Burst my Bubble

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Losing an illusion makes you wiser than finding a truth – Ludwig Borne

For about a month now I have been volunteering as an assistant at a local yoga studio. In a class for 40 yogis, it’s helpful for the teacher to have someone walking around, making manual adjustments.

The first day I stepped in the crowded yoga studio, the feeling was strangely similar to the first time I walked into a therapy session alone. Four years ago, I sat across a girl who hadn’t attended school in three months because of delibetating anxiety. With trepidation and excitement, I was prepared to follow the procedure for treatment of separation anxiety, expecting that the little girl would jump right on board and together we could conquer her anxiety! I imagined a shrink-client relationship from the movies: she would open up to me, I would make her laugh, we would hit a bump in the road, she would cry, followed by an “ah ha” moment, and bam! – she would return to school.  We would prance down a scenic road with a single bump (necessary for drama).

The illusion I had when watching the yoga students on their mats, chatting, meditating, or stretching in preparation for the class was similar to my experience before that first therapy session. In my imagination’s movie, the slender lululemon mannequins would breathe and move in unison to the teacher’s voice, they would all touch their toes without bending their knees in a standing forward bend, and I would simply have to brush their necks with my fingertips to release tension.

In both situations, I lived in a shiny bubble that would inevitably burst. Most novice researchers, clinicians, writers, and yogis have flawless illusions and expectations of simplicity.

Illusion is the first of all pleasures” – Voltaire

My therapy illusion bubble burst when the anxious six-year old refused to speak during the first session.  She dropped her forehead on her forearms and gazed at her feet. I offered her crayons and paper to colour, juices and crackers – anything that would make her look at me. I stared at her curly hair wondering what to do.

In the first yoga class, the first “inhale” was enough to snap me out of the yoga clothing commercial. My expectation of coordinated movements was met with jerky contortions and wobbly stances. My imaginary models had forgot to shave and were wearing pajama pants. The room quickly became sweaty and smelly. Despite the presence of a single teacher, there seemed to be 40 individual yoga classes happening at the same time.

I had to think on my feet, leaving the therapy room was not an option – I wanted to connect with the anxious little girl. I looked around the therapy room, picked up a book about emotions from a shelf, and started reading. I first read without asking any questions (including asking for her permission!). Next, I handed the little girl one green crayon and one red crayon. She snapped the red crayon in half while keeping her forehead on her arm. Refusing to be defeated, I read the book a second time, and after every page (i.e., every emotion) I asked “I wonder if you’re feeling like that….show me the green crayon if you are feeling like that and show me the red crayon if you’re not feeling like that”.  Are you feeling sad? Half a red crayon came up. Are you feeling angry? [green], happy? [half a red], scared? [green], lonely? [half a red]…and so on. Without exchanging any words, I learned how this anxious little girl experienced our first therapy session. After the third reading, we were colouring together in silence.

Leaving the yoga class was also not an option. Taken aback, confused, and a little scared, I started walking around the room. I zig-zaged between wobbly arms and legs, watched breath enter and exit the students’ lungs. I did not touch anyone for a first ten minutes, until I noticed the calm and serenity on the yogis faces. Something switched as I reached to touch the first student. I gently drew their hips back, assisted in harm extensions, and applied gentle pressure on necks. While the yogis rested in the final relaxation pose, I glanced around the room, and I saw beauty in the silence.

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We tend to have a whimsical image of what our lives as researchers, clinicians, writers, or yogis will be like. More often than not, these illusions mimic what media has presented to us. However, when reality bursts our bubble, one natural response is to look for an escape.  When our bubble of hope and expectations bursts, it leaves us with wet socks and shivering shoulders in an unknown environment. It’s surprising what a deep breath, patience, and a little imagination can do. There is a world, far more beautiful beyond our bubbles; it’s up to us to discover it.

Did your bubble burst? What did that look like?

How did you cope with it?

Averagely yours,

the candidate.

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The Therapist becomes the Client


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Having been a swimmer most of my life, it was no surprise that I injured myself while transitioning from a low-impact sport to a high-impact one. Within weeks of taking up running, I began to feel a sharp pain in my right heel. The sensible thing to do at that point was to stop, rest, and seek medical advice.

I kept running.

Standing at the top of the normal curve, I tend to look to my right (your left?) at the people above the Average. I doubt that the above Average person would have stopped running because of pain. In fact, the above Average person would probably not be injured in the first place because he has good running technique and luxurious barefoot shoes. In any case, not running because of pain is not consistent with my “pain is weakness leaving the body” motto. It would also not serve to burn the calories from the daily butter tarts I devour. I kept running until I was limping my way around campus.

It took months before the “call physio” item made it to the top of my to-do list. Before the appointment, I did what any graduate student would do: I collected data. I charted the location, intensity, and quality of the pain on a daily basis in an excel spreadsheet. I Googled “heel pain” and diagnosed myself with plantar fasciitis. I also took four Advil’s a day and kept running.

The physiotherapist asked me if I was comfortable with having a second year student do the examination.

What do you mean a student? Does she know what she’s doing?

That was a hypocritical reaction. I am student therapist myself! I report to a registered psychologist, and a supervisor approves all of my decisions.

“So the pain is your right heel”, she asked with a shaky voice, gripping her pen and clipboard to her chest.

I was compelled to be the best patient this young physiotherapist to would ever have. I immediately told the student physiotherapist (SP) that I had plantar fasciitis. I regurgitated the symptoms off the websites, and asked for shockwave therapy.

At that moment, I heard the physiotherapist’s eyes roll in their sockets.

In a clinical setting, there are few things more frustrating than a client who tells you what to do. There is a clear difference between “This is distressing, what can we do about it?” and “This hurts and I need you to do this for it to stop”. The first expresses the desire to work collaboratively, the second is an order.

From my perspective, I was trying to be efficient and helpful. Instead, I was ruining an opportunity for the SP to learn and coming forward as a bossy hypochondriac.

The SP began the examination by evaluating my foot’s range of motion. Her fingertips barely touched my foot, as if she was afraid to break it. She looked back at her supervisor for reassurance between every exercise and question.

I couldn’t help but sympathize. Assessment and questioning is challenging: you have to formulate an open-ended non-threatening question, evaluate the response, interpret it, note it down, and think of the follow up question simultaneously. All the while, you have to look like you know what you are doing.

Meanwhile, I asked questions about every instrument and exercise. From my perspective, I was being curious, from hers, I was annoying.

Eventually, I was dismissed with a plantar fasciitis diagnosis (Should I say I told you so?), a prescription for a therapeutic sock, and stretching exercises. As I walked out of the office, I realized how uncomfortable the role-reversal was for me.

Therapists and health care professional make difficult clients: we don’t seek help when needed, we don’t follow instructions because we think we know better, we over-research, and tend to be skeptical . I think we compensate for our paranoia and fear of looking weak by trying to show off how ‘knowledgeable’ we are about our ‘condition’. We simultaneously try to save the health professional work and appear confident, but in the end we make the assessment and treatment more complicated.

What if I had walked into the office and expressed more vulnerability? Maybe for once, I should have indulged in someone’s curiosity. I wonder what I was running from.

What type of patient are you?

Averagely yours,
The Candidate