“Being stuck in a process” reminds me of a pattern Dr. Rankin discovered. I had started therapy with her in St. Johnsbury, Vermont, in 1997. She was a specialist in mood disorders. I had been seeing her for several months. It was May and the planes were starting up. I suffered from an extreme reaction to the noise of small planes. On Friday I had a session with Dr. Rankin. I asked her if it was OK to “white-knuckle it” through the noise. She said “Of course.” Then she said she had observed a pattern in my behavior. I would start a project that had several steps. I would do the first two steps just fine, but if I ran into trouble on the third I would conclude that I “couldn’t do it.” I would fail to see that I had already managed to do part of it successfully, in fact I would even define those first steps as failures. This was enormously interesting to me. I started being able to see when I did it, and finding a way to keep going.
It’s still operative in my life. Looking back on my childhood, I see that my parents were too impatient to help me when I got stuck with a problem. They would make me wrong for asking for help. I remember once my father said “If you didn’t know how to do it, why did you even try?” I remember wondering “What ever happened to ‘if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again’?” I thought I could see through what he said. I had no idea of the power of a parent’s words to affect a child. That idea was repeated over and over in many different ways. The lesson I learned was that if I wanted something to happen, I had to do it all by myself, and that if I got stuck, there was nothing I could do about it. I see now that that’s a perfect prescription for depression. Given the PTSD and alcoholic parents, it’s not surprising that I suffered from severe depression for most of my life. Until I was 55, in fact.
I also have to give myself credit for not quitting in my work to change myself so I could have a life. I suppose that’s where knowing I have to fix it myself is actually functional, because I don’t blame and manipulate others. In the process I have learned that “trying to fix myself” doesn’t work, that I do have to get help, but teachers and therapists actually offer to help. I keep learning that what I’m trying to do, to heal from my childhood wounds, is much harder and taking much longer than I ever imagined.