Monday, April 21, 2008

Olympics of Therapy

Some names have been changed not to protect anybody-Volume 1.

Recently, Stagg and I found ourselves laying low on a Saturday evening and with a bottle of wine. We wondered whatshould we do tonight, go out, work in the sutdio, watch a movie? We kind of just said, let's sit here and talk. Okay. We opened the wine and I don't know...both of us talk a lot. MIster Anchovy's dad used to say to me, "Candy, you could talk to a tombstone." It's true and same for Stagg. Anyhow, we found ourselves covering many topics. Sometimes, when I get going and am having trouble figuring out what I what to express I have been known to employ a diagram. I once drew a diagram of where the spirit, khrishna, humans, buddha, the earth were in an intricate diagram. Maybe I'll post it here sometime. Not now. Instead take note of the above diagram produced one Saturday evening with a bottle of wine. Good thing I went to art school, huh?

Stagg and I have both been in group therapy at various times in our life and occassionally we compare notes so to speak. Well, this one Saturday we started discussing the dynamics and weird peculiar special feeling of being in a room with several other people who are sharing their emotions and/or life stories.

You know, there is the stereotype lesson one gets from group therapy. Someone else always has a much worse story or childhood or problem. The realization that someone else had it way worse than you is humbling and sometimes it can even shake off a depression or a bad negative self-attitude. It really can. There is always someone else out there with a worse history than yours so shut the fuck up with your self pity.

You get it, right?

Well, there is also somethign else than one might learn in group therapy. And I decided to draw Stagg a diagram. It's that...It's Not A Fucking Olympics Of Therapy. No one gets a gold star for having the worse end of childhood.

I drew a diagram of one such group therapy perspective. There were about ten of us in this therapy session and we had to write notes and recall our end of childhood. The end of childhood can be different for different people, it can happen at different ages...maybe it was someone's first prom, maybe they were ten, maybe they were 14 or 16. Maybe it was when someone moved out of the house and went to college.

The end of childhood is recognizable asbeing that very first time you realized "the party is over".

The purpose of our individual and group realization of when our end of childhood occurred was so that we could analyse what events surrounded the situation and what adults or ourselves did and to see if we have any residue habits of behaviour that we are using as devices as adults to "cope" that may be counter productive. For example if a person's end of childhood was at college and they were lonely and they made friends with party kids and were able to reconcile their loneliness...but now are addicted to alcohol and drugs as a way to feel connected...well stuff like that.

What I wanted to share with Stagg was that not only can one be humbled by finding out someone's story is more tragic than one's that another story is much more seemingly mundane than one's own.

In this one sessions several people had decribed their end of childhood and some of these memories could tear your heart out. Childhood family rape. Bullies in the schoolyard. Verbally abusive parents.

Then one woman described how she had really wanted this one special favourite bike. and her parents didn't give it to her. She was crying like a baby. She even blurted out how embarrassed she was that her story wasn't as tragic or violent as others in the group and she felt guilty about this but this memory was her end of childhood and her parents had acted cruel over this one particular bike.

I'm not doing a good job of describing this story at all, I know. But the point was...there isn't a scale of suffering. Yes, someone had been raped, someone else had been beaten...and they were as upset with the memory as this woman whose parents had betrayed her with a bike. To every child...pain and especially emotional pain is all the same. I remember seeing and feeling this realization with a huge passion in group that day.

No one is getting a gold star. It's not the fucking Olympics of Therapy.

No one here gets out alive.

When we feel sorry for ourselves above compassion for others we are preventing ourselves from healing and from having a good life...and it is in our hands how we approach living. It is up to us if we are happy people...if we are sore losers or good sports in the game of life.

And the ego even wants there to be a status bestowed upon suffering and tragedy...but that is not how it works. From the most tragic story, to the most seemingly mundane memory...the end of childhood is as painful for every individual as is any trama or challenge and they are not an excuse to not feel sorry for ourselves or use our history as an excuse to be depressed.

You know, actually, later during that "end of childhood" session that day...we all ended up having an incredible laugh. Even though we had all been terribly sad during moments in the therapy and all of a sudden seemed humbling to have had someone with a so-called mundane end of childhood memory teach us all humility. Humility in the idea of ranking suffering.

You know, I think most of life's greatest pleasures are in sharing feelings and ideas with other people.

Here's a toast to spending time talking with our loved ones, neighbours and others in our towns and cities...we always have much to learn from each other....

And remember, don't get on your high horse about how hard done by or suffering your life has someone else...


Wandering Coyote said...

Great post, Candy. I'm going to link to it over at I'm Listening.

I'm a veteran of many a therapy and many a therapist. Done my share of groups, too, and I have never really liked "group." People like me (BPD) are sadness sponges. Yes, there is always someone there with a more horrible story of their own, yet for me, that just makes me all the more sad (and usually angry because there is invariably too much injustice) and more depressed. Also, I'm not comfortable airing my dirty laundry in a group setting - too complicated, too stressful, to awkward, too everything.

