Dina needed help. She’d hit an emotional rock bottom; she felt sad and desperate a lot of the time. Her days were tinged with gray and sometimes life seemed like an endless wheel of task after task, with little sunshine to warm her seemingly cold existence.
Ironically, Dina came into session on the most beautiful day of the year; the world was vivid in greens and blues and pinks, yet she arrived with a grimace, oblivious.
I greeted Dina warmly and asked why she was seeking treatment.
“My husband encouraged me to come,” she said. “I don’t see how things can change because I’ve always been like this. I feel like I was born with a cloud over my head. Yes, it’s been better or worse at different times — better in high school, worse in pregnancy and after my babies. I’ve been assessed for postpartum depression and regular depression by my doctor, but never given a formal diagnosis. Yet I can’t function with joy and positivity. I’ve taken classes on simchas hachayim, been part of different mussar-minded groups, and they helped, but I still feel there’s a dark, sticky film that colors my thoughts.”
“Thanks for sharing all that, Dina. It seems you have great awareness of your journey. If this isn’t a new problem for you, what’s the ‘why now’ that motivated you to seek help?”
“Last Sunday, my kids — I have five — were all home. Two were playing Lego, one was reading, and the other two were playing hide and seek. The house was clean and supper was bubbling on the stove. I looked around and saw so much beauty and joy and blessing. I burst into tears.”
“What made you cry?”
“I just couldn’t handle the feeling of joy that crept up on me. I was crying because it was so unfamiliar, and because I know I can feel more joy and see more blessings, I just don’t know how. And I felt so bad for myself and for my family. I knew something had to change.”
“That does sound like a sad experience. It seems like you’re motivated and open to change, even though it may seem uncomfortable.”
“Yes. I’m scared, though.”
“That’s an excellent insight. What are you fearful of?”
“I honestly don’t know how to function in the world with joy. It seems unpredictable and fake and weird to me. As much as I don’t like my negativity, at least it’s realistic.”
“What do you mean by realistic?” I was carefully watching Dina. I noticed how her nose wrinkled in disdain when she said the word “fake,” how she nervously twisted her rings, and the way she looked at me with that classic first-session gaze — a mix of hope, surprise, and hesitancy.
“I mean like, real. I don’t know. Realistic, normal…” Dina was agitated now. It was one of these moments when a therapist has one second to decide how to respond, either validating and showing understanding, or potentially alienating.
“You mean safe?” I ventured gently.
Dina blinked, narrowed her eyes, and then crumpled and leaned back against the couch, defenses down. “Yes. Negativity is safe for me. Positivity is scary.”
(Excerpted from Family First, Issue 627)