Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Adventures in Therapy

Awhile back I told you about my new therapist. I'm no stranger to therapy; in fact, she is my eighth! But this time it's something different. Her method involves identifying the set of internal characters that together make up the "self." Here's how our sessions typically go:
1) Talk briefly about the goal for today.
2) Close eyes and focus inward.
3) Wait for a character to appear.
4) Try to get that character to notice me. The actual me: the quiet, strong, grown-up self.
5) If that character is in distress (and they usually are), figure out what they need to feel better.
6) Repeat steps 3 through 5 until we run out of time.

This has been a profound and also hilarious process with an increasingly colorful cast of characters. There is the ambitious one, the planner, the artist. There is a joyful one filled with light.

And then there is RED HOTS. This guy is awesome. Since I can't draw, let's work with this muscle man cartoon. Red Hots looks kinda like this guy, with a rounder head. Also no boxing gloves and no fangs. He is a deep, angry red all over, like the color of Red Hots candy (hence the name). His job is to be really really mad. And that's fine, because anger is sometimes necessary and healthy. Red Hots indicates the level of his current anger by shrinking small or growing tall, like Alice in Wonderland.

When I first met him, Red Hots was very very mad at the ambitious character. He told me that the ambitious one has often taken over the whole system, pursuing approval and accolades with no heed to anyone else's needs.

"I hear you," I told him. "I'm at the wheel now and you don't have to worry about being hijacked anymore." Red Hots was a fan of this development. He shrank down in size to register his approval.

I also have a whole host of sensitive characters who are sad and hurt. Many of these have been exiled from my normal consciousness because they are too upset and too upsetting. These sensitive ones are guarded by various protector characters. The more distressed the character, the more protectors it needs. We have already met one of the protectors: the crossing guard. Here are some others: 

THE BLACK ROBOT. This character is literally a boxy robot, dusty black all over. His job is to interpret sensory information. When I met him his dial was on "high," as in "all sensory information should be perceived as a potential threat." Black Robot was protecting an invalid girl character, the most sensitive I've met so far. 

THE IT GUY. Yesterday I encountered the IT guy. At first he was curled up under his desk, despondent and so discouraged about "the data." This data is apparently about my mental health: moods, anxiety level and physical pain. He works on a boxy desktop computer, producing charts and graphs and reams of old school computer print-outs with perforated edges. No one else was tracking the data, he told me, so he volunteered. He had been lonely with no one to hear his reports. As we talked, the IT guy slowly gained energy. He went from lying under the desk, to sitting slouched on the floor, to sitting on an office chair, to standing and gesturing with his hands.

The IT guy looks kinda like this cartoon, with no smile and a paunchy belly almost bursting the buttons of his white shirt. But he was also wearing a dinosaur costume head like the one my son wore to school yesterday (see photo to right). My therapist said: "No wonder he is discouraged. He is all weighed down, with a lot on his mind." As represented by... a costume dinosaur head?!

"We are going downhill fast," the IT guy told me, pointing at a graph on the computer screen. It showed a downward trend during the last 24 hours due to anxiety. I told him I understood, and thank you for noticing. He was unaware that just two days before I was feeling much better, even hopeful, for a whole day! Without a nap and with a minimum of pain! He just nodded, as if to say "That's fine, you're the boss," and sat down to keep working on the data.

THE PRETENDER. After the IT guy was the Pretender. I didn't get much of a visual, but she showed me memories. Times when everything around me had seemed fake, and I felt I had no choice but to conform. How I pretended to be just like the group--whatever group I was in at the time--to avoid rejection and social anxiety. The Pretender worked hard while I was growing up, but also into adulthood, even into the present. My therapist says that the IT guy and the Pretender are both protecting yet another character, one who is still in hiding.

And then it was time to go. I opened my eyes and felt good for the first time that day.


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