Group Therapy

Privacy and Group Therapy

At two separate points in my life, I’ve had friends observe that I seem to spend a lot of time going to the doctor.

They weren’t wrong. I do spend a lot of time with doctors—and nurse practitioners, and psychologists, and counselors, and neuropsychologists, and psychiatrists, and the occasional graduate student. A great number of those visits were bi-weekly or weekly sessions of therapy groups, which is a lot like fight club in that the first rule about it is that you’re not supposed to talk about it.

The reasoning behind this is simple enough: not everyone is open about their participation in the mental health space, and speaking publicly about someone else’s therapy is a violation of their privacy and individual rights.

I didn’t interact much with people in any of my therapy groups outside of therapy, though I have maintained a Facebook friendship with some of them. I had to be careful about what I said and who I said it to, lest I accidentally give away to someone that a casual acquaintance was met through group therapy.

This got harder to do as time went on, because I tend to try and be more open about my history of mental illness. As I stated in the opening line, I’ve had friends observe the sheer amount of time I’d spent dealing with my medical issues. I had one major practice that I kept up from before I even attended my first group session: I practiced saying “We had a psych class together”.

It was a perfect out, though one I never had to actually use. The idea was a layover from my childhood practice of saying “my cat scratched me” and “I’m just tired”. It was simple—if I practiced saying these little white lies to myself,  I could say them to someone else more convincingly.

I took a couple of psychology classes in college, and these were the kind of 101 classes with 200 people in a giant lecture hall with a professor who didn’t bother to learn anyone’s names. If I had ever needed to deploy the decoy, this one made the most sense.

Luckily, I never had to use this, and my friends accepted the explanation that I did, in fact, need to go to the doctor more often than other people. Whether or not you share that you are attending or have attended group therapy is up to you, but there are definitely ways to maintain everyone’s privacy in the process.

What about you? Have you ever had to explain (or dodge an explanation) to friends or classmates? How do you balance honesty and privacy? ❀

Group Therapy, Metaphor Monday

Medication Monday | Group Therapy

In every therapy group I have ever attended, there is inevitably a session that I refer to as “drug day”.

It’s typically not the first meeting, but the second or third. We’ve all met, spilled our guts about family history and personal traumas and which mental illnesses we have and what symptoms we’re suffering from. There’s always at least one cutter (me, if no one else), one person with GAD and a serious case of imposter syndrome (no worries, kids, you do just as well as anyone else in group), and one person who’s just too god damn sparkly and bubbly to have a serious case of the crazies… but they do. (This one is also me more often than not these days.)

But in every therapy group I’ve attended, there has consistently been a majority drug use. I’m struggling to remember a group where there wasn’t 100% medication in our history. There may or may not have been one, but my point is this—medication is stigmatized. In spite of the fact that we’re all in group therapy, and in spite of the fact that we’re all baring our traumas to one another from Day 1, no one seems to be comfortable talking about psychiatric medication.

I’ve written a bit about how people view medication as the thing that destroys you, rather than as the thing that heals you. There’s a widespread belief that psychiatric medication is a conspiracy by big pharma to pick our pockets and drug us into compliance. I won’t lie and say there aren’t days when I entertain this idea—particularly, on days when I have to spend money on refills at the pharmacy—but I know that this is a symptom of healthcare in the US being a for-profit industry, and not a symptom of some vast global conspiracy.

I know this because the medication works, even when the placebo effect does not…but that’s a post for another day.

In 2011, Time Magazine reported that 1 in 5 American adults was taking psychiatric medication, and that antidepressants were the most used kind of psychiatric medication. According to the 2010 census, the population of the US over the age of 18 was some 234.5 million—almost 50 million adults would have been taking medication at the time of the survey.

50 million adults…and we were scared to talk about it in a group of young adults who were clearly struggling with mental health problems. Inevitably someone would bring it up, and there would be a sigh of relief as everyone suddenly began spilling a laundry list of medication we’d tried—laughing about the absurdity of it, sympathizing over shared side effects, and occasionally sharing horror stories about drugs gone wrong. (One time I went off of lamotrigine cold turkey. 0/10, do not recommend. Seriously guys, DO NOT DO THIS.)

There was inevitably a shift after the drug day. Things would ease up, we’d be more comfortable with each other, share more personal stories. Everyone was calmer, more comfortable with themselves, with each other. I wonder what would happen if we could bring that honesty outside of group… ❀

Uncategorized

I’ve been working on trying to set themes for weeks so I’m not just floating in the void of writing about recovery–this week I’m writing about Group Therapy:

Medication Monday | discussing drugs in group therapy
When your friends notice you’re “at the doctor” a lot and other privacy concerns
Warrior Wednesday | my experiences in group therapy
The importance of setting therapy goals
Feminism Friday | gender breakdown in group therapy

I can’t promise I’ll be able to write all five posts because I won’t make promises if I don’t know I can keep them, but I can promise to do my very best.

Quiet Reflection

8.6.2017

I’ve been feeling sick the last few days. I knew it was a mix of chronic dehydration and skipping meals, but skipping meals leads to skipping doses. Turns out dizziness and nausea is a side effect of withdrawal from my medication.

I didn’t realize I was missing so many doses, in such close proximity (and I’ve similarly missed breaks a work), but apparently it’s been completely messing with my physical health. Go figure.

