She waits in the waiting room for about three minutes. She sits there with her phone in hand trying to distract herself from her anxiety. She hasn’t been dealing with it well as of late even though she knows she needs to.
Over fall break, her aunt and cousin were in town, and they stayed with her at her grandmother’s house over the weekend. Her aunt has been one of the people she has feared most for the entirety of her life. She hasn’t seen in her in several years, and originally, she thought things were going to be fine as she has been revealing her true self more. This could be no further from the truth. While, yes, she was open more than she has ever been at home, she was still quiet and anxious around her aunt. She also has never been close with any of her cousins and hasn’t seen the one who visited in probably seven years. This made her even more anxious and caused her to withdraw quite a bit more into who she normally shows at home.
Over the entirety of the break, she was on edge and couldn’t get a break no matter what she did in attempts to calm herself. Since she stayed at her grandmother’s house with her aunt and cousin, she wasn’t able to go home until the last day, and she was only able to see her cats and mentally relax for a couple hours. Not nearly long enough to recover from the majority of break. When she returned back to campus, she immediately started work for EP which ended up being mentally taxing. She hasn’t been coping well, but also hasn’t cut to cope in about a week. Instead, she has tried to listen to music, be around friends, and art. Being around friends only escalated the matter and proved unhelpful this time.
As she sat there in the waiting area, she had quite a bit of anxiety as there were people passing through, but when she went back into the office her anxiety calmed a bit, so she was only there with a small amount of anxiety. It seems that whenever she has less anxiety about sessions, the more difficult the session is for her, and whenever she has a high level of anxiety, the better the session goes. It also seems that every other session is really productive, and the others end up with dissociation and freeze responses. She gets discouraged after each session that seems unproductive and strives to do better the next time, which most of the time works out. For this session, her theory is supported, and at the end, she is severely disappointed with herself and is discouraged. She has quite a bit of time before the next session to figure out how she can better prepare herself and what she wants to talk about.
Before this session, she wished to share her new-found love of theatre, as well as her performance and the success and pride she has been feeling about it. She remembered that she wished to express this, but she wanted to mention how much pride she had been feeling about the performance, so much so that she wished to video record it to share with others. She forgot to ask someone to record it, so, unfortunately, has no video of it, but she did have a friend take a picture of her in her Ancient Greek chiton (made from a bed sheet and twine pinned together) with her paper plate mask (made by another classmate as masks were a requirement of Ancient Greek theatre) with a spear and shield (borrowed from the Comitatus swordsmanship club).
She also wished to share about her experience getting a tattoo. The experience most likely didn’t help with her anxiety; it actually caused her much more, but still it was something she wanted to do, and hopefully, she overcame this fear of hers. She also wanted to talk about Matt a little more; she wanted to mentioned some things that happened last semester between them. She still can’t grasp why he has been so kind to her and why he, of all the people in Cru, was the one to reach out and offer help. She wanted to mention the time he visited her in the hospital, when they talked on the phone, and how kind he was to drive her back from the hospital. She also wanted to mention what has been happening between her and her friend, Marshall as well as what several “friends” have been telling her about this friendship. She wished to explain the new things happening with the roommate situation as well as with her medications. In addition to this, she wanted to mention a success from over the past week and a half or so where she has been able to resist the urge to cut her wrist. She has felt a minuscule amount of pride about it and has lessened her anxiety some by not needing to cover and hide cuts.
The last thing she meant to share was the original letter she wrote to share with her mother, the one she thought would be too harsh to share, the one that she later revised to make a bit easier to read. She reread it and realized that it wasn’t as harsh as she had remember it. She wanted to bring it but forgot about it, until afterwards.
As the session started, she talked somewhat well about the theatre experience she wanted to share. She explained how her one theatre class had a performance last week and how she was so excited about it beforehand and during and had no anxiety or nervousness about it. She also shared that she changed her major so that she is now double majoring in Professional Writing and Theatre. As they discussed this, they talked about the person she was revealing and becoming. They talked about who she is at school and how that person differs from the one she shows at home. As talking about home causes much anxiety because of all the anxiety and tension and chaos in her family, her anxiety spiked while she tried to talk. She couldn’t quite make sense of what she was trying to say and kept confusing herself by what she was saying. It may have sounded like she was making sense, but she couldn’t figure out how to say the things she intended to share. She attempted to explain but got lost in her words and the ideas whirling around like a tornado in her mind, causing more and more anxiety of trying to put thoughts together. This began to overwhelm her, and she couldn’t make sense of her mind or what she wanted to say, so she stopped talking as she was unable to speak. As she sat in silence, her mind continued to spin faster and make less sense. It began to criticize her for sitting there, not saying anything, not being able to think straight. Over and over again, her mind told her so many lies.
“Why aren’t you talking. Say something. Come on. Just say something. Go. Do it. Speak. Come on. Let’s go. You’re so fucking pathetic. You can’t even speak. You can’t even think. Why are you such a failure? You shouldn’t even be here doing this. You’re just waste of time and a burden. This is not working so you shouldn’t even be here. You shouldn’t even be alive. You should have just gone through with it last time, then you wouldn’t have to deal with this or anything else. So many problems would go away, and you would finally be gone. Gosh, I hate you so fucking much. Why can’t you just speak. If you could just speak, you wouldn’t even need to be here. You could stop being a burden to everyone and a complete waste of time. But no, you can’t even speak. You’re such a failure. If only you could just say a fucking word, just one, just try to speak, try to come up with a clear coherent thought……That’s what I thought. You can’t. You can’t because you’re just a fucked-up person with so many fucking problems, and you’ll never get through them because you’re such a failure, and you can never complete anything. Why are you so fucked up? Why can’t you just be normal? Why can’t you just speak? I hate you so fucking much. Ugh…”
This continued on for the rest of the session, some points worse and far more intrusive than others.
