Friday, November 21, 2008

Clever Lawyer

If you haven't picked up on this little fact about my personality, I have the tendency to pull what I like to call the "Clever Lawyer" tactic when faced with difficult emotional situations. Dr. R was the first to officially diagnose this condition when I was seeing him in the midst of a very difficult time in my life. He noticed that he had a hard time focusing and being serious because I was so adept at distracting him with my witty banter and humor. I also pride myself on the fact that I am not a sappy, sentimental person. I don't collect knick-knacks or stuffed animals. I don't save cards and love letters. I laugh at The Notebook while the other 99% of the population (my husband included) weeps. I choose to save my tears for the really big stuff, like statistics exams and missing the bus. I am a compassionate and loving person, don't get me wrong. But, when it comes to my own stuff, I am a human Tootsie Pop, with my hard candy shell and soft, chewy middle. It is a brilliant defense mechanism, but one that I have had to learn to check when it's time to get down and psychoanalysis-dirty.

Now, as I'm faced with a huge life change a' la Baby A., I find it necessary to get in touch with my soft, chewy middle, and not just because it's so big that I can no longer see my toes. It's a completely new feeling to just give in to the unexpected, the unpredictable, and the wholly unplanned. I have never been on the verge of having all I've ever wanted, all at once. I have my health, my family, my friends, my husband, a home to call my own, a puppy, a Phd that's relatively around the corner, and now a baby. And I'm getting really excited, gushy, and sappy inside. This little girl that I have never met is going to be the most important person in my life.

And, as my advisor told me this week, I will figure out that I can have more than one important thing, but for a while, I can give in and let her be it. All the way to the soft, chewy middle.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Procrastination Progress....Sort of.

I couldn't very well write a blog yesterday about how I'm working on my procrastination tendencies and then put off writing about it. That's right, folks, just when I think I've hit the end of the psychiatric road, Dr. U has presented me with a new challenge. Being an emotionally intense, driven, and did I mention emotionally intense, person has its drawbacks when that same person is preparing for another human being to enter her life and throw a wrench into everyday tasks. Because I am working on "role transitions" in my latest round of therapy, I have to examine my everyday routines and reflect on how they will change when Baby A arrives in February. My homework for last week was to keep a journal of my stress and emotions and reflect on possible triggers. Over the course of our hour-long appointment, I walked Dr. U through the previous week and noted those times that I felt particularly stressed. The highlight of my stress came last Wednesday night when I got home from school, sat down to load new Office Word software onto my computer, only to find that it had some technical malfunction. Now, rather than just sit down and write my 5-page paper that was due the next morning at 11:00 on the current version of Word that was successfully loaded on my machine, I had to fix this problem immediately. I got on the phone to the Geek Squad and they couldn't send anyone out, but I could bring the computer to the store and they would give it a look. Again, rather than just wait until the weekend when my husband had offered to either a. take a look at the problem and see if he could figure it out or b. take the computer to the store to get it fixed, I had to solve the problem. Now. So, I hefted the 20" monitor/computer into a laundry basket because I was too impatient to figure out how to put the machine back into its box, drove the 8 miles to the computer store, and hefted the computer into the store.

Now, with two hours to kill while they fixed the problem and loaded my software, I figured I may as well get the grocery shopping done. Again, I could have gone home and worked on my paper, but it seemed wholly inefficient to drive all the way home and back. I left my computer and drove to the grocery store, then to Target (may as well stock up on toilet paper and read the latest magazines while I wait), and finally, at 9:00 at night, back to the computer store to pick up my machine. At this point, Dr. U stops me and says, "What about your paper? I'm nervous for you just thinking about this paper that needs to be written!" I tell her that I am not paying her to project her "stuff" onto me, and could she please let me finish?

By the time I get home, it's 9:30. My five-page paper is due in 14 hours and I still have to unload my computer, haul it upstairs and hook it back up to the printer and keyboard, bring in and put away six bags of groceries, eat dinner, and put my feet up before my ankles disappear. Being a pregnant procrastinator is all the more exhausting! By the time I sit down to eat, I decide that I cannot possibly write a good paper when I'm tired, so I turn in for the night. My alarm sounds at 6:00 the next morning and I mentally count back the time from 10:55 when my class begins, with the soundtrack to Mission: Impossible playing in my head. Here's the part where you would think I'd be a nervous wreck. But I'm not. I'm ready to go. I eat breakfast, watch last night's episode of Real Housewives of Atlanta, which is cut from 60 to 43 minutes thanks to DVR. At 8:00, I pour a cup of coffee and head upstairs to write. Two hours later, I have a five-page paper on "The Conceptual Place of Communicative Theory" with citations and a snappy metaphor in the introduction. And, I tell Dr. U with a proud smile on my face, with time to shower and get to class on time!

Dr. U says she guesses that this method has worked for me, that I get a rush from working under the gun and manage to produce good work. Yes! But here's the thing: While I have learned to truly immerse myself in my doctoral study and actually enjoy spending hours readings, writing, theorizing, planning and producing the best work I can for my courses and working on projects for my assistantship, these smaller assignments just seem like a game to me. A five page paper? Are you kidding me? I could find a five-page paper along with some loose change and lint under my couch cushions! A one-page case summary for Law class is like a "detour" in The Amazing Race. In order to deal with what I deem the mundane tasks of academic life, I make my own reality show: Survivor PhD.

