Thursday, January 14, 2010

If You'll Be My Bodyguard

A couple of years ago, I decided it was time for me to buck-up, take a (semi) deep breath, and take the plunge most New Yorkers plan for all their lives. I wasn't sure I was completely ready for such a big step, and a part of me resisted, thinking that I was better off on my own -- I mean, did I really want to sacrifice my independence for a life of schedules and weekly dates? But I knew it was time, and I decided to just leap right in, ready or not. I was 26 and had just graduated from law school when I took that all-important next step into the world of grown-up New Yorkers: I got a therapist.

Surprisingly, although I sought out someone with experience dealing with chronic illness, CF wasn't the main catalyst for my decision. I actually come from a family of believers when it comes to therapy -- which is really just to say I come from a family of talkers who enjoy being the center of attention for at least an hour each week, and are willing to pay someone else for the privilege. Okay, fine, so I'm over-simplifying a bit here, but the point is I've never had an aversion to idea of therapy, even if it took me a while to really get on board with the practice in my own life. And when I left school and faced the prospect of a new fast-paced job, some other major changes in my personal life, and some frightening developments on the CF front -- well, I figured it couldn't hurt to have an objective pair of ears to listen to my rants and insecurities and musings and general ridiculousness.

Obviously I hadn't yet started blogging.

Anyway, fast forward from 2007 to 2010 and I'm still seeing the same wonderful man, making it in my mind a very successful relationship (though I'm fairly certain that he sees other people). And, as you might imagine, the topic of our sessions has largely shifted focus from "CF and other things like jobs and relationships and what-have-you" to "CF and other things like transplants and transplants and transplants." Go figure. I've actually started to amaze myself with the sheer volume of just stuff that I can talk about when it comes to CF and waiting for transplant. It doesn't even have to be important stuff, apparently; the most boring and mundane subjects become of great interest to me when I enter through those double wooden doors and take my seat on the overstuffed green armchair. Worries about where Sammy will spend the night if I get the call at 2 AM? Definitely worth discussing, never mind that he can easily survive by himself for several hours and has a dog walker who stops by twice every day. Questions about whether they'll try to make me use the Vest right away after surgery? Absolutely on the agenda. Concerns about how greasy my hair is going to be after 2 weeks in the hospital with no shower? Yep, brought that one up too.

Clearly I have a real focus on the important things in life, right?

In all honesty, though, I'm extremely grateful for my therapist. It just seems as though lately, CF is on my mind all the time, and I hate that. I know that I have wonderful friends and family willing to sit and listen for hours, if I asked them to, about all the thoughts that are jumbled up in my head regarding my disease, and this surgery, and what it means for my life, but I also know that I'd rather spend the time with them on other things, at least some of it anyway. So I sometimes picture my therapist as a balding, bearded bodyguard for the rest of my family, taking my verbal bullets with a smile so that those I love most are spared hours of mindless transplant drivel and a long litany of selfish complaints. (And to be frank, you guys should probably be thankful for him too -- I have a feeling this blog would be a lot more whiney without him!) It's as though my hour a week in that little room lined with bookshelves and cool photographs helps to transform the major CF/transplant melodrama that seems to be playing on repeat in my head these days into a more manageable little soap opera -- it might be playing in the background, but it doesn't have to run my life. And when I suddenly find myself out of breath and panting from the "effort" of pulling off my winter boots and jeans in the dressing room of a high-end department store, I at least know that there's someone out there who won't mind listening to me sniffle about it later. And that, in turn, makes it a whole lot easier to laugh at it now.

Obviously not everyone can afford a therapist, and some people don't like them anyway. I totally get that, and I wouldn't recommend it as a "must have" for anybody, not even people with severe or "end-stage" CF (note to self: bring up complete and total aversion to the term "end-stage" with therapist!), or those facing transplant. But I do think that it's super important to find someone, anyone, who is willing to listen, and then to actually allow ourselves the freedom to be real about CF and our fears -- even the really little, sort of silly ones -- for at least a little while every week, or however often we might need it. And at least in my case, if I know in advance that I'm going to take an hour to really be worked up about some of the recent changes and uncertainties and anxieties in my life, then I know when it's over that it's time to brush off the tears, shake out my hair, and leave those worries behind for the time being, at least to the best of my ability. And it's the listener who really allows me this freedom, because by just being there and actually choosing to hear what I have to say, the listener (be it a family member, friend, or my therapist) has the power to give me a sense that what I'm feeling is valid, not ridiculous (even when it is) and okay to express. An emotional bodyguard, indeed.

It's a dirty job, I guess, but somebody's gotta do it. I'm just so grateful to the many people in my life who are willing to do so.


  1. I don't know how you will feel about this comment but it is entirely meant as a compliment my dear. For some reason this post screamed Carrie Bradshaw to me! I felt like it was her reading it lol. (Sex and the City for those less informed).

    I used to see a psychologist but I gave up on him when he wouldn't talk about CF issues and only my social life. I debate whether or not I want to go back and sometimes it is yes and sometimes it is no, but obviously I have not made a choice yet.

    I'm sure even if we read those silly little worries of yours about transplant we would still love you!! And the greasey hair thing is a HUGE concern of mine too and I haven't even started the evaluation process yet!!!!

  2. You know Piper, sometimes when I read your blog I am amazed that 90% of my thoughts are all written down so concisely. Either we are mysteriously related or you girl are 100% normal for what we are going through. Regardless, thank you for letting me live vicariously through your blog.

    Kari (dewgirl)

  3. I started taking my son with CF (now 8 yrs old) to a therapist last year. He was having so much anger about having CF that we just needed some help. She has been such a god send to us. This past week he had a clinic appt that was giving him huge anxiety attacks. She got us in the day before his appt and worked her magic and helped him find a way to have some control over a situation where he is being made to do things that are scary and painful for him. I know it may not be for everyone but sometimes you just need someone who isn't directly involved to help look at things from a different angle.
    Thank you so much for you posts. I enjoy reading them and appreciate your outlook and perspective more then I can say.

  4. You have a dog walker eh? I always feel like I'm being lazy by feeling that walking my yorkie-poo is too much for me at 27% lung funciton. Thanks for helping me feel that I'm just normal! :) Love your blog. Also, your dog is ADORABLE.