The Cranky Therapist

This morning I woke up cranky. No clear excuse. The day was gorgeous and everyone I love is healthy. Still I dragged myself out of bed. As I pulled on my running shoes I thought about bailing on the exercise. The mini-therapist in my head wagged her finger and told me that I would feel worse if I didn’t at least walk a mile. As much as I hated it I knew she was right. So I walked. Big f*#cking deal.

Yes, I was that cranky.

It is very hard to admit that I can have days like this, where I am just irritable, sad, feeling low, negative, tired and not worthless, exactly, but not worth-ful either.

I could not think of a damn thing to snap me out of it. What did that say about my therapeutic skills? Therapist heal thyself! Nope. Nothing. The dark mood felt like a fog, or a virus, systemic and without cure.

At breakfast I told my husband:

“I need you to tell me you think I am wonderful.”

Without hesitating he got up, gave me a bone-cracking hug and said, “You are wonderful!” Then,  “What gives? You’ve been acting mopey for days now.” Add mopey to the list.

“I don’t know! If I still got my period I’d say I was PMS-ing!”

He laughed, which only made me more cranky. But the hug helped.

I took a shower. At least I could smell good while I sank into the mire.

When I got around to doing work-related stuff I imagined a sign on my forehead:

Warning: Woke up cranky. Do not expect much. 

That’s probably the best thing I did for myself today, not expect much. While I didn’t push myself I didn’t completely slack off either. The exercise thing is an example. Right now I could be watching television but that would just feed the beast. Writing is better, finding a sympathetic friend or Twitter buddy to converse with, is better. I didn’t stress over finding the cause because, as I tell my patients, sometimes the Why is just a distraction, an excuse to wallow.

Slowly, as the day meandered, the fog began to lift. I realized I was deeply fortunate because despite the black mood I knew in my heart it would not last forever.

The Zen masters tell us to surf the wave of negativity, use the energy to move forward, rather than allow the wave to crush us. One thing (among many it turned out) that was good about today:  It reminded me what depression can feel like for people who really are stuck in it, who are so deep in the pit there is no light coming in, how phenomenally hard it is to break free. That is good thing for a therapist to remember.


  • Hello, Cranky Therapist. Yep, it’s all true. I threatened to murder my kids yesterday, but decided a walk was a better idea. I went and hugged a tree. Then I hugged another, and another. I discovered that on the other side of the park across from the house we’ve just moved into, there’s what can only be described as a Eucalyptus gallery – one of each kind – on lovely green lawn, all pleasingly spaced out and exuding tree-stillness.

    No wonder I was ready to kill my family! In the last month I’ve had the pressures of judging a poetry contest and getting results to the organisers and a website updated before moving house and being without internet, tax return to submit and get money back from just before the move, all details of the move to contend with, new travel arrangements for the youngest son to sort out (not without miscommunications and hijinks and missed days of school), a middle son changing schools, writers group prize giving to help with, a week with two occasions to press the emergency buzzer at work (as in bring the crash cart) and now the husband’s away on retreat and his ordination to the priesthood and 50th birthday party are just next weekend!

    All that’s left for me to do is to tell myself it’s fine to feel like crying, and to cry, and remind myself that if anything, I can love me and be kind to me. Giving oneself permission, as you observe in your article, is sometimes the single most important thing we can give ourselves.

    Trees are fantastic therapists. They listen when you don’t use words and pour out silent strength and calm.

    • Dear Dragonwyst, Oh yes, trees ARE fantastic therapists as are dogs and horses! Yesterday my dog stayed by my side most of the day. They seem to know! As Steve said, you do indeed have a lot on your plate! I am so glad you love yourself enough to be kind. A wonderful horsewoman, Sally Swift, liked to say: ride your horse as if you are a tree! Reach down to the earth with your roots and reach up to the sky like the branches. That way find your balance. Looks like you did just that!

  • @Dragonwyst I sometimes want to kill my kids as well. As much as we love them the can be so annoying but in a splendid sort of way. You sound like you have lots on your plate!

    @Dr Aletta thanks for this great post. It’s nice to know that even Therapists get grumpy like the rest of us! Thanks for showing us the human side of therapy! I really admire you and your honesty!

    • When my kids were little I often thought, ‘It’s a good thing they’re cute. Otherwise they’d be tossed out the window!’ Just an hour ago I told my oldest (he’s 18 now) he was killing me with the old Chinese torture, Death By A Thousand Cuts! At least he had the grace to apologize for the latest infraction. He can live another day :-)

      @Steve Thanks so much for your appreciating what I am trying to do. I do want to be honest but I admit it’s easier when the truth makes me look good. Not so easy when it means admitting I don’t always have the answers. The bottom line is we’re in this life together, isn’t it?

  • Oussama

    Thank you for reminding me that s#!t happens sometimes without a cause. This is particularly helpful to me cause I’ve been waking up with the “Warning: Woke up cranky. Do not expect much.” sign on my forehead for almost a week now, and I can’t seem to be able to get hold of the “Why?”.

    • Hi, Ousama! Thank you so much for your comment. Sometimes I think we spend too much time and energy on looking for the Why, especially when we are in the acute stage of feeling awful. When we feel trapped in our funk it may be best to concentrate on the more practical issue of relief. Real relief, not the stuff that we find in a bottle of Scotch or a bowl of chocolate ice cream.

      I found some relief in giving up the battle and taking it easy on myself, but mine was just a day’s sour mood. For more serious depression, relief may be found in medication or intense psychotherapy to help change dysfunctional thinking.

      The ‘Why’ does have its place, but first we need to have enough space to breathe. Here’s an article you may appreciate


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