Archive for July, 2009

The Lost Art of Marriage

Thursday, July 30th, 2009

Ever been to a posh, expensive restaurant and looked around to see couples who are fiddling with the napkins, sipping their wine, staring into space and actively avoiding eye contact with the person they’re sharing a meal with? Chances are they’re the married couples out celebrating their zillionth wedding anniversary.

This year, the 24th Anniversary of the night we met at Pat Dalton’s 21st birthday in 1985, money was short, so we decided to go for a drive in the country on Sunday afternoon. Without the kids. Now this is the most important, crucial element in this outing. No teenagers, fidgeting, fighting and farting in the back seat. That sort of thing tends to kill the mood a bit.

So feeling mellow and chilled-out, we headed off to Bindoon and then down and around the 70 kilometre winding scenic drive that is the Chittering Valley where the scenery was greener than Bob Brown at a Wilderness Society meeting.

The conversation flowed like it was 1985, unlike what would have happened entombed in a restaurant where we’d end up blowing the weekly food budget on a thimble-sized meal of wagyu beef, garlic mash with a sprig of rosemary for decoration – and then paid extra for vegetables and still been hungry enough for Macca’s on the way home. What is it with restaurants these days that only half a meal is included in the menu price?

Instead we lunched on spicy pumpkin soup, fresh bread – apple turnover with cream for dessert – and bought a bag of oranges and mandarins from the side of the road. The first ones we’ve had for a while that hadn’t been sprayed with carcinogenic chemicals and stored in a cold-room for 12 months.

When we weren’t eating, the conversation segued seamlessly from one subject to the other, and we shared the bonding experience of watching a cow give birth in a paddock by the side of the road, chasing the afterbirth with her mouth and trampling all over the calf in her efforts. It was a rare moment of nature, wonder and a chance to …

My Therapist Doesn't Understand Me

Monday, July 27th, 2009

There are times in therapy when it just isn’t working. If you’re sitting on the couch, body language stiff as an ironing board, tight-lipped, teeth-gritted, glaring at each other with matching po-faced death-stares and thinking that the person who breaks eye contact or speaks first loses; then the therapeutic alliance vehicle has crashed into a tree. It is not pleasant, but it happens, and sometimes it can happen in good therapy.

For whatever reason the therapist just isn’t getting it, whatever “it” is. That resonant, spiraling, attuned, limbic dance of healing connection has faltered and a brick wall has been erected in the therapeutic play-space. This is highly unlikely to be broken down in the very near future, there’s twenty minutes left and all you can hear is the quiet, constant, irritating tick of the clock.

This is when it’s important to remember that the connection you shared in a previous session can be restored. It’s not a completely lost cause. Although if you can do that single-handedly without the therapist’s help, the chances are you don’t need therapy in the first place or the therapy you have received has kicked in and you can muster up the courage to face the fear behind the conflict with some potent tools the very same therapist has armed you with.

There can be so much heavy, intense, emotional investment from the client in the relationship that any discord can feel like a permanent, non-repairable rupture and for some that can feel like you’ve just lost your best friend. You can either work it through together with lots of “I” statements, flick imaginary elastic bands in their general direction – or change therapists. If you’ve had a previous good rapport, my advice from experience is to stick with it and work it through. When you’ve been therapist shopping most of your adult life, it could be a repetitive way of relating that comes from you and if that is the case, then all therapists will feel like an epic fail.

Painful as it is, bridging that gap is most important and strangely enough, …

Anger Therapy

Saturday, July 25th, 2009

Aristotle said: Anybody can become angry, that is easy; but to be angry with the right person, and to the right degree, and at the right time, and for the right purpose, and in the right way, that is not within everybody’s power; that is not easy.

When I entered therapy thirteen years ago, I was very angry; only I didn’t know it. I thought everyone else was the problem. My limbic system was out of kilter and went Chernobyl if I was crossed in any way; be it by my family, my mother, my co-workers, the vacuum cleaner, the dish-washer or the video machine, I would have a well-deserved brain snap. I could literally feel the poisonous, toxic hormones exploding, flooding and melting down my brain in a mushroom cloud of fear, loathing and impending catastrophe.

The amygdala is the emotional epicenter of the limbic system of your brain. When out of control, it controls you. It hijacks the way you react to stressful situations and unless your executive working centre, otherwise known as the neo-cortex can intercept, slowing it down and creating a calming, mindfulness situation, your life can end up one disaster after another.

