Therapy – in, out, in, out, shake it all about

I blogged before on my therapy. Now I’ve left it, gone into (and out again) couples counselling a stock-take seemed appropriate. Also as May promised in her last post, I have some explaining to do…

Has 18 months of therapy done anything for me? Hard to tell really; if anything it’s certainly double-edged. I’ve woken up my emotional awareness circuits slightly, but not sure really how to deal with what I notice… I’m guessing my now individual ex-therapist would say they needed more time. It does seem to be the way with the Freudian school that slowly does it.

It’s hard to say why it wasn’t working – a number of factors no doubt. I do wonder if the therapist was missing some things I was mentioning, certainly it was rare for them to revisit issues I raised and seemed content to let me lead the subject and content of sessions. Some themes did re-occur naturally, but the lack of structure and resolution on some big ticket items seems rather disappointing looking back on it. May is more angry about this than I am, and inevitably I feel it’s partly my fault for not being more determined and knowing what I wanted out of it. Perhaps I should have taken May’s advice (natch) and learnt more about the therapeutic process, so I could keep better track of what was being covered and not resolved. But then again who was paying who to be the professional? There was a lot of exploring of my childhood, naturally, which was intellectually very interesting, but I’m not sure to what real purposeful end. For some time May has felt that it wasn’t helping me in the here and now (unlike her experience with her therapist, which made me slightly envious and more readily able to give up on mine). This pointless(?) flailing around in my parent’s relationship (which was always part speculation anyway) and the lack of dealing with my relationship was finally getting through to me. Then when my therapist stated they thought some of my issues may be pre-verbal (to do with my mother being very ill when I was born, with a bit of possible post-natal depression to boot), I must admit that I had a WTF moment – what on earth was I supposed to do about that?!?! – and threw a metaphorical towel in. Overall, going into couples counselling was a very convenient exit route without having to confront my therapist.

Has it really been for nought though? While I am by no means fixed, and very prone to frequent lapses into bad behaviour patterns, they say knowledge is power and there are definitely things I have learnt*:

  1. I still have a lot of grief wrapped up, undealt with and partly hidden from myself, within me. The fact this is nearer the surface may not be a totally bad thing. Yes, I am prone to tearing up more readily, especially in the last few weeks with the kids/Christmas thing. I am less likely to hide this from May, but not always good at talking about it if there are other issues in the air or I’m struggling with.
  2. Related to this there was (is) definitely a blockage around sex: – sex makes May pregnant, which ends in pain and misery (our IF issue not being a fertility problem as such, more a staying pregnant issue). May being in pain every month was also not helping, being a regular reminder of previous distresses (which I could then unfortunately use to re-enforce my inurement towards May’s suffering generally – ‘she suffers, she always suffers, it’s not my fault, there’s nothing I can do – I’ll be over here away from the pain’ denial cycle). Sex (and my lack of desire for it) was also one of the primary reasons for going to therapy stated right back at the very start. I brought up the subject of sex with my therapist quite a lot, I think, especially in the last few months when our sex life wasn’t improving, despite lack of pain and risk of pregnancy meaning these issues should no longer be factors. Constantly taking consideration of sex issues back to my childhood, however, did not really help me. I’m sure I have ‘mother issues’ (who doesn’t?) and my father also influenced some of my sexual attitudes in a ‘well I don’t want to be like that’ kind of way that possibly went too far (sorry to be vague, but privacy issues…).
  3. My parent’s relationship is not a good model for me to follow. Part of me thought ‘well they’re not divorced, so it must be OK’, but I can certainly see more issues that I wasn’t aware of previously. May would suggest and point out aspects of their behaviour before, but I’m not sure I was always convinced about the now obvious problems with the way my parents treat each other and those around them. However, that now makes me very sad and I feel powerless to intervene. Going down for just a couple of days before Christmas was really difficult, for the first time. In some ways it was like seeing how I have behaved played out before me, which was… awkward and definitely made me feel ashamed. I think I also blamed May a little, as the therapy was at ‘her bidding’ that has lead to this enlightenment. Once we’d returned home this lead inevitably to me being absorbed in self-pity and ignoring May and acting out some of those very behaviours as a consequence (a little knowledge a dangerous thing writ large – perfect illustration why therapy should equip the subject with tools to deal with it, which doesn’t seem to have happened).
  4. I have control issues. I’ve acknowledged that before, but I don’t think I had realised the extent to which I had wound my whole life, behaviours and attitudes around it. Expressed mainly as episodes of passive aggressive behaviour towards May. Being in control always seems like a good thing, I’ve been praised for my aptitude for being calm and in control. The darker side of this is when I don’t get my way or I’m upset by something completely unrelated and come home with a largely unconscious need to control what happens. This is obviously self-destructive, and has a nasty little sting in the tail too, as being aware of control issues leads to a self-loathing and then more passive-aggressiveness as I resent that feeling of awareness and the self-loathing it led to.
  5. Self deception, lies to myself and possibly even my therapist, won’t have helped. I have just read Allie Brosh’s book Hyperbole and a Half (from the blog of the same name). Some of her descriptions about self deception are scarily real to me (unfortunately I cannot find them on the blog). I have an image of myself being a nice guy, which I successfully perpetuate for most of my interactions. I seem to have taken May’s family and most of you in, but it’s an illusion I can only maintain for a limited time. May has committed (through marriage) to live with me, so gets to see me when I’m tired, stressed, fucked off, stressed, anxious, stressed and sad/depressed. Especially when I cannot handle these emotions or am not even aware of their existence (yes, I can be seriously stressed and not realise it – the power of my denial powers bewilders May), my energy is consumed by them and I turn into a rather selfish and uncaring person. This of course I don’t like, which makes me self-loath and angry and as May is there most of the time unfortunately she gets the brunt of it.
  6. Self punishment issues. Like May, I beat mentally beat myself up quite regularly. My mind has cunningly provided very inconsequential things from my childhood to do this about though, rather than the real issues around my current behaviour and attitudes. This seems to have sheltered me from having to face up to the not so savoury aspects of my character, such as selfishness, arrogance and my need to control. I now have more awareness of this, but again I don’t really know how to deal with it. This has a tendency to spiral me into self-pity/loathing, which makes me behave worse towards May.

