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A Mental Health Journey – Week 7

After a week-long hiatus from her memory exercise, Gabriella returned to UFV’s counsellors ready and excited to decode her memory list. Although postponing her memory session for a week due to overwhelming stress, Gabriella came to the session with a renewed relaxation and open mindset.

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By Katherine Gibson (The Cascade) – Email

Online March 31, 2014

After a week-long hiatus from her memory exercise, Gabriella returned to UFV’s counsellors ready and excited to decode her memory list. Although postponing her memory session for a week due to overwhelming stress, Gabriella came to the session with a renewed relaxation and open mindset.

Firmly establishing her relaxed state, through breathing exercises and relaxation techniques, before the session even began, Gabriella was encouraged to close her eyes, in order to ready herself for an intense session of visualization.

“I closed my eyes and my eyes were pretty much closed the whole rest of the session,” says Gabriella. “There was a lot of visualization. With the past and things that are internal closing your eyes eliminates that outside world for you.”

With her eyes firmly shut, Gabriella listened as the counsellor listed off the memories that she had written down. As each memory popped into her head Gabriella received what she calls a “whiff of memory.” Once the list was finished, Gabriella was asked to pick one that she wanted to specifically focus on and discuss.

Gabriella ultimately chose a memory from her early teens. Fifteen years old and having recently moved from Costa Rica to L.A., Gabriella’s parents forced her to make a choice between three options regarding where they would live: stay in L.A., go back to Costa Rica, or move to England.

“I remember it very vividly,” she says. “We didn’t have a lot of money so it was going to be a one shot move… I was a young teen, so that stuff hits you hard.”

At first, Gabriella felt subconscious about her choice in memory, second-guessing inwardly whether she could have picked a better one, but it quickly became clear that this memory was one of importance.

“I was trying to strategically place [memories] in my head, just because I am someone who’s an over-thinker — I like to have a strategy,” she continues. “I was there sifting through my thoughts thinking, ‘what if this one isn’t a good one to talk about?”

The counsellor asked Gabriella to visualize the memory as her “older self” (who she is currently) and examine how her “younger self” (the person she was in the memory) felt during the situation. After listing all of her emotions, Gabriella was asked to create a “happy place” or safe spot for her to sit and just “be” with the younger, visualized version of herself.

“It was an intense thing [and] I was in tears the whole time … it was uncontrollable,” Gabriella explains. “I’m someone who really likes nature; so, in my head, I had this little tree on a hill, there was a log, and there was a hill in the shade with this view of a field with sunlight — but I have a really vivid imagination,” she goes on. “It was me and my younger self sitting criss-cross on a log.”

Admittedly, there were moments during this process that Gabriella found herself questioning the validity of the exercise. However she still believes that the process of visualizing her younger self and talking with “her” allowed for a new sense of understanding.

One of the most powerful moments of insight came when the counsellor asked Gabriella what her “younger self” wanted to say to her parents.

“That whole memory for me … and during that whole part of my life as well, my parents didn’t give me very much control over my childhood,” she says. “There was a lot of moving around … and then all of a sudden I had to make this adult decision [about moving out of the country] that I was not capable of making … how was I supposed to decide that?

“I said [to my parents], ‘I’m angry and frustrated; I’m upset that I would be put in that situation. Why did you do that? Why weren’t you acting like adults?”

As the session wrapped up, Gabriella started to connect the memory to other struggles in her life like her issues with abandonment, a fact that allowed her to see concretely the importance of breaking this particular memory apart.

“I was able to connect … leaving Costa Rica and completely abandoning those people there … to why I interact with people the way I do,” she goes on. “Like I get attached [and] I’m a real people-pleaser type person because I am always afraid that people will run away from me because I have run away from other people.

“No one’s ever really moved away from me. I’ve always moved away from other people, but in a sense it’s like they were leaving me,” notes Gabriella. “I try to control situations.”

Although exhausted after the session, Gabriella strongly believes that her time discussing this memory with the counsellor had a marked influence on her ability to not only better understand the situation, but herself.

“I don’t know if it was a weight, but something came off,” Gabriella concludes. “It felt like everything has been organized, like it has a tab in my brain and it connects to things. So rather than have a floating balloon [of memory], I am able to tether it down.”

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