02 Jun A Gathering of Stressors
For most people who come to therapy, the problem or at least the subject that needs to be discussed is fairly evident. There is a relationship issue or a traumatic event or a situational problem caused by alcohol abuse or extreme mood swings or very impulsive behaviors or self-destructive behaviors or whatever. Those starting points are usually already identified by the patients and after they get past the fear and/or shame over the topic, we have our first real session.
For other people, it’s not that clear. Though not the majority by any means, there are a fair number of people who come in with feeling not themselves but who cannot really identify what has triggered it. There is no one big topic or issue and the problems when looked at individually are either mild or well within the normal ebb and flow of any person’s life. These people are often confused by feeling whatever it is they are feeling which may include depressed or anxious moods or a sense of isolation. They may be struggling with sleep or noticing some irritability starting to flair up but cannot identify a specific causal agent.
Sometimes with these patients the discovery of what’s causing their distress is a bit of a scavenger hunt. As we begin to discuss their lives, what we find are really no huge things as much as an increasingly evident gathering or clustering of “normal” stressors, each on their own not enough to really derail any psychologically healthy person but in combination, quite a load. Often there is some sort of transition at the core of it. There may be a graduation or a job change or buying a new house or the nest becoming empty. Then on further exploration you find something like this made up but very typical patient who is caught in a powerfully difficult season.
Right after graduation, I began to notice that our son was isolating more and more in his room. That was about the same time Stan had this big project at work and was having to work more nights and weekends than normal. There was really no choice because we could not afford to lose any income what with Scott going to college (we hoped) and being able to pay for that. Earlier that spring, my father began to show signs of some dementia and my mom kind of began to freak out some. My sister is a great support but she lives in Minnesota, so really the day to day management was on me as mom became less emotionally capable and dad became more forgetful. We also had a big trip to Disney planned for late July as kind of our last big family event before Scott started college. It was about that time that I noticed myself struggling to sleep and becoming more irritable in ways that were just not me.
All the things mentioned can be very challenging, and you might even need to talk with someone regarding any one of them. But when they all come together within close time proximity, normal life stressors can become a emotional or psychological crises. Additionally, the person in the situation described above often feels she has no time to address how she is feeling because there is so much that needs to be managed immediately. This is when the perfect storm of this gathering of stressors becomes all too real.