So on Friday I effectively had my last session with my psychologist. I’ve worn him out – he’s moving to Brisbane.
Well, that’s only half true. He is moving to Brisbane, but it’s for reasons entirely unrelated to me.
While in theory I could go do more sessions, perhaps finding another therapist, I walked into Friday’s session believing it could be my last, having achieved what I set out to achieve with the process, and so I thought it might be worthwhile noting what I got out of it all:
- Self control.
Of course, we can summarise too much, and the real story is more intricate and complex than just “self control”, but at the core of it, that’s what I got. That self control isn’t just some idle little thing, it’s big – it’s about understanding.
Very little of that understanding came in the form of my therapist actually saying “I think you should do X or Y”; indeed, one might say that the biggest time he suggested anything along those lines was to explain how to beat the fight or flight syndrome – to slow down, breathe deeply, and in doing so, physically counteract that adrenaline surge that comes from shallow and angry or panicked breathing.
Self control can be a deceiving term, too. Some might read it (and I’d have previously read it) as keeping a lid on it all. But that’s precisely the behaviour that got me into the messed up and neurotic state I was in; self control isn’t about who-bottles-it-up-the-longest, it’s about having the ability to let things out in a way that is both healthy and safe.
So self control came not from learning new techniques to suppress, but by coming to grips with the validity of emotions I’d long trained myself to hold in. Yet that’s like trying to squeeze a handful of water … it’ll keep leaking through in various ways, and if you squeeze too hard, it’s just going to come spurting out in all different directions.
A significant part of the therapy came in terms of talking long enough about issues that the root cause became apparent. Maybe for others it’s a longer process, but part of my sometimes neurotic behaviour had been an essential recognition of where issues were springing from, but not being able to work past that. Talking openly with someone about it let me get past those blockages.
It’s a sad state of affairs, but for many people there’s a mistaken perception that we should be able to work through any issue in our head on our own. Yet, biologically and chemically, this just isn’t true. The brain is a complex organ – I spent years at Uni studying Artificial Intelligence research, and I maintain a “lay-IT” interest in it, and the ironic thing is that for all the research that’s been done, the brain itself is still at best only barely understood in places, and not understood at all in others.
Yet the brain is an organ. It has electrical impulses, it has chemistry and hormones and all sorts of other things happening within it. Learning is believed to be about the repeated firing of synapses in a particular path, effectively making that path the default path. So unlearning is about coming up with techniques for breaking those paths.
Only idiots think that you can heal malfunctions in vital organs without getting medical attention. When those issues are healed without official medical attention, there’s still a form of medical approach being made. Vitamins aren’t magic tablets; if they work it’s because they chemically interact in a beneficial way.
In the same way that it’s generally accepted that a person with heart problems should see a cardiologist, we should get to the point where we happily accept that people with mental health issues see a specialist in that field. Sometimes that might be a neurologist, sometimes it might be a psychiatrist, sometimes it might be a psychologist, and sometimes it may be a GP.
I refuse to feel any form of stigma about making the decision to see a psychologist. It was the best, most appropriate decision that I could make at the time, and doing so solved a bunch of problems for me – and gave me the tools to continuously chip away at them. Will I be perfect at it and never get depressed again? No – but we’re entitled to be sad from time to time. We have all those different emotions for a reason, and it’s not crazy to acknowledge them. If you want crazy behaviour, it’s expecting that you should be happy and stress free 100% of your life.
With that self control and higher self understanding comes a renewed me. I’m not reborn, that’s a stupid term – but I am reinvigorated.
In a post from some time ago, I said that I admired one friend in particular since he “reminds me of the best parts of myself, but unencumbered by the hangups I had when I was his age” … I’ve been thinking a lot about that over the last couple of days since the final therapy session. Not out of regret, but of renewal – of a willingness to stare down those hangups that I’ve lived with for such a long time, and reassert control. Not to try to throw them out – they’re there for a reason, and pretending I can fully excise them would be an exercise in self delusion. But to acknowledge those hangups and know why they’re there – that’s powerful: to know where your weaknesses lay and have the tools to confront them is infinitely better than pretending they’re not there at all.