I’m still tired, still dizzy. Making a concerted effort to actually eat three meals a day, actually take my medication on time. Stay hydrated. Etc.

This is recovery. ❀

Metaphor Monday

Metaphor Monday | Memories

You know those makeup kits they sell around Halloween? Usually it’s a “pirate” kit, although sometimes the costume in question is a little more…questionable. The kits come with a plastic container of black substance that I imagine is the approximate consistency and flavor of Play-Doh, designed to go over selected teeth. The idea is to represent a lost tooth, a gap in the dental line. It’s not.

Traumatic memory loss is like this black tooth cap, for me. I can’t remember what I ate for lunch on the third Tuesday of last month. That lack of memory is a hole, an actual gap like a lost little baby tooth in a row of tiny chompers.

There are other memories. I don’t know details, whens or whats or wheres or hows. I don’t even bother asking myself the whys anymore. These memories are capped, glossed over in black, a solid substance pretending to be a gap.

One of the many shrinks I’ve seen over the years recommended to me, once, to not try and peel back the blackness. She said that repressed memories need to stay that way until they’re ready to be exposed.

I don’t like the waiting, don’t like the feeling that I’ll choke on a lost chunk of black Play-Doh on a perfectly normal day. Still… I sit on my hands, and resist the urge to peel. I don’t know when the darkness will lift, when I’ll have to look at all the decay and destruction underneath. I just pull what pieces I can feel together, and try to be prepared for when it does. ❀

Quiet Reflection

7.22.17

I had lunch with Sunshine yesterday. I meant to post something then, but I’d had a long week so I went to bed early.

I’ve read a lot about trauma over the last six and a half years. I’ve learned a lot about relationships, too, and how they relate to trauma. The short version is that trauma separates us from our relationships with other people, and the best way to overcome trauma is to re-forge those connections.

It amazes me how much a simple 25-minute lunch helped. I don’t think he evens knows the depths of this hell, let alone that I’ve been backsliding. It doesn’t matter. He doesn’t need to. Sunshine is steady, a grounding force no matter what kind of hurricane I feel. I am so grateful for his friendship.

❀ ✩ ✿ ✩ ❀

I’ve been thinking about the blog, and what I intended to do with it. It’s part journal, part essay collection (topic posts being marked by alliterative theme titles). The essay-ish things have been on the thin side, facilitated mostly by a pretty severe backslide that I’ve been fighting this year. I’m sorry. I’m still fighting.

The journal is sporadic at best, for which I also apologize. I haven’t quite grasped the concept of a publishing schedule yet. I’m still trying.

The important thing, I think, is to keep taking these tiny steps. And someday, I hope, I’ll be out of the woods.

Again. ❀

Warrior Wednesday

Warrior Wednesday | Mental Health Days

In true Warrior Wednesday fashion, I took a day off of work. I don’t do it often, because I don’t like to. I feel like I’m contributing to the stigma against people living with mental illnesses… but today I took a leap of faith. I thought I’d be in bed all day, struggling to function.

I still messed up a lot of stuff today, but I also managed to clean two parts of my home that haven’t been touched in—no exaggeration—over a year. I have more space, less crap, and surprisingly I find I feel less mental clutter.

I hope we all have days like these more often. ❀

Warrior Wednesday

Warrior Wednesday | Open Doors

For the first five years of my recovery, I slept with all of the doors closed.

The front door had to be closed and locked and opened and unlocked and closed and locked and opened and checked and closed and locked and checked.

The bathroom door had to be closed, the closet door had to be closed, the drawers and cabinets had to be closed.

I did not sleep in any space that had an opening, a doorway, a deep dark space that would grow in the night and swallow me whole. I don’t know, now, what I thought was hiding inside of my drawers, but whatever it was—it wasn’t getting me as I slept.

I know in hindsight that this is not an uncommon symptom. It’s a symptom that’s harder to explain, one that’s less known by the general public and therefore less accepted. It’s not typically viewed as a symptom so much as it’s viewed as a personality quirk, like not eating yellow food or only dating people whose names begin with the letter “R”.

But it is a symptom. I have an illness, and keeping the doors closed is a symptom.

❀ ✩ ✿ ✩ ❀

At Christmas, I was given a cat. She wanted to sleep with me, in the bedroom. She needed to have access to her box, in the bathroom. A less stubborn person, a person fewer years into recovery might have just moved the litter out of the bathroom at night. Me? I just cracked the door.

I didn’t sleep for three days.

It’s been a year and a half since I’ve slept with all the doors closed. I sleep with open cabinets and open drawers. The socks aren’t out to get me. I still go through the whole routine with the front door, more cautious now than paranoid. My cat has no idea what the difference is. I do.

❀ ✩ ✿ ✩ ❀

I made a bad choice last night. I made a bad choice this morning, watched it snowball into a series of bad choices. I’m pissed at myself for starting this whole thing, and I’m pissed at myself for acting in ways I feel like I can’t control. I knew it was a bad choice. I made it anyway, made excuses for how it was beyond my control. It wasn’t.

Bad choices snowball. Good choices snowball, too. And just because a door is less open today than it was yesterday doesn’t mean it has to be closed tomorrow.

I’m going to go crack the door. ❀