How to free yourself from your cages?
Updated: May 9
If "freedom is a state of mind", how do we get there?
* This article is published in Change Your Mind, Change Your Life at Medium on May 8,2021
When you move to a new country, what do you miss the most?
all of the above perhaps...
Arriving to a new country is a big change and new immigrants go through all sorts of changes.
When you move to another country, first you go through this euphoria phase, where everything is new and novel. You are all excited and pumped up with adrenaline. You power through a lot of things, renting your home, finding a job and settling to your new place.
Slowly, that excitement wears out and leaves its place to a strange feeling.
An icky one. Sadness mixed with confusion. What is it? *
It carries a tiny piece of Disappointment with a capital D, meaning that not everything is what you imagined. Not as good as it looked from outside.
That phase is when you miss your "home".
At this phase when you might think like,
"Why did I come here?"
"I miss...It was so good."
"I wish I was.... and that I could do...."
"... was so good/different back home, Why did we come here again?"
"We used to do this ... way, here it is so different..."
These kinds of comparisons go on for a while, until you find your inner peace and accept your new home, as it is.
It takes time to find your people, your place and your rhythm. At some point, you do.
You feel like you are at home.
When we moved to Canada, from US, I thought I would be fine.
I mean, first, it was the same continent (at least). Our first move was across the ocean... That was a BIG change, I thought.
"The continent is same, it is right across the border - NY vs Toronto I mean. So, the culture and way of living is similar, I suppose?" I thought.
Well... I was partially right, partially wrong.
and secondly, I thought "I am not from the US originally, I stayed there *only* 5 years here, and I was technically a visitor, this was not my home, how hard this move could be?"
Well, I was quite wrong about that.
We moved to Canada in the middle of the pandemic and when we arrived, Ontario was suddenly put under lockdown (still under it one way or another... after 7 months...) So I felt like that excitement and novelty phase was kind of "stolen" from us, as we were not able to see anywhere or meet with anyone.
So, I may have gone straight to that second "disappointment + slight depression" phase.
The world of comparisons and missing "home".
The Why, why, why phase.
The US might not be my country of birth, but it was my home for the past 5 years.
I lived there, I worked there. I had my daughter there. All my life was there. Including my therapist.
Of course, it was not all roses and butterflies.
Actually I was quite unhappy about a lot of things,
The endless immigration issues, that made us finally give up, and decide to come to Canada.
The hustle and bustle culture...that never let you take a real break.
The "busyness" epidemic, again working until complete burnout.
The cost of healthcare, I mean paying almost 500$ per month?!is quite crazy...
The family-hostile culture, going back to work after 6-8 weeks and putting your LO to daycare, when she/he is that small....
The glass ceiling for immigrants and for mothers, in academia and all other workplaces... don't even get me started on that!
I remember all of them vividly.
yet, leaving everything behind has been tough. I miss everything.
Including and mostly my therapist.
I mentioned I have been to therapy here and there in my several posts, and but haven't talked about it directly. Tossing and turning around it, but not getting to the heart of the matter. Typical me.
Frankly, I have two drafts sitting in my drafts section, for a while.
One is about my mental health advocacy journey and the second one is titled: "What is therapy?" Somehow these posts didn't come alive. They are unfinished for a long time...
Until today. It is now time to talk about it.
My therapy journey.
So, why now?
Well, during this why, why, why phase (why did we come here, why is this like this...) I somehow intentionally did not ask the biggest why.
Why am I feeling so lonely here?
I mean, we are in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic. So kind of duh!
I am unemployed, just changed my career and my home, full-time co-parenting a toddler and strained at home. The Perfect Storm.
Aside from the effects of pandemic, it just registered me that I am also feeling depressed and lonely because left some one of my most previous relationships back in the US.
I am grieving for the loss of my therapist and our relationship.
This coming weekend, is the Mother's Day and it is not a coincidence that I think of her more this week.
I obviously related to her as a mother figure (talk about transference...)
She was a middle aged American lady and it was my first time doing therapy in a language other than my native language.
The American Way, I think sometimes.
My therapy experience with her was so different and formative compared to what I had experienced in my therapies, back in Turkey.
And I couldn't quite figure out why: Was it the language, or the culture, or her approach... or was it our relationship?
Honestly at the end of the day, I don't care. It doesn't matter. Probably it was a combination of all.
It was Her way, that changed my life. And I loved it.
She was my main supporting figure all along my US journey.
She was always there for me, alongside with my husband.
When we were seeing each other every week, sometimes twice for 4 years, I was both afraid to depend on Rosa** and to lose her.
I wanted to depend her and trust her (while I was learning to trust all other people) and I was also afraid that somehow she will be gone, lost or dead. (my abandonment issues )
Her kind compassionate presence, along with her gentle nudges and,
occasional purposeful "discomfort" causing truth bombs...
Some sessions I just talked. And I can talk a lot, in a pretty animated & dramatic way!
