Confessions of a Workaholic

After 15 years of experience in the field of Social Work, I took the opportunity to further develop my skills in the domains of therapy and counselling.

It started with innocent night-time reading on materials of interest, such as the Poly Vagal Theory’s views on Autism, or the fascinating approach of EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) Therapy used in healing adverse childhood memories. “Knowledge is power”, I had been told. I felt the sudden strength that came with this newly found power, and a sudden urge to learn more. Once I became comfortable with my level of knowledge,  I felt a strong  urge to put it to good use . Aiming high to achieve my all-time goal of accreditation in mental health soon became an obvious choice! The urge was unstoppable, so I undertook further studies and training to get me there. I found myself in bed every night with a book on my lap and a highlighter in my mouth, which I occasionally used to highlight the bits I intended to one day review. 

My 7-year-old’s school drop-offs  and pickups had to wait. After all, why not take advantage of living with a supportive, dedicated husband, whose whole world was about my child? Plus, there was always family and friends we could rely on. 

In all the excitement, I decided to start my own practice. With that came a lot of dedication and overtime work. After all, no one knew me, nor had anyone heard of me before –  until now. I needed to put my business name out there. The exciting yet restless long nights and phone calls with my accountant and web-designer  commenced. 

Before I knew it, I had a list of clients that were put on a waitlist to see me! Family time on Sundays  went on hiatus as soon as I rented a room in my local medical clinic. After all, this was my time to shine and to put my name forward. I needed to develop a good repetition to earn the  trust of the clinic’s doctors so they could keep the referrals coming. I needed a good name for myself. I was certain that being flexible, approachable. and committed would get my name out there. If this meant offering my clients after-hour appointments, then so be it! After all, my new business was just a “baby” that needed nourishment and care. 

Soon after that, I met a dedicated Youth Mental Health Service in Greensborough. What a fantastic bunch to work with,  Of course I’ll need to be a part of their team, I thought to myself.  It really didn’t matter that I was already working in two other places as a counsellor and would technically be working 6 days a week, whilst offering after hours sessions to clients, just to demonstrate commitment and flexibility!

My career was booming. I was dedicated, motivated, and committed to delivering the best, most flexible support to clients. Over time, I forgot exactly what time I was meant to pick up my daughter from school. It didn’t really matter though, because we could now afford external support, and my husband’s job has flexible working arrangements . We could do this! I was sure my daughter understood. 

Until that haunting day finally arrived. I was running an online session in my room (and I cannot be disturbed if I’m in my room!). I met a gorgeous young  client for the first time. As I looked at her defined facial features, admiring her youth and beauty, noticing the lines on my own face showing on the Zoom camera, I heard her repeat the familiar cognitive distortion, shared by too many of my clients, “I am not good enough”. That immediately reoriented me back to being her therapist and I started my line of curious questioning. “When was the first time you ever felt that way?” I asked –  usually the first question us therapists ask our clients to determine the roots of  their pain, which almost always involves their childhood. “I can’t put my finger on a specific day,” she responded. “I had a great childhood! I always had everything I ever asked for. We had a beautiful home, I went to a private school, we had a private chef, we always had nannies looking after us,” she continued. I curiously proceeded to ask, “what was your relationship with Mum and Dad like?” . “Oh. it was great whenever I saw them! Although I never really saw them… They were always too busy working. If I wanted to talk to them, I had to wait, and sometimes I’d fall asleep waiting”. My heart sank at that very moment. We spent a bit of time reflecting on the messages she’d received from her environment as a young child. Not having had her emotional needs met  during her childhood led to establishing specific neural circuits in her brain, conveying the messages of low self-worth. After all, this was a true example of “Omission Trauma” which isn’t necessary about “what happened to us”, but more so about “what didn’t happen for us”. 

I ended the session with a heavy heart. I sensed my own instinctive “Attachment-Cry” response being triggered. The heaviness I felt inside my chest and my diaphragm was a bit unusual, and I sensed a big lump behind my throat. Butterflies developed in my belly, and I couldn’t lower my inner critic’s voice in my head. “You are a failure as a mother,” I told myself. 

In all the madness and the urge to succeed, feeling important, and ambitiously pursuing my  long-held career goals, did I lose sight of what was really important in my life? 

The good old motherly guilt that is so familiar to us mothers started to take the better of me, and I had to turn to my own relaxation techniques to control the overwhelming bodily sensations of guilt and shame. As I directed my mindful attention towards my breathing and pressed my feet firmly against the ground beneath me, I felt a sense of relief from those physiological responses. 

As I succeeded in re-activating my Ventral Vagal Nerve, I felt more ready to engage in socialisation and more committed to doing some attachment repair work. I decided to leave the room on a good note. I reminded myself that such mental agony, wherever and whenever it exists, is repairable. 

As I walked into the loungeroom and saw my daughter’s adorable face in front of the TV,  I felt my chest getting warmer and my spine rising taller – resembling a sense of hope. I still had time. 

I sat next to her. Her face was larger than I remembered. She cut her hair a few weeks back, but it was getting longer already, and her eyes… well, her eyes were exactly the same as I remembered them.  

“How was school today, baby?” I asked with a smile on my face. “Good” she responded. She didn’t want to be distracted, because “Gumball”, at her age, was way more important than anything else, after all. “Define good…”,  I responded.

Author: Nasim Yazdani

Arts and Parts

The Guest House by Rumi – This being human is a guest house.Every morning a new arrival. A joy, a depression, a meanness,some momentary awareness