• Ashlyn

mondays with phil: philling my cup.

Updated: Aug 6, 2018

I promised no more bad puns, but gotta be honest—I lied. Puns are the lowest form of humor, and so am I.

Listen. The first step to recovery is admitting I have a problem, and I have a big problem. I’m totally addicted, and it’s uncontrollable. Sometimes, I just come to in an unfamiliar place and have no idea how I got there. I awake from a haze to blinding lights accosting my senses. It’s distressing and disorienting. Every time, I tell myself it will be the last time. But every time, my self control crumbles, and I find myself back again, unable to stay away. I need my fix, guys, and only that big red bullseye can give it to me. Inevitably, every other Monday culminates at Target, and my wallet (and my husband) wait with bated breath for a time when therapy is no longer a necessity. Who woulda thunk that actual therapy is somehow less expensive than retail therapy? Although Target asks for a much lower level of engagement than Phil does.

I’ve mentioned before that I feel deep shame and embarrassment that I didn’t professional seek help sooner. I assumed that because I could function adequately—certainly the operative word there—in so many parts of life that I was functioning adequately in every part. It took the almost total implosion of each and every facet to propel me onto Phil’s couch.

Looking back, I can see my brokenness so clearly, and I feel immeasurably stupid at how blind I was. Hindsight is 20/20, and it’s only with the benefit of his reflection that I recognize how truly shrouded I was. What willful blinders have I donned in other parts of my life that will one day seem so foolish? And if I don’t know what I don’t know, how can I even begin to progress?

By holding himself as a mirror to my anxiety, Phil highlights my triumphs even as I focus on my failures, forcing acknowledgment in place of my previously cultivated ignorance. Today, for example, he said he was proud of me. Y’ALL. Do you even know what kind of warm fuzzies that sent swarming around inside my brain? I’M NOT CRYING, YOU’RE CRYING.

But a life with mental illness is scary. Threats to my mental health are actually everywhere, and it’s not always easy to identify triggers before they manifest. A marriage is already hard enough, but when your wife expresses concern that after 30 years together, she’ll discover you’re actually a serial killer, it makes it that much harder. Kyle did not take that particular brand of constructive criticism well. How was I supposed to anticipate that he would be offended I accused him of being a murderer? Listen—don’t be so sensitive. That seems like it’s on you.

But as Phil and I talked, while he appreciated my creativity in concocting a very elaborate narrative that my husband is actually Ted Bundy just prior to tossing coeds into the trunk of his Volkswagen (tainting its quality German engineering for eternity), he also indicated clinical concern that my obvious codependence on our sessions will foster unhealthy stagnation in the other parts of my life. Well fuck, Phil. Not treating me with kid gloves today, I see. I’m gonna need him to stop being so good at his job, to my immediate emotional detriment. However, in all seriousness, I wonder that if I lose my mirror, will I only be left with my shroud?

I can readily admit—as if I’ve *unreadily* admitted anything up to this point—I am scared shitless that the choices I make will be the wrong ones, and occasionally, it means I make no choices at all. I’ve been offered jobs I couldn’t accept and bypassed opportunities I couldn’t seize. I cannot even begin to describe the intense level of frustration and self loathing that each apparent failure facilitates.

Phil often compares anxiety to a game of chess. Commonly, those struggling fight a constant battle with their mental illness. If I am the white pieces, it must be the black, each of us parrying back and forth to gain an advantage over the other. A clash of strategy and wits, in how many ways can I outthink my anxious brain? But that level of mental anguish is grueling and unsustainable.

It is better—though certainly not easier—to imagine myself as the chessboard in its entirety. Both white and black pieces are part and parcel of my whole self. There will be days (or weeks or months, oh my!) where my anxiety will have the advantage. Sometimes, the black pieces will prevail. And that has to be okay. Occasionally, the white pieces will move backwards or pawns will be sacrificed, so ultimately, I can push the black to their side of the board. It takes each square and each piece to create a cohesive game. Unquestionably, I’m not really allowed one without the other. Also full disclosure: I’ve only played one game of chess ever, so I’m not totally sure what the rules are. Forgive me if I bungled it enormously. But ask me about Wizard Chess, and I will be equally clueless.

Currently, therapy is absolutely vital to my wellbeing. I need Phil to direct the pieces around my chessboard. But soon, eventually, it will merely be a supplement and not a necessity. I am not ready for that, and I will not pretend to be. There is no place for pretense on his couch.

But with his dedicated guidance, anxiety has finally become merely a part of my life and not its totality. I can now imagine a life where therapy is no longer indispensable but a tremendous luxury, an infrequent tune up to ensure my brain is running exactly the way it’s supposed to. The prospect is terrifying. I am deeply afraid of regressing to the person that I was. At this juncture and using my best Mariah Carey voice, I don’t know her. Nor do I want to. She is small and she is ugly and she is weak.

So that unrelenting fear of myself lingers. Life really doesn’t stop because I’m not ready for it. The timer has continued to tick toward zero, and no amount of outthinking will change the inevitability of life’s limits. Without therapy to anchor me, I am frightened that my heart’s tether will snap, and I will be adrift again, lost and blind and bruised and broken. I have been paralyzed by my fear, and now I am petrified by my progress.

But on days that I don’t know what I don’t know, I can lean on the comfort of Phil’s pride in that progress. In the coming months, every other Monday, we will work together to reinforce the foundations of his guidance. I can no longer be afraid of where my inevitable growth will lead. Eventually, it will take me in unforeseeable and exciting new directions. But for now, it leads directly back to his couch, and subsequently—always, to my husband’s eternal chagrin—back to Target.

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