Being Stuck in a Process

“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.

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