Mommy Transference at Work

It’s been almost two months since Nikki left. At first, I missed her intensely, thought about her constantly, was counting the hours and minutes and seconds until she’d be back, but I was stable. No self-harm, no suicidal ideation.

Then I crashed. Like a piano falling out