The Chair Technique

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.

Dont tell me what to do

Working on you, when you are ready

I refuse to be called a millennial and in the grand scheme of things I dont think Im that stubborn. But I have noticed a trend in my life: that I can only do things when I am ready. For instance, when I was 12 years old my father brought home a copy of The Wealthy Barber. To this day this book continues to be recognized for its illustrated wisdom of teaching thousands of people how to save and invest their money. Dad had just started to learn about this at a greater scale and thought it would be fun to teach me how to grow my money at a young age. Surely if I had listened and followed back then I would be fairly wealthy. But it was the LAST thing on earth I wanted to be learning or practicing. We continue to laugh about this today as Dad makes every attempt to teach my younger cousins and now my nephew – any last ditched effort to get the young ones to invest. At the age of 35 I would commend myself for how money smart I am, but only because NOW I have an interest.

Over the last month I have been in a dark place. My diaphragmatic endo took over my life, putting me into the hospital three times in one month. I have been nothing shy of spoiled with love by my social media family as well as my real family and friends. Each one has taken a vested interest in finding me comfort but up til now, I wasnt really ready to think about how to reset my life. I was more focused on being angry. I have slept more in the last month than I did in my teenage years. My boyfriend and my mother have taken turns flying across the country to take care of me. And while little victories (healthy blood work, no diagnosis of something fatal, etc) make them exceedingly happy all I can think about is the pain and how angry it is making me. One afternoon mom suggested – after reading some rather basic endometriosis blog articles – that I should incorporate deep breathing exercises into my daily routine. What did I do? I tore her a new one. “I dont need you to read blogs I already read 20 years ago, telling me to do things I already know. I need you to find me a specialist”. She knew I was angry. She rested my head in her lap and let me cry and cry and cry. I knew yelling at her wasnt fair. And while everything she said was correct, I wasnt ready.

The remedy for my sanity was to fly back home for a while. I live in Vancouver but Ottawa is where my soul is. I had a flight booked already, so nothing in the world was going to stop me from getting on that plane. For two weeks, while I was at home I took some much needed time to listen to my body, listen to my surroundings, and start to take in cues. The first thing I did was breathe. Yes, exactly what mom had told me to do, but this time I was ready. Lets be honest, breathing doesnt really help when you have diaphragmatic endo because it hurts like hell. So instead, I do breathing exercises  1) to understand my limitations and 2) to build the muscles around my diaphragm SO THAT if and when I get a collapsed lung I will be in the best shape that I can be. Its not much, and again, it doesnt create miracles, but its something. On the daily I try to do 5 long, deep breathes, roughly twice a day.

In addition to my deep breathing, I am also finally ready to make some other positive changes.

  1. Eating greener – Note that with my Ulcerative Colitis I started out on a low residue diet for nearly 4 months and then started to bring in root veggies which are healthy and low in fiber. I maintained this diet for another 4 months which has brought me to a very stable state (ie no sign of inflammation or irritation in my colon alongside Entyvio infusions). My body is finally ready to take the next step. On the advice of a social media friend I am slowly starting to bring healthier food back into my diet. She provided me with a suggestion to start with a handful of leafy greens per day, and wait a full 24 hours to see if it sits well. Mission accomplished! Now I am incorporating a handful of leafy greens into every meal. Once I am confident that this will not cause I flare, I am going to start replacing some rice with Bulgar, and then start to slowing bring in new veggies; keeping a diary along the way.
  2. Being liable (Myfitnesspal) – Ok so I am horrible for apps. I utterly detest the apps that require me to input my meals simply because they need the data, and I get nothing in return other than some simple graphs. But I also admit I have never understood calories except for the brief year in highschool when I was gaining weight from the pill and decided to starve myself. That was a good lesson on how not to obtain calories. But in all seriousness while I am trying to reduce pain, stay healthy and be whoever it is I am supposed to be, I am basing it on no metrics whatsoever. I decided to download myfitness pal. Yup, I definitely have to input my meals but it tells me when I am eating something good or bad, it gives me goals to achieve and shows me how much impact a little walk can make. If nothing else, it is making me very aware.
  3. Forgiving –  I am learning to forgive people for telling me how they think I should live my life. I am forgiving people for not taking me seriously before. I am forgiving the world for giving me two autoimmune diseases. I am forgiving my body for being flawed. I am forgiving my soul for taking times to cry. I am forgiving my dog for passing away when I needed her the most. I am forgiving my colon for being sensitive. I am forgiving my body for being too strong; and at times for being too weak. I am forgiving people who love me the wrong way. I am forgiving the medical industry for not pouring more money into endometriosis research. I am forgiving healthier people for thinking there is a diet that will cure ulcerative colitis. I am forgiving.