In 2011 I came as close as I’ve ever been to going off the rails. Various pressures from the move to Melbourne, working from home and a variety of other personal scenarios wore away at emotional controls I’d spent most of my life building.
So on my 38th birthday, I went and told my doctor I wasn’t coping any more, and got a referral to a psychologist. The summary of those sessions and the lessons I learnt can be found here.
I never felt that my final session at the end of 2011 would be my last psychologist session. It was about building a framework I could use to re-establish control – not the unhealthy, suppressed control I’d borne most of my life, but a better approach to dealing with the core emotional issues.
Frameworks are for building or climbing on though, and it’s taken me a couple of years, but I’ve climbed to the top of that framework. The vista is stunning, but that’s not to say it’s entirely cloud free. So late last year I got a referral to go back to a psychologist, thinking it was because I wanted to redevelop my stress management skills.
I went to a new psychologist – my previous one still lives in Brisbane, I think – and as a result, the first session was largely a fast-forward recap of my previous psychology session. As is usually the case though, starting from scratch allows for new insights, particularly when you’re talking to someone adept at asking questions. Even more so when you’ve spent the last few years honing your self-analysis processes.
In the past I’ve talked of impostor syndrome. For me, it’s always (thankfully) coupled with a healthy dose of cognitive dissonance. I routinely think of myself as the world’s biggest failure, even though I can simultaneously articulate my achievements and know the impostor syndrome isn’t really grounded in reality.
But it is grounded in something, and at times it’s downright crippling. If I’m tired (or stressed), or experience one or two different triggers, I can be cesspit of self denial and doubt. It doesn’t matter I’m a published author, a respected expert who people turn to for assistance, a friend and a lover. I’m just a jerk who doesn’t have a clue and is bound to be found out soon.
So I started by talking about needing to manage my stress better and ended up admitting to myself that the war between my super-ego and id is far from over.
The starting point of course is learning where it comes from. Or rather, not so much learning, but admitting. Being prepared to face the memories and experiences that led you to where you are now. The torments are the easiest to acknowledge, but they’re just a single facet. From them I learnt to be emotionally suppressed … not repressed, but suppressed. (I sometimes wonder which might be worse.) But that led to another scenario. A mother told she had six months to live, a father who couldn’t deal with it and a brother who wouldn’t talk about it led to me shouldering a fairly heavy burden. At 16 and 17 I was still growing up, and suddenly I was hearing about death every day. Every day. Those six months have been gone now for more than twenty years and my mother is still around, but that doesn’t lessen the experience. Out of guilt you bury any feeling that it affected you, but as I found out in the last session, I’m allowed to acknowledge it’s affect without assuming the guilt. It’s not something to be guilty of.
And so equally, it’s not pissy or puerile to acknowledge that at times, the external validation we periodically all need – at times when it was particularly needed, wasn’t forthcoming, due to what others around us were going through at the time.
It’s not about assigning blame, finding fault or wishing it had been different. It’s simply about recognising where the id is drawing its power from.
After all, with knowledge comes victory. Not the false victory of course of total annihilation; that’s a pyritic achievement, doomed to failure. No, true victory is being able to stand facing ahead while fully acknowledging what got you to that point.
It’s about standing on the ledge and not minding the clouds.
That’s where I’m walking towards now.