Author:Paul Gilmartin

Life in Both Chairs: A Therapist’s Struggles – Guest Blog by “Stan F.”

Life in Both Chairs

 

I’ve been listening to this podcast for about a month now, and I’ve been so happy that one of my clients introduced it to me. It’s completely different to hear these incredible stories of pain, loss, and healing outside of my office and to engage with them as a survivor of mental illness, rather than a therapist. I don’t tell my clients about my personal experiences with mental illness (hence the anonymity), even though there are times when I really, really want to. Currently I’m a graduate student in a counseling psychology program, but five years ago I was depressed, suicidal, and hopeless. This is a (very) abridged account of how I went from client to counselor.

It’s actually a little surprising that it took me so long to seek therapy. I made it through two years of physical abuse (between the ages of 5 and 7, when my aunt looked after me) and several panic attacks throughout childhood and adolescence, but eventually it was depression that made me look for outside help. The symptoms of depression started in my last year of high school, and came to a head the summer before my first year of university. I spent the summer away from home, living with a friend in a different city while washing dishes in a restaurant downtown. I started drinking more, and it became a problem almost immediately. I was no stranger to alcohol at this point; I’d experimented with booze and drugs in high school but this was different. I’d never used them to purposefully numb myself before. It turned out that not feeling anything felt pretty good. When I was drunk I didn’t need to feel like a freak for my panic attacks, I didn’t need to worry about university, and I didn’t need to think about my abuse or why my parents didn’t do anything when they found out about it. All of the things I’d been carrying in my head up to that point were just too much. I felt small and alone, I didn’t really know how to trust people, and I was tired of pretending to like the person I’d become. Stopping by the liquor store every day on the way home from work became a habit. I was underage, but I managed to find ways around that. I’d drink with my buddies on their nights off, but if they weren’t free I’d just drink alone. I spent almost every night in a stupor and usually passed out instead of going to bed.

At work I started to fantasize about hurting myself. I worked in the dish pit and occasionally moonlighted in kitchen prep, so there were plenty of opportunities. I remember this machine we used to turn huge slabs of beef into sandwich meat had a massive spinning blade, and how easy it would have been to lose a finger in it, or even a hand if something really went wrong. I reasoned that I’d either go to the hospital, go on workman’s compensation, and not have to work for whiskey money, or I’d die from blood loss. I was sick enough at the time that either seemed like a win for me. Before I could put this plan into action, some friends confronted me about my alcohol use, and I agreed to move back in with my parents to sort things out.

My family still doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. My parents are very supportive people, but my relationship with them was strained at that time. I was 6 when I told my parents my aunt had been beating me, but they didn’t believe me until I was 7 and she’d started leaving marks that were harder to explain away. For many years after that I had a hard time trusting them and kept my problems to myself. This time wasn’t much different. I moved back in with my parents for a short while, but I was still drinking (somewhat sneakily), I barely ate, and I spoke very little. I ended up drying out by living with my Mennonite relatives for the rest of the summer, earning money working on the farm.

I went further downhill when I went to university. I moved in with a girl who suffered from an eating disorder, and we turned into just about the worst match you could get. We’d been dating since high school, and we lived in this little studio apartment together.  Maybe it could’ve worked if either of us had been healthy, but we were both too sick to love ourselves, let alone someone else. We blamed each other for our problems and just sat around hating one another in 300 square feet with bad lighting. When we broke up I moved into a small university dorm and hit rock bottom. I went to class in my pajamas or dirty clothes, then I’d go right back to my room to bed. While I’d gotten my drinking under control over the summer, I was still very much depressed. By then my thoughts of self-mutilation had turned to persistent thoughts of suicide. Every subway train or tall campus building was an opportunity. During Christmas break that year I walked into my parents’ garage with car keys and a drainpipe extension late at night. I can’t remember if there was anything that had happened that day that pushed me; I think I was probably just tired of fighting. I had lost almost a quarter of my bodyweight, I looked emaciated, and I was shaving my head to hide the fact that I rarely bathed. I was pretty disgusted with what I was becoming, but I didn’t have the energy to be anything else. I connected the extension to the car exhaust, but I didn’t start the car. I just sat there with my hands on the keys for an hour so, then put the extension away and went to bed.

