This is the story of Jane (not her real name, nor is the picture (‘street cred’ goes to IStock). Jane and I started working together a few months ago. When she first started therapy, she was focused on her mental health and becoming stronger. I don’t believe at the given time she was in the mindset to explore her sexuality or had been thinking about coming out. But, as we started to work together, she found she had a lot to say. She had therapy before and was well versed in the process. She knew it was a safe place where she could unload, but how she would do that and how her sessions would unfold, was anyone’s guess.
Jane was diagnosed Bipolar a few years ago following a suicide attempt but at this moment, she didn’t know if that label applied to her anymore or even back then. She just wasn’t sure. She was being prescribed Adderall but didn’t take it on a regular basis. We spoke about medication and if she wanted to make any changes. Jane asked for a psychiatrist referral. I made one, but by our next session she expressed a strong desire to figure things out without medication.
We explored her family of origin (FOO) her first family and the impact they had on her and continue to have on her. Time would be spent talking about how she never felt good enough or pretty enough. During our sessions, we talked about her strengths (this was hard for her to admit) and defining what it means to be pretty ‘enough’. She comes from a family of beautiful people she would say. She was hard on herself. She drank too much. Smoked too much weed at times. As a clinician it’s not my style to ask/demand that someone stop drinking or smoking weed unless its detrimental to their overall health and well-being and they are experiencing significant negative consequences. With that said, I take its use very seriously and it’s something I continue to assess throughout the course of treatment.
My experience (and this is subjective only) has taught me if you demand that of another person (after careful assessment) all they do is lie to you (yes, I learned this the hard way a few times!). And you miss the opportunity to form a trusting relationship with the patient because in some port hole of their brain, they know what they are doing is wrong. There is a lot of shame in all that. So, they don’t want to disappoint another person (the therapist) so they lie and often minimize. My goal is to establish a relationship in a safe environment so we can explore why the use continues and more often than not, they begin to make changes on their own once the pressure is off to ‘quit something.’ My experience has also taught me that when you build this relationship as time marches on, people often disclose more because they feel they are not being judged (they are not). I find that approach works well with me. And this is exactly what Jane and I did and continue to do.
Eventually, the focus on the next several sessions, would be her dysfunctional and highly conflictual relationship with her boyfriend, Dan (also not his real name). And initially in some indirect way, her sexuality. They had been together for the past few years – one and off, but mostly on as of late. Jane and Dan decided to live together following spending about 6 weeks backpacking and exploring the west coast. Jane would go on to describe it as idyllic and life changing. Fun. She felt free. She figured if Dan and she could live a life like this – or to some degree – they might be on to something. She felt they shared some similar values, but she would soon discover that this really wasn’t the truth. Her truth.
When their trip ended, Dan asked Jane to move in with him. Although she was slightly reluctant and hesitant because she was only 24 years old, she said yes. As soon as she said yes, she admits to feeling this ping of ‘what have I done?’ As we worked together, Jane would eventually share other times in her life when she would go along and do something that someone else wanted her to do – for example, the college she attended. She shared she didn’t want to go to the college she ultimately ended up graduating from, but she did because that’s what her parents wanted her to do and she had a scholarship. She wasn’t trying to sound ungrateful because she is grateful for the life her parents gave her and how they were able to provide for her.
Towards the end of the first month working together, we talked about the importance of ‘living authentically.’ She looked at me with a quizzically as if she never thought about that word, what it means and its impact, or actually living her life that way. Because she didn’t. I framed it this way based on how our conversations in session were unfolding. I shared with her that during your 20’s, we experience tremendous and life changing growth. You don’t have to feel as if you must have all the answers figured out. That’s what life teaches you along the journey. And that’s the gift. But you must be patient. And allow life to unfold. And we don’t know what we don’t know.
After all..Love is love.
I shared with her that if don’t learn to live authentically, then ‘whatever’ you are dealing or struggling with will continue to follow you and show up like a beat up old suitcase that has seen its last days. And where ever you go, you are. I like to believe that what really helped Jane in therapy was to give her permission to use her voice, which over the coming weeks, she did. In the coming sessions, Jane would eventually start to connect the dots..
I hope you will continue to join me and stop back next week and learn more about Jane’s Journey and coming out..