anxiety · life · social anxiety · therapy

Group Therapy, a Homework Assignment & a Memory

It’s almost that time of the week again for me to go to group therapy on Saturday. To say I am looking forward to it is not really true. I dread being in a space where I am sharing stuff about myself in a group. Like last week, I have to complete a thought record with at least one anxiety provoking experience I dealt with for this week and be prepared to talk about it. Everyone has their turn with sharing, but it doesn’t make me feel any less uncomfortable.

Many times, before the therapy session begins, I often forget that the moderator (usually Betsy) turns on a recorder to capture everything on audio for research purposes. It’s something she disclosed to each member during our in-take sessions so we all are aware of it. The device is so small like a USB and I only remembered it was there at last week’s session when I happened to glance down at the table in front of me.

I have not become friends with anyone in the group. Originally when the group was larger, there was one guy I kinda knew from the social anxiety meetup group but I hadn’t seen him in well over 6 months at the time. I only saw him during the first Saturday session as he was absent for the sessions I attended in following weeks. Being absent for a session is acceptable as long as the member notifies the moderator by email or phone. Usually, if this happens, the member will then come in an hour earlier for next Saturday in order to do a makeup session before also being present for the usual session. In a smaller group of only three other people besides myself, I think it’s less likely some will call out. Last Saturday, only one member couldn’t make it and had set up another day to have her session with Betsy.

Besides feeling anxiety about showing up for therapy, I feel anxious about completing my thought record. The assignment is not hard but what makes it painful for me is the physical act of writing down my own feelings, emotions, and how I reacted to an anxious situation. It’s like unearthing something I would prefer to be buried because uncovering it means other people can see it, and as a result, I hate how vulnerable this makes me feel. I perceive a thought record as a thing to be feared. If I write about something, then I’m giving attention to something I think of as a problem (my anxiety). I also have a very low opinion of situations that have given me anxiety this week and even think to myself, My god, you are pathetic. Something so simple that literally anyone can do, yet you feel scared of it. There I go comparing myself to others again. This is an additional reason why I am fearful of completing thought records: If write it down, I am acknowledging what I experienced and felt is anxiety.

There are two incidents I am considering for the thought record. For one of them, whenever I think of it, I feel an immense sense of shame and embarrassment.

It was like two days ago when I happened to be in the kitchen as my mom set a pot of water on the stove. The water hadn’t reached its boiling point yet but she asked me to tell her when it was because she wanted to steam some eggplant. I agreed, despite inwardly cursing myself for being in this dilemma since, moments earlier, I was thinking about going upstairs to my room. I felt anxious about calling her once the water was ready. She was in the living room, where the tv was on as she was busy on her iPad. I must have waited like 5 minutes more to even notify her after the water was already boiling. My thoughts were a jumble during this. No matter how much water I drank, my throat still felt scratchy and dry. Will she be able to hear me if I call her? What if my voice doesn’t come out? What if she notices I am scared?

I had flashbacks to my childhood and the couple of times I was too anxious to call people whenever I was asked to do so by someone else. Example: One time my dad phoned home and asked me to notify my mom of something. I don’t remember what it was; it might have been to tell her he would be home later than usual or to not cook rice for dinner. It felt like an enormous burden to attempt to approach her and recite my dad’s message without stumbling over my own voice. The thought alone of even trying to was too frightening for me. I was at the age where I didn’t quite know how to talk to my own parents or the people around me. I felt a certain discomfort at a perceived unbalance in my life then, particularly at the many unsaid things in my home and the language difference. I felt uncomfortable and unsure when talking to them in Mandarin because of my poor command of the language. I felt the same speaking to them in English; knowing that my dad could hardly understand anything beyond basic words. With my mom, I think it was a combination of feeling awkward around her since her mood and attitude were unpredictable to me and she had times where I felt she was being more harsh than necessary. I was somewhat afraid of her. That is partially what contributed to why I didn’t go to her.

