Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

The Lull

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on August 9, 2012

“My work as an interior designer is really slow right now. I have never been this slow,” Marjorie, fifty-three tells me with some fear and anxiety in her voice. “Maybe you can enjoy the lull?” I say, offering her a new way to see her situation; a way with excitement as opposed to negativity. At the same time, I am sensitive to not dismissing her fears. “Gee, I never thought of it as a ‘lull’ ” Marjorie says, as if my word choice was shocking to her. “The problem, of course, is that if I knew for sure that it was a lull, then that would be one thing, but I have no way of knowing if this is a lull or if this is my new pace.” Marjorie explains the uncertainty of her business. “Well, maybe it is a lull, until you decide that it is lasting longer than you would like, at which point you decide to do more marketing.” I say, again wanting to be sympathetic to her fears, but also wanting her to expand her point of view to see the positive in something in which she usually can only see the negative. “You mean that I should set a date to end my lull?” Marjorie asks with confusion. “Sure, why not? At that date you will either have gotten busier, in which case it was a lull, or if you did not get busier, then you could mobilize to action.” I say, understanding that referral based businesses are hard to control. “Lull, like lullaby, could be a soothing time,” I say, expanding on my word choice. “Yea, but I am a long way from feeling comforted. I really have to think about this.” Marjorie says, with some hope that with cognitive reframing, she can feel more relaxed. “Uncertainty is tough, and some things in life are more uncertain than others, ” I say, stating the obvious, but also stating that by choosing to be self-employed, she has signed up for this kind of anxiety. “Yes, I have agency,” Marjorie says, acknowledging her life choices which lead her to these ‘lulls’. “I do pick my poison and I like this more than I like working for other people,” Marjorie reassures herself. “So, enjoy the lull,” I say, uncharacteristically being very directive. “Easy for you to say,” she responds with humor and hostility. “Just kidding,” she quickly says, knowing that there was hostility in her voice. “I will sing myself lullabies and that will remind me to enjoy the lull,” Marjorie says, as if to reassure me that she has been paying attention. “If the lullabies make you go to sleep, I hope you wake up refreshed,”  I say, staying with our word play. “Me too,” Marjorie says as she leaves, seemingly more relaxed than when she came in.

2 Responses to “The Lull”

  1. Shelly said

    So the treatment is in the choice of how one approaches to look at things: the lack of business can be seen in a positive light or a negative, the glass half full or half empty? The interior designer always knows that her clients leave town in the summer, so why is it surprising to her? If the designer is always aware of the lull based on years past, then she knows that after the lull comes business as usual. So you are right to have told Marjorie to enjoy the down time. However, it does little to address her anxiety about it being only temporary, right? Marjorie’s fear about losing clients and it being permanent is a universal theme and I think it affects all of us, whether or not she is self-employed or not. I did, nevertheless, enjoy the word play in this fictional blog.

    • The treatment is in the expansion of world view. Marjorie was locked in to seeing the “lull” as a scary place because for her, although not mentioned in this post, it reminded her of the hard times in her childhood when her dad was unemployed. It is not that her lull is surprising to her, it is that it is upsetting to her. Yes, the anxiety associated with her lull is a key part of our work, but I did not talk about that aspect in this post. Yes, there is a notion amongst self-employed folks that being employed means less anxiety, but of course, with large layoffs these days, that is no longer true. Finally, psychotherapy, being such a verbal field, opens the door to word play, often leading to lighter moment in the midst of deep work. Thanks.

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