Not long ago, our therapist shared with me “I’m having surgery in a few weeks and will be out of the office for at least a month”. I say ‘our’ therapist because although she is officially my daughter’s therapist, she’s been a therapist for our entire family. For 7 years she’s been our rock, hanging in there when most professionals had gracefully (or not so gracefully) bowed out. Or plain old ‘fired’ us. She’s been our constant, our go to for parenting advice, guidance, reassurance, an objective view and sometimes just a loving hug. She’s stood up for our daughter, stood up TO our daughter, stood up for and TO us as parents and bit her tongue so that we could figure things out for ourselves. Oh, and her therapy skills are not too shabby, either!
So it’s small wonder that her words of impending absence filled me with fear and worry. I’d like to say that my emotions were purely out of concern for our therapist’s wellbeing. But in all honesty, more than a little of my emotions were self-centered. A month?? Are you kidding?? What are we going to do?? What if we NEED you!!!??? I, half-jokingly, offered to chauffeur her back and forth to the office until she was cleared to drive so she could come back to work sooner. She didn’t take me up on my offer.
However, the reality was that our therapist is human, not invincible, and is fully entitled to take care of her own health needs. It’s not as thought this was the first time our therapist had been unavailable – she’d taken vacations, had family emergencies, gotten sick, just like the rest of us. Did we like those times? Not particularly. Did we survive? Yes. So why was I so worried this time? Weren’t we in a pretty good place in terms of stability? In reality wasn’t this a perfect time for us to ‘fly solo’ for a few weeks?
That, it turns out, was at the core of my fears. Our therapist was our safety net, our security blanket, our peace of mind. I’ve grown so accustomed to the good (or just mediocre) times not lasting that I simply assumed that it was only a matter of time before everything would come crashing down. My fears of falling back down the rabbit hole were so firmly ingrained in my mind that I couldn’t imagine another outcome. Old habits, apparently, are still hard to break.
In reality, our hiatus from therapy has had a silver lining. It has forced us to hit the reset button and dust off the skills that we’ve acquired over the years. Without the option of rushing to our therapist for guidance and help, we’ve had the “opportunity” to figure things out on our own. As I think back on the past few weeks I can see how differently things would have played out had our therapist been a phone call or appointment away.
The first time my daughter had a setback (and I use that term with some hesitation) I went right to panic mode in my head. It wasn’t even really a setback, just a moment that took me back to times I’d prefer not to revisit. Since I couldn’t run, or drag my daughter, to an appointment, I had to quell the panic and take a deep breath. I had to slow down my thought process and look at the situation for exactly what it was and wasn’t. What were the triggers (lack of sleep, hormones, several disappointments)? What were my options (stay calm, don’t share my fears, offer empathy, nurturing, space)? What were my daughter’s options (let off some steam, have a good cry, reach out to friends, listen to music, cuddle with the dog . . .)? What would our therapist have done (listen, ask questions, help to put things in perspective, remind us of the skills we have)? The bottom line was that we were dealing with a ‘blip’ rather than an explosion and we really did have some good tools for dealing with blips.
Working through these bumps and hurdles has been a surprisingly good exercise in strengthening our skills, our confidence and our perspectives. Much like the developmental milestones that our kids achieve – walking, tying their shoes, riding a bike . . . our therapist’s absence pushed us to a new milestone of self-care. I’m reminded of the times when my kids would call me with every little question (where are my favorite jeans; I need a ride to my friend’s house; will you be home soon, I’m hungry). After a while I learned that if I didn’t answer the call or text right away, when I finally did the response was usually ‘never mind, Mom, I figured it out’.
This is not to suggest that we don’t need our therapist any more or my kids don’t need their Mom. But our desire for immediate gratification, our tendency to look for the path of least resistance or the most convenient option has kept us stagnating in our independence and self-reliance. It’s wonderful to be able to lean on people, to know that we’ve got that safety net solidly stretched out right below us. But if we don’t take a few steps outside that comfort zone and try looking inward for the solutions we are cheating ourselves more than anyone else.
Don’t get me wrong, we’re not about to close the door on therapy. We still have a lot to learn and like it or not there WILL be times where our toolbox of skills lacks some essential items. Thankfully, our therapist will be there to reinforce, reassure and teach us a few new tricks. But I am certainly going to try to pause, assess the situation and check out the tools I have handy before I reach for the phone.