I am many things, I have some strengths that I can fairly claim as my own: I sing great lullabies, I am a voracious reader, an eager student. Although I probably think I am a little funnier and smarter than I actually am, I’m pretty sure I am generally amusing and informative to chat with in a social settings. I am very sensitive to color, and so my outfits match, and I’m good at decorating my living spaces in pleasing ways. I am interested in interesting people, and can curate pretty satisfying holiday parties with good food and good company.
On a professional level, I fancy that that I am, for the most-part, a good-enough therapist. Sometimes, I am even downright inspired at what I do. I have my small, brief flashes of brilliance.
And, there is a lot of stuff I really suck at.
Here is a sampling:
I wouldn’t say it is my regular practice, but it is not uncommon for me to be between 5 and 8 minutes late. Sometimes I also unintentionally start sessions early, or add additional time on the end of sessions.
(Unless you are my first patient of the day, and then it is actually uncommon for me to be on time. I give fair warning when people take these slots, and make up the time for all my latenesses at the end of sessions)
Of the all monthly statements I hand out, at least 2 or 3 of them each month are wrong – sometimes to your advantage and sometimes to mine. Sometimes they are glaringly, ridiculously wrong.
I regularly forget the dates, or mis-record when you have said that you are away on vacation, calling while you are in the middle of a massage on a beach somewhere, wondering why you missed the session.
It often takes several email attempts, with me offering alternate times, and then “oops!” taking them away again, for me to be able to reschedule appointments correctly.
I can only bear to sit down once a month to face-down my bookkeeping, and if you have a special request – such as a summary for past sessions, or reprinting a bill that has been misplaced – It can take me forever, and I may need multiple reminders.
For new cases, I often forget entirely or write down the wrong diagnosis code, or procedure code on your statement, which will annoy you only after it has first annoyed your insurance carrier, and delayed your reimbursement.
If you write me a check, and ask me to hold it until a specific date I have been known deposit it anyway causing you to bounce checks.
I think those are the highlights.
If you look at the list closely – you might quickly notice that it is all about time, money, numbers or dates.
But most clients don’t see or look for a pattern, they just feel the stinging effect that my error, my failure has on them.
They feel understandably forgotten, or angry, or disregarded, suspicious, neglected, ripped off, or exasperated. Some feel embarrassed for me, trying to find excruciatingly polite ways to show me my error with out shaming me, or revealing their disappointment or frustration.
People assume that it means that I am indifferent to their needs, that I am spacey or absent-minded, or flabbergastingly disorganized, lazy or dumb. Others forgive me instantaneously, too quickly, before they really take stock of the injury or irritation that has been inflicted.
Many expect that once they have mustered up the courage to say something to me about it, and I have heard them out, that I will never do it again.
But I will do it again,
and I make no promises that I won’t.
There are some things I simply cannot do no matter how much someone else wants or needs me to.
And there are some things I am not capable of no matter how I wish it were otherwise.
Its taken me my entire lived life to come to terms with that.
I still struggle with it now and then.
Here is what I can promise with absolute certainty: I will always, want to hear about the effect I have had on you. Even when it is hard for me. Even, and maybe especially when it makes me uncomfortable.
Better me than you. Its not rightfully your burden, its mine.
These are my limitations. I own them – I understand them. I have some appropriate compassion for myself, and even if I cannot do a damned thing to change reality, I can own the effect I have on others.
I would rather you never have to accommodate to my limits, but I have learned that I am not always able to protect others from the obstacles that I live with each day.
So, I will seek out, and actively withstand every feeling, frustration, anger, fantasy, sorrow, pity, fear, suspicion, and speculation about my “real” intention or unconscious motivation. I will reach for every association, every painful memory of past disappointments, every time someone has failed you in this way, left you waiting, made you feel forgotten, miscalculated your needs, or pressured to compensate for their failings.
I do not have any need to be protected from any of your feelings. And I absolutely do not want to leave you alone, to metabolize the effects of my incapacities.
Of course, I’ve been in the analytic community for more than 25 years as a patient, a supervisee, a student, a therapist, a supervisor, a group-member, and as a therapist to other therapists. I’ve withstood and earnestly explored every interpretation, blind guess, paranoid projection, thoughtful analysis, over/under reaction, judgement, assumption, and diagnostic formulation about these difficulties: hostility, anxiety, resistance, control issues, narcissistic indifference to others, separation difficulties, boundary diffusion, attention seeking, entitlement, self-sabotage, fear of success, an extension of my conflicts with my mathematically minded (and severely dyslexic father) affective flooding, masochism, on and on…
I am used to it. Through out my school years, everyone, including me, assumed that my difficulties with any numerical process, my complete inability to learn my multiplication, addition & subtraction tables, to remember my locker combination, to tell and estimate time and distance, to discern my left from my right, to know which way is North, to count change, operate a calculator or a cash register, to keep track of my belongings, or memorize a phone number were because I was a scatterbrain, or not paying attention or applying myself. I was clearly smart – it made no sense to me or to anyone else to assume that just I couldn’t do it.
Because I know what disruptions calculating time and money represent for others, I’ve devised some methods for coping with my disability: I use an analogue clock in the office because it is helpful to me in visualizing spatially how much time remains. Calculating time forward or backward from a digital clock was too difficult. I suspect I would function best with an hour glass.
(Actually, that is such a brilliant idea, that I just bought one for the office, just now)
I found a workable billing program which helps me prodce accurate bills about three-quarters of the time, but cannot completely protect me from myself: bad data in – bad data out.
There are times in the office, when it leaves me utterly helpless, lost, bewildered and vulnerable. I have to ask for help in figuring out a balled up account, a confusing insurance payment, a mysterious outstanding balance. I have had to accept clients protecting me (or not) when I have made billing errors, great and small, at my own expense. I’m sure that in my vulnerability I have also experienced losses and maybe even been taken advantage of, in ways that I will never, thankfully, be able to track or know about.
My cognitive limitations have forced me, over many years, to learn to be authentically, undefensively fallible, to recognize when I am beyond my capacities, to admit my need, to ask for assistance, and to accept help, while remaining intact.
I do not collapse in shame, doubt in my ultimate value or competence. I know what I have to offer. I know what I do well, what I do exceptionally well, what I do not do well, and what I cannot do at all. I have weaknesses and strengths. I am not afraid of either.
Most clients, over time, over several reworkings, begin to trust in the ways that I am solid, even if my numerical, mathematical, logistical functioning is not.
And I’ve come to understand that my inability to hide my weaknesses, and accept them, somehow gives others permission to accept their own real limitations with some self-compassion, and compassion for the people they effect.
If you, or especially if a child you know seems to have any of these difficulties in learning, calculating, mathematics, time-telling, counting change, etc. Please see www.dyscalculia.org or www.ncld.org for more information on learning disability diagnosis and support
copyright © 2011
All rights reserved Martha Crawford