I was able to hold it together for so long, with the endometriosis pain running my life, and the new diagnosis of an immune disease changing my life forever. I could hold it together while I was alone in Vancouver, but then I moved. I moved a day late because of a pancreatitis flare that held me up in Vancouver for an extra day in the hospital, but I managed – with the seamless help of my mother – to get all of my belongings into some duffle bags and onto the plane. I had a hard time settling in at first, but I was excited for a new chapter in my life: back in Ottawa, living with my boyfriend.
The settling in part was easy enough to do in the condo, but I wasnt settling in with my new bill of ‘health’. We were two entities struggling to survive in the same body and I just felt emotionally and mentally unwell all the time. So I decided to seek therapy. Just a sounding board for those times when I feel real deep emotions that would scare my family if I uttered them out loud. Just for those times when I wanted to say ‘this fucking sucks’ without being a wet blanket to those around me.
The first session was really hard. The therapist was so sweet and understanding. She did a lot of active listening which I was attuned to from my days of counceling, and while I knew what her ‘tricks’ were, I fell into them because I just needed to talk. I went through a lot of kleenex that day. Before the session ended she suggested that next week we do the chair exercise. I was apprehensive but eager.
As I walked into the office that next week I noticed there was a chair facing the couch that I sit on. The chair was not for the therapist. She let me get comfortable, asked me how I was feeling and then said: “Ok, so I want you to sit there, as you are. Imagine your illness(es) are sitting in the chair in front of you” – wow. I think I started crying right then and there. What a powerful image. She continued “If you could say anything to your illnesses what would you say?”.
“Why are you here?”
“I’m so tired, I just need you to give me a damn break”
“I don’t know how to live with you. I just need some space. I need to feel my body as it used to be without you taking over every inch of it”.
As the moments progressed I got deeper and deeper with my emotions. I got real. I got angry and sad, and every other emotional color of the rainbow. I was exhausted by the end of it. But it wasn’t over. “Now, I want you to physically get up and sit in the other chair”. I did.
She continued with a slow calm voice. “I want you to pretend you are now your illness”. What would you say to YOU?” (**crying as I’m typing here, sorry. This brings up so many emotions).
“It’s not my fault.”
“I’m trying to co-exist with you.”
“I didn’t choose you either but here we are.”
Hearing those compassionate words come out of my mouth, role playing as what I always refer to as the teenager endometriosis and the toddler brother ulcerative colitis I was all of a sudden out of words. I felt sorrow. Sorrow for the diseases that are trying to just ‘be’. How could I feel so deeply for something I – just a few moments ago – loathed completely?
She let me sit there, swallowing all of my words. Digesting the emotions and making them real. She finally said “next time when you look into the mirror, imagine that both of you are in there, co-existing in the same body. Look at yourself with admiration, not anger. Look at yourself as a new you, with entities that need to love one another, not hate one another.”
I took that with me, and still to this day try to remind myself of the chair technique. I wanted to share this with you as its not something only a psychiatrist can perform. You can do this too. Be aware of your words and the emotions. be aware of the way your body changes shape after you’ve finished the conversation. And then, remind yourself that your body is something to love, not loath.