Shortly afterward, I decided to do what friends and family had been pleading with me to do: go on medication. I’d refused up to that point, because I thought going on meds was admitting defeat. To go on meds was to say that the world was too much for me; that I was weak. Sitting in that car with a drainpipe extension cinched up in the power windows made me change my mind about what defeat really meant. It still scares the shit out of me how it would have been all too easy to turn the keys, sit back, and wait to go to sleep. A week later, I started on citalopram.

Coming back from that point wasn’t easy, but I was very lucky. Medication works for some people, and doesn’t for others. I’m lucky it worked as well as it did for me. I’m lucky I had access to the medical resources I did. I’m lucky I had a family that was willing to support me even though I made it far from easy for them. I’m lucky I’m still here and training for a job where I’ll get to help people through times like I had and worse. I’m really, really fucking lucky I didn’t turn the keys.

The last thing I want is for someone to read this and decide that therapy might not help them, or that it’s a waste of time. I may have needed meds to get my head back on straight, but once that happened therapy was what helped me turn my life around. After almost a year of barely speaking to anyone and only leaving my room for meals and class, therapy provided me with a place to re-learn how interact with the world and the people in my life. It worked incredibly well, especially considering I hadn’t been all that well adjusted to begin with. I made friends with people who were also healing from their own battles, and we helped each other through the hard times that inevitably come with becoming a new person.

I’m a far cry from that garage now. I’m halfway through my graduate program, and this week I’ll clock my 50th clinical hour. I still take my meds, and I still kind of get side effects. I still have good days and bad days. Healing takes time, no matter your diagnosis. I see five to six clients a week now, and I think each of them is so brave for fighting the fight they wake up to every day. I secretly admire them all. I often want to tell them my story, especially during difficult sessions. I don’t want their sympathy or even to enhance my credibility; I just want them to know that mental illness can happen to anyone and that it doesn’t have to define who you become. If you’ve come to this site because of your personal experience with the subject matter then please, please, please don’t give up on yourself. Talk to your medical professional. Tell people you trust that you need help. Find a therapist.  Life can absolutely get better, and at the very least it’s worth a try.

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Erica Rhodes

The actress (Prairie Home Companion, Big Sky) was raised by artistic and intelligent but emotionally reserved parents (her father has MS, her mother is a concert violinist); Erica was emotionally volatile as a child.  Recently diagnosed with Bipolar II, she discusses the suicide attempts, paralyzing depression, mania and people pleasing as well as learning to manage her illness.

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12 Things No One Told Me About Sex After Rape: A Guest Blog by CJ Hale

 (reprinted, originally posted on www.thoughtcatalog.com June 13, 2013)

There is a strange sort of unspoken theory that once a woman has been raped, sex is no longer a viable option for her. Sex has been replaced by trauma, fear, pain, and anxiety. I’m not saying this is never the case. Every survivor’s story and experience is different, but too often the assumption is that if you have been raped, you are sexually broken and forever unfixable. That sort of discourse is not healthy or empowering or even sympathetic. What I want to say is what I wish I had been told: rape is not a form of sex, it is a form of assault. Sex feels good. Assault is traumatizing. It is possible for sex to exist after rape because they are different experiences, just like it’s possible for you to still enjoy going out to eat even if you got food poisoning once. You might never go back to that restaurant again, but it doesn’t mean you will get food poisoning every time you go out.

