Finding the Right Pair of Jeans
I have found that finding the right therapist is analogous to the process of finding the right pair of jeans. It’s an arduous task and the hunt can seem endless and take years.
Each pair always seems to have a problem: too tight, too loose, too high, too low, not soft enough, not elastic enough, looks great while standing but bunches while sitting…I could go on and on.
Then out of the blue (no pun intended :), I will find the right pair when I least expect it. Upon entering the fitting room, I know before I even try them all the way on that I’m going to love them.
Love indeed – they fit like a glove, flatter my body shape perfectly, give the right way when sitting, feel as soft as Egyptian cotton sheets and I even like the color. It’s a denim dream come true! It makes me want to start singing the cotton commercial song, Zoey Deschanel style, at the top of my lungs from the fitting room.
My experience finding the right pair of “jeans” involved trying three different pairs over an 18 month period. Here are the three pairs of jeans I tried…
Therapist #1 (The Baggy Men’s Jeans)
The first time I tried on a therapist, I didn’t love it. Being a military widow, I was automatically set up to see a counselor through Veterans Affairs.
I wasn’t sure why I was going, just that it was highly suggested by my casualty assistance officer. At our first meeting, the therapist asked me to begin by simply telling my story.
I proceeded to recount the intimate details surrounding the day of the accident, the funeral, and the weeks afterward.
With each segment told he would empathize, which was nice, and then try to relate to my situation through stories told by war veterans he was working/worked with. Often he would trail off during these anecdotes and awkwardly pause, as if searching for the right thing to say and realizing this method wasn’t beneficial at all.
Our chemistry and the frequency of pausing was unnatural. It made me feel like I had accidentally tried on a pair of men’s jeans in the men’s fitting room.
I had a sneaking suspicion that I may have been the first widow he worked with. As he trailed off for the hundredth time and paused, he looked at me and give a silent stare that said “I don’t know what to do for you.”
He tried his best, but it was clear that his expertise was with soldiers. I did us both a favor and stopped going after the third visit.
Therapist #2 (Comfy-“ish” but not perfect)
I could have blown off therapy altogether after the first “fitting”. Perhaps this is why some people have the attitude they do towards therapists, because that perspective is based on one experience. I’ve heard people say “it just didn’t help”. I can understand that now, but like looking for the right pair of jeans, rarely does the perfect fit happen the first time around.
I wanted to try a different pair because I realized I had things that needed sorting through – things that didn’t surface just because I went to therapy.
I was having trouble keeping my mind off the gruesome details of the accident and felt transported back to the day he died every time I saw an ambulance or motorcycle. My heart pounded, my body tensed up and I felt paralyzing fear. I wondered if this was normal, and it wasn’t something I felt comfortable talking about with the previous therapist given how awkward each session was.
Six months later, my second therapist came by referral through TAPS, (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors) a military support organization.
They made some calls in my area and found a therapist that was willing to see me for free, which I was grateful for. She was a civilian and I found her a bit more approachable. Maybe it was easier talking to a woman – I can’t be sure. At least there was no more trailing off into an awkward pause.
I re-told my story which was slightly annoying, but obviously necessary for her to understand how to help me.
Her therapeutic approach was centered around EMDR therapy (eye movement and desensitization and reprocessing) which is used to treat trauma. (click here to learn about EMDR therapy). The idea behind EMDR is to move the traumatic experience to a place in the brain that is not easily accessible (any part of an experience). This alleviates physical manifestations of trauma that can make it difficult to go about normal daily activities. It was something I was eager to begin since my thoughts often left me feeling stuck.
EMDR worked for me in a single session. It moved the horrific details of the accident to an inaccessible part of my brain. I found immediate relief and resumed my daily tasks with much more ease. Those thoughts have not resurfaced, and it has been eight years since I underwent EMDR.
I was hopeful that I had found the right therapist but even after successful EMDR, something still didn’t feel right. I always felt we were on the verge of uncovering something else that was pertinent to my recovery, yet always remained a mystery. She was the pair of jeans you tried on and felt comfy-“ish” in but couldn’t figure out why you didn’t like them.
Months later I decided to move out of the state to be closer to my family so it not longer mattered why the jeans didn’t fit. I was eternally grateful for the EMDR therapy and took that piece of healing with me to the Pacific Northwest.
Therapist #3 (The Perfect Fit)
In this denim saga, the third time was actually the charm! Through random chance and a little luck, I found an amazing psychologist through my endocrinologist. I was only there for lab work, but must have had devastating grief written all over my face, because this wonderful doctor took one look at me and felt he should mention that his wife’s best friend was an excellent psychologist. He suggested that I see her.
I remember thinking she must have been a really good therapist because she was booked out six months. Luckily, my doctor put a word in with his wife, who spoke to her friend and she agreed to fit me in that week.
When we first met, the fit wasn’t anything like the picture above. It was a little more like this:
During my first session with, let’s go with “Dr. C.”, I was cautiously optimistic. Retelling my story yet again was tiring, but something was refreshingly different about her approach – something that told me this might be a great fit, but I wasn’t getting my hopes up just yet.