(Dr. U is still distraught over the fact that I put off the paper, so I spend a few billable moments reminding her that it is a good thing that she is freaked out by this. I would be worried if she agreed with me and admitted that she, too, blew off prepping for her brain surgery clinical until the morning she was going to practice her technique. Unlike her "homework," no one dies if I chose the wrong dialogic theory for my paper.)

And then we get to the dilemma this presents with my transition to student/mother: What if, Dr. U says, I wake up that morning and Baby A has an ear infection, or is just crying and needs to be held all morning long? Right. That. Suddenly my tightly-woven Mission: Impossible scenario has turned upside down. We spend the next part of the session brainstorming ways that I can retrain my brain to break things into smaller tasks, leaving room for error, or life, or a crying baby. I guess I have to find a new theme song for my daily assignments as I have practiced all week planning at least one day ahead of time for the small stuff. And it's felt pretty good.

p.s. Because I just have to show her what I'm up against in changing my mindset, I will also bring my graded 5-page paper that I got back from my professor today. I got an "A," with comments like, "nice metaphor" and "fine articulation of your theoretical position" in the margin. What a rush!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Inside My Head: The Final Frontier

I have been going to therapy for my entire adult life. Beginning with my anxiety attacks in high school, moving through the exhilarating train wreck of marriage, divorce, and pseudo-dating I call my twenties, and finally to the self-actualizing 30s, I have heard and said it all. Reclaiming my inner child? Sure. Dealing with perfectionism and stress? You bet. Depression? Yes! Love addiction? Sign me up! Psychopharmacological therapy for intensely emotional and intelligent syndrome? Why not! The great part about moving to self-actualization is that I can speak openly about these issues. Not in an inappropriate catch-you-in-the-bathroom-while-you're-washing-your-hands-and-mention-that-your-sweater-reminds-me-of-the-color-of-the-room-where-I-was-inappropriately-touched-by-Pastor-John kind of way. But, in the "Hey, now that you mention it, I've been through some stuff." The only problem with having this many therapy notches on my belt is when I meet a new therapist who is not prepared for the new and improved, evolved Sherri. Case in point: My recent session with Dr. U.

Because I am taking a drug for one of the aforementioned issues (I'll keep you guessing on that one. Is there really a pill for love addiction, you're wondering?), my OB/GYN and I thought it prudent to see a psychiatrist during my pregnancy. You know, to work through "role transitions," and so as to have a relationship established with someone should I run into any post-partum mental health issues. My body once grew a tumor with extra teeth, for Christ's sake; the odds are great that a few extra hormones could mess with my system. So, I made an appointment with Dr. U, Chief Resident of Psychiatry at the hospital. I sat down for my "intake" appointment and proceeded to answer her question: Family medical history? Yes. Personal mental health history? Yes. Relationship history? Yes, yes, and yes. Current medications? Just a little something to take the edge off.

As she asked more detailed questions about life events, I began to tick off each of the key events or relationships that precipitated visits to therapy throughout the last twenty years. I was careful to show just enough emotion so as not to prompt her to order a battery of Rorschach ink blot tests to see if I was psychotic/anti-social, but not so much that I would end up in a fetal position on her office floor and miss my 3:00 class. Her eyes got wider and her pen flew across her notebook as I answered her questions.

Dr. U: Tell me about your relationships, Sherri
Me: Oh, I'm married to a wonderful guy who loves me and supports me and is just great. Phew, what a change from the alcoholic boyfriend in high school, and the anti-social abuser in my thirties, with a few meatheads, cowboys, and one really lovely soul that I married and divorced in my twenties.
Dr. U: Um, how about your family?
Me: Oh, you know, the usual June and Ward Cleaver upbringing, except my mom had undiagnosed OCD until a few years ago, and my grandmother was bi-polar and then there was that one time when I was five, and that incident in the dorms freshman year...
Dr. U: And have you undergone therapy in the past for any of these issues?
Me: Um, let's and on I've seen two individual therapists, a marriage and family counselor, and two psychiatrists, one of whom was named, appropriately, "Joy." And now you.
Dr. U: Yes, right, and then, were diagnosed with depression in 2006?
Me: Yep.
Dr. U: And, how are you doing with that now?
Me: Oh, great. I mean, diagnosed depression sure beats living in the deep, dark place where you don't open your mail for a month, forget to eat, and wonder why you don't feel worthy when you are obviously a great person.

At this point, Dr. U tells me she is going to step out, consult with the attending psychiatrist, as is common practice with residents, and then return with the attending to review my case. Ten minutes later Dr. U returns, armed with Dr. C and they are happy to recommend Dr. U work with me on a series of interpersonal therapy sessions to work on role transitions and my general mental health management. And she was happy to refill my prescriptions as needed.

Our weekly conversations consist of talking through how to manage my stress, communicate more effectively with my partner, and setting realistic expectations for myself, among other things. Looking back, I am pretty proud of the progress I've made in the mental health department. I know I will always have to fight being a little nutty and emotionally intense, but that's all part of what makes me me, after all.

This week's topic is my propensity to procrastinate, which may present the greatest psychological challenge of all. Stay tuned!