Admittedly, I don’t know what sex before rape is like. I lost my virginity to rape at 14. People are willing to give a lot of guidance on what a survivor is supposed to do after her rape. Do not change clothes. Do not shower. Have someone you trust take you to the hospital. Report it immediately to law enforcement. Reach out to loved ones, find a therapist, become an advocate for other survivors. But it’s been 10 years and these are the things nobody told me about sex after rape:

1. Nobody tells you that you’ll feel guilty the first time you have a crush on a guy after your rape. Aren’t you supposed to hate men now? I mean, ugh, penises are evil and one ruined your life. You shouldn’t even be thinking about boys. That’s what got you in trouble in the first place. (Oh, hey rape culture, how’d you get here?)

2. Nobody tells you that you’ll be called a tease when you draw the line at making out. Even though you’re pretty proud of yourself for this minor victory on your path to regaining any confidence in expressing your sexuality, some people will think you’re a prude because you won’t take off your pants.

3. Nobody tells you that the first time you do take off your pants in front of a potential partner you’ll cry almost immediately and put them back on, leaving without an explanation. You’ll feel embarrassed and stupid and you’ll wonder if you’re ever going to be capable of intimacy ever again.

4. Nobody tells you that masturbation is a healing practice (OK, maybe your therapist suggested it once or twice) and that realizing you’re capable of sexual satisfaction after rape is an incredible, powerful feeling. Sometimes it takes a while to feel wholly reunited with your body in this way, and you’re allowed to take all the time you need. Sexual exploration is a journey, not a destination.

5. Nobody tells you that your PTSD symptoms will be scoffed at. Your boundaries will be called “arbitrary” and you will be accused of “wielding sex as a weapon” and “putting yourself on a pedestal.” Someone should tell you that people who say these things are the worst type of people to be around. They have no right to make you feel ashamed, but they will. If they have the potential to get angry about the choices you make about what you do with your body, they are not worth your time or energy or thought or love. But nobody tells you that.

6. Nobody tells you that the ‘rape talk’ will be a thing that has to happen before any romantic relationship gets too serious. Nobody lets you know that immature men will freak out and refer to your rape as “baggage” when they cut things off. And unfortunately, nobody mentions that some men will hold your hand and weep with you when you tell them, because they can’t believe anyone would be capable of hurting you.

7. Nobody tells you that there are men who are patient and kind. Some men will listen and support you and they will read and research and seek to understand. They will ask you what you like and what you don’t like, they will be explicit about their concerns, and they will treat you with respect and dignity.

8. Nobody tells you that the first few times you try sex again it might not go well. You might have a panic attack or a flashback, and you might scream or shake or cry or throw up or all of the above. What they should tell you is that the right partner will stroke your back or make you tea or hold your hair back for you. He’ll leave if he’s asked and he’ll keep his phone on him so you can talk if you need to.

9. Nobody tells you that the first time you successfully, enjoyably have sex again is empowering, and freeing, and overwhelming. Even if it only lasts two minutes, it will feel like an enormous victory. You will be happy in a way you weren’t sure you would be happy again.

10. Nobody tells you that it doesn’t work that way every time. PTSD isn’t cured by one blissful experience, and anxiety is a bitch. Sometimes you will burrow down deep in your comforter and wish you could just be NORMAL and have NORMAL sex like a NORMAL person. And it is frustrating. But you will remember that one bad experience does not negate your ability to have future good experiences. And you will drink your tea and feel better.

11. Nobody tells you that people are capable of loving you after you’ve been raped, and that you are capable of loving back. You are allowed to give yourself to someone completely. Likewise, you are allowed to hold back. You are allowed to be fearful but you are also allowed to trust again. Your healing process is your own and regardless of how you get there, know that as long as you are taking care of yourself, nobody has any right to tell you differently.

12. Nobody tells you that just because he’s the first boy you slept with since your rape doesn’t mean you have to fall in love with him. You don’t “owe” anyone else your love or happiness or body. You can be thankful and appreciative and comfortable, but if he’s not “the one,” don’t settle just because he treated you better than your rapist.

You’re going to have good days and bad days. You’re going to have good sex and bad sex. But you’re still alive, and I just thought maybe someone should tell you.

