Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Therapy #7: Testing the Limits of My Comfort Zone

Ugh, therapy days are the worst. I adore my therapist and feel that she's a really good therapist - it's just that I leave those sessions feeling pretty shaken up inside. Anxiety starts the night before, transitioning into paralyzing depression following the session.
I can usually get myself back to a tolerable, functional state of mind within a day or two. The days in between sessions consist of a steady stream of ups and downs with an occasional surprise "trigger" here and there (e.g., a Powerpoint slide on teaching children with Autism Spectrum Disorder to protest/"say no" set me off on Friday ~ gotta love those surprise triggers!).

I do think that I am making some progress, and I know that's important to acknowledge. Defining exactly what my progress means is a bit of a challenge though.

I am definitely less depressed than I was a month ago. Whether that has to do with healing progress or antidepressants (or both) is unclear to me. On some days, I have bouts of complete, "in-the-moment" attentiveness - something I haven't felt in years. When I experience these periods, it's a little alarming because I realize how restless my mind has been for years (especially since starting graduate school), likely in an attempt to fight off unpleasant thoughts and emotions associated with my...[cringe]...rape.

Despite these positive changes, I still can't help but wonder if revisiting this painful time in my life was a bad idea. I guess in some ways I didn't really have a choice though, at least not initially. It's as if all those repressed thoughts and emotions came knocking the second I stepped foot on my graduate school's campus. I tried to ignore the persistent knocking for over two years, but the pent-up thoughts and emotions eventually plowed through the door, taking me down, too. 

Consequently, my academic performance has been suffering...I feel like crap quite frequently...I am back on medication...I have embarrassed myself on more than one occasion by not containing my emotions...I feel weak for allowing something that happened so long ago to affect me...and well, the list goes on and on. 

Luckily (and I say "luckily" because it must be a sign that I am doing better), I am now at a crossroad in both therapy and my life where I can actually decide whether to further dedicate myself to the healing process or once again attempt to store this away somewhere in my mind. 

I find myself wondering: Is it really necessary to revisit this mess in order to heal and move on? What would happen if I chose to store it away? Would the significance of this event slowly shrink over the years? Would experiences like having children "put it into perspective" and free me from the internal scars it left on me? Or would these thoughts and emotions come unexpectedly a-knockin' later in life?

As of now, I only see one option - I must keep moving forward with this. If I don't deal with this now, I could essentially never deal with it. Graduate school is not an ideal time to cope with sexual assault, but honestly, is there ever an ideal time? Besides, I think I owe it to myself to at least try to lessen the imprint the scum bag left on me (crazy how an experience lasting only a few minutes can leave such a nasty imprint on someone's life, huh?!). I do not fully grasp what "healing" entails (despite therapy and fairly extensive personal research), but I guess that I just need to put my faith in the process. 

I attended church on Sunday (2 x in one month - I'm on a roll!), and several aspects of the service really resonated with me regarding my struggle discussed in this post. The pastor, encircled within a white picket fence, addressed fear and how if we're not careful, it can determine the parameters of our life.

The pastor referenced psychology literature which suggests that humans enter the world with two main fears - fear of noise and fear of falling (hmm explain how that was measured...). Over time, our list of both conscious and unconscious fears grows based on our personal experiences. The pastor referenced a study that surveyed 500 college students on their greatest fears in life - over 7,000 different fears were identified! 

In essence, we learn to fear the unknown because experience teaches us that unfamiliar territory could potentially threaten our safety. He made the point that most people allow these fears to define the parameters of their lives. Our comfort zone is the area within these parameters. We might tip-toe around the edge of our comfort zone, but most people will decide to withdraw to a more comfortable, "safe" place within their comfort zone. 

"Safe" and "comfortable" are slightly misleading because these enticing qualities cause many individuals to live a life of mediocrity (e.g., individuals who know their marriage isn't where it should be might refrain from going to marital counseling or working on their issues with their partner for fear of failure or blame). They do not strive to improve their life because they allow fear of the unknown to overshadow any potential benefits they might gain by overcoming the initial discomfort of crossing over the border of their comfort zone. It's like that saying, "The devil you know is better than the devil you don't know."

I am guilty of this - I have allowed my college experience to define the parameters of my life for many years now. That's not to say that I haven't had any good experiences - I have had many - but many of these experiences have been experienced through a hazy cloud of intrusive thoughts and feelings from my rape. I did not properly process my rape when it occurred over 9 years ago for several reasons, some of which were out of my control - pushing everything deeper into my psyche, further away from my conscious thought, allowed me over time to better tolerate and function in life outside my mind. In place of conscious thoughts regarding what happened, an audio track of criticism and self-loathing began to play on repeat in my mind. Over time, I fooled myself into denying any association between my mind's unrest and the sexual assault. 

Currently, I see myself as flirting with the idea of stepping outside my comfort zone. I have one foot in and one foot out. 

  • I could stay in my comfort zone and continue on without addressing my pain - sure, I would continue to experience the lingering symptoms of PTSD, but I would dodge the initial, intense discomfort of fully delving into the unknown. 
  • I could also fully commit myself to the healing process, trusting myself to find my way through uncharted territory. 

Part of me wants to run like hell back into my comfort zone, never looking back (after all, experience has taught me that seeking help for my sexual assault should be feared). However, for the first time in a very long time, there is something inside me pushing me to commit to healing. A voice that is actually louder than the incessant negative stream of thoughts in my mind. Perhaps this voice is of my old self. Perhaps this voice is me

I guess I'll have to wait and see. In the meantime, I will attempt to listen to this new voice urging me forward through all the crazy, confusing, and unexpected emotions that surface with each memory. I cannot shape these emotions with rational thought. Instead of focusing my energy on understanding my response to the sexual assault and the healing process in general, I will attempt to turn my focus to the end product and to follow my therapist's advice to replace my current self-criticism of surfacing emotions with accepting acknowledgement.

With Sunday's high lighted scripture in mind (below), I will try to remain hopeful that healing will occur even if I continue to have questions regarding my response to the assault and the healing process in general.

Proverbs 3:5 "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding."


  1. The Bible says (verbatim) God works in mysterious ways. Romans 11: 33-34

    Sometime inspiration, courage, and wisdom come from the unexpected sources.

    You should most certainly continue with the difficult healing process in my humble opinion. Especially if you are thinking of having children. The stresses of an assault and the healing that goes along with it need to worked on before the stresses of raising a child. Children can be very stressful, just ask my dad. LOL I know you would be a very good mommy.

    Hey, you used the "R" word. I'm proud of you. I know it's hard but you are doing such a good job, you really are.

    It is very understandable that your academics are suffering. I totally understand the campus its self being a trigger for you. I'm sure UPS trucks will be for me because of their similarity to the van.

    Anyway, you are doing so good with your healing and I am proud of you. I'm sure your hubby is too.

    Oh, by the way who's your blog designer? LOL They are GOOD. haha It looks much better with the black background.

  2. Thanks Jaime. I'm trying to keep at it and just trust that addressing this stuff is doing something positive and is worthwhile. I really appreciate your continued support. I do have quite a sophisticated blog designer these days. Haha, fancy smancy, indeed! I will make sure to pass on your compliment to her!

  3. P.S. what do you think of the new title banner? :)

  4. The new banner is easier to read. Are you still interested in a description for the "C" symbol? Let me know.