It's so true that there isn't "a scale of suffering." Everyone is a unique individual, and everyone has their own thresholds and their own susceptibilities. One doctor I had said, when I told her that my mother compared her depression to mine one (she used to claim that I didn't have have as much reason to be depressed as I did), that that's like saying "my cancer's worse than your cancer." The reality is that all cancer is bad and scary and brings up all kinds of issues, feelings, and inevitabilities. It was a wise analogy (I detested this doctor, however).

Candy Minx said...

I am glad you found this post meaningful Wandering Coyote, I was rather uncomfortable posting it, but Stagg had insisted I write about the evening and some of the discussion. I struggled with how to portray the levity and the seriousness...and still feel I thank you.

Ah, yes, isn't it sad when a parent tries to "outshine" their child on any activity but how low to try to be "worse off" than one's child...I am sorry Wandering Coyote...but I have a feeling your mother and I wouldn't get along...I would probably scare the shit out of her...I don't like selfish parents.

There is something terribly sad and wrong with a parent trying to compare levels of illness or recovery with their your step with that woman Wandering Coyote...if she is anything like what you've hinted at in your comment....proceed with caution!

You know, life is funny...I love talking to people. I guess I am your classic people person. Sure, sometimes they drive me crazy but overall...the emotions and storie peope have what they ahve been is a gft to listen and visit others. In the context of group therapy...I don't think it's easy for anyone even a people person liek myself...because people suffering is the hardest thing to bear, isn't it? But to see people take a turn around is one of the most precious things I saw in group therapy and for that I am grateful.

It's funny...I was talking to my sister about this story and group therapy a few minutes after I posted it...and she said it sounds so sad...sad in group therapy. Well, yes, I guess it is on many levels but it is also an eye opener andan opportunity for learning.

I also think, different settings serve different phases of our learning What works at one phase of recovery might not be good for another phase.

I also do notbelieve in permanent labels. It saddens me to hear you put yourself ina box as "bpd" or "sadness magnet" me that self knowledge means you are prepared to move past a label for recovery.

One of the most valuable things about therapy and being labelled by the medical profession is the challenge to see that it is a sign of being spiritually bankrupt.

These labels are shackles that can humble us into realizing that we need to surrender up our egos and self identity...even when it comes to health and how we define and put ourselves in boxes.

Never believe that you are written in stone Wandering've just started on your path to undoing the spiritual bankruptcy that some behaviour dynamic in your past tried to force on you...

...breaking free of these labels is an exciting phase...and we all can have lifelong learning (which inspires me to write "volume 2" next week...)

Wandering Coyote said...

Candy: a few things.

1. My relationship with my mother is much, much better now. We've come a long way, and much of it recently. While I still have a trust issue or two, she has really demonstrated in the last year a lot of support and caring and selflessness, completely opposite to what I've had in the past. The comment she made I mentioned in my above comment was 9 years ago.

2. I don't believe I'm written in stone at all! Far from it! I have to acknowledge, however, that I have a certain set of symptoms that, when grouped together, are referred to as Borderline Personality Disorder (or BPD). But BPD is a fluid thing; it has remission and recovery just like cancer does. It's managed rather than cured. Sometimes it's more acute, sometimes its less, sometimes I don't see it in my at all.

3. Never confuse a label with a DIAGNOSIS. This is a pet peeve of mine.

4. I also don't believe I'm spiritually bankrupt (though...were you intending to say I was? I was a bit confused by your meaning with that statemen; maybe you can clear that up for me). I am richly spiritual, but I'm private about it.

Thanks for the honest post, and the honest response to my initial comment.

Candy Minx said...

Ah...I see I had the impression your mother's comment was recent since it came to mind for you in response to this post. I had assumed it was a recent violation. I am glad to hear you have a positive relationship with your mother, you are very lucky.

I know several people, some friends of friends who have bpd and quite difficult relationships in general especially with parents. It is not uncommon for bpd patients to have parents who do not validate their condition. Often people diagnosed with bpd have had childhood abuse and if it wasn't their primary caregivers, sometimes the person with bpd harbours feelings of pain that their parents did not protect them from the abuse.

By no means do I assume you have any of those issues...I only assumed your relationship was sketchy NOW because of your current memory of your mothers actions while reading this post.

You alos know I have quite a different take on mental health issues than the average bear...I also realize my opinions about mental health issues are often considered controversial.

I do not expect people to agree with me or believe me...I know my ideas sound strange.

I believe most mental illnesses should be treated by talk therapy, family dynamic and bahviour observations and by extreme nutrition overhaul.

Most people shouldn't eat starch...but people with bipolar or bpd, depression should avoid sugar and starch, bread baked goods, sweets, potatoes, corn and rice...and processed food. These foods, I beliebve not only create chemical imbalance in the brain and body but feed into mood. Compound that with childhood trauma, or controlling families and abuse...welll this is the reason for the rise in mental health crisis.

It is very difficult for people to give up those foods though in which case, they often need medication in stead of changing their diet...most people do not want o change their diet...even if it is hurting them. I've seen heart attack patients return to eating processed food after open heart surgery!

