Today I had an appointment with my therapist. It was actually much more interesting and enlightening than I expected. I knew that my grief regarding Bob would monopolize the hour. I needed it too. On top of the depression, guilt and mourning – I was feeling that those feelings were abnormal or odd. I thought that perhaps I should be feeling better by now. So I was very glad to be going in today.
She helped me understand that A.) who gives a shit if someone thinks I am odd and B.) I am actually handling this normally for my situation. In my life I have very few prominent figures that make up my every day. My husband, my daughter, my step daughter, my mom by phone and Bob. Bob was a very big focal point in our family and in my life. He was with me for over 10 years and I had many daily rituals which included him. She said it is ridiculous for me to expect to be feeling better already. Just hearing that did make me feel a little better. Not about Bob, but about my strong reaction to what has happened. And holy hell do I miss that cat so much.
She also mentioned that people who had traumas in their childhood were much more apt to be highly attached to their pets. I told her that there are moments when a part of me just wants to scream out, “I want Bob back!” or “Please just let him come back.” Clearly, I know cognitively that this cannot happen. But in some moments of despair I feel a child within me saying these irrational things. My therapist asked me if I can recall what age I feel when I am having these thoughts. I didn’t really have an answer. But it got me thinking. She said that this was “magical thinking” – similar to a child’s response. She said those thoughts hold a person back and are in no way beneficial. And I then had an ‘A-ha’ moment. (Forgive my Oprah reference…how cliché).
There has never been doubt that I make my own life more difficult. So I questioned, “Do I have other child like reactions which hold me back?” I mean, I never considered myself childlike or immature in any way. When I was a kid, I always wanted to hang with the grown ups. I felt more connected to those older than me. And I also considered myself somewhat intelligent. So, I was taken back by this new revelation that I may be acting juvenile.
She explained that it is common for those who have been through certain things during childhood to get emotionally stuck in certain ways. But that doesn’t mean the person is immature as a whole and in fact, usually, they grow up too quickly. And this may actually be the cause for the stunted emotional growth. I had to ask what were other clues I can look for in my behavior where this kid Heather was holding me back.
All or nothing. Black or white. She said this type of thinking would be categorized as one of these childlike responses to life. Are you fucking kidding me? To me, that was just me. Just part of my annoying but endearing (cough) personality. All or nothing. Describes me very well. If I am not good at something right away, my initial and usual response is to give up – walk away. When I was young, I wanted to be my best friends’ only friend. If someone doesn’t like every part of who I am, they do not like me at all. All or nothing. Black or white.
Catastrophizing. When she said this my jaw dropped. I have written about my tendency to catastrophize many times as it perpelled my anxiety and panic for years. A headache was a stroke. A fight with my family meant I was now an orphan. Harsh words from my husband meant impending divorce. I am using past tense because my catastrophizing has improved tenfold since being prescribed medication for anxiety/panic 6 years ago. I fought it. I did NOT want to take a daily medication. But the attacks became debilitating and I had no choice, especially with an infant at home. The med has been a miracle. However, I do admit that I still do catastrophize situations in my head and even out loud. Thankfully, it just doesn’t get to the point of a panic attack anymore.
So, based on these two examples, I have really been trying to absorb this concept which I have never once considered. I mean, I would have never even thought that those traits were childlike responses at all. I think my constant need/desire for approval is probably another example. I am far to concerned with what people think of me or how I appear to others. Do I seem stupid? Weird? Boring? Do they think I am fat, ugly or old? If no one agrees with my opinion, does it make me wrong? I have been through far too much life to lend even a moment to those worries. Yet, I do. Constantly. Seems pretty childlike to me.
So I asked her, when I recognize these behaviors – what can I do to change them. She said half the battle is recognizing them and seeing them for what they are. At first, for a while, she suggested I simply pay attention to these responses and perhaps even write them down. And then I should stop and ask myself how other ‘grown ups’ would react to the same circumstance. Instead of turning a pulled leg muscle into a blood clot, a more ‘normal’ response might be to realize a pulled muscle is more likely. Instead of pulling out the suitcase during a bad fight with my husband, the grown up Heather might just realize that things blow over and fights happen.
It was so weird. I went into my appointment thinking that maybe I was being a baby about the death of my cat. And here I come to realize that my mourning Bob is completely normal – but that other traits I have been living with are not and even more, destructive.
I have so many things I need to work on. It seems so daunting, overwhelming and exhausting. But I suppose all of us are works in progress. We all have our inner challenges and battle wounds. I do not think there is a deadline in which to meet with completed accomplishments. I don’t think we will be graded. But there will be pop quizzes in life to light a fire and help us realize there are lessons yet to be learned and growth to be had.
I have been my own worst enemy since I can remember. My need for control, my desire for acceptance, my neediness, stubborn rebellion, tendency to think the worst, my complete lack of self esteem…It is no shock to me that I keep myself from happiness. I suppose I am just surprised that so much of all of this is linked together, caused by the same traumas and are all there because there is a child Heather who is stuck within a grown up’s body dealing with grown up experiences.
I have a lot to think about.
And all of this because I thought I was crying too much over my Bob. I will continue to cry until I no longer need to. And for that, I am not a baby…but a person with a huge heart which is currently broken. Thank you, Bob. You have given me so much. I cannot be more grateful to have had that furry little soul a part of my life.