During one of my first sessions, it was the beginning of April, while trying to collect details about the background of my story, my therapist asked me: “Do you remember having felt this way, or in a similar way to this, in your past? Do you recall having felt some or all of these symptoms at some point in your past life?”
Sure I did, never in such a strong way and for this long, but I’ve been feeling anxious all my life: before every test at school, every race on the track, every university exam, every job interview, every date, every journey and so many other everys.
“What’s the oldest memory of you feeling this way?”. Well, I felt like that every time I got ready for a new race, as part of the track and field team I belonged to, for example.
“Should you associate a sentence to the way you felt in those moments, it would be I am… what? How would you complete the sentence?”.
“I am not able to do it.” I didn’t even need to think about it.
Whenever I’m facing a new experience, a new challenge, that’s the thought that is stuck on my mind: “I am not able to do it. I am not good enough.” Then I roll up my sleeves and start working as if my life depended on the success of the activity, whatever that is. I commit to my responsibility as hard as I can. And most of the times, I even manage to succeed. But still, while I strive to make it (because I desperately want to make it), my head keeps on telling me that I’m not good enough.
While I went on recalling those days in the track and field team, my therapist surprised me by asking: “Where did you learn that you always have to be on top of every situation?”
And that was exactly what I do: whatever I decide or I am asked to do, I feel the obligation to keep up with my expectations and with those of my parents, my friends, my boss, and everybody else’s.
So I smiled, my eyes closed, and said “I have no idea, I think I’ve been like this since I can remember”.
She didn’t ask more, I didn’t add anything, but that question kept popping up in my head in the following days, till the night, at the beginning of May, when a new major step in my journey was taken.
I was in my bed, with that question still moving in the background of my head and the images of the day I had just spent shopping with my mum passing by. With a thought flow I don’t recall, I wound up thinking of the endless list of situations in which I had the feeling that I wasn’t being on top of it. I soon realized that, in most of those situations, I had the feeling that I was not being the person that my mum wished I was, I was not being the person that she expected me to be.
In few minutes I found myself sobbing on my pillow, in a way that hadn’t happened in years.
Few days later, when I met my therapist for our new session, I told her about that night and those tears. She comforted me explaining that my burst of tears could be interpreted as a positive signal, as the signal that I had probably stumbled upon something hitting a nerve, something that was touching one of my sore spots, something we could have worked on in our future sessions.
I hadn’t imagined that there could be a link between that reaction and my anxiety; I had no idea that there could be a correlation between the two. In the previous months, in fact, I had tried so many times to cry and finally let some of the tensions that were trapped inside me burst out, but I had never managed to do it. It literally felt like my tears had dried up. That night, instead, I cried for hours in my bed, till I finally fell asleep exhausted.
Therefore I had just touched a crucial point in my analysis: my relationship with my mum. There we go, I thought, a mother-daughter relationship issue… Such a cliché.
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