I saw my therapist today. I used to joke about wanting to have a therapist so I could be one of those people that could say My therapist says…and now I am one of those people and it is every bit as good as I hoped it would be.
Anyway, I saw my therapist today. Sometimes it feels a little bit wrong to talk about my sessions. I’m not entirely sure if confidentiality in therapy is supposed to go both ways — should I not be sharing what happens at my therapy? There are rules about this around support groups but I don’t know about psychiatrists. I suppose it is my story and I am allowed to say what I want.
I talked about where my thoughts have taken me over the last week. About the idea of narrative applied to the cancer experience. I’ve been thinking about the breast cancer narrative (thanks to Sarah from Twitter introducing me to the work of Judy Segal, who I have a huge intellectual crush on now) and how it has become a model for other cancer experiences.
The problem with that is that there is no homogeneous narrative that can be applied to the experience of illness. The breast cancer narrative — one of enduring hope and overcoming adversity, coming out at the end a changed and better and healthier person — is one that isn’t even inclusive of the community it claims to represent. Those women who die or whose disease comes back aren’t included. And that narrative has no place for those who don’t find the experience transformative in a positive way (or as Jenn commented, who don’t buy into the Club Cancer jingoism).
It’s also a very linear narrative that doesn’t reflect what I see in my life or my cancer communities (both the ovarian cancer community and the young adult community). It doesn’t take into account the branching and looping back. That it isn’t a simple as having a beginning, middle, and end — it returns on us physically and emotionally. As a dominant narrative, it silences those who don’t recognize their own story in it and who feel too alone or isolated to challenge it.
I think it was Judy Segal (I’ve been doing a lot of reading this week, so I may be wrongly referencing here) who said that every breast cancer story is a comedy because the people left to tell it are the living. That’s a really terrible and simplistic paraphrase of someone who is more articulate than me about these things, but it speaks to this larger idea of who gets to tell the stories.
(One answer to the question who gets to tell the stories is the marketers. Happiness is a better seller than death and despair.)
My therapist said I’m engaging in intuitive narrative therapy (whatever that means) and that I’m looking for…not validation…acknowledgment, I think, that there is more than one way to tell a story. I think that’s a fair assessment. He asked me if this was a shift (as he was seeing it) in my thinking. No, I said, I’ve always been interested in narrative and tropes and why we tell stories the way we do. I’ve just gotten less anxious about what I say or don’t say. I’m less worried about what people will think or if their feelings will be hurt. I think it’s the drugs. And just the feeling that those momentary hurt feelings don’t matter so much in the end.
He told me my time was up. I got up from where I was sitting and opened the door. I looked behind my shoulder before passed the threshold. This is the first session I’ve gotten through without crying. He laughed and hurried me out. Quick, he said, before that changes.