10 Things I Have Learned With My Therapist’s Help

I’ve been seeing a therapist for the last 6 years. I never thought I would do this, not in a million years but I was tied up in knots, grief, sadness, depression, anger, and a whole lot of other detrimental emotions. I had to do something because I was sinking deeper and deeper.

I always thought, “Why do I need a therapist when I have friends and family to talk to about my problems?” The problem was that my friends and family were too close to the situation. I needed someone who was unbiased and professional. I needed guidance and I needed perspective from an outsider. I needed someone who would be honest with me but wouldn’t judge me, no matter what I told her.

That’s exactly what I got. The first therapist I saw is the same therapist I am seeing now. She has helped me more than I can even express in words. After just 1 year I was in a much better place emotionally and mentally. With each passing year, I have become much stronger and able to cope with the emotions I must deal with on a day to day basis. The issues now are of my pain and mobility, which are just as detrimental as the issues of 6 years ago but I’m strong enough now to handle it. Thanks to my therapist, I have learned a lot of things to help me on my journey and I think I will always hear her voice in the back of my mind guiding me and challenging me. I’d like to share with you those things in hopes of encouraging others to seek therapy if needed because it certainly does help!

  1. I am able to identify and handle my triggers, those things that cause me anxiety or sadness. I now know how to refocus my attention on other things or prepare myself emotionally beforehand.
  2. I have learned several different methods of breathing to help me to relax or calm down when I become anxious or even when I need to fall asleep.
  3. I learned that I do not have to engage with people who are being belligerent or unpleasant in some way. I do not have to participate in confrontational conversations, nor do I have to take someone else’s abuse or accusations.  I hold the power to walk away or not respond. I end conversations that are rude and condescending. Why perpetuate the problem?
  4. I have learned that I am my own worst enemy! I am always second-guessing myself, making unrealistic demands of myself, comparing myself to others, over-thinking, and I’m very critical of everything I do. I have learned to curtail the urge to do these things! It’s hard sometimes, but I realize that I don’t have to be perfect.
  5. I have always known that you can’t help someone who doesn’t want to help themselves. But what I didn’t realize was that it was ok to NOT be someone’s go-to person for help and advice. I learned that those people sucked the energy right out of me and that I had the right to take care of me and say, “NO.” I let go of toxic people and made my life easier.
  6. I learned that my grief and sadness were valid. I had been through the wringer, as they say, and I had been carrying so much guilt and shame for things that #1) I didn’t do and #2) that were beyond my control. My therapist validated my feelings and helped me to realize that I could let go of those emotions because the guilt and shame were not mine to bear. Validation and a new perspective on things really do help!
  7. I have always been a people-pleaser. I’ve neglected myself for so many years in the past because I felt that others’ needs were more important. I always considered my children’s needs to be of more importance than my own needs when they were growing up, but there were still times I could have put my needs higher on the list. I have since stopped making everyone else a priority and am focusing on taking care of me! I am not responsible for anyone other than myself. My kids are grown and can take care of themselves. It’s time for me to take care of me. Of course, I still look out for my Dad. He’s almost 82 years old and needs a watchful eye at times, but for the most part, he takes care of himself.
  8. I’m an analytical thinker. I use information and evidence, as well as my own personal experiences to solve problems and form my own opinions. I am a logical thinker, so when people do stupid things it blows my freakin’ mind! I try to see both sides of an issue, which most people refuse to do – they believe what they believe and there is no room in their minds for any other position or way of thinking. I learned with the help of my therapist, that having an analytical mind creates conflict in that I can’t bond with others who don’t think as I do. Does that make sense? It’s very difficult for me to create friendships with people who don’t see things the same way I do. And that’s OK. I don’t dislike those people, I just can’t bond with them in the way that I would with someone of like-minded thinking.
  9. I have learned that it’s ok to cry. I grew up being ridiculed for being sensitive and for crying. Thanks, Mom. To this day, I avoid movies, songs, situations (like funerals, even weddings) because I feel ashamed to cry, especially in front of others. My feelings are just as important as anyone else’s and if I feel like crying then so be it. At least I can show sympathy and empathy for others, which is more than I can say for some people.
  10. Throw away the “should have, would have, could have” mentality. I’ve had this thought many times when I was dealing with past issues. It does nothing but waste time. This is a negative, unproductive way of thinking. The past is the past. It’s best to look forward and focus on the here and now. Otherwise, you’ll be stuck in a place you don’t want to be. My therapist is a wise woman. She brought me out of that place and I’m not going back. EVER.