Some sessions I just cried...
Sometimes I was angry at her (it usually turned out that I was angry at someone else, and sometimes to myself)
There were other times when I sent lengthy emails to her, something that bothered me, or something that I thought she missed...
and other times I decided to quit (like every other patient, who gets defensive or afraid when things get real and tough)
All those years, Rosa was with me.
All ups and downs.
It felt so good and to feel seen and heard. I was so happy to have her alongside with me.
But the process was not all about happiness. That was never the purpose of therapy. Being happy. It is more about growth and change.
Both change and growth are painful and messy.
I was busting myself and working really hard "emotionally" so much that I wanted to run away. So many times. Then I stayed. I trusted Rosa. I worked through.
She used to tell me "It's okay, Kumsal. You will be fine. You will figure out." And I remember, the first time, when I completely flipping and telling her "What is that suppose to mean? figuring it out? That absolutely means nothing!"
I wanted a quick fix. A solution.
But there was none.
She kept telling me this is a process and that I need to trust the process.
I think I did. Week after week. I trusted the process.
I trusted her.
With my life.
Cause my life depended on this process.
When I started therapy, I looked quite good on the outside.
I have always been a highly functioning individual. I was a fresh Ph.D. graduate and just started my postdoc in a very prestigious lab with an amazing fellowship. I was among the smartest and brightest minds of the world, world class scientists were working around me and with me.
I had a successful career and a new yet happy marriage. What else one can wish for?
Was I being ungrateful? What was going on?
I slowly started feeling this moodiness and uneasiness. At the time, my husband and I was going through a quite turmoiled period with our families.
Then, I was feeling unhappy. Out of control.
I used to get these angry outbursts with my parents.
No matter how much I tried to please them, something was always missing.
When I explained myself and how I felt, it was even worse. All emotions were unwelcome. And I was on my own. I served for one purpose: to fulfill other people's emotional needs. If I refused to do so, then I was being selfish, disrespectful and a bad girl.
I always kept hearing the same thing : "You misunderstood us, we didn't mean that. You are too emotional/sensitive/fill-in-the-blank. You need to calm down. You need to learn anger management."
"You need to do x you need to do y."
You, you, you.
It was always me.
No matter what I did, people were unhappy and the more I gave, actually they asked for more. When you say finally no, they act like wild animals.
The boundaries were a foreign concept to our family systems by then.
I was scared and ashamed. For being such a "difficult/sensitive/emotional/ person"
I really believed something was wrong with me fundamentally. That I needed to change for people to be happy. That I needed to give a little more.
Until nothing was left from me or my life.
and deep down I was never OK with that. I know this was wrong and had to stop.
I wish my family would have imagined the actual change that I would go through, I bet they wouldn't have pushed me further.
Usually when people are called crazy and asked to seek help, they do ask for help and change for their own good, not for the good of others.
Then people blame therapists... but that's another story.
The bottom line is that, my life didn't feel like mine. It was hijacked. I was living for other people and walking on eggshells.
Trying to read other people's minds, giving what they need, while I was actively ignoring and fighting mine, I got exhausted and lost.
So, yes, my life was great on the outside but it was actually falling apart.
Lastly, and most importantly, I didn't want to have a child.
Not that I actually didn't want to have a child.
I was afraid to have a child. I was afraid as hell.
I felt like my life would crumble to pieces once I have a baby.
I felt as if our families will invade our lives, to "help" us with the baby and we will mess up our marriage and our child, forever.
I was afraid to repeat the same mistakes that my family did. Like many families out there.
I had to do something. That is how I decided to start therapy.
I told Rosa that I was afraid as hell. I asked her to help me.
and I felt that she get it.
She got why I was so afraid. She told me that none of this was OK.
I was finally in a place where someone get it.
She understood and supported me emotionally through this process. My psychological dependence war, as I see it.
She was present with me, in all sorts of emotions, even in anger or sadness. The emotions that were always pushed away in my family. ***
Rosa used to tell me, the relationship between us is the therapy.
"Everything in between us, whatever unfolds in this room, is the therapy itself."
That was quite an important and confusing sentence for me at the beginning.
How could the therapy be our relationship? Isn't it suppose to be about other people? So, it turns out that we were dealing with my demons inside that room every week.
They come up in different shapes and forms as we progressed in our relationship.
They showed up as my inability to trust Rosa and being afraid that she will die or abandon me abruptly.
I understood slowly what she meant, as I was able to have this safe space, to feel what I want, to feel and able to process my emotions in her presence.
To grieve for whatever childhood I had or lost. To make my peace with the past so that I can move on.
The relationship between me and Rosa was what healed me.
It gave me the confidence to explore the darkest corners of my soul.
I used to tell her that she is like my guide, as if we were in an anthropological discovery trip, you dig, and dig a little more and then you find something.
Something from your past comes up.
Your truth. The painful realizations under layers of defenses.
These are not places that you can go alone or your friend, or your loved one.
