Getting help is hard

Sunset-streaked clouds above silhouetted tree-tops, with three trees on a hill, on the right side. ©careerusinterruptus.com

About a month ago, someone said something that made me so mad, my head exploded, firing itself halfway to Jupiter before – using a combination of rage-writing, conversations with sensible, trusted friends, and judicious muttering – I managed to decelerate and re-attach.

And do you know who made me so mad?

A psychologist.

Now, I’ll admit, I have a THING about psychologists and psychology. Partly philosophical. (Free tip – don’t raise this topic if I’ve had any alcohol.) Partly from my years doing admin in a university psych department; you see people’s worst when you work for them, and people whose expertise is relationships and communication, are no exception.

I guess some of that resonated, because when this guy blurted out, “Something’s gone wrong here”, all I could think was, “REALLY? All that training, all those years of experience, a PhD, even, for ‘something’s gone WRONG’, in a tone like that repair guy who found a dead toad in the dryer’s exhaust vent, no less?!” It took two weeks to calm down enough to say, I felt judged and shamed.

Annoyingly, he wasn’t completely wrong. However … well, the best analogy I’ve got is this:

photorealistic image of dinosaurs observing an incoming meteor. T Rex’s speech bubble says, “Oh shit! The economy!!” (source)

It’s a valid point, it’s just not the whole point. It wasn’t even close to $200 worth of point – especially since I’d already spent three sessions describing the meteorite and the consequences of its impact. So along with judged and shamed, I felt that I hadn’t been heard, and I felt <head-desk>.

And I had liked this guy. We’d chatted outside the therapy room and got along well. But as a therapist? Like tinfoil and a filling. So along with judged, shamed, unheard, and <head-desk>, I was hugely disappointed.

Because here I am again, without the help I need and – this is the important bit – have been trying, for years, to get.

And that is the reason for my rage: Getting help is hard. It is so. Freaking. Hard.

It’s hard, admitting you’re struggling. It’s hard, admitting you can’t do it yourself. (Cheers, capitalism, and your ‘bootstraps’ BS.) It’s hard, explaining your struggles to whichever authority, insurer or doctor or both, you need to sanction help. It can be hard convincing them, dammit! It’s hard researching who can help. It’s hard finding time/money/energy/childcare, to go see them. It’s hard exposing your struggle to a stranger.

Maybe they’re a good fit.

Or, maybe, they say something like, “Reward chart!”

Or, “If only we still committed these children to hospital for a few weeks like we did back when I was training, that sorted them right out.”

Or, “I cannot talk to your child until they have [novel alternate therapy] which is explained in this book, which I co-wrote with [city’s only novel alternate therapy practitioner] and is only $25.”

Friends, I wish I was making those up.

I am not.

Maybe you see them several times before working out it’s not a good fit, like this psychologist. In which case, you’re down hundreds of dollars – as well as judged, shamed, unheard, <head-desk>, and disappointed. (Quiet, gut, I know you warned me.)

Look. I know, as a certified smarty-pants, I’m often impatient with people not seeing what I do. When they’re smart and/or educated, though, I worry: Am I over-complicating things? Am I expecting too much?

I also know that I can be, let’s say…touchy. Knowing how far I fail my own expectations is painful; feeling judged kicks that into hyperdrive. And more worrying: Am I being too sensitive?

And – given I liked him, he’s smart, and had a semi-valid point – am I being too defensive?

That’s where the sensible, trusted friends come in. It is complicated, I’m not too sensitive, I’m not overly defensive, I’m right to expect respectful tone and language. Phew.

(Finding trusted, sensible friends, can be hard, too.)

Go through all that a few times, with a range of ‘helpers’, it can be very, very hard to pick yourself up and ask again. It can be hard to feel you’ll ever find someone who sees the whole picture, respects your understanding, shares your values, and who can support changes, kindly and gently enough that you don’t feel judged. It can be REALLY hard, or even impossible, to throw more money at it.

And yet, when your kid is struggling – or when you’re struggling together – it’s what you do, right? Whether the issue is physical, wiring, emotional, or a complicated mix of all three, you just keep getting up off the mat, parking yourself in front of a search engine or a community, and asking for help. It’s out there. It’s just hard, finding it. So bloody hard.

Lightening the Load

I’ve missed a couple of posts because The Skeptic and I have been in a strange, time-melt vortex known as, The Garage.