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So, these are just some of the things I’ve learned seeing my therapist. Of course, most of them I already knew (and I don’t know if this will make sense to you) but I was unaware. I was unaware of what I was doing and not doing in regards to my own mental health. Now I am more mindful of what I’m doing and thinking, and I am committed to myself.

Because I’m worth it. And so are you. If you are struggling, please don’t be ashamed or embarrassed to seek out help. You are worth it!

 

Emotions

I have been trying to write all week. I just can’t seem to focus. I’m feeling overwhelmed with grief, sadness, depression, worry, gratefulness, and so many other emotions lately. It’s hard to concentrate when so many things are going through your mind, constantly.

Depression is probably my biggest enemy this week. Since my pain level has been so high, I’ve had a hard time getting around. It seems that it won’t be long and I won’t be able to walk at all. Then what happens? I try not to think about it. It doesn’t seem to matter to the doctors I’ve seen. They just don’t seem to understand the gravity of my situation. They see my situation on paper, Xrays, MRI’s, etc., but they don’t see ME.

I am still grieving the life I once had. The life that I should have had after my kids were grown has changed into a life of chronic pain, depression, and mobility issues. Not too long ago, I started seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. I thought I was finally going to get some help. That idea was shattered like always.

I do have things in my life to be happy about and wonderful things to be grateful for. It’s hard to see those things sometimes because when you’re in constant pain, it over-rides everything. Your world seems to be THE PAIN. Everything you do revolves around THE PAIN. Getting groceries, going out with friends, hanging out with family, spending time with the grandkids….all revolve around the pain level of the day.

I’m very grateful to my friends and family who are praying for me. My circle is small but at least I know who my real friends are. Some of those friends are people I have never met but I trust them more than most people. They are not just friends; they are family and very close to my heart.

Only my friends and family who have chronic illnesses truly understand how difficult life can be. They understand how sadness can overcome you. They understand how much you want to do something and they know why you can’t. Those who do not suffer from a chronic illness have no idea how hard it is to stay positive — but yet they tell me to “Stay positive” all the time. Maybe it’s because they don’t know what else to say, but I wish they wouldn’t say anything at all. I know they mean well, so I don’t hold it against them.

All I can do at the moment is hope that next week is better.

Suffering With Chronic Pain

Most people don’t understand chronic pain and how it affects a person’s life. They will never understand until it happens to them. I don’t wish that on anyone! Most chronic pain sufferers have at least one well-meaning friend who is always trying to find a cure for their ailment or pain. The effort is much appreciated but it’s all in vain. Most of us with chronic pain have tried just about everything…because…do you think we WANT to live with debilitating pain? Of course we don’t! We have tried almost everything we can to make our lives more bearable, to no avail.

I have Osteoarthritis and Degenerative Bone Disease, specifically in my knees. I am in Stage 4, which results in the loss of cartilage in the joint. There is NO CURE, only treatments to manage the symptoms. The bone-on-bone friction associated with this can cause severe symptoms, such as:

  1. Swelling/Inflammation – Synovial fluid can increase, which normally helps reduce friction with movement but large amounts can cause swelling in the joint. Fragments of broken cartilage can cause increased swelling and pain.
  2. Severe Pain – Pain during movement, and during rest and sleep. By the end of the day, after use of the joints, more swelling occurs and pain is increased.
  3. Decreased Range of Motion – Movements are slow, with stiffness and pain making it hard to enjoy daily activities.
  4. Joint Instability – The joints become less stable; knees can “lock up” or just plain give out, which can result in a fall or injury.
  5. Weakened Muscles – As joints continue to wear down the muscles become weaker, bone spurs can develop and bone deformity can occur. (My legs are bowed, more so the left.) With weakened muscles also comes an increased risk of falls.