Resuming to the conversation, or lack thereof, it continued, and she tried to remain present, but was having some difficulties. As she tried to listen and make sense of everything that was happening, her anxiety continued to rise causing her entire body to freeze in place, so still and stiff as if any movement would trigger the largest catastrophe. She was sitting with her arms folded across her torso so tightly. It was as if someone had put her into a box, and she had no room, not even space to breathe. Gentle coaxing and persuasion came from the participating end of the conversation explaining and trying to get her to move even an inch to eventually tell and reassure her mind that she was safe. This freeze response she knew all to well from other past experiences such as social interactions and some other situations when she was younger as well as her previous ER waits.
Speaking of the ER, towards the end of the session, something about a panic attack and going to the hospital were mentioned, and as she heard those words “going to the hospital,” it triggered something in her mind. As soon as she heard this, she was back on the 26th of April in the same spot, just as anxious, just as tense. It was like she was sitting there again, fearing the worst of what was yet to come within the next twenty-four hours. She tried to return to the present but started to panic as she felt she was back there. She was scared and felt the urge to flee. Her mind and body continued to shut down in order to protect her from any threats, real or imagined.
Eventually, the session ended, and her body was finally able to take orders from her mind. She finally was able to move, so she was able to get up and leave and try to figure out what had actually happened in that conversation. Her mind continued to spin as she tried to make sense of what she had been trying to convey. As she thought about what she meant to say, she tried to write out what she remembered to be the last ideas she had been trying to talk about before she began shut down.
“I don’t feel comfortable being myself when I am at home. I always feel that either my parents will judge me or criticize me, tell me that I’m wrong or make me feel as if I am not good enough for them, or that my siblings will make fun of me for not seeming normal. If I ever act out of character, my family is the first to mention it whether good or bad, and it always seem to become a big deal to them. They call attention to it, which in turn my anxiety spikes, and I become extremely uncomfortable, to the point where I feel as if it is better to go back to my quiet self. If I ever do something like, for example, learning how to drive and getting my permit, my parents and several of my siblings will say things like, “Finally, you got…” or “You actually did…” They say things of this nature, and I feel uncomfortable doing things that will cause this unwanted attention. This attention is often worse than the constant nagging and complaining that I haven’t done something I needed to do, like getting a license, for example, or asking an employee in a store for assistance, or engaging in a conversation with someone back home. A distinct memory I have of something of this nature is an instance where I was talking to someone fluidly in conversation, and my second youngest brother said, “Wow, you’re actually talking. You never talk to people. That’s so weird that you’re talking.”
“Whenever I’m with my family, my general anxiety is worse, but my social anxiety isn’t as present, unless we are in public with other people. My family is very loud and obnoxious, which causes my anxiety to heighten, resulting in me withdrawing into myself and keeping silent unless it is absolutely necessary I speak. If I had joined theatre back home, I would not be the same person in theatre that I am here. I probably still would have kept myself reserved and withdrawn, too anxious to participate or even go. Here, I am able to be myself as an actor, a writer, an event planner, and an artist. At home, I was never really able to do any of these things, because I could keep nothing to myself and I always had (and still do) a fear of being judged for my artistic expressions. I am also very closed off about my mental state, both when I am going downhill and when I am actually doing well. I don’t like letting them know what’s going on with me, whether good or bad, because often, mostly with my mother, I get unwanted attention, pity, or solutions to fix the problem or make things better even if they are already decent as they are. I don’t feel as if I am supported by her. I feel like she just wants to fix everything even if it’s impossible, and when she can’t fix things, she isn’t there for me like my friends here are, sitting with me in the pain until it passes. I haven’t told her this, but sometimes I just need her to be there for me as a friend, a parent, a supporter, not the problem solver and solution maker she is for everyone else in our family. I’ve been told I need to tell her this, but I don’t think I can because I’m not sure how well she’ll take it.
“Before I first came to college, my normal self was the reserved, silent, friendless intellectual who “enjoyed” isolation and avoiding people. This is who I showed at home and who I thought I was. As the year progressed here, I became more and more social, I only isolated when in the worst of my depression, I made so many friends and was learning to find my voice. I learned that it was okay to trust people and open up to them about my struggles and my victories. Over breaks, I returned to my old self, and it was as if I putting on the mask, hiding who I had discovered for fear of judgement. I felt like maybe this person wasn’t acceptable to anyone at home, or I would get unwanted attention for doing things that are out of my character. I don’t show when I am feeling depressed or anxious at home because it often warrants confusion of my siblings or attention and pity from my mother. She doesn’t know how bad things are and when she asks how I’m doing, I tell her I’m fine because I don’t want her to worry or try to fix things for me.
“There is more I could have said, but I feel that this is all that I need to say as it’s already long enough.”