Twelve years ago, when we moved into this house, the Skeptic’s mum whooped with joy at being able to reclaim her spare bedroom. She promptly brought over 872 cubic metres of hubby’s old sci-fi paperbacks, his collection of Look-and-Learn magazine from 1983, his board games, and all his university textbooks.

My mum brought all my childhood stuff that she’d kept, waiting to pass on to the grandkids I was so late in having: My ducky pyjamas, Mickey Mouse bedspread, Bunnykins mug, first doll.

And, we retrieved the stuff we’d stored when we went overseas. Out came about five hundred framed movie and art prints, a non-fiction collection worthy of a small university library, our cassettes, VHS tapes, and vinyl.

Then, the stuff we’d shipped home from the UK arrived: Nine years’ worth of PhD and teaching books and papers, printed photographs from all our international adventures, some of the Skeptic’s professional and higher degree work.

Within four months CraftyFish had also arrived, just in time for her brother’s second birthday.

Do you know what babies and birthdays attract? STUFF.

And you know where all the stuff goes, when it’s broken, outgrown, unwanted (or – more likely, in our case – broken, outgrown, and still desperately wanted), and/or mama just can’t deal? That’s right: THE GARAGE.

It’s a two-car garage, but the car hasn’t fitted inside for years. I loathe that, especially every day in summer when my car’s interior temperature is roughly the same as earth’s core. But, it was such a mammoth, horrible job, we simply couldn’t face it. There were enough challenges in the main body of the house, TYVM.

But, I’m slowly getting better, physically and mentally. And the car thing is really confronting. So I made a ruling: Easter weekend, we were emptying the garage and only replacing what we really really want. People, I made us miss The Skeptic’s mother’s roast lamb, that’s how serious I was.

It rained incessantly. There was no morning, afternoon, or evening, just a strange, long, grey twilight swim through the past: my primary-school records. Screw-back earrings from when Mum wouldn’t let me pierce my ears. Giant sparkly earrings from when I finally did pierce them. My first attempt at a novel, written during Senior. (Yikes.) My flute, for fuck sake. Pointe shoes from when I did ballet. A strapless, foofy dress from when I wore strapless, foofy dresses and had places to go in them. The soft German leather jeans from when I just really really wanted leather jeans, even though the cut didn’t suit (I know, I know, stop sniggering). The Warner Bros. Studio Animation jacket my sister traded for, when I was writing animation theory. Posters from Denmark, Canada, Wales. The spear-head my dad got in the Congo; a copy of his funeral service. Cards we received for our wedding; the seating arrangement. The cot. A crate full of baby things. Several crates full of CraftyFish’s artistic creations. Mr Pixel’s size 2 skates, worn once. His size 3 skates, worn twice. A 9000-piece jigsaw the Skeptic and I started in 1998.

And all the garbage: dozens of unmatched plastic containers and lids, a trailer full of electronic waste, a bag of lonely socks, moth-eaten blankets.

And, perhaps worse, the semi-garbage: the stuff for One Day. The might-be-useful, the Future Projects. Jars. Bags of all descriptions. Scrap timber. Old drawer-rails, pretty fabric. Cardboard boxes, enough to make one wonder if the bloody things are reproducing.

It was exhausting, physically and emotionally. Everything was so damn heavy. All that potential; all those past, ghostly selves; all that meaning. This is, of course, one of the hallmarks of hoarding disorder – and I suspect, something us gifties with both emotional and sensory over-excitabilities, are especially prone to. EVERYTHING is meaningful, and that lights up all kinds of emotional centres in our brains. Making rational decisions about what is actually important, is bloody difficult.

But as we progressed, I realised that the meaning I’d attached to things from my past had grown … insubstantial. I’ve worked hard to be here, now, with these kids, this husband, this mother, this body, and a consequence of that is that other times weigh less. The successes and failures, the people we’ve known and forgotten, things we’ve done or hoped to do, are all equally immaterial, now. I miss Dad the same, with or without his necktie. I don’t miss the girl who won that award, or the one who wore size 10 frocks.

I used to think, it was important to keep this stuff. Meaningful things help us construct our selves. But it turns out, just as future you is a stranger, so is past you. Past you did one important thing – bringing you here – and the more grounded you are in the now, the less you need those souvenirs. Similarly, the best gift you can give future you, is freedom. Not just from stuff and its emotional freight, but also from expectation.

So far, we’ve made three trips to charity shops and two to the tip, and we’re not done, yet. We’re joking a lot about feeling spiritually lighter. I don’t know about that; I’m too tired. But I think future me is smiling. She’s anticipating having a cool car.