As I finished recounting my experiences, Dr. C. told me three things without pause:
1) I had PTSD from multiple traumas;
2) I was experiencing triggers;
3) There is nothing wrong with me, something had happened to me.
She repeated these points again, wrote them down on a piece of scratch paper and handed it to me.
(I wish I still had that piece of paper, but it looked a lot like this)
Dr. C. was quickly gaining my trust and respect in just the first session. She continued by introducing me to the world of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I remember telling her that I thought soldiers were the only ones who could be diagnosed with PTSD. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
I learned that day that PTSD can occur in anyone who has experienced or even witnessed a traumatic event. Horrible accidents, death, natural disasters, terrorist attacks, abuse, rape…the list is long. Too long.
Dr. C. said that I had PTSD from multiple traumas. My husband’s death was only one of two. Just nine months prior to my husband’s passing, I had undergone an ovariohysterectomy (the lovely slang term for having all your reproductive organs removed) which came as a result of aggressive endometriosis. The effect on my body (and thus, my lab work) was so severe, that I was misdiagnosed with cancer three times. I had no say in the surgery which would leave me with the permanent inability to have children. It was surgery or devastating health complications and possibly death.
I had never considered how this affected me, but it definitely qualified as trauma – just as much so as my husband’s accident. And because of the timing of the accident, I hadn’t had time to fully process the first trauma. This led to me experiencing triggers on a near-daily basis.
Dr. C. explained that with PTSD mental and physical symptoms come and go. When you become triggered by something, it sets you off. Your terrified. It takes you back to the moment something traumatic happened. Suddenly the past and present collide and you are reliving that horrible moment. The body activates fight or flight responses, accelerating heart rate and breathing, producing sweat and an array of other physical manifestations.
THIS IS WHAT WAS HAPPENING TO ME!
We discussed some of the triggers I could identify off hand – sirens, curtains and white fabrics, and bodily fluids.
Working through triggers meant exploring everything going on in that current thought, challenging it, and then redirecting it.
I would have to do it with every. single. one.
It wasn’t a list that could be checked off once and be done with. Though hard to swallow, Dr. C. told me I may be constantly challenging thoughts and redirecting for the rest of my life, but that the frequency would gradually lessen as I got the hang of challenging and redirecting.
All of this was done in just one visit. I was in awe. What a difference from the previous experiences I had with therapists!
I wondered if her PhD had anything to do with it (no offense to therapists without PhD’s). For me, whatever she was doing was exactly what I needed. I knew I had found the right fit, but I was still wondering if I’d end up taking this pair of jeans home.
In our second visit we delved into something I didn’t even realize was a thing. She wanted to talk about what I was feeling (typical therapy) and I went blank. I could tell her facts about the accident, the funeral, misc., and I could tell her the physical manifestations I was having – but feelings – there was nada.
She picked up on the reason behind this quickly. I had tucked my feelings away. My mind wanted to avert the pain of my traumas so badly that it caused me to forget the very words to describe how I was feeling. As we began to extrapolate my mind, I started blacking out. (Read more in my past post: A Cup of Christmas Calm). This was another attempt by my mind to keep this stuff buried deep inside me.
We had to dig. It was crucial. Putting a name to what I was feeling allowed us to properly work through it. If I was “teed off”, I could vent. If I was anxious, she could give me coping mechanisms to help with that. You get the idea. The hardest one was identifying areas of sadness. I had tucked this far away in my mind.
I told her that I was literally a closet crier and everywhere else I put on a face and kept my chin up.
This was bad. Really bad. I had to learn this from her (sadly), but stowing this emotion away doesn’t fix anything. That pain surfaces in other ways. Strange ways. It becomes uncontrollable and can affect others.
If we didn’t deal with it, it would control the rest of my life.
I knew she was right, I had already seen the beginnings of this take place with what I had experienced over the past year.
(There’s an amazing book on this called “The Body Keeps the Score”, by Bessel Van Der Kolk M.D., which I discovered only a few years ago. I highly recommend it for the bereaved and non-bereaved.)
All this was addressed with a plan in action by the end of my second visit.
After four weeks of therapy and ending every session with positive affirmations like: “You can do this”, “You are healthy and working through something very difficult”, “You are working on a new start, good things are going to happen to you”, “You have much post traumatic growth”, I was turning back into my old self. I decided that Dr. C. was the perfect pair of jeans.
I didn’t tell my story any differently to her, yet somehow she knew exactly where to guide it all. I felt like I could talk to her all day, much like enjoying wearing a pair of jeans all day – hard to come by.
I will always be living with trauma, but here’s where Dr. C. got me after a year of therapy:
(I wouldn’t have posed like this for any camera before my trauma, and that’s the magic behind having a great therapist – you take vulnerable pictures like this!)
If you are looking for a therapist and feel like giving up, DON’T. Just recognize that it’s not your fit. It might be the perfect fit for somebody else, but you must (and will) find the right pair for you. It’s better to keep shopping than settle for something that won’t get much wear because it doesn’t fit right.
As a final thought, I’d like to leave you with a quote I love by an unknown author:
“In the right denim a girl can conquer THE WORLD.”
I hope you find the right pair of jeans!