Day 21 - Practicing Loneliness

by MB

I'm lonely today.

That feels unfair to write, like I'm purposefully magnifying the parts of this experience that are difficult, instead of focusing on all of the good things about being here. But the past few days have been hard. I'm lonely. I miss my friends. I miss you. I miss Julie. I miss my old coping skills. I miss New York and bowls of quinoa with avocado, Trader Joe's and the checkered twist-off cap on Wolffer Summer in a Bottle. I am irrationally nostalgic for the smell of Sag Harbor at dusk, the familiar feeling of driving down 27 in a convertible with the top down as my hair nips at my ears.

My first two weeks here were so overwhelmingly busy - fraught with typhoons and cancelled flights and jetlag and new coworkers and alcohol, interspersed with a day spent yachting and a day with the stomach flu and Singapore National Day and a day where I ate only dumplings and even a day where I spent unmentionable hours trying to find a decent nail salon - that I didn't have time to feel much of anything. The numbness felt right. It was clean and easy and I didn't have to walk around this city weighed down by 95 degree heat and unthinkable humidity wondering if I had made the wrong choice.

"You can do this," my inner voice would say to me as I would skip up the street to my apartment as odors of raw fish and meat and incense bled into my already sweaty clothes. "It's scary and crazy (though it's actually not that scary or crazy if you're not a weak, lame, unadventurous person) but you can do it." Pause. "You are doing it! You must be better at this than you thought. This isn't that hard. Everyone is crazy!" And then I would think of you and imagine myself sitting on your couch, picturing all of the times I sat across from you and demanded to know, "what do I do?" only to have you respond, "you don't have to do anything. You're already doing it. This is doing it." And then I would smile.

And then I would walk into my apartment, the cool air fanning faint smell of new car around all of my belongings, and feel like I had everything figured out. Because I was using skills and coping effectively and eating three meals a day and two snacks. Because I was just "riding the wave" of emotions and shaking hands with the present and practicing self care and journaling and meditating. I was even being patient with myself and understanding that whatever it was I was doing (wandering? dreaming?) was the thing I needed to be doing and believing that I was exactly where I needed to be.

And all of that felt good and exciting and liberating and even a little surreal, like I was living someone else's life.

But then I realized that it was my life and I didn't recognize it. Because the girl in those memories doesn't feel like me. The person who voluntarily eats three meals (and sometimes two snacks) a day, who cries with ease and then cries at the sense of accomplishment she feels from crying in the first place. The person who orders pasta or a side of white rice, who goes out until 3am because she can, because she has nowhere to be. The person who meditates in the morning and does yoga because it makes her feel alive, who drinks magnums of rose on the beach in a bathing suit surrounded by a group of coworkers and strangers and acquaintances. The girl who falls asleep next to her mother in bed, tired and buzzed and happy and unbothered by the space that her body takes up. 

And then, all at once, I have moments where I realize she is me - that unrecognizable protagonist in those stories - and I remember that I am living a life that is mine but that I don't identify as my own. And then I am overwhelmed by sadness. 

90 minutes

by MB

We have 90 more minutes together. Before I leave. Before nothing changes. Before I am just another girl walking out of a discretely marked office in midtown - another body and collection of neuroses and composition of thoughts and cells and fears that entered that very same office 11 months ago - thrust back into the world.

90 minutes. Before everything changes. Before I say goodbye to the place where I let air the most shameful parts of myself, where I swore up and down against all who dared question me that I would not cry - no matter what - and the place that I learned that maybe I didn't have a choice about the crying part, so I learned to cry. 

The place where I ate pizza and sandwiches and Chinese food, body and mind full of grief and fear and excitement and the realization that, surrounded by people so much like myself, I am rarely as alone as I believe myself to be.

90 minutes left in the place where I decided to, once and for all, choose recovery.

I've thought about making a list of all of the things we talked about over the past 11 months - the places we went and the people we found there. The weights and secrets we uncovered and analyzed and processed and desensitized. The emails we exchanged and the nights  I spent crying on the Q train, scribbling furiously into my journal, unwilling to part with the glimpses of the person you helped me see I was capable of becoming. 

That list would take much longer than 90 minutes to compose. Even longer to read. It would be too long to make meaning of, too fragmented to piece together, yet somehow too whole to face at once.

I'm struggling with how to comprehend and process and reflect and say goodbye to all of those things. How to thank you for the hours you spent watching me, an endless roll of mascara-streaked tears running past my chin accumulating in the well of my clavicle, telling me it will be ok. I wish I could chart a map of our journey - something tangible - to take with me. To remember. To bear witness.

We exist separately for all but 45 minutes a week (90 in the early days) - a time which feels dramatically misaligned with the depth of my feelings about this goodbye.

I'm afraid of what will vanish - ashes to ashes, dust to dust - after our 90 minutes are up. That everything I've learned and changed for and cried about and worked on will be abandoned when I leave the office for the last time.

I'm afraid that in 90 minutes, I'll no longer be able to email you, to call you. To send you jumbles of words and phrases and salty uncontrollable tears ripe with fear and loneliness. That  my life will be ruled by the overwhelming desire to inhale, and then exhale, my very being. And that this is a burden I will have to shoulder alone. 

I'm judging myself as I write this - thinking of the way you raise your eyebrows, hyperbolically skeptical, at my predictable self hatred. It's as if the scariest part of my moving to Hong Kong is no the relocation itself, but the distance it places between us. The boundaries it sets. Their uncertainties and rigidities and the immeasurable extent to which they can be manipulated but not redrawn. The permanence of endings.

