Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Not such a fun game

“It hurt to come in today.” I confided to Friend as we had a late lunch. “It hasn’t been this bad for a while. But I wanted to stay home so badly. Go back to sleep. Watch TV. Pretend work didn’t exist. I changed outfits three times. Had to curl my hair after I straightened it. Kept putting on makeup. Dragged myself out of the house when I wanted to cling to the doorway. Had I not been so concerned about my responses, I would have canceled with Dr. Counselor and stayed home.”

The short story is that Boss and I had a bit of a tiff. He said something I didn’t like – expressed an opinion in public that was the exact opposite of one he’d shared with me privately. It wasn’t a big deal – I just have a particular problem with people who change their stories. It started with my defense – a story that is long and painful and that I’ve only partially shared.

Basically, I was set to defend on a set date. Let’s say May 13. I set up appointments with everyone on my committee, some of whom had vague concerns about my lack of publications. I had a mentor – an MD I both liked and respected – who blew me off for months. My advisor was also very hands off at that point for various personal reasons. On May 6, I received an email that was addressed to my entire committee. Mentor decided that I wasn’t ready to defend. We should instead use the scheduled time to discuss the research I would complete over the next year. As I was in town between interviews 6 and 7 with two left to go, this was not something I wanted to hear. I still make faces when I hear Mentor’s name.

Advisor, though… Having been nothing but supportive, he immediately started switching sides depending on who else was in the room. It is infuriating to constantly guess how someone feels about you. Which is why it’s rather surprising that I chose to do exactly that in a personal situation. But such is life. The defense ended up working out, albeit much later than I had scheduled. I kicked and screamed and fought like hell. I lost. In the process, I grew bitter and depressed and tired and scared. My time here has exacerbated this problem.

Dr. Counselor listened, then started to offer advice. “Be respectfully bold!” “Confront him with your concerns in a positive way.” “Are you an adult, responsible for your own well-being?”

“I don’t think I’ll talk to him about it.” I insisted. “I might have overreacted and I don’t want to make things worse when they’re already a bit tense. Plus, I don’t even know that I care that much.”

He pondered me for a moment. Then asked if he’d told me the names of his chairs.

“I’m sure you have not.” I said, warning myself not to get too irritated with him. My sleep schedule is all kinds of messed up after my busy weekend. My fuse is short and I struggle to hide my feelings when I’m upset.

“Stand up.” He said. “I want to show you something.”

I sighed and moved away from the box of tissues. Well, not too far. The office is tiny – filled with a desk and 3 chairs, book shelves on one wall. A door is located in the corner. I moved a single step toward it and waited.

“Stand in the corner.” He said, and I moved to the yellow oval (pictured for clarity - there aren't colored circles in Dr. Counselor's office). Looked at him dubiously. “This is the version of you God created. Spunky, full of joy and hope. She experiences natural highs, is happy and powerful and fulfilled. Ageless and beautiful.”

I’ve never used ‘spunky’ to describe myself, I thought, and not much of that description sounded familiar. I was uncomfortable in yellow. So it was with some relief that I was asked to move to my left and landed on light blue.

“This is your conscience. Your sense of right and wrong, not only for yourself but for the world. Strong, serene, affirming all that’s right and eager to correct that which is wrong. There’s tremendous power here – control over how your life is going.”

Moving left again, I stepped into the green oval and rested my hands on the back of the chair I never use.

“This,” Dr. Counselor explained, “is Katie, the scientist. Your intellect. OK, now we have to go over here.” He motioned to the dark blue area, so I moved there and stood facing him.

“Here you’re scared. Wounded and timid. You may be chronologically young, but you feel terribly old. Small.”

“Heavy.” I said, for the first time feeling as if I truly identified with one of these spaces. “Like it hurts to carry my body around sometimes.”

“Like you want to sleep.” Dr. Counselor said, tipping his head in sympathy. “Just be alone and safe and not deal with the world. And maybe not wake up?”

I stopped crying and sighed at him. “I always want to wake up. I like to sleep very much, but I don’t want to die. Honestly.”

“One more.” He said, moving me one step to my right. There wasn’t much room there – I was resting one leg against the chair I always use. “This is anger – where all the blame and rage lives. I don’t know that you stay here for very long. This Katie appears, but she tends to retreat pretty quickly.”

I nodded. Stepped out of the red oval without being prompted. That put me right back at home – in the deep blue.

“You live there lately.” He said gently. “And I think movement into the other spaces is ruled by that fear. That sadness. That people hurt and disappoint you. That any further effort will only bring pain.”

He pointed around the room as he explained his concept. Dr. Counselor, by the way, is the purple diamond. I’m going to use my helpfully constructed figure with the colored ovals as I think through this.

He said Yellow was the core desire. So Yellow wants to be happy. Seeks the personal space that feels really purposeful and good and right. Wants love and security, friendship and laughter.

