I had my last therapy session last week. For now. We talked about good-byes and how to make them meaningful. So many good-byes. I am saying good-bye to my daughter as she leaves for college this month. I am saying good-bye to my mother as she becomes more frail and unable to speak at the end of her life. I am saying good-bye to my younger self.
How do you know when it’s time to end therapy and say good-bye? You don’t. I am still anxious. I am still melancholy. I still wake up in the middle of the night ruminating. I didn’t change careers. I didn’t change spouses. I didn’t move to some exotic location. No – the changes were incremental. Maybe not even noticeable to others. But they are radical to me. I have learned to recognize my inner voice. You know, the one that speaks your truth. I learned to listen. I found people and activities that supported me. I found friends, making new ones and nurturing old ones.
Perhaps finding joy in one’s current life is the biggest possible accomplishment of all?
I wanted to mark our last session with some significance, to honor the therapeutic process, our relationship, and the personal growth I’ve experienced in the last (almost) three years. I found myself heading down my usual path of putting pressure on myself to come up with an amazing good-bye gift. But what do you give someone who has helped you so much? And, she pointed out, I had given much to her with my sharing and my development. Maybe a tchotchke was not necessary.
We reflected on what we had shared together. One of the big themes of our time together was what do I want? After spending my life, very successfully, being a good girl, a good daughter, a good student, a good employee, a good wife and mother, and reaching middle age wondering if this was it and alarmed at the hurtling pace of time, I needed to pause and probe who am I and how do I want to spend the next phase of my life? Our sessions were a place where I could practice saying what I think and what I want without judgment before testing it out in the real world with other people, other people who are less patient than Jane.
One of the tools she taught me was how to take a conversation at least one step further than I was used to doing. My habit was to accept whatever the other person said and leave my own thoughts to myself. As I would tell her my stories, she would ask questions. And I would say, “Ummm. I don’t know – I hadn’t thought of that!” I hadn’t thought to ask, to find out. I just accepted. Or she would make a suggestion for something I might do. Differently. Something that would not have occurred to me, but was so obvious and natural once she suggested it. So we laughed at our last session. Perhaps one of the ways I could carry her and our experience with me will be to pause and ask myself, “What would Jane say?”
One of the gifts she gave me was to believe me. When I would tell her some of my fuzzier more painful stories, I would pause with self-doubt. Did that really happen? Maybe it didn’t happen after all. Maybe he didn’t really do that to me. Maybe he didn’t really do that to her. In one memorable session, she said, “Why would you make this up?” Why indeed? She helped remove the shame I felt from the more painful stories of my past and to understand and even be proud of the way I have coped. I learned that I could do things differently moving forward. Anxiety and shame didn’t have to be my go-to place.
It was a safe place, those weekly sessions. I could rant. I could cry. I could worry. I could share dreams, literally and figuratively. No judgment. Usually we just talked. She helped me knit together the stories of my past such that I could look at them with perspective as a broader narrative and not feel so caught up inside them. With some distance, I was able to find some understanding for the girl I was and the woman I’ve become.
One of the skills she helped me develop was to appreciate the impact I have on others. A greater sensitivity to what others are experiencing has helped me to be a more honest and compassionate wife, mother, boss, teacher, daughter, friend, though perhaps I am a less dutifully good one. (I doubt it – I am not sure I will ever be free of being a good girl.)
As I have developed my yoga, my writing, my expanding circle of friends, my voice, my intuition, she likened the process to growing a seedling. Tender. Vulnerable to swaying in the wind or being entirely uprooted. I needed to nurture this seedling with support and practice. Practice at being me – being grounded, honest. Only then, with established roots, could I think about saying good-bye. I could say good-bye to my identification of myself as anxious, overwhelmed, and sad. I could see myself as funny and cheerful and optimistic and loving and generous. (And anxious, overwhelmed, and sad. It’s all in the mix.) Me? Yes. I can feel. I can be me. Thank you Jane.