The Sheen of One Who’s Never Suffered and the Stain of Anxiety

The clean ones. The one’s who have never felt real pain. They wear the sheen of someone who has never suffered. A patina of purity, a veneer that speaks of the innocence of never having hurt. The vacant look of kind confusion when they are asked to understand one who has suffered. This thought occurs to me often. There are people who have never suffered, and they don’t know what it is to struggle. To not eat because there is no food. To not have clean clothes because you can’t afford to wash right now. To choose between groceries and electricity. To not have AC, or television, and to eat the cheapest (least nutritious) food available, just to fill your tummy. To pay the water bill instead of the electric bill because the electric company will give you a month of leeway and the water company will only give you 7 days. To have a disability in an ableist world. To be BIPOC in a whitewashed nation. To be a woman in the patriarchy. There are many more ways, this is just what occurs to me right now. As a therapist, our job is to walk with our clients through their suffering, we help them process their pain and gently guide them to softer sand. We cannot stop the waves, but we can soothe the tide. While one does not need to experience everything that a client has in order to help them, one must have an intimate knowledge of suffering to really connect and empathize with a person who is suffering.

“Nothing human is strange to me”

So then, when a client is angry, and accuses us of not understanding, of having never suffered, of not being real, what can I say? This precious hour we have together is your hour, dear client. It is your time to wash your pain off, shed the hurts onto me. It is your hour, to give me your suffering, if only for a little while. I can hold your burden, and help give you strength to bear it. But if I tell you that I too, know this burden. I too, have carried this suffering. I have been there… Well then. It’s no longer your hour, is it? I’ve made it mine. I can’t tell you all the ways in which I deeply understand your pain, because then I’ve placed my burden on you. That’s not what you come to me for.

Your Therapist has Issues, Too

I wish I didn’t have a history of addiction and that I could take a pill and feel better… I suppose I could take a pill, and I would feel better briefly… but it would also drag me down a road that I don’t want to go down. Drugs are a toxic love affair that I cannot, will not, bear anymore. (That, my dear, is a blog post for another day) I rarely get “cravings” – more often, I get “reminders”. As in, when the eye doctor must dilate my eyes and I feel all weird because I’m getting more stimuli than normal, it’s a feeling reminiscent of opium and it’s honestly not a good (pleasurable) reminder. Or when my anxiety is high, and I feel pukey and edgy and gross and my stomach has the same feeling as guilt and shame (which is super physical for me) and it reminds me of being opiate sick.

What’s a therapist to do? 

The day I wrote this, I had already seen my therapist. Which helped a little, but not enough in the immediate. That’s not a reflection on him or on therapy – therapy is awesome. I rarely feel significantly better right after a session (the emotions are too high), it takes a while for the therapeutic gems to sink into place. For me it’s a delayed effect… a week goes by and I’m suddenly gob smacked with something my therapist said clicking and making just perfect sense and I’m awestruck at his awesomeness and his insight… and I hope that someday I’m as wise as he is.

And on days, (like this day) when my anxiety is a mix of money worries and family worries and hormones (because my anxiety SKYROCKETS during ovulation), I feel stuck. I can logic my way through a little – because after several years of detailed attention to my monthly cycle and my moods (clients, this is the data I speak of when I remind you to journal!), I know when hormonal shifts and emotional shifts are happening. but when you’re in the midst of it, that logic isn’t super helpful, you know? 

So, when my clients are feeling stuck, and anxious, and the free-flowing fears are blanketing them… I get it. More than perhaps, they think I get it. I don’t wear the sheen of one who’s never suffered. Not by a long shot.

No, seriously. What’s a therapist to do?

I give myself compassion. and try to be nice to me. and understand that it’s ok to feel how I feel and absolutely positively DO NOT TAKE ANYTHING PERSONAL TODAY because chances are very high that it’s a “me” issue, not a “them” issue. and do not, under any circumstances, make any major decisions on a high anxiety day. I know that whatever it is, I need to think on it for a day (or five) before deciding. 

I use the word “grace” a lot in my sessions (as my clients well know). Grace for others, grace for yourself. In these moments, where anxiety is high, and life’s got me down, or it’s all going to heck in a handbasket, I have to remind myself that I need to give me grace. And where grace flows, self-care is sure to follow.

Your self-care is yours alone. No one can tell you how to do it, or what must be done. It is finding the things that serve you, bring you joy, and give you peace.

The key is that it serves you. To the addicted person, their substance of choice will be their first crutch of “self-care” – but that’s not self-care. The Wiccans rede is what I want you go aim for; “if it harm none, let it be done.” That’s what I want you to aim for in your self-care. Substances harm you – therefore it’s not self-care.

Today, I challenge you to some self-care and grace

Go outside and stand in the sun for 10 minutes. Do some deep breathing exercises. Plant some seeds, get dirty and feel the earth. Go for a walk. Do some yoga. Give yourself the kindness you’d show your best friend, if they were feeling the way you feel. Walk in the grass barefoot. Go to the beach. Read a book. Drink some herbal tea. Take a bubble bath. Bake something. Get a pedicure. Listen to a meditation. Eat a salad. Listen to your mind and your body, and give it what it needs (not what it wants).

We all suffer, to varying extents. Give yourself grace. Compassion. Kindness. Be good to yourself.

What every therapist wants for every client, of course… For you to be well.

Jennifer Albert, LMHC

Hello! My name is Jennifer Albert and I am a licensed mental health counselor. I work with teenagers and adults, those with addictions, first responders, and those with depression, anxiety, impulsivity, and other mental health disorders in order to help them process historical trauma and lead them on the road to self discovery and peaceful living.