It would appear, according to neuroscience literature and research studies that unresolved stress can, given time, create an over-active limbic system. Instant anger reaction was not under my voluntary control for a long time. It took many years and a gentle, wise, serene, cool and collected therapist whom I eventually role-modeled and internalized. She taught me to live in the moment, sitting on my hands, breathing evenly, counting to ten; all the while knowing my brain was being overwhelmed with toxic substances threatening to annihilate me. She showed me by personal example that the end result of being able to let go of anger would lead to health and healing.

I learned to release that rage through visualization, meditation, reflection and the attitude and wisdom of this too will pass. I had to push through the seething curtain of potential violence and think clearly: Ah, this anger I feel, what …

Whether the Weather

Monday, July 20th, 2009

Why does cold weather make me happy? I love cold weather. I love rugging up to the eyeballs and splashing in puddles. The only time I go to the beach is in winter when I can watch the waves crash and pound on the beach and I am snugged up in the car with the heater on. This is a shame really because I live in Western Australia with arguably some of the prettiest beaches in the world.

I suffer from reverse SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), also known as summer SAD. I loathe summer. The waves of heat coming off the bitumen make me very cranky and I fiercely resent getting hot and sweaty before work and coming home on the train feeling like I’ve been dragged through a bed of hot coals. Summer Sadness generally affects people, mainly females, in hotter climates, and is probably caused by too much sunshine.

Rain makes me joyful and hail and sleet makes me positively ecstatic. It doesn’t snow in Western Australia. Sunshine on a winter’s day feels like God’s betraying me. Most of my depressive tendencies come out at the end of a long, hot season, because in Australia summer is a long, drawn out process, starting in November and ending in May.

Most people love the hot weather. I’m not sure if it’s my English background that’s inherent in me or whether I just hate the heat. On a trip to England in July once I had to buy thick shoes and a thicker coat, one that I was never able to wear back home in Australia – even in the grim depths of an oxymoronic “Australian winter”. The English summer is colder than our winter.

Only two other people I know love cold weather and one of them is my son who is very much like me, an indoor person, very booky and studious, who used to take a bandage to school on sports days so he could stay inside and read. The other is my child-hood best-friend who now lives in America and gets …

Phamily Pherapy

Saturday, July 18th, 2009

Thanks to therapy, my family is still alive and kicking and functioning reasonably well. We have our moments when one member gets out of kilter with the rest of us, and society, but by and large we seem to have a healthy respect for what we learned about each other during the six family therapy sessions we were observed interacting by several professional strangers.

One of the theories behind family therapy is that when one member of the family experiences problems, it is usually a symptom of the way the entire family functions and relates to each other in general. In other words, individual dysfunction doesn’t happen in isolation. That is why in family therapy, generally there are no problem children or scapegoats. Family therapists work on dealing with the family as a whole unit.

When we went, we spent the first half with a couple of psychologists talking about what was happening behind our closed doors, with another three or four psychologists behind a one-way mirror observing our interactions. Then we swapped places and listened to them talking about how we interacted and what patterns of behaviour they saw that needed intervention; who talks the most, who talks the least, who shuts down, who shuts them down and who thinks they know everything. Body language, facial expressions and uncomfortable shifting in chairs was noted and commented upon. But it was all done very tactfully. Pointing out people’s shortcomings in such a way that they not only are willing listen, but actually change their behaviour as well, is the domain of a true diplomat.

It was very confronting at first and all our backs itched considerably till we all got used to it, but it worked. We were able to understand how we reacted to each other and in what situations and how to deal with it before it escalated and how to debrief after something happened.

The leading psychologist was the most amazing lady who accurately pinpointed with laser precision just what and where our issues lay. She constantly honed through the central aspect of our dynamics with …

Why Women Cry

Saturday, July 11th, 2009

Many years ago I was addicted to housework. I based my self-esteem on whether or not my stovetop and oven shone to perfection or the windows gleamed so invisible that birds crashed into them (I kid you not). I could be breast-feeding my babies and notice a speck of dust on the skirting boards and actually break mother/child suction to wipe the offending speck off my cognitive map. I made Bree Van de Kamp look like a slovenly, slack and sluttish Desperate Fishwife.

Over the years, I have relaxed my standards. It hasn’t always been easy, but as the kids grew and I went back to work, I realised it was either a relatively, reasonably clean house, Lynette Scavo style, or I ended up in a psychiatric hospital (again).

