Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

The Flashback

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on November 24, 2010

    Leanne just turned fifty-five. Her life feels good to her. She is happily married; her kids are grown and happy. She is happy to go to work, although she experiences her life as “somewhat mundane.” Roaming around the internet, she found Leonard,  an old boyfriend; one she dumped for her current husband. On a lark, she reached out to him, and almost instantly he responded. Within minutes, they were on the phone talking about their lives thirty years ago, as if it were yesterday. Unexpectedly, Leanne became “massively depressed,” as she describes a sudden feeling which came over her. “I did not want to get back together with Leonard. That was not it. I did want to go back to that time in my life where I did not experience the overwhelming sadness that I have felt since then.” Leanne’s third child passed away from a brain tumor when he was two; that was twenty years ago. I could feel Leanne’s sadness, the feeling that Leonard reminded her was not always part of her psyche. Leanne has been sad for so long, she almost forgot the time in her life when she did not feel that way. Remembering that, made Leanne even sadder. I wanted to say something, but I was overwhelmed with  feeling sad for Leanne. After a pause, I began, “it is like you have had two lives: one before your baby died and one after,” I say, knowing that this is both obvious and painful, but also knowing that understanding this before and after experience might help Leanne integrate the varied chapters of her life. Leanne begins to sob, “yes, but I did not want two lives.” “I know,” I say with deep understanding about the helplessness that she feels. “When Leonard called you, you were unprepared to be brought back to your old life, in a similar way that you were unprepared to get the dire diagnosis for your baby,” I say. “Sudden, unexpected events, are very jolting, since they bring you back to your baby’s illness,” I say, reinforcing how her vulnerabilities to sudden changes are so understandable. “Flashbacks, even to happy times perturb your mental state; it rocked your boat,” I say, again, trying to help her unpack why her conversation with Leonard was so deeply troubling.  “I don’t know,” Leanne replies, “I just know that I feel really bad since I spoke with him.”

3 Responses to “The Flashback”

  1. Shelly said

    Got it! Now I understand why it makes me so sad when I look through my photo albums. Thanks!

    • Shelly said

      P.S. How did Leanne relate to what you were saying to her? As always, you relate very well to your patients. I’m sure you could understand her issues as if they were your own.

      • Leanne was confused, but understanding what I was saying at the same time. Her pain overwhelmed her ability to distance herself from her experience. I got the sense she was going to think about what I said, but in the moment, it was too much to digest.

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