When you feel lost and scared already, you can't just uncover those truths that change your life and you can't heal without uncovering those truths.
A therapists presence and guidance is needed for you to navigate through those "dungeons".
She was the first one to mention me boundaries: a foreign concept to me.
A foreign concept to many of Turkish people.
She was the one who introduced me to Brene Brown. "I think you should watch this show on Netflix, Kumsal"
She was the one helping me practice the dark art of vulnerability.
There were many times when I got upset and decided to leave therapy. Leave Rosa.
I was scared and angry. Perhaps I was testing her. Whether she really liked me or wanted to keep me as her patient.
"Do you really like me?" "Are you there for me?"
Aren't these the questions we ask in all our relationships?
I asked them to Rosa. Many times. Knowingly and unknowingly.
and every time I stayed, because I felt like I mattered. That she cared.
Then I uncovered one truth at a time.
Once you know your truth, you have two choices.
Either you have to find a way to live with it or you turn and run away, from yourself.
I chose to accept it and live with it.
As painful as it is, I didn't see any other way.
As Rosa put it " You can't unknow things Kumsal."
Yes, we can't.
I think many people stop or never start therapy because they are afraid of what they will find eventually.
Deep down we all want to change. Change our life. Change ourselves. Change our partner/family... Become a happier person. Have healthier relationships...
Yet, deep down we are all afraid to uncover those truths.
Those truths that are raw and real. And excruciatingly painful sometimes.
They are our deepest fears, concerns and if we let them seen, if we acknowledge them we are afraid "to lose it".
and it is true that once we accept those truths, we lose something.
We lose our masks, our fake way of being.
Our authentic self slowly reemerges.
So, yes, the fear is valid, we indeed lose something in the process, but we gain so much more.
We can also chose to ran away and rather live in ignorance and hope that the truth will never catch up to us. Ever again.
Yet, that comes with a price, too.
Then we wonder why we are feeling so sad, miserable and empty all the time...
It is a choice in the end. A deeply personal one.
To go through this process and accept your truth and become free.
If I was not in therapy with Rosa,
I would have never been able to change my career.
Never had a child.
Never understood my relationship with my parents and it's long lasting effects in my life.
And stayed in my misery.
This is not to say that I am living in bliss now. There is no such thing as bliss.
There is calm and peace. Coming and going.
and joy. It is also a process to let myself feel those feelings...
With therapy, I gained an awareness and found the courage to change my life.
To write a chapter as I would like.
Rosa used to tell me that they job of the therapist is to install hope.
Hope for a new way. Hope for a new chapter.
I wish Rosa was here with me to see through this change.
I wish I was able to carry her to my new chapter.
It is such a pity that as I am entering this new phase of my life, I had to leave Rosa behind.
As it she served her purpose and our relationship had to end.
This is all possible, through our work with Rosa.
I am about to embark on my journey to become a mental health practitioner myself.
I want to be able to do what Rosa did for me, support people through changing their lives.
Finding their truths.
I have a healthy and happy daughter, that we get to raise with my husband, as a team,
and a healthy marriage. (knock on the wood)
I am finally not wandering around, not knowing where my home is. I am a Permanent Resident of Canada and I am finally home.
and I am building my bridges. Healthier relationships instead of toxic and draining ones.
It is a work in process...and it is not easy.
I have so many things to be grateful for and while I am in the middle of this change and looking at a future, that I did not imagine in my wildest dreams, I scared if I am worthy for all these goodness...
Then I hear Rosa’s voice.
(In my head. and I assure you, I am not going crazy! I came across that this is actually a common phenomenon that patients internalize their therapists voice (and that this signals the end of therapy...)
"I am so happy for you Kumsal, You can do it. You are not alone. You will figure this out. I trust you. I am proud of you"
As long as I hear Rosa’s voice,
I know it will be fine.
I know I will figure things out.
And Rosa is always with me.
Sometimes people are not dead, but they kind of "die".
You move on with your life, so it is like death, but no one is dead...
I guess this icky feeling* I am feeling is grief after all, grief for the end of a chapter, end of our relationship with Rosa.
I deeply miss you, Rosa. I am so glad you were in my life.
I am so grateful to our work together. You will be forever inside me.
I guess all I can stay is - this is what therapy is.
After all, I don't need that initial post.
Who cares about the technicalities and modalities of therapy... while you can tell your living proof of what therapy can do for a person's life.
**I changed my therapists name to protect her identity and for confidentiality purposes.
***If you are one of those people, who *believe* to have perfect childhoods and don't like to *blame* their parents, I am afraid this is not your lucky day. Perhaps you did not finish this post at all. It is very true that we are seeing things from very different places. Not that I blame my parents constantly, but I keep people accountable for their behavior and I don't believe *perfect* childhoods exist as *the perfect parent* does not exist. We are all human, and we all mess up as parents and so did our parents. The best we can do is try for being good enough parents.