Dark Blue desperately seeks distraction from the sorrow. Artificial highs – food (did I tell you about the delicious brownies I made?), drink (not so much - I had one drink all weekend and didn't care for more), drugs (Celexa? It helps, but I don't think it's a high), sex (turned that down, actually), even work. Anything to avoid thinking about the pain. The awful, terrible pain. Standing in this space too long makes me willing to drag others down with myself. To feel some relief when someone else stumbles because it lessens the isolation.

I admitted to being critical when I looked at Red. Picking people apart after they had somehow wronged me. But I do it mostly to myself.

“Be careful.” He noted, wagging his finger at me. “Don’t screw up again. You were wrong and stupid and ugly so you don’t want to go that again. Maybe next time it will be worse.”

I nodded, took a tissue to wipe my eyes as I recognized lines I’ve told myself.

“Dark Blue and Red feed off of each other. Can easily control nearly everything you do. We don’t want that. They muddy everything up. It’d be good to stay on that side of the room.” He motioned to the lighter colors in my diagram.

Light Blue, therefore, sets boundaries. Defines control. Says that wine is fine, but one glass is adequate. Sex is good, but only works for me in a strong relationship where the feelings are comfortable as well as intense. Light Blue should confront the wrongs in the world – not necessarily to change them for me, but because I was strong enough to help others too.

“So yellow wants to be happy. Stand up. Go over there.” Rolling my eyes, I did.

“I want to be happy. I want a good relationship with Boss – a man I both like and respect. I want to do good research.” When I just looked at him, he raised his eyebrows and said, “Now you say it.” With a couple of alterations, I did. Then I stepped over to Light Blue.

“I want a respectful work environment. One where I’m valued and can freely share my ideas and concerns. This creates a department where everyone is doing good work and happy.” So there is an evaluation of the desire, I thought instead of repeating his words. A decision on whether what I want is something that would be good overall. I nodded in understanding and scooted over to green.

“Now this is where you decide how to make it happen. You want something, you’ve affirmed that feeling, now you think about what you can do or say to encourage the outcome you desire.”

We did a lot more work with this – I’ve done some further thinking about it.

“So now you not only have some problems with depression,” Friend noted, “but he’s trying to give you multiple personality disorder? Plus, that office is so small! There’s barely room to take three steps in any direction.”

“Oh, I know.” I responded. “I was walking all over it for the whole session.”

“The problem,” Dr. Counselor told me, “is that you spend a lot of time on the dark side of the room. It’s good to want what you want – a man with whom to share your life, a family, good work, great friends, money – but you need to come at that from a position of power, strength and hope. Not fear and anger and entitlement.”

“So how do I do that?” I asked – in agreement but very confused as to how to make that happen.

“Just recognize that the problem exists. Know your starting point and the dominant force in a situation. Then you can work to change that.”

“OK, I recognize it. I start in the dark blue more often that not. I’m scared. A tremendous amount. A lot of the time. How do I fix it?”

“We’ll get there.” He promised. “There are two other spots we didn’t discuss. First, there’s me. I’m here to help each of those Katies. To make Dark Blue feel safe and protected so she can back off and trust that it’ll be OK. To give Red hope so that she’s not so irritated so quickly. To allow Yellow to express those desires in a healthy way – to remind you that there’s this bright soul inside, trying to come out. We need to empower Light Blue so she can make choices and take action that makes you feel good about yourself. Green is actually very strong – you’re smart and thoughtful and observant. But you can use that – if controlled by Dark Blue or Red – to make the wrong things happen. But if focused correctly, there’s a tremendous capacity for joy there.”

I cried less than I could have, but more than I wanted. I’ve done some thinking – what scares me about Boss and my current work situation. How I can identify what controls my actions.

Oh, and I did mention the book in passing. I’m sure it fits into my little ‘move around the colors of your personality!’ game, but I’m too tired to figure it out right now. Though most of the actions I take are fairly easy to code. Defer to everyone at work as if my ideas are negligible? Dark Blue. Spend a meeting with Boss this morning with my hands on my hips or arms crossed tightly in irritation? Red. That feeling when I opened the door and saw Dave on Friday night? Yellow. The thought that I may always be alone? Dark Blue. Don’t want to write the grant? Dark Blue.

“Who do you think sits in the last chair?” He asked at one point. I happened to be choking back tears at the time.

“God.” I said around a sob and he nodded. I took a deep breath and nodded in return. “This isn’t how it’s supposed to be.” I said softly and he smiled. “I’ll be OK.” I said again, comforted by the thought that I’m not alone. Not kept company by the different facets of my personality, but by an all-powerful Being who knows and loves and understands me.

I accomplished a lot this afternoon. Checked proofs of my paper. Sent email. Worked on Project A and received a nice compliment in the process. Finished a presentation I’m giving tomorrow. (I felt Dark Blue rise up with a sick feeling as I wrote that – probably not the best of signs.) It was tough – getting there today – but I did it. I’m taking to therapy quite easily and I’m comfortable with Dr. Counselor. I don’t know how rapid the progress is, but I do think I’m slowly climbing out of my hole.

And that’s pretty much the point of these sessions, I think.

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