I stepped into a therapist’s office. My first time there.
There was a vase of flowers on the wooden coffee table. Lillies, I think.
One chair and a sofa. I chose the sofa - naturally.
I sat down and after a very brief 'meet and greet' chat, I announced: "I am here because I am a workaholic! I’d rather die than being unsuccessful and when I don’t work - I feel enormous guilt and shame and want to bury myself under a rock."
I could tell the therapist was not shaken by my words.
Nor was she impressed with them.
I dare to say she may have had a twinkle of enjoyment in her eye... but I wouldn't know for sure. The cloud of self-indulgence may have fogged my awareness at that moment. All I could think of was: 'What is she gonna say?! How is she gonna help me?! CAN she help me? Am I doomed!? Or is this a completely idiotic thing to say to a therapist!? After all, there are far worse problems in the world than being a "workaholic". Like boo--hooo! Other people don't even HAVE work they can get addicted to! And you are complaining that you actually love what you do so much that you rather be doing it 24/7!? Um, yeah. First world problems is an understatement here.'
The therapist finally spoke to me as if she read my mind. (Because let's face it -some people absolutely know how to do that despite the complete lack of evidence)
"Seems to me like you are not very gentle with yourself, are you?"
Gentle with myself. Huh.
Wait, that’s it!? Be gentle with myself? Um, yeah, I know that. I mean. Who doesn’t? This isn't as profound of a gem as I had hoped she would drop at my lap.
Then, she proceeded: ‘How do you self care?’
I mumbled: '...Well... I love what I do...'
‘I realize that.’ She continued.
'But how do you self care? DO you self care? Let's brainstorm together some ways in which you can self-care.’
I didn’t knew what to say.
I was dumbfounded by the simplicity of the notion of 'self-care' to fix such a giant life/death problem (not really, but you get my drift...hopefully) and by my inability to answer what seemed like a fairly simple question.
The session continued with a discussion on the various self-care methods that may help me be 'gentler with myself' and before I knew it - time was up and I was out to the races to investigate what IS this mysterious thing called 'Self Care!?
Naturally - I opened my calendar - as a workaholic does - and squeezed in a weekly ‘chore’ to go to the Korean spa, and unwind in the best way I could think of: Five different types of sauna, hot mugwort bath, and a scrub or a massage if I felt like splurging on myself that week. Several months later - I was acing my spa version of self-care. My muscles were thankful and my skin was enjoying the pampering.
But... I was still a workaholic.
And more importantly - I was still talking to myself in a very UN-gentle way.
My therapist noticed. I mean - we were far from strangers now, and have had long talks about my childhood and what's not, and as a preceptive and empathetic person would - she recognized my tendency to be guilt-ridden and be hard on myself way too often.
She asked me: 'How do you talk to yourself?'
I grinned: 'What do you mean? I don't talk to myself. I mean - I talk to my cats occasionally when no one is around, but to myself? No, never been a person that does that...'
She laughed at my momentary innocence: 'I meant - in your mind... in your heart. How do you talk to yourself? What do you say to yourself? How do you self-talk? Self sooth? Self-reflect?'
I proceeded to laugh at myself and finally got on her wave length.
'Huh. I am not the most versatile in my self talk I believe.'
'Okay, well... how about you diversify the ways in which you talk to yourself?'
Once again - my therapist had me dumbfounded by the simplicity of her questioning.
And here I was - down with a challenge and determined to diversify the ways in which I would 'talk to myself!'
For as long as I remember - if I have had a hard time telling someone dear in my life something important - I’d write a letter. Even if I would never send it.
I wrote a letter to my grandmother when she passed away - as a way to deal with the loss and grief, I wrote letters to my teen boyfriend when I didn’t like how our relationship was going but found myself unable to tell him in person, I wrote letters to my parents and never sent them. And since the process of letter writing to my loved ones had always brought me some sort of understanding and even joy - I thought to myself 'Why not write... to MYSELF?'
So in a true 'yes, and' fashion - I started writing letters to myself.
And in order to diversify - I started writing to different aspects of myself:
To the guilt that came up, to the perfectionism in me that seemed to have a hold of me sometimes, to the sadness when it appeared, to the pride when it came over for a visit, to my body in the days when it needed a mental hug, to my inadequacy when it showed up, and my self-doubt, my fear, my rage, my innocence, my joy…..
Before long - I had found my way to talk to myself. To ALL parts of myself.
'Dear Self' is the collection of all those letters.
In April 2020, while experiencing her first ever global pandemic, Tamar Pelzig pledged to write something every day, even if it's only a word, so she welcomed to the world a daily blog to keep her creative writing wheels rolling.
Header Art: Daniel Landerman