Last week I had one clinic day (Monday), followed by six days of painting and redecorating my private practice office. My daughter was also gone on a band trip during this time. So this week has been about transitioning back to my normal roles and routines. It was really hard, much harder than I expected. My brain was fragmented for several days.

Even more distressing was the fact that I felt really anxious and unsure of myself outside of work. This was particularly difficult socially, especially with my cyber friends. Cyber relationships do not have the same familiar codes and handshakes on which I gauge other social interactions. My cyber buddy, Greg Smith, wrote about the limitations that electronic communication put on his “Spidey Senses” in navigating his interactions with patients via Skype. He is an emergency department psychiatrist who practices telehealth in his job to provide consultation to patients who live far away from services. (As an aside, although my psychology practice is in Seattle, a “little big city”, the majority of my training was done in rural areas. Access to care is a major big deal.)

Earlier in the week, I found myself anxious that I’d written the wrong thing to one cyber friend or worrying that another cyber friend thought that I was a creepy stalker because a compliment I’d paid to her did not seem to go over in the way I had intended. I worried that I was being too flirtatious with cyber friends, male and female. I thought about what I might do to repair relationships that may have been damaged by my electronic awkwardness.

I have not felt that way for a VERY long time. What the heck is going on? I’ve had cyber buddies for awhile now and although I am sometimes frustrated by the limitations of this form of communication, there are benefits as well. When I write, I can communicate without interruption, for one. That is a major gift to me in this time of my life when some level of introspection is needed for health and healing. But I do miss the body language, tone of voice, or even hearing any of my cyber buddy voices. And I know in my own communications, the parts of me communicated beyond the words that I write or by my smile in the photos I post, are lost.

Last week, I dredged into some painful past experiences to write the post, Predator, about my own experiences with sexual harassment as a teen and how they relate to the sexualization of breast cancer.  If you’ve read the post, you know that the experiences I wrote about are very typical for women my age and most of the experiences still occur with girls and women today. The post resonated with a lot of women and I was very glad to have written it. I also suspected that it would help me integrate the vulnerability I have felt as a breast cancer patient to another time in my life when I felt scared and vulnerable.

I knew this would be a hard post to write and even waiting until my mother went on vacation to post it. I know that by the time she comes back home and reads it, I would have processed through the hard emotions and she would not have to worry about me so much. She had already suggested to me a couple of posts prior that I needed to take a break and write something light and/or funny. It’s hard to see one’s child in pain, even when she is 47 years-old.

Writing the post was harder than I expected and was like taking a time machine back to the worst parts of my adolescence with the extra layers of breast cancer and being a mother of a vulnerable teen girl.

Actually, let me put it this way. It was like being 16 again.

There are folks that rhapsodize about their youth and feel that they have lost something. Don’t get me wrong because I had a generally happy childhood and adolescence, but I am happy where I am. I have never had a stronger combination of individual, familial, and professional satisfaction than I have experienced in middle age. Emotionally, I feel so much more solid, as well. And this is not because my life has been easy in middle age. It is a benefit of maturity. My parents are very happy people who love their family, friends, and each other. They help me look forward to my future, should I be so lucky to live a long life.

Back to being 16 again. Do you all remember what your teens years were like with your peers? I don’t know about you, but although I had good friendships, they involved a frenzy of unnecessary activity. Worrying, “Did I say the right thing?” “Should I have said that?” (That was a popular one for me. I am loud and chatty.) “Should I have looked at him that way?” “Did I hurt her feelings?” Then I would go and try to repair things. Later in my life, a good friend would characterize my repair attempts as, “Elizabeth, you flail.” Now she has more of a passive, slug like coping style but in respect to the situation she was describing, I was totally and completely flailing when I should have been leaving things alone.

These days, I typically feel solid as a communicator. There are parts of me that can be perceived as being “too much” (see “loud and chatty”, above). This was particularly true in the past. I have learned to be myself with confidence and I think part of what bothered people about the big parts of my personality was the anxiety and lack of confidence that were sometimes underneath. Now I get a lot of compliments about my loud laugh and I can tell from patients and their parents that for the most part, they enjoy the fact that I am a happy person, eager to help, and a lover of my fellow human beings, especially the small ones. But I also know when I need to scale things back and tone them down. It’s a dance of a sort and in my profession, I am usually extremely good at it.

To be 16 again, was no fun. I saw Rebecca, my psychologist yesterday. The session may have only lasted an hour but by the time I left, I’d aged 31 years.

So cyber and face-to-face buddies, I am ready to play like a grown-up again.

Photo by Aaron Eidinger, 1983-ish. I am 17 or 18 in the photo.

Photo by Aaron Eidinger, 1983-ish. I am 17 or 18 in the photo.