Some of the words I have used to describe my pain are sharp, gnawing, throbbing, stabbing, burning, excruciating, grinding, locking, stiffness, dull, tightening, and debilitating. Sounds fun, ‘eh?

This disease causes severe pain but also affects your life in other ways:

  1. Sleep Disturbances – Interferes with restorative sleep. It’s difficult to find a comfortable position, and it’s painful to even move.
  2. Weight Gain – With chronic pain, you tend to move less so it’s easier to put on extra weight. Pain makes it difficult to exercise or just have an active life.
  3. Anxiety and Depression – With chronic pain you tend to have difficulties performing normal everyday tasks like cleaning and laundry, showering, dressing, grocery shopping, walking, reaching, cooking, stairs, standing in lines, and much more. These are things we take for granted when we’re physically able; we don’t even think twice when doing them. When those simple little tasks become a struggle, it has a negative effect on our mental health. Enter depression and anxiety. It’s all so exhausting!

So, I guess I’m just trying to help others understand the struggle of living with a debilitating disease and chronic pain. Everyone’s struggle might be different but we are all the same. We are suffering, even if we don’t show it on the outside. We try to hide it from others. We try to be “normal” like everyone else. Some days we try. Sometimes we succeed. Sometimes we fail.

Some days, we just CAN’T. 

The Withdrawal, Oops.

I’ve had some sleep problems this past couple of months. It became evident to me just 2 days ago (because apparently, I’m a bit slow) that my sleeplessness was a result of medication withdrawal. I had been taking a medication for nerve pain twice a day and decided that I would go off of it because I really didn’t think it was helping much. I didn’t just stop cold turkey. I knew to reduce slowly. I Started taking it once a day instead of twice and did that for about 2 months. Had some restlessness at night. Had a bit of itchiness. It never occurred to me that it was the medication, or rather the lack of…

Then Tuesday night before bed, I was lazy and didn’t take one at all. I figured what the heck. It’s just one night and I want to stop taking it anyway.

That night I was awake all night. I itched all night long. I felt like I had bugs. I never fell asleep at all! I was up at 5am. At this point, I had been awake since Monday morning. I tried to take a nap. Nothing happened. I was tired and I needed to sleep but something was preventing me from sleeping.

Late Wednesday night, before bed, I remembered I hadn’t taken that medication Tuesday night. I looked up the symptoms of withdrawal. Bingo. Duh me.

Sleep disturbances and frantic itching. (Among other very serious symptoms, so I was lucky.)

I made sure to take the medication when I went to bed Wednesday night. I slept well, with no itching. I took it again in the morning. Back to twice a day now, and I think I’ll stay ON the medication because my pain level has improved a bit already. I guess it WAS helping after all.

Slept like a baby last night….without the bedwetting, of course!

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Sleep Eludes Me

5am. I’m up. I can’t say that I’ve awakened because I never went to sleep.

It’s bad enough I have chronic pain that keeps me from doing the things I have enjoyed all of my life. To grieve that loss is depressing but to now have restful slumber taken away is almost unbearable. My only solace is that I can take a 2 or 3-hour nap this afternoon.

It’s getting old. Night after night. I go to bed when I’m sleepy. Some nights I’m sleepy at midnight, some nights it doesn’t come until 1 or 2am. I STILL toss and turn (not really, mobility issues and all) until nearly 5am before I fall asleep. Not this morning. I was so sick and tired of lying there, not sleeping… I just threw the covers back and got out of bed.

I have tried over-the-counter sleep aids, teas specifically for sleep, breathing exercises and meditation, and multiple other little things to help me get my restful night. Nothing seems to freakin’ help. My body and mind alike need to rest!

My therapist says that during our lifetime, our sleep patterns change and perhaps we won’t always need 8 hours of sleep each night. I can accept that. I would be happy with just 5 hours of restful and restorative sleep, but to not have any sleep at all? It’s just nuts.

My days are long and boring the way it is since I can’t do the things I’d really like to do. I’m in pain and pain is exhausting! Sleep has always been my refuge. When asleep, I didn’t have to think about the pain. There was no depression. Sleep was an escape from the reality of my life.

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What do you do when you can’t sleep?