It has been emotionally exhausting to be a mental health therapist this past year! Actually, it’s been emotionally exhausting being a human. As a psychologist, I have never before experienced a time where I have felt so many depending on me, while I try to navigate similar circumstances to the people I work with. And I have felt so drained after hours in front of the computer screen doing teletherapy that I have honestly found no energy to sit and write in this blog – until today.
Without going into details in this post, I will note that Blake and Michael are back in our home with the hubby and myself. What the future holds for them, and so many young adults I know and work with, is still to be written. For now, Michael is completing a graduate program from a distance, and Blake…. Well, Blake returned home wanting to go into therapy (not for OCD; for something else), and we are supporting him in doing that.
Now, here’s something to note: when you are a mental health professional, you cannot be therapist to your own family members. First, it’s actually considered a professional no-no. At the same time, your spouse and your children absolutely do not want you digging into their psyches. I mean, really, who among us wants our parents probing our emotional health? Makes sense, yes?
Oh, and also, the more you know about a subject, the more your family has absolutely no interest in hearing what you know. Yes. It’s true. I have specialized in anxiety and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder for over a decade, write articles on these subjects, teach professionals at workshops, educate the public…BUT I KNOW NOTHING! If I even move to share information about anxiety or OCD among family, it is of no interest. So, I have learned (as my mental health professional colleagues have) to listen to my family, and even my friends, talk about their symptoms while I keep my mouth shut. I offer no recommendations or information unless I am specifically asked, lest it I be reminded, “Stop playing psychologist with me!” (and, yes, you do detect some frustration there – it’s like I know the coolest information, but no one wants to hear it. I digress.).
Anyhow, this state of “Mom-knows-nothing-about-anything-that could-be-helpful-to-me” made something that happened today all the more stunning.
“Mom…” Blake says. “How was it that I used to deal with intrusive thoughts when I was in ERP therapy for my OCD? I’ve been trying to purposely think the thoughts, but I’m only getting more uncomfortable.”
“Hmmm. Tell me a little bit more.”
“Well, I couldn’t sleep last night in part because of the thoughts, so I tried to think them, but it just felt worse. I didn’t feel better.”
“Would you be willing to tell me a little more, or would you like me to connect you with a colleague who can help you sort this out?” I ask.
“I’d like to see if you and I can figure out what I’m doing wrong,” he says.
“Of course,” I say. “I’m heading out to take something to Grandma. When I get back, you let me know when you’re ready. Set aside time with me.”
And I fully expected that would be that. When I returned home, though, Blake found me again. He actually wanted to learn what I know! And so we sat down. I was able to share the little understood secret of OCD: if you practice exposures with the goal of making your thoughts or discomfort go away, it will backfire on you. Your brain is too smart. OCD already tells you that you can’t handle being uncomfortable and that you’d better do something to make yourself feel better – and that is where it traps you.
“So, my job is to practice getting good at being uncomfortable,” Blake deducts.
“Yes,” I say, “but you have to have a really good reason that it’s worth doing that because why do it otherwise?”
And together we find his “why” and we create a mass of exposures he can use. He picks one he’s going to try over the next week. And then he says THIS:
“Thank you, Mom. It’s so nice having a therapist for a mother.”
And my heart is grateful.