CJ Hale is a high school teacher and proponent of speaking one’s mind. Her work is featured under various pen names in undisclosed locations, but she is thrilled to find her writing on Thought Catalog. Her greatest hope is that others will read her stories and be inspired to share their own. She can be contacted at CJHalesWrites@gmail.com and welcomes your words.

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Scott Thompson Live in Toronto

The comedian/actor/writer (Kids in the Hall, Larry Sanders, Hannibal) opens up about his childhood in Brampton Ontario, coming to terms with his sexuality, especially the bullying that eroded his self-esteem and the lack of support from many in the gay community when he came out in the early nineties.   He also shares about a traumatic and violent even at his middle school that he considers seminal and his past battle with cancer.  This episode was recorded at the Rendezvous With Madness Film Festival.

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Susanna Brisk

Borderline Personality Disorder is often misunderstood.  The blogger, author, performer and mom explains what it’s like to live with, how to manage it and when it’s most challenging.  She also shares about her emotionally volatile childhood with her Russian Jewish relatives who emigrated from Estonia to Australia and being the mother of two boys.  She also shares about living with the idea that her performing dreams may never come true.

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Adoption w/listener Julie J

Born to a drug-addict teenage mom, Julie was given up for adoption and raised by a stoic military dad and Fundamentalist mom whose obsession with demons comes close to resembling the mother from “Carrie”.   There is much more to her story including her humor and resilience.

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Binge Dating – A Guest Blog by Jess Levith M.A.

5 Signs You’re A Binge-Dater?

By Jessica Levith, M.A.

To binge is to indulge excessively in an activity. This could be any activity like eating until you’re sick, drinking until you pass out, or gambling away your home. In many cases, binging is an unhealthy, potentially dangerous behavior used to mask underlying anxious or depressive feelings. It can also be the hallmark of an addiction. So what is binge-dating? Binge-dating is pressing the fast forward button on a relationship, speeding up the process of

getting to know someone in an intimate way. Often, this

Binge-dating is surprisingly common and without proper intervention, it can lead to repeatedly setting partnerships up for failure. A desire for a partner or wanting to avoid uncomfortable feelings isn’t in and of itself pathological. These are often normal human impulses. Binge-daters, however, have gone most of their lives being partnered. They dread the notion of being alone, and go to great lengths to keep that from

Below I’ve complied a list of common binge-dating signs. This list is by no means exhaustive or intended to diagnose. Each person’s pattern for dating is based on one’s own unique life history. This is simply a guide meant to help you explore your dating experience. If this article resonates with, you are not alone. Binge-dating has exploded in recent decades becoming a normalized way to partner up. It can be quite painful and incredibly hard to stop. If you identify with these signs, and desire further information or help, I recommend that you seek out a qualified Sex and Love Addiction therapist or look into the resources I’ve provided below.

5 Signs of Binge-Dating
1. Love At First Sight. Over and Over and Over…

I don’t refute the possibility of love at first sight. Anything is possible. However, binge-daters repeatedly find themselves in love at first sight, and I’d recommend for them to take a closer look at how they define love. Yes, there are many attractive people out there, but is a constant, instant attraction to others really about the other? For binge- daters, falling in love masks an overwhelming anxiety based in a need to be partnered. This anxiety may be further rooted in a fear of being forever single or lonely.

Try reality-testing your love. Make a list of qualities that you truly desire in a long- term relationship. Then have that list handy for the next time you find that next prospective partner. Does he or she match up to your wants?

2. Too Much Too Soon.

After a first date, binge-daters attempt immediate fusion with their new interest. There’s no steadfast rule on how much is too much communication in the beginning, but generally speaking, more than 2 texts or phone calls that next week may be pushing to enmesh. Enmeshing is emotionally entangling with a partner, losing sight of healthy emotional and physical boundaries. Constant communication may certainly lead to quick physical intimacy, but one can’t rush the time it takes to authentically get to know someone. Skipping over getting to know someone creates a false sense of intimacy, and binge- daters often find themselves in full-fledged relationships before they realize they have no idea who they’re partnered with.

