Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Grief Counselor, Part 1

I had my first meeting with a grief counselor today. It went...well. Sort of. Not super good, but not bad either. She was not invalidating, she did not pressure me to suck it up and deal, she actually validated all of the things I was upset about, not just in terms of missing my grandma, but in terms of everything else that happened in my family at the same time, and everyone expecting me to be functional when I'm not. She made an important suggestion - that I write a goodbye letter to Grandma and we read it together next session, and it can be as long as I want it to be. That is very important to me, I intend to spend the full two weeks working on it, and so I definitely appreciate that and I will be at the next appointment so we can go over it.

But I felt something missing. Like...something that just didn't quite click.

Here's the thing: if Grandma hadn't just died, if I had just gone to the counselor for general support, not related to one particular issue, and I was planning to establish a long-term relationship with her, I could understand talking about lots of different things. But this was supposed to be grief counseling. I was going to here specifically to talk about my grandma. Now, I understand that some other stuff is relevant to that - like asking about what support systems I have with my family and friends, but a lot of it wasn't relevant, and I had to work to keep the conversation where I wanted it. She wasn't good at reading me and listening and paying attention to what I needed and where I wanted the conversation to go. It was like she had a list of things to talk about, whether I needed to talk about those things or not.

It was *not* a disaster by any means. On my -10 to +10 scale, I would give it a +3 or a +4. Which is good. Anything above zero is good.

The thing is though, that I could sort of understand her getting all that baseline info if I were going to be seeing her for a long time. But I only have three sessions. Through a benefit at my workplace, I am entitled to three free counseling sessions, and I was only planning to use those three, unless I formed a major connection with the counselor and thought that I would seriously benefit from seeing them more. She knew I only had three sessions because she got the referral information. I just want to talk about my grandma and about grieving and about all the stuff surrounding it like my fear of people ditching me and my recurring desire to run away and go live in the woods away from society where no one can have any expectations of me. We didn't need to waste any of this session talking about stupid stuff that I don't need to talk to a counselor about.

Sometimes it's hard for me to express to another person just how not-okay I really am. I used to think I had a good relationship with my counselor in college because she knew how not-okay I was, but I realize now that that was never the case. Imagine that you and your friend are on a swim team together, and your whole team gets changed together in the locker rooms so often that it becomes no big deal to you. Now, imagine that you're having a sleepover party with a bunch of friends, including your friend from the swim team. When it's time to get changed, most of your friends are waiting in line for the bathroom so that they can change in privacy, but you and your swim team friend don't mind getting changed in front of each other. It doesn't mean that this person is a closer friend or that you trust them more than the others - you're just comfortable getting changed in front of each other because you've already done it so many times. That's what my relationship with my college counselor felt like. It wasn't that we had a truly deep connection. I don't feel like she fully validated or respected my feelings, there were at least two times that she turned the conversation to something completely irrelevant and wouldn't listen when I told her that those things were non-issues for me, and, oh yeah, she told me that her job would be at risk if I hurt myself and that was clearly her main concern. So not the best counselor around to say the least. But I felt a deep connection to her because since she responded to the call that night that I posted the message and got in trouble, she saw me at my absolute worst already. I felt comfortable being my complete not-okay self around her because she had already seen everything there was to see, the same way that you'd feel comfortable changing clothes in front of someone if you've already done it a million times and there is nothing new for the person to see.

But anyway, back to this current counselor. Okay, I don't mean to brag about having written a self-help book. But that is part of my story, the fact that I was celebrating finishing the book one day and had my whole world come crashing down the next day is part of my story. The fact that I never really got to share my book with Grandma because it would have been too complicated for her to understand, and she never got to see her acknowledgement in this book or her dedication page in my next book, that's part of my story. I can't just not mention the book at all. And yes, I would expect any counselor to be impressed by it. But we talked about it for way too long, and I know I should have stopped, I got really caught up because I love to talk about my book, but before long I realized that I didn't want the praise anymore. I didn't want her to keep looking at me like wow you're so amazing you've written a book. I know I say never tell people to get over it, but there was a part of me that just wanted to tell her to get over the fact that I've written a book. Yes, I write books. All books you read were written by humans. I am a human. This is not a difficult concept.

Yes, yes I love getting praised for my book and I appreciate it. I always feel better about myself after getting praised for it. But the kind of praise she was giving me - that shocked, OMG I can't believe you actually wrote a book kind of praise - I get that every day. I can get that praise anywhere, from anyone. I'm not in need of more of it. I didn't go to a counselor to get that kind of praise. I don't want you to be impressed. I want you to understand how not-okay I am. I want you to see me as not-okay, not as this super-awesome person that you think I am. Sometimes it just feels like the hardest thing in the world to communicate how not-okay I am. Yes, I felt better about myself after leaving, I appreciate you telling me that I'm already perfect the way I am, but that is not what I need to hear right now. I need you to understand how not okay I am and not just read me as this functional adult who has normal desires like a boyfriend and career focus (both of which I had to actively deflect the conversation about) and does impressive things like writing books. Seriously, I'm not okay, those things don't make me okay, please understand that I am not okay. You know how other people still do stuff like go to school and go to work and buy groceries and take care of their children even when bad things are happening? Well, I'm not functional like that, I'm not the kind of person who would continue doing those things, but if it helps you, think of my writing as my job, and understand that the fact that I am doing that the same way that anyone does anything (and as I told you, I'm not even working on the book right now, I finished it about a week before I got the news about Grandma's condition, and I have not been up for looking for publishers or anything since then).

The next session I'll have that long letter to read, so that will take a lot of time and hopefully we can focus on the things in the letter and not everything else under the sun.

No comments:

Post a Comment