dealing with disappointment

My therapist appreciates that I notice and acknowledge all the fabulous things she does for me. Truth of the matter is, as a person, I am tuned in to goodness. Acts of generosity, attentiveness, love, care, and sheer dedicated professionalism tend not to escape me. I notice them and acknowledge them. With everyone.

Maybe it’s the pure joy, the unfettered thrill of experiencing direct, simple goodness. It makes me deliriously happy, happier than most people. It gives me a tremendous rush. I want to jump up and down. If it’s appropriate, I do.

And I like people to know. Because it’s so damn happy-making; and because maybe if they learn what makes me deliriously happy they’ll do it again, sometime. And I’ll be deliriously happy again.

What I am terrible at is feeling and expressing disappointment. I have such a hard time with disappointment that I go to great lengths to deny it to myself. If someone lets me down, I’d rather berate myself than berate them. Also — and this is another thing I learned in analysis — it is almost intolerable for me to deal with even the tiniest experiences of pain in people I love. Example. My therapist just got herself a new couch. She took a long time choosing it. She put serious effort and went through a long deliberative process to make sure it was just the couch she wanted. If she had not been my therapist, I would have ooh’ed and ahh’d at the couch endlessly. Since in therapy I try to be professional (I use this word guardedly: I am not a child; I know I am working: I work as seriously as I possibly can), I told her the couch was nice and left it at that.

It is a nice couch. I have nothing against the couch. At the same time, I am not delirious about the couch. I don’t think there can be a couch that would make me delirious. Couches don’t figure prominently in my fantasy world.

A few days ago I asked her whether she was happy with the couch. The couch has lived in the office for a month or more now. She said the couch was okay; she wasn’t super happy with it but it was okay. See, that killed me. I felt such a tremendous stab of pain and hopelessness inside me. She had worked so hard at getting the perfect couch! I wanted to be Mary Poppins and drop a fabulous couch in her room right then. I wanted her to be the happiest, most satisfied mom in the world. Then she told me she was very happy with the new chair. I think I actually like the couch better than the  chair, but my feelings are entirely irrelevant here. I was tremendously relieved to hear that my mommy was happy with the chair she painstakingly chose.

I think I’m beginning to tackle the issue of dealing with being disappointed in my therapist. I am sort of blown away by the fact that my psyche is figuring out all these ways to bring me closer to this terrible trial. My psyche is simply amazing. I say this because it’s true. It’s a generous, hard-working, brave, and kind psyche. It protects me when I need protection but also pushes me gently and firmly toward growth. I am very grateful for the workings of my psyche, which happen entirely without the awareness of my conscious mind. I contemplate them solely after the fact.

There are times when I think my therapist is the most fabulous person in the world, from all possible points of view. My psyche lets me, because it knows I need it. Lately, though, my psyche has started introducing little blows of disappointment into this fantasy. Dullness. Unexcitement. This has of course happened before. But one new thing my psyche is doing now is that it’s making me late for therapy (I am never late for therapy); it’s making it hard for me to get out of bed; and it’s making my therapist’s office all but intolerable. When I am in it I feel a sense of body heat that emanates from the inside and no amount of coolness can soothe. It’s dry heat, my father’s favorite form of heat. He smothered us in it when we were little. My little self experienced it as psychic torture. This was when my father was terribly unstable and volatile, and, after my mom and he split, it was during the court-mandated days we spent with him at his swanky, intolerably heated house. I had to pretend, for 12 eternal hours, to have the time of my life. And I did. I kept it up like a good little trooper for the duration. I never let my guard down. I was the happiest daughter ever.

It was dangerous around my dad. Things would blow up at the drop of a hat. That stifling heat stands as the symbol of many little deaths. Weekly deaths. Sunday deaths. I wish I could ask my sisters how they feel about it. I know my mom has the same abhorrence of dry heat as I do.

As a child, I sacrificed daily, hourly at the altar of my parents’ happiness. Unfortunately, they had no idea. They saw nothing of it. What a terrible waste.

I had no choice. My psyche decided that was the best way, and my psyche is my very good friend.

Anyway, my psyche is now making my therapist’s office the most unbearable place in the world.

There is something else. When my therapist moved to her new office she went from small, cozy, and old to large, hip, and new. Just like my mom and dad, when we moved from the home of my early childhood to the home of my 7th and 8th years, the home of the unbearable heat.

My therapist’s office would be okay if we could throw the windows open, let the light and coolness and the bird songs in. But the windows are sealed. I don’t know what’s the advantage of sealing windows. I like windows one can throw wide open.

So yesterday my psyche did something pretty fantastic: it took me out of the office (thus making me comfortable) and gave me a chance to live a couple of hours with disappointment. How fucking cool is that?

This is what happened. In the 59 second walk from my car to my therapist’s office, which includes an elevator ride, my psyche got incredibly excited at the idea that today we’d have therapy outside! Yay, outside! It was a fabulously gorgeous day and that seemed so the right thing to do. Even before I sat down I told my therapist, “Let’s go outside.”

Now, see, my therapist is pretty amazing. From the day we met we started this intense process of analysis of boundaries, and now we have boundaries well within the confines of our daily conversations. We are both in love with boundaries. We reorganize them all the time. We look at them, think about them, understand them incessantly.

Bottom line, we went out. We drove to a place she knows I like and had pastries. And therapy. We had therapy in a cafè on a gorgeous, cool, sunny day, surrounded by beautiful things, and pretty much alone.

Now here’s what my psyche knows. My psyche knows that I am losing — need to lose — a foundational fantasy of my therapist. My psyche knows that it is going to be — is being — a tremendous loss, and that depression, rage and bleak despair will cloak it. So my psyche took me to a lovely place to kick off the official season, The Time in Which I Go through Experiencing Searing Disappointment in My Therapist. I’d like to reiterate that I have experienced disappointment before. So far, though, I have fought tooth and nail to keep the fantasy intact. It’s time, now, slowly, gently, lovingly, to readjust the fantasy — and lose some essential, sustaining, life-giving aspects of it.

You can’t go out in the world with your analyst of three years without feeling disappointed. If you need me to explain you don’t know about the psychodynamic process.

So there was that, disappointment. But also fresh air, the sun, the lovely surrounding, the delicious pastries, and lots and lots of tenderness.