Bringing Myself In

I’m a pretty private person. In my practice and elsewhere. Those who know me hear me use the term “boundaries” a great deal. While I think I’ve become less stringent about my privacy over the years, both personally and professionally, there still are some areas that feel preciously mine and worrisome to put out there. As an analyst, I work very diligently to keep the analytic or therapeutic space as “clean” as possible…while I get that I am in the room and that patients can read and know a lot about me from my décor to my dress, to the visibility of bags under my eyes on certain (lots) of days, I do my best to not taint the space with my shit so that my patients have as much freedom to not censor or limit what they say or do in treatment.

But I’ve decided to share something because it feels like time. It’s an issue that overlaps with many of my patients, not all in the same way of course, but because it does in significant ways, I wanted to talk about what that’s like: dealing with something simultaneously with your patients. This happens with all clinicians at some point…but for me this is an ongoing matter that poses great emotional and mental challenges at some points, relieving moments of identification and understanding at others, and a general feeling of unfairness that THIS is the thing that overlaps.

I have Multiple Sclerosis. There. I said it. I was diagnosed about eleven years ago, while I was actively working (still am) at an MS Care Center in New York. Prior to my diagnosis, this was a population of patients with whom I’ve worked for several years. Ironic, huh? I have Relapsing Remitting Multiple Sclerosis…that’s considered the least problematic of the types of MS and my doctors have felt optimistic about what they think my course of disease (hate that word) will be, based on how I’ve expressed symptoms and recovered from them. Benign…that’s the word used to describe my anticipated course. BUT, as I’ve found in my work, because this disease is unpredictable and because progression can happen at any time, feeling like a ticking time bomb isn’t far-fetched. However, I don’t really think that way.
This is me:
I am healthy (except for having a diagnosis of MS),  I am very active (have completed 3 Olympic triathlons, finish regularly in the top 10% of women in NYRR races I enter, top 2-3% of my age group, just trained for my first marathon), I am strong, I take care of myself and my MS is mostly silent. That’s what I remind myself of…I don’t have to remind myself as regularly as I have before, but sometimes I do and it’s not always easy. When my patients who are more progressed in their disease than me enter my office, I sometimes feel scared that I will face the same difficulties they now face; on days like that, I find it harder to do my work with them. I also find it hard to do my work sometimes when I feel really good and strong and I hear them talk about the loss they feel at not being able to do what they used to be able to…sometimes mentioning activities in which I am quite capable and powerful.

My patients either whom I’ve told I have MS or who have guessed (oh, the unconscious is so amazing…and so scary) have all surprised me. My surprise has solely been based on my own projections of how I imagined they would react knowing this. Every single patient with MS who knows I have MS has been “happy.” I’ve actually heard the word “happy,” which has felt odd…they clarified that they were not happy I have MS, but happy that I “get it.” They felt more connected to me, more understood by me, closer to me.

I haven’t told all of my patients with MS (and none who don’t have the disease)…and only old those who now know when it seemed appropriate and useful for our work.
Those I didn’t tell (who might know now from reading this) seemed to not be ready to know this about me, seemed to need the therapeutic space to be more
for them, and that I understand.

There. It’s done. I’ve survived this part. But oh, there is much more. Issues that get discussed that I too concurrently struggle with, and how I deal in those moments, and there are several topics under that heading, such as dealing with aspects of romantic relationships/partnerships, family coping and workplace  disclosure. That can wait for another posting. Digesting this one seems important for the t