shit at any moment, though I do think there are some (very few) people genuine in it, and potentially those people have this blissful happiness in the form of ignorance almost that is difficult for others to achieve. Of course I’m just guessing here… And wholeheartedly agree about the coin – I’m glad for my grief, as it’s just another form of love – just wish now of us had to experience this. I hope you and your family are well. xoxo

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    1. I agree with you. It’s a scary way to look at the world… Who knows if it’s realistic… That 50% of us will be totally fucked over in life (I mean, we already were/are, so it’s just a matter whether it happens again). Though all of our lives will end in loss/death, but I’d be curious to know how many people die in old age having experienced a relatively non-tragic life… 50%? More? Less? It’s an interesting thing to ponder. And I wish it could have been us…

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  2. Hmm, I have lots of thoughts about all of this (showing that we are overdue for a walk and/or breakfast date…). The thing most standing out to me is the illusive concept of “happy.” I think it’s a pretty general word and, when speaking about adults who’ve experienced any life at all, it’s difficult to find a lot of people who are “happy” regardless of their circumstances. I do know some people who stand out in my mind as being more joy-filled/peace-filled and, while “faith” might be the common denominator between them, it’s not faith that everything will be okay, it’s faith that when everything is very much NOT okay, they will still be okay. Maybe devastated, gutted even, but ultimately not defeated or entirely defined by the thing that did the gutting. I’m not sure about the 50/50 crapshoot, but I am sure there is plenty of bad happening to plenty of people who I love and that being convinced that the bad won’t happen to me (it has/does/will again endlessly) only ever offers fleeting reassurance since absolutely no one is insulated from the bad (despite appearances). Much to ponder in what you’ve written as always friend!
    xo,
    mb

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  3. I had enough to say that I had to bust out my laptop instead of pecking something out on my phone.

    Anyway, I think I might disagree with your therapist on a few points. As for the happiest people being those with great faith, I think that perhaps they are the people that look the happiest, for sure. I used to go to church before my son was stillborn but I stopped for many reasons (I’m going to blog about it someday) but one of which was that true believers act like they are so okay with death because they know for sure that their loved one is in heaven. But I really feel like there is this pressure to not really mourn that can be unhealthy. That to be really sad about your loved one’s death is a sign that you aren’t a true believer. So for some, the pressure to look totally okay on the outside is huge and is not a true sign of how happy they are overall. Also, I think I’d feel differently in the case of a loved one who struggled with a terminal disease for a while. I don’t think it’s possible to try to make any connection between that situation and a perinatal death. We don’t have memories to look back on, at least none out of the womb, and we aren’t relieved for our loved one to be out of pain and suffering.

    The point about living from reassurance to reassurance really struck a cord in me. I’m 30 weeks now and I feel like I’m mostly doing okay if I’m actively being kicked. I basically live kick to kick. But I have yet to formally kick count and I feel that it’s because I don’t think I’d be able to respond and get to the hospital in time to save my baby from an acute problem. I think the main benefit comes from being able to identify more chronic causes of distress that can result in decreased fetal movement. So I try to generally be aware of movement but don’t try to catch every. single. kick. I’ve had to accept that an acute loss of oxygen is indeed a crapshoot that I cannot prevent. I’ve had to cede control in this area of pregnancy to maintain my sanity and not be overrun with anxiety. My MFM told me that I need to try to let them be partners in identifying chronic distress and that the frequent monitoring is designed to help catch something along those lines. Of course this is easier said than done.

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    1. I definitely see your points! I’m thinking I should have written much longer on each of these topics as they’re all so deep… Lol. I don’t think my therapist was necessarily comparing the long-term illness situation to mine, nor was he saying all faithful people are happy (I actually agree many of them are not and feel socially pressured to say otherwise). Though I do think that there are a rare few whose faith genuinely does contribute to their well being in the face of adversity – like it does help them to believe whatever they believe, which are usually things I generally can’t believe, and I think sometimes they’re “happier” because of it… it’s so complicated though, because who REALLY knows? But yeah, I’d say 99% of the faithful people spewing platitudes don’t believe their own bullshit, and they’re being eaten alive by their repression of their feelings.

      Re: kick counts, I see your perspective too. Though I did attempt to count every kick with Joel… I’m not sure why though. Matthew died of an acute event – kick counts didn’t save him. Maybe it’s this precisely that compelled me to count so compulsively, despite this being counterintuitive? I’m not sure… I’m not far enough into this PAL to count kicks yet so the reassurance I constantly seek is more related to Joel’s well being (like if he has an “off” day is he teething or dying?). Though I think my need for absolute reassurance is fairly strong in all situations whether logical or not, and because of how Matthew died I distrust the medical profession, still, so I’m guessing when the time comes I’ll lose all sanity again, though I hope somehow this time will be “better.” Ughhhh…

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  4. Wow you said a lot of things that resonate deeply with me. I too have trouble accepting that 50/50 crapshoot. I lost my dad and my first born son the same year and I feel like I should have hit my quota for trauma. Life doesn’t work that way and I have been hit with multiple traumas since then. I feel like I am just sitting around waiting for the next bad thing to happen. And i have zero faith at this point, zero faith in anything. Hang in there, I will keep you in my thoughts.

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    1. Thank you so much for your comment. I am so sorry for your loss of your dad and your son (in the same year!) and all your traumas following. That is so beyond heartbreaking and unfair, and it’s just one of those situations that makes me want to scream at the universe. I can imagine it can be difficult to live sometimes, wondering “What’s next?” When “what’s next?” has played out several times in the most horrific of ways. I don’t have much faith either – at least not in any earthly outcomes. I’m kind of white-knuckling my way through life, hoping for the best from here on out, but obviously grappling with how none of us are guaranteed anything, even after experiencing the worst… Ughhhh!! Sending you all the hugs. xoxo

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  5. Christine and Co:

    I love you so. One day at a time. For the last 49 days, I have been in the first “routine” I have been in since Matthew. It feels good/weird. Love you.

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