A simple yet effective tool here is to go with one’s gut. If a binge-dater has a history of over-communicating and their gut is telling them to slow down, the gut is probably right on. They may want to check in with a close friend to make sure they’re not repeating old behaviors.

3. Friends Evaporate

Within a couple of weeks of meeting a new interest, binge-daters stop checking in with close friends and have little time for anyone or anything but that interest. Letting friends fall away is letting go of an important support network. Friends help us to see new love interests from an objective perspective, and
have our well-being in mind. Dropping away from them shrinks one’s life, identity, and autonomy. Decreasing this identity and autonomy increases the chance of dependence on a new partner for both that sense of self, and the emotional support those friends provided. This is when binge-daters may begin feeling needy.

Spending time with a new partner can feel really nice. But if you find that you’re slipping away from friends because of this relationship you might want to commit to calling an old friend once a day. It will help keep you grounded in your identity.

4. Separation Anxiety and Reconnection Relief

For binge-daters, separating from a new partner may bring up intense anxiety. Even from date number one the desire to extend time with a partner, not wanting to end the emotional high, may create panic. They may feel afraid that they’ve not locked in their partner’s interest. The longer they’re separated from the partner, the more heightened the anxiety.

On the flipside of this, reuniting with the new partner, whether one day or one week later, brings with it a huge sigh of relief. Now reunited, they once again have their partner’s full attention and can finish closing the deal on securing affection.

This intense anxiety and subsequent relief is one of the strongest indicators of binge-dating and can be extremely distressful. For this I would suggest implementing breathing exercises to regain physiological control, and then calling someone you trust to talk it through.

5. Short-Term Love or Cooking On All Burners

Short-lived but high intensity relationships are common with binge-daters. However, that level of infatuation can only sustain itself for so long. At some point, sooner more often than later, they or their partner (or both) begin to feel crowded by the dwindling of physical and emotional space. After this, one of them begins to pull away from the relationship while the other begins pushing to make the relationship work. This push-pull dynamic continues until someone eventually ends it.

With frequent short-term relationships comes the need to have “potentials” waiting in the wings. Cooking on all burners is how I like to describe it. Consciously or unconsciously, binge-daters are setting up other options, even while still in a relationship, to be called up for duty after a breakup. Potentials may be good friends suddenly found attractive, or someone that they’ve had feelings for in the past. These “unexpected” relational developments are common distractions used to avoid the sting of a recent breakup. Soon however, these potentials begin to feel as futile as the relationship that was just buried.

Sometimes relationships provide you with valuable lessons. Allow a chunk of time in between relationships, feeling the burn of the lesson, so as not to repeat it.

Is There Help For Binge-Dating?

Yes. As previously stated, these are only five signs of binge-dating. There are many others. If you feel that you’re relating to them, you are not alone. For some binge-dating feels comfortable, having no negative effects on any aspect of life. For others, binge-dating feels like a coin dropped into a funnel, circling round and down as the pattern repeats.

For those who struggle with this issue, the following are resources are a great place to start:

Online
Jessica Levith’s Sex and Love Addiction Blog east-baytherapy.com
A Tumbler Page for Sex and Love Addiction http://sexandloveaddiction.tumblr.com The Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health http://www.sash.net
Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous http://www.slaafws.org/

Books
“Out of the Shadows” by Patrick Carnes
“Love Addict: Sex, Romance, and Other Dangerous Drugs” by Ethlie Vare “Facing Love Addiction” by Pia Melody

Jessica Levith currently sees adults and young adults struggling with Sex and Love Addiction in her private practice in Oakland, CA. For more information or to set up an appointment, you can contact her at: 510.883.3074 or east-baytherapy.com.

Registered IMFT# 70860
Supervised by Karen Pernet LCSW# 23635

© 2013 by Jessica Levith, MA. All rights reserved.

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