Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

A “Bad” Day

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on January 13, 2014


A bad day is so relative. Somebody died? Diagnosed with cancer? Car accident? Washing machine won’t start? Bad hair day? The perception of a “bad day” always shakes me up, as one person’s inconvenience is another person’s devastation. Carla, thirty-one, comes to mind. Looking forlorn, she comes in, leading me to believe, or at least wonder, if something life changing has happened since I saw her a week ago. In fact, she opens the session, “something terrible has happened since the last time I saw you,” she says, quietly, making me lean over to hear her. My mind goes to health. Somebody in her life, maybe her, has had a major health scare. Nope, I am way off. “My dog peed in my living room, and it was an absolute mess.” I understand her ordinarily very controlled life was disrupted by an unanticipated event, but I am not tuning into her level of distress around this. I am thinking about Carla and her need to be in charge, and her extreme discomfort with change, and so I begin to see why she is so distraught. I add on to my thoughts that maybe she is worried there is something wrong with her dog and that made him pee in the living room, and hence it is a health scare. “Were you worried about your dog’s health?” I ask, thinking that the answer would surely be yes. “Nope,” she says, I just did not plan for this event, and so I had no time to deal with it,” she says, explaining why it was inconvenient, but not explaining why it made her so sad. “Did you feel persecuted, in some odd way, as if your dog was trying to make your life harder?” I begin to wonder, as if she felt like the dog had some “will” in his bladder control, then I could imagine how this might feel very painful. “Well, I know that sounds funny, but in a way, I did. Every time I try to get some organization in my life, something like this happens, and I am just flummoxed. ” Carla says, reminding me how fragile she feels, and how easily she is pushed off her center. I am just beginning to get to know Carla, so I am learning about her perceptions and her vulnerabilities. “Have important people in your life tried to make your life harder?” I ask, wondering, if this incident is a trigger to past experiences. “Oh yea, that is the story of my family. You know how most people have families that try to help, or at least don’t do any harm? Well, I have a family that actively tries to make things harder for me.” Carla opens the door to a fruitful inquiry, where my curiosity and lack of understanding immediately transforms to compassion.

2 Responses to “A “Bad” Day”

  1. Shelly said

    I like and appreciate the subject of this post. It is easy for me to see why I could never be a psychiatrist (or therapist, for that matter). Listening to Carla’s story, I might have laughed without thinking of why the incident distressed her so much. I would never have thought of all the questions that ran through your mind. And yes, a bad day is so relative. Doesn’t everyone think that their calamities are the worst things ever? Thinking of Carla, though, do families really plot ways to make things harder for an individual? Having been the subject of a great deal of family conflict over the years, I have often thought the same, but looking backwards I think they didn’t go out of their way to make me miserable–it was just the outcome of the interactions. What are your thoughts?

    • I think it is fascinating how people put their calamities into their mental state. I am not sure that everyone thinks their calamities are the “worst ever,” and if they do think that, I am not sure how long that thought sticks with them. Yes, some families are malicious, and as such, there is a calculated attempt to cause suffering. Since most people are in denial about these kinds of families,those who experience malicious attacks from their relatives often think that they must be misinterpreting their experience, leading to further confusion and suffering. Acknowledging the reality of vicious families is a large way in which I help folks come to terms with their internal world. My sense is that you, as you say, were caught in conflict, but it was not targeted towards you, resulting in a different life experience than those who were aimed at. Thanks.

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