Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Feeling Understood

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on July 12, 2012

Tea,,  was born with dislocated hips and club feet, discovered by her engineer father who after changing her older siblings’ diapers multiple times knew that Tea’s hip joints were not normal. The pediatrician missed the diagnosis, but no harm was done, as Tea’s dad saved the day. Tea’s parents took her to the local Orthopedic hospital, leading her to have casts on both feet and braces around her hips. When she started to walk, the braces on her leg made her walk like a Tin Soldier. Her knees could not bend. As Tea grew up, she knew that her body did not move right, although she looked normal. After multiple yoga classes, and discussing her skeleton with multiple teachers, one knowledgeable teacher guessed that because she walked at an early age without bending her knees, this caused the spine to have a different “rhythm” or curvature. Finally, Tea got some mental relief. Finally, someone could explain to her that her spinal limitations were not simply because she did not “stretch enough” as almost every other yoga and Pilates instructor told her. Tea tells me this story with tears and sorrow. “It is so hard to talk to people who supposedly know something about the skeleton, and yet, they respond to me in ways in which I know does not make sense.” “What is hard about that?” I ask, knowing that her issues are rare and that it makes sense that most yoga teachers are not educated in the developmental pathology of the spine. As if Tea were talking about a psychotherapist and not a yoga teacher, Tea looks at me and says “I am just tired of being misunderstood.” The transference here was apparent. Tea was misunderstood about her spine, but the bigger picture is her deep craving for understanding. Her search for a “good yoga teacher” was partly about yoga, and partly a search for a nurturing, understanding parent, who could latch on to both her inner and outer struggles. Her skeletal deformities were, in addition to being an obstacle to greater flexibility, are also a stand-in for how she feels psychologically deformed as well, and yet, no one can see that at first glance either. This image of a “hidden” deformity was powerful for her. Her skeleton looks normal until she bends over, at which point one can see a curve that is abnormal. Likewise, her personality seems normal until she engages in deep relationships, at which point her inability to express sensitivities becomes an obstacle to close connections. Once again, the inner and outer issues converge. Tea cannot change her spine; at least not without surgery. Yet, she can change how she thinks about her abnormalities. She can also appreciate those who struggle to understand her issues in contrast to those who dismiss her as “everyone is different”. This nuance of interaction is critical to her. Those yoga  teachers who respond to her report of her congenital issues by saying, “gee, that is really interesting, I am going to have to think about how to help you,” versus those who say “well, everyone has something they have to work on,” are dramatically different interactions for Tea.  Likewise, Tea is searching from me, from her friends and family, a curiosity about the uniqueness of Tea, and she rails against those who try to lump her into a bigger group. Tea is searching for that feeling of specialness, even if special means, more deformed. She wants to be understood. Who can blame her?

5 Responses to “Feeling Understood”

  1. Jon said

    There seems to be a fundamental ambivalence of the human psyche – a desire to “fit in” and a desire to be “unique.” Fitting in is becoming part of the greater community. Being unique is being special within, and having that specialness understood by, that community.

    Tea has an unfortunate uniqueness caused by the vicissitudes of physiology. While this is a condition that others have had, each realization becomes unique as it matures. She was indeed very fortunate to have had the awareness and action of her father. This has saved her from growing up deformed in any gross sense. Sadly, there are vestigial reminders of that condition. She is indeed lucky to have found a knowledgeable yoga teacher. This becomes part of her path of understanding, both physiologically and psychologically.

    • Shelly said

      Jon, I’m still in awe of how you phrase your posts. So elequent.

      • Jon said

        Shelly, to quote another insightful 20th/21st century thinker, Steve Martin, “Some people have a way with words, and other people…oh, uh, not have way.”

  2. Shelly said

    This post really hit home to me about the uniqueness and exquisite pain loneliness and the depth of despair people’s desire to be understood can be. I almost wish I had known fictional Tea when she was that very young girl so she could have shared with me her pain. As a young girl, growing teenager, and adolescent, did she have friends she could talk with and who accepted her? Does Tea have a support system now, other than you? Does she engage in pleasureable activities, travel, hike and bike ride? Does Tea get support from her family? Does she have special friends who love her and accept her as she is?

    • Shirah said

      Jon, you articulated this dialectic so well, as Shelly said. This is a struggle between being unique and fitting in. We all want both, but sometimes one need dominates the other. Tea does have support, but the interesting aspect of her skeletal problems, similar to her psychological issues, is that although they are longstanding issues, it is only in more recent times that these “deformities” have begun to really weigh on her. One can wonder deeply as to why that is true. Yes, she has special friends who love and accept her. Thanks.

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