I had been in the basement, too, when I got my dad’s phone call. So I stayed down there until my dad got home. The whole time I knew I was supposed to tell my mom the message but hadn’t, my heart was pounding and I knew I might get yelled at because of my avoidance. I could hear what was going on upstairs as my dad asked my mom if I had told her what he had told me. The memory that stayed with me is her awful and loud words about me. It sounds bad enough in my English translation, but it was even worse in Mandarin. There is nothing quite like being insulted in your native tongue and feeling just how deeply it cuts you, to the point the words don’t have the same exact effect when translated into another language. She basically referred to me (to my dad) as a “stupid mute who doesn’t know how to talk”. In my child’s mind then, I recall wondering how and why a mother could say something so cruel about her own child. This was but one of many times I got berated by her for being “mute”.

If you’re reading this and thinking my mom sounds like an evil witch, well, there might have been a time I would have thought so too. I wouldn’t say I was an angel either. In another time and another blog, I will write more about this.

In  present time, I couldn’t stop thinking that the same thing would happen again. I ended up taking a restroom break in the basement before I came up and stood in the little hallway adjoining the living room and kitchen together. It was kind of like a now or never thing. I don’t know how I managed to make myself do it. I called out to her and she seemed surprised and shaken out of her focus as she looked up from her iPad.

5 thoughts on “Group Therapy, a Homework Assignment & a Memory

  1. I was following along your previous post, about leaving your job. I can imagine just how strained things on the homefront is for you right now. Perhaps not going to the group therapy might be helpful for you. A few years back I did think about going to a group like that, or going to a group where we shared the same interest (e.g. hiking, walking) – all in a bid to feel less anxious, with the idea that the more I interact with others, the more normal I would feel. I sort of did that and went out to events but felt that i never fit in. Writing my thoughts down like you are doing for your homework was something I did when I used to journal every day – and afte ra while I stopped because I felt I was just writing the thoughts down, and they would stay on paper and I wouldn’t feel much different before writing them out.

    ‘There is nothing quite like being insulted in your native tongue and feeling just how deeply it cuts you’ I’ve been there many, many times as a kid. My mum would ask me to do something as a kid like writing a Chinese character on a piece of paper for school; I’d get it wrong and she would make an angry remark in Cantonese – something along the lines of ‘stupid idiot don’t know anything’ but you have to hear it in Cantonese to feel the full effect’. I think quite a few Chinese/Asian parents are like that. It’s just how some generations are.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’d say there are definite things about group therapy I think I will always be fearful about. The main reason I decided to go back because I felt I was going crazy with so much anxiety and worry over my job (at the time I was still employed) and couldn’t stop crying over it in secret. It is somewhat of a relief to have a group I could share my pain with, but it’s also very jarring to allow people to see me at my most vulnerable. I mean, I cried in front of these people and discussed my reasons for feeling anxious in specific situations. Even now I think about whether if the other group members find me annoying or ridiculous, even if people have responded to me in a positive way during the sessions.

      I agree that the idea of joining a group and interacting with people who have common interests with yours (in the hopes of feeling less anxious) doesn’t really help. At least it hasn’t in my case. I still go to meetups and push myself when I can, but most of the time I still feel just as anxious if I hadn’t gone. Yes, there is that relief of “I did it and did not chicken out”, but I tend to still think about how crappy at am at social engagement and replay all the incidents where I perceived I made an idiot of myself. I believe I have convinced myself that I don’t really go to feel less anxious but to stave off boredom and build new experiences even if I don’t end up making friends.

      Yeah, it may be a generation thing but I still can’t understand the mindset of parents who speak so callously to their kids. For some kids, they grow up and don’t continually feel the burn of those bad memories but I keep carrying them with me now and feel I was deeply affected by those experiences even.

      Like

      1. Joining a group or trying to be a part of something can be a way to distract yourself from what’s been going on. But like you, that rarely work for me. Though I get the ‘I did it, did something different’ vibe after, I will also have the thought ‘What was the point, so what’.

        It could work for you, who knows. Good luck withe the upcoming sessions and what you choose to do next.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yeah, I kind of feel “what was the point?” too sometimes. I have never had tight knit group of girlfriends I could hang out with and I don’t have any now either. I think what I want most is a sense of belonging when I perceive I don’t fit anywhere.

        Liked by 1 person

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