I crumple at the inevitability of the moment in which my current status - as a patient, as a New Yorker, as a recovered person - shifts tenses. The moment my present exists exists only as an article of the past. I am terrified of the moment (is it a switch that flips, something you fill out, maybe, a form?) where I can no longer rely on you - formulate decisions using my anticipation of your reaction as an incentive. 

I fear the tremendous uprooting of the soil on which I have planted this stage of my life. I worry that my departure (to be followed, symbolically and pragmatically, by yours) - the tremendous weight of it all -  will crack the foundation of this foreign and tenuous feeling that you've come to show me is recovery. 


by MB


I left our session this evening feeling confused, betrayed, and overwhelmingly sad. Maybe that was the point. I don't know. I have known for months that our sessions would come to an end this summer, expedited by external factors but also because that's the ultimate goal of treatment, right? To find yourself in a place where it ends.

I was caught off guard. I went into our session truly open to the possibility that I wouldn't want (or need) to see you tomorrow, but by the end I felt pretty strongly that seeing you twice this week would be beneficial to me. I came in feeling like I would have more of a choice than I did - that it was a decision we would make together. I left feeling like the decision was never truly mine to make at all. And as much as I value your opinions, insights, and wisdom 99% of the time, I disagree with your conclusion that seeing me tomorrow would be more detrimental than helpful. 

I don't feel ready to end therapy with you. It's something I've  known inside for awhile but haven't been forced to confront until today - I am so incredibly afraid of what the end looks like and what it means.  In my head we had four sessions. I know that's by no means an eternity (especially as you look at it over the course of one year of treatment) but it was a number I was comfortable with. It was a number I had prepared for.

I know that one extra session won't give me all of the answers - it won't cure me or somehow make this inevitable end any less painful. But I was counting on it anyways. I I know it won't make terminating treatment any easier. But I also don't think it will make it harder. And I know (or at least I hope) I can get a lot out of it.

I sometimes feel like therapy can be a mindfuck in and of itself. I imagine this is a result of intentional design, pushing me to my boundaries to prove not that my boundaries exist, but perhaps to suggest that I've underestimated my capacity to live outside of them.

I know I'm supposed to be feeling all of these things, that challenging me to think about them and write them down was part of your decision. But I also feel like I need the support more than I need proof of my own strength. 

If I wasn't ready to talk (or even think) about ending therapy before, I'm ready to talk about it now. I know I take time to process things to really get the most out of them, and I want to start it sooner rather than later. I want to talk to you honestly about what ending CPC looks like for me, and I really don't want to wait a week. I selfishly want the extra time to process, to examine - in detail - the outlines of the end, so that I can begin to comprehend them. I know the number of days I have left in New York isn't changing, and that adding an extra session could feel like delaying the inevitable. But I also feel very strongly that I could benefit from the extra session more than I could be hurt by it, if only to get comfortable with explicitly talking about  the end of our work together.

I understand and respect whatever your final decision may be, but I did feel like I needed to tell you how I felt.



by MB

This weekend was an extended exercise in self care. I dwelled  in the dissonant space between wanting to do nothing but needing to do everything. I was craving time with myself, a space for introspection and growth. I was looking to take stock of my life. I battled every urge I had to make plans, to be accountable to someone else, to put my time on someone else's clock. A war un-won by connection.

I sit here in this cafe in TriBeCa, having just met Jill for a couple of hours, warm from tea and the knowledge that perhaps I'm not alone as I think I am. Writing and thinking. A couple speaks Spanish on the bench behind me. It's Easter Sunday, and they are drinking Aperol Spritzes. John Legend pours out from the speakers tucked behind the mismatched light sconces, his sorrow drowned out by the cafe's patrons.  It looks like spring outside, but looks are deceiving. The consistent flow of customers - in and out and in again - brings with it a cold air that nips at my ankles and wrists each time the door dances on its hinges. 

I have a couple of hours to kill. Nowhere to be. Nothing due. I am learning this distinction - I have many things to do, many things I could be doing, but nothing due

I stepped on the scale yesterday, right foot before left, bringing my mind to the present moment. I watched as its small plastic face blinked at me a couple of times before spitting out its answer, a frenetic energy pouring from my body.

I waited.

I waited for the scale to give me what I was seeking - a summary of my week, a validation of my sickness and my time off, approval of my instincts to eat and nourish myself through my illness, to rest my body and my mind. For what felt like eternity I stood as still as I possibly could, waiting for my compass to guide me. To whip me into shape and belittle the choices I made. To question my decisions, to remind me that maybe I wasn't that sick after all. To probe me with what I knew deep down all along - I didn't deserve that time off, that rest.

I waited for the scale to to tell me how happy I was, how good of a week I had. How much I triumphed. How recovered I was. I waited as though the number would drop a pin somewhere on this invisible map of my life and reorient me to the present. I waited as if every sad feeling or thought, every recognition that I am alone or that my life is in limbo, would be eradicated by a number. I waited for the simplicity to intervene.  

People in recovery talk a lot about how a scale can't tell them anything about their lives - how happy they are, how much they are loved, how much they love. Few people talk about a related but distinctly different phenomenon. Just as a scale cannot measure joy, it can no more accurately explain your sadness. There is no number that can encapsulate your sorrows, show someone else how much you worried or how afraid you were. A scale cannot vocalize how much you struggled, how hard each meal was. How difficult the present moment is. It cannot, in any meaningful way, begin to explain the extent with which you fear your future or question your every move or decision, fearful that today is slipping smoothly through the invisible gaps between your fingers.. 

The scale can't speak. 

I stopped waiting. 

I realized that slowing down didn't feel like giving up, or giving in. It didn't feel selfish or wrong and I am not wracked with guilt.