What I Gained from Loss

 Killin it with the J.J. Abrams lens flare in Pattaya, Thailand.

Killin it with the J.J. Abrams lens flare in Pattaya, Thailand.

I’m going to take some time to talk about loss.  Loss means so many different things to so many different people.  Someone can lose a cellphone and it may be the end of the world to them while someone else can lose a loved one and move on as if not much has changed.  For me, loss has just been part of life. I don’t really have a very large family so I haven’t had to deal with that type of loss, thank goodness, but many things have been lost in my life.  Losing the house I grew up in was a lot for me as a child.  We didn’t lose it so much as we left it, but really there was no choice.  After all of the moving and surviving being my soul focus, I lost almost all of my childhood.  Don’t get me wrong, my mother did her very best to keep things as normal as she could, and damn if she didn’t do a great job, but some things just can’t be replaced. Losing my possessions was very hard to handle, but for me, the most difficult thing to lose was time.  Moving to a new place and changing schools was very difficult.  Adjusting to a new settings, a new place to stay, new teachers, a new routine and new kids was always so hard and I just couldn’t do it well.  I did my best, but never felt comfortable.  Meeting new kids and making friends was the most difficult thing for me because these kids grew up together and I just showed up.  Then, just when I would make some traction and start building some friendships, we would move. I think it stunted me socially.  I just didn’t know how to get to know people because after awhile I would just stop trying.  I would just get through the day. Junior high was much of the same. Kids spent years getting to know one another and here I came strolling in, awkward and goofy - two traits that didn’t help me much.  Everyone had what I didn’t have, but wanted which was a sense of belonging.  I could never crack that wall because I never had enough time. Always just a little late to the party.  I say all of this so it is understood that I have lived with a certain amount of loss throughout my childhood which spilled over into adulthood.

With my stroke came more loss. Loss of memory, loss of full function in my right hand for over a year, loss of normal sleep, loss of peace of mind due to PTSD and most impactful was the loss of pre-stroke Joe.  So post-stroke, I needed to change everything.  Shift my life from where it was to where I want it to be, not where I think it has to be. Mentally, I have always been a bit of a basket case, so I started seeing a therapist. It was really strange and difficult because I was still super strokey when I started therapy.  My brain was still healing and my memory was terrible.  It was so bad that Felice had to be with me during my first few sessions.  Once I improved some and started doing my sessions alone, I hated it.  I didn’t like my therapist and dreaded my appointment days.  I wasn’t really getting anything out of my sessions so it was time to move on.  Felice did her research and found me another therapist.  I could not be more thankful.  Now came the difficult part for me.  I had to break up with my first therapist.  Now, I’m not the biggest fan of confrontation, especially post-stroke. It gives me a tremendous amount of anxiety and stresses me the fuck out.  I just wanted to move on and not say anything, but I put together my exit email.  We were not close so an email was appropriate. It really felt like a breakup. I was all, “it’s not you, it’s me” and “you deserve a client that will give you what you need”.  I am of course joking for the most part, but it was uncomfortable.  She responded back with disappointment and well wishes so that was nice.  I started up with my new therapist the next week and after meeting her and speaking for just a few short minutes, I knew I found the right therapist for me. She had such a soft scratchy comforting tone to her voice and her eye contact was one of concern and caring.  I was immediately comfortable and opened up like I was not able to with my previous therapist. I looked forward to my session days instead of dreading them. She helped me process through so many issues that I have left unchecked over the years. She helped me with so many things.  She helped me understand the things I was experiencing and why they were happening.  She gave me the tools I needed to improve my mental health.  She helped me with boundaries and most importantly helped me process things.  You know, if I had these tools earlier in life, I’m pretty sure I could have avoided my stroke.  I can’t do anything about that now, but there is no time like the present to make a change. Over a few months, I built a tremendous amount of trust with my therapist. I mean, if she asked me to run into a brick wall I would have because she had taken such good care of my mental health.  Things were really good and coming together and then the bottom dropped out.

I got a voicemail from the doctor who runs the mental health practice I go to, asking me to give her a call.  After about 10 minutes of trying to figure out what it could pertain to, I nervously returned her call.  She greeted me and informed me that my session was cancelled because my therapist was no longer with them.  She explained, without going into detail, why she left and that this was not a normal circumstance. There usually is a protocol in place for clients when a therapist leaves. She apologized profusely and offered several options for moving forward.  She even offered to take me on as her client if I liked.  I was shell shocked.  Completely devastated.  I sat down and meditated and did my best to process what had just happened.  I shared what happened with Felice and did what most people would do - cried a lot. I took a day or so to let them know what my plan was.  I thought long and hard because I really didn’t know what to do.  I spoke with Felice about it.  I got the male perspective from my friend, Sleep, and my fellow NeuroNerd, Lauren, but still didn’t really know what to do. The problem was that I had come too far to quit, but too far to start over.  I was at a crossroads. After processing everything to the best of my ability, I decided to move forward with the new therapist that had been put in place for me.

So here I was, starting over.  It was not like starting for the first time because I had already grown so much, but it was still awkward and weird.  Same office.  Same couch.  Same window, but different therapist.  I decided to be brutally honest.  I immediately told her that I didn’t want to be there and that she seemed nice, but that she was not my “real” therapist. I sat through the session almost in spite. I just wanted to get through it.  When it was over, it went over well enough that I agreed to see her again.  Therapy is so much like dating, it’s crazy.  I saw her a few more times and thought she was great, but she still wasn’t my therapist yet.  I missed the bond I had forged with my previous (second) therapist and the comfort we had built. I told my new (third) therapist that I felt that way during each of our initial sessions.  I kinda felt bad. It must have sounded like “you’re good, but my ex was so much better.”  The more time I spent with my new therapist, the more I realized that she wasn’t just a stand-in for my old therapist.  She had become my “real” therapist.  When I struggled early on with the transition, it was made much easier with a conversation I had with my NeuroNerd partner,  Lauren.  She pointed out that just like Luke Skywalker was sad and upset about losing his Jedi master, Obi Wan Kenobi, he needed to lose his first master to gain a new Jedi master in Yoda.  She said that maybe it was time for me to find my Yoda.  Now, I don’t know if my new therapist is my Yoda, but I’m open and ready to find out.

I guess what I have realized about loss, at least for me, is that you can dwell and focus on it, but that is only going to leave you bitter, angry and stuck.  I prefer to do the best I can to learn from loss. Grow from it.  Overcome and become better from it.  I’m moving forward in my life and I choose to focus on the positive. Yes, there are negative things in the world and things aren’t always great and easy, but that being said, we live in a beautiful world.  I used to focus on negativity for the majority of my life and that didn’t get me anywhere.  I take that back, it almost put me in an early grave.  Choosing to stay aligned with how great things are and to focus on how things are always working out and to be thankful for the gift of each breath, helps me continue to grow as a person and keep moving forward in life, love and my pursuit of happiness.