By the time someone grows up with malnutrition,(eating primarily starches) with perhaps childhood abuse, or with dysfunctional family dynamics...well quite often, they are approaching a spiritual bankruptcy...if only from the family dynamic. Or at the very least...the social or family dysfunction is reason enough to explore a spiritual dimention to treatment.

No, I do no know if you are spiritually bankrupt, you have always struck me as a person who is searching for truth and ideas.

The way to recognize spiritual bankruptcy is if a person always complains, sees them self as "stuck" has limited social boundaries, and sees themselves as worse off than others... and, f course, if they don't do charity work in the community.

I do believe recovery from childhood abuse, from verbal abuse, from rape and from personality disorders is to be found in a combination of nutrition and spiritual quest. Yes, I do. It's just an opinion.

I do believe that the constant materialistic consumption promoted in our culture, the rise of mental health issues, poor nutrition are a sign of a culture that is spiritually and common sense bankrupt. The more we continue the more dysfunction within families and caregivers..the more messed up children will be...

These are just my opinions. But of course I'm right..heh heh!

* (asterisk) said...

Great post, CM. And a great concept: The Olympics of Therapy.

(Maybe we all need the Therapy of Olympics this year, with all our beefs about China!)

I've never done any therapy. We Brits just grit our teeth and pull up our socks and get on with it, don't you know?! Bulldog spirit!

But I can totally understand what you're saying, having of course seen group therapy sessions through the magic of television, so I can understand how the competitive element might come into play.

It's kind of similar to the idea of Marla faking stuff and going to group counselling for various illnesses in Fight Club.

I can't pinpoint the end of my childhood. Does that mean it hasn't come yet, or merely that I'm lucky?

Stagg said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Candy Minx said...

Well you know...when we are are outraged with the injustices of the is always wise to remeber a few things. One that often the sense of social injustice or sadness we feel for others is a projection of our own unbearably unconscious pain we feel about our own lives.

It is wise and I remind myself to take a closer look when I am upset about china...that not so long ago, Canada and United States were committing similar unethical practices with pollution, or human rights. push it further...the sense of pain of any injustice in my own life is conveniently exercised in outrage towards China.

There is a delightful but terribly overused's called denial.

The thing about denial is if we joke"oh I'm passive agressive" or "I'm in denial"...'re now because the nature of denial is that one has no idea of one's own unconscious workingss.

But...this does not mean we should not be passionate about change and the ethics of our own countries, of other countries because these issues are connected to how we feel about our lives and ethics. Some peopel use politics as an escape or a way to continue in denial of their own sense of injustice in is wise to see the potential connections and take a stand.

Yes, Marla in the movie Fight Club, is a profound example of someone who becomes addicted to be "diagnosed" or "treated".

A lot of people enjoy the humor of her position and "Jack" going to self help meetings and group therapy because they are finally getting the love and attention we all secretly crave and need in life. Fight Club takes an honest look at how easy it is for the "ego" (I mean the spiritual ego as in Hinduism rather than Freuds) to get addicted to being a victim and a patient.

You see, therapy is for recovery...and these diagnoses well...the ego loves mental illness, because spiritually...the ego wants to control everything we do and believe about ourselves.

The ego never wants us to take responsibility for our illnesses or to recover. If we remain "ill" then we can be controlled by the desires and need for attention that the ego craves.

Thanks really made an outstanding observation and highlighted something for me. for your "end of childhood" you may indeed be graced by a gentle passage from youth to adulthood. Or you may be in denial, heh heh. Yes, I think it's absolutely fascinating the difference culturally between countries like France and the U.K about mental illness or corrupt family dynamics bleeding into adulthood. And another difference is the attitude towards spirituallity versus religion or atheism. Of course...I think commonality is there and manifested...but that is another post...

* (asterisk) said...

Ha! I'm definitely in denial!

The different transatlantic attitudes towards religion/atheism are also really interesting, and I know you and I have discussed these to some extent in personal mails. I look forward to your post on that...

tweetey30 said...

Wow Candy I missed this one post. I dont always see things when I have missed over the weekend. I try but its hard to keep up sometimes on what people are doing all the time.. LOL..

Great post. I have had a heck of a childhood also but agree with WC I am not made in stone and i dont do the things my mother used to do to me as a child to my girls thankfully. I mean sure I have spanked them but for good reason and they get grounded when its in the right order but only if they need it. I dont hit them for no reason like my mother liked to.

I have to admit I think she enjoyed it sometimes because my grandfather was abusive to my grandmother and my mother watched that growing up. I dont want to make excuses for why she did what she did.I just want the chain to break and according to my fahter, my real father it has.

I have posted plenty about my mom over the last 18 months or so since I have been blogging. I hate making her look like a bad person but she isnt the nicest person out there. She comes off as nice but get to know her and she uses people..

Bridget Jones said...

Wow was that a post and a half! Very thought provoking and eloquent.

You're right, there's always someone worse off and better off, and I liked the bit about helping someone. Like random acts of kindness only not random (sorry that sounds silly, I'm not joking here).