But lately, as a work from home mother, I find myself crying when I move the fridge to clean behind it or welling up with emotion as I pull the vacuum cleaner out or actively howling as I’m dusting the ornaments in the lounge-room. I’m feeling fine (ok F***ed up, Insecure, Neurotic and Emotional) till I actually get up and start any form of housework.

So where do these feelings come from? I have heard some women cry after sex. It’s the orgasm that releases some form of cathartic emotion reaction that appears to be indistinguishable from sadness and sorrow. I wonder if there is a correlation between housework and sex? But I don’t believe shedding pent-up tears is actually about scrubbing the shower or doing what they do on the Discovery Channel. It seems far too deep, complicated and personal and from a female’s point of view for that. I fall asleep after sex but removing orange juice stains from my cream carpet sets off an emotional reaction that can last for hours.

I have never heard of a man crying after sex. I have also never heard of a man who fights off the tears while washing the dishes and cleaning up curry and rice off the kitchen floor. Men see sex as a physical …

Lying on the Couch

Sunday, July 5th, 2009

There are lies, damn lies and then there’s therapy.

While it would appear counter-productive to lie to your therapist it happens all the time for various reasons. Sometimes the lies are blatantly obvious, sometimes they are steeped in the unconscious and sometimes the lying is more by omission than sheer deceit.

I can’t lie to save my life. Face to face people know instantly the moment I’m not telling the truth. My English heritage gives the game away. I’m paler than a ghost and I glow in the dark. So when I lie, my face turns red. My children are the product of me and my red-headed husband so they really didn’t stand a chance when it came to telling porky pies (lies). I catch them out all the time when their face flushes a delicate shade of beetroot.

Even when I wear foundation, my neck flares up like the 4th of July and it’s so blatantly obvious there’s no point denying it – but I do. My facial expressions reflect what I’m saying (or not saying); I shift uncomfortably in my seat and feel a desperate need to scratch the back of my neck. Body language and spoken word are not in synchronicity with each other and it takes a brave client to connect the two and verbalize it without fear.

If I tell a lie over the phone my voice breaks and I swallow. This is why I try to tell the truth all the time. It makes my life easier when I don’t weave a tangled web to deceive.

I can’t even fib in an email, at least not to my very intuitive and shrewd therapist. She knows me so well she can spot an untruth 30 miles away – literally. But I still feel the need to twist the truth occasionally with her, until I’m ready to come clean. She’s also bright enough to recognize my need to protect myself and doesn’t out me till I confess, even when my face gets so hot it could light up a barbecue.

So if the truth is somewhat hidden behind the couch, the elephant in the room is trumpeting …

Color me Cyclothymic

Wednesday, July 1st, 2009

Sometimes I wake up feeling so euphoric it’s a pleasure to bounce out of bed and other days I have a brick in my stomach so heavy I can barely crawl inside the coffee pot. This is better than how I used to feel, pre-therapy, which was like a sleep-deprived Gordon Ramsay on anabolic steroids, with a bunch of incompetent staff and a filthy kitchen just before the TV cameras arrive.

Color me cyclothymic. My euphoric state makes me do dumb things like paying a hefty annual fee to join a gym (again) and my depressed state means I go only three times before quitting and willing the rest of the year away. When I’m happy I start all sorts of new projects; volunteering to work with the homeless, organising major functions and redecorating the house, and when I’m depressed I think, what was I thinking? I’ve promised people I’ll do it, but now it’s a bit like trying to run a marathon dragging a broken leg behind me. Feeling normal, for me, is an abstract notion, and something I pass through only ever briefly on my wild pendulum swing flitting between heaven and hell.

Normal is a very useful elastic concept for someone in the arts business. Cyclothymia (I thought the cyclo bit meant cyclone rather than cycling) or going from happy to megabitch in five seconds, has a euphoric/creative component called hypomania and this, as well as sometimes the depressive irritable part, is marvelous news for a writer, actor, dancer, singer or painter. If you can grab the beast ferociously by the neck, harnessing, taming and propelling it through the thick, glutinous mud of changeling emotions and transforming it into words on a page, color on a canvas, music and lyrics in the air or graceful movements on a stage, then you have personal power. But not so marvelous if you cycle the moods and have to appear regular, even, consistent, reliable and stable, which as a part-time medical receptionist is something I have to aspire to. So color me inconsistent with a palette range …


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