I had my last individual session the day before we started with our couples counsellor. When we first met our couples counsellor I was relatively optimistic, for some reason, when he outlined his approach as psycho-analytical. I thought, well I’ve just been through this, so needn’t take too long going through it all again as I know what to highlight from my past and what to say. However, it was not to be (see May’s last post).

May’s counselling sessions have officially finished too, but there is the possibility of a couple of follow-ups and she (May’s therapist) even offered to see us as a couple and/or me individually too, which I find very interesting… other therapists have said it’s not a good idea to see us individually in case suspicions arise about conspiracy between the therapist and one of the individuals… perhaps that only applies if it’s a long-term thing or in the seemingly paranoid inducing psycho-analytical view of things. May certainly seem to get more out of her few sessions, although that may be because she took more to them?

Part of me feels I’ve had quite enough psycho-babble. However, as May said – we’re not happy at the moment. In some ways I have taken/handled the events of last summer badly, although I feel better than I would have had I not done a year of therapy. Nevertheless there is still a large chasm between us and where we each are in dealing with these things. My therapy has not given me an adequate toolkit to deal with/overcome my (lack of) communications issues and we need to find a way of handling 2014, which will have some really big decisions in it (the frozen embryo and probably moving house (buying?) just two of them). Can we find a way of dealing with these together?

*this is not to say that I didn’t have the opportunity to learn these from May in the previous years, but therapy did give me the space to think and talk through these issues with some psychological context and not in the midst of rows**.

** I still need to listen to May more, of course. Love you May :)

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12 responses to “Therapy – in, out, in, out, shake it all about

  • Mina

    The good news – it could have been worse. The bad news – this isn’t exactly good. I always appreciate people who go seek professional help when they need to, and are able to use that help to get better/happier. You seem to be on the right path.
    I wish you both all the best, hope the holiday was less harsh than it had potential to be under the circumstances, and FFS, 2014, be good to these poor souls! I have never been more literal than now: Happy New Year!

  • Jo

    I do not know what to say, except that therapy never really worked for my DH either. We did,over the years, eventually learn some better coping mechanisms, though he definitely still has unresolved issues that come up now and again (as do I). I applaud you for trying, and do not judge you for it not working. Hoping that you and May come to a better place soon. Sending love and hugs.

  • NotSoNewtoIVF

    None of this is an easy road but I think being more self aware can only be a good thing. There are not many people (particularly men) that would be this honest and I think it’s very brave of you. You have both been through so much, I’ve often felt like DH and I are 2 Islands floating in a sea of grief… Sometimes we float together and sometimes we drift apart. Wishing you both so much luck and a hugely better 2014 x

  • twangy

    Fair play, H. I admire your bravery, I really do. You have made tremendous strides.

    As for the tools, YES. It’s like a plumber coming over to say: I see your toilet’s blocked and then leaving without telling you what you should DO about it to FIX IT. (Apologies for the unsavoury metaphor, but you know what I mean.)

    (I wonder if CBT is any good. I might try it, though I understand the conventional therapists think it’s the work of the divil.)

  • Valery Valentina

    Once upon a time I had group therapy. One of the guys had the initial problem of ‘flat feelings’. When he left therapy he said that yes sometimes he was happy for a bit, but to his disappointment he was also feeling very down for other bits. That was not what he had hoped for….

    So umm, knowing how you feel is progress. Sharing it is progress. Just so sorry that it hurts.

  • Anonymous

    Has it really been 18 months since you started therapy? How time flies. It was not a good sign that you started individual therapy all those months ago, but May didn’t, implying that the communication problems you two have are your problem only. I was also alarmed to read that there was pressure by May to have you ‘fixed’ by therapy quickly so that your marriage would improve. Boundaries, there should be some boundaries about what takes place in therapy, even with one’s own spouse. So there’s that. And then there’s the fact that you ‘read’ in your post as very much emotionally closed. This is not helpful for making progress in therapy or in one’s marriage. So, yes, you are both part of the problem, and in the midst of major health issues and life changes, such as a potential babe on the way, I hope you are both able to devote some concerted effort to working on your marriage. I’m sorry that your therapeutic relationship with your individual counselor did not work out. The way you described the ending of that relationship was well, abrupt. Maybe you should consider honoring a better ending to that relationship with a final review session with that person. I hope you and May can both agree to a new counselor together who can call you both on your collective sh*t, but establish enough trust with you to encourage you to continue through the hard work to help you two traverse the chasm between you. You are both worth it. Your internets are pulling for you.

    • H

      Just to provide some reassurance on a couple of points. I needed therapy because I am, as you put it, emotionally closed; this has caused real problems with our relationship over a number of years. I certainly don’t feel I was under pressure for a ‘quick fix’. I am grateful May woke me up to the realisation my therapy wasn’t working particularly well, given the time and expense. I’m still slow at picking these things up, even after 18 months of treatment, which doesn’t seem very effective. Secondly, we had three sessions at the end when my therapist knew I was going to be stopping; the therapist did say they wanted the last one to be more of a review session, but it wasn’t really any different as it turned out. It is entirely possible the therapist missed the mark on this one.

    • May

      You were ‘alarmed’ that there was pressure by May to have H “fixed” by therapy quickly so the marriage would improve? Jesus fucking Christ Almighty. I see you are a careful reader of context, background and tone. I particularly applaud your noticing that H reads as ‘emotionally closed’ in this post. I can tell you must have carefully read all his other posts and at least some of the rest of the blog, where this issue has already OPENLY been discussed ad nauseam by both of us.

  • wombattwo

    I’ve not commented before now as I wasn’t really sure what to say, but the anonymous post above has annoyed me, as it seems so rude and aggressive, amongst other things. Whether it was intended that way I obviously don’t know, but that’s how it reads.
    I’m sorry that your therapy has not been all you hoped for. You are right in that the Freudian schools of therapy are very much of the “slowly does it” persuasion. The aim is to make the unconscious conscious, the idea being that once you have insight into behaviours you can change them. As you’ve found, this often isn’t very easy.
    Each branch of therapy has its place and some will get on better with some types of therapy than others. You do seem quite cognitive in your posts, whether that’s an indication that CBT may work quite well for you, or a defence mechanism to distract, only you can know. I do this myself, a lot. It isn’t intended as any kind of slight.
    Seeing May’s counsellor may bring up issues between you, I am sure she would be professional, but if you did have any nagging doubt about what she knew about you from May and vice versa it may become a little murky. Again, yours to decide.
    With regard to the issues you bring up, well I would say decide what’s true for you. You are the expert in your internal world, and just because a therapist suggests something doesn’t mean it has to be so.
    Hmmm… I think this post isn’t actually very helpful?!
    If you are feeling “tired of psychobabble” then have a break, dear H. Read books that interest you that have nothing to do with it. Cuddle May each day and lie in each other’s arms under a blanket on the sofa. Kiss her like you kissed her when you first met. Hold hands when walking. Talk about nonsense. 18 months of therapy that feels unsuccessful and disappointing is enough to do anybody in.

  • Everydaystranger

    I love that you both put your heart and soul out here. Thank you for that. And to anyone – ANYONE – who feels they have the right to be armchair psychologists for either of you, please know that those armchair types should know where to get off. That you both are brave enough to open your psyches to a professional and talk about it here is medal worthy.

  • korechronicles

    Well!

    Therapy is only a springboard after all. In my experience, finding one who not only understands that but can work with you to BE that, is not that easy. Hen’s teeth come to mind. Every person is different, every marriage has it’s own unique challenges, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. And you are both dealing with deep grief, so trying to work on anything else is a bit like paddling in the shallows when reality has you underwater gasping for air. It’s lonely out there, and as much as you each want to help the other, it’s most likely that your grief depleted energy is barely enough to get your own heavy head and heart above the crashing waves.

    We are conditioned to avoid pain. And grief is the rawest, darkest pain to be in. We cannot run or hide from our feelings, they follow us everywhere. And yet, willingly suffering through those raw emotions is the only way to get through. If you accept the series of waves crashing over you, you will find they rise, crest and fall and there is a space between them to breathe and regroup. And slowly, incrementally over time, you will find you are less underwater and more in the air and able to help each other to firmer ground.

    And, anonymous commenter, you might reflect on the fact that our minds are a room with a subjective view of an objective world. Our mental states exist inside this room which we can never leave and no-one else, no matter how brilliant a therapist or insightful a commenter they think they may be, can ever enter.. As WombatTwo points out, we cannot know your intention. H and May have attempted to share some of their subjective view of the world as they see it, bravely and openly. Support is what is required here, rather an instruction book on how to do therapy better.

  • Womb For Improvement

    I’m really impressed at how self aware you sound from this post – you sound like you aren’t convinced it has done the trick but from what you write (and btw incredibly brave putting it out there) you sound much more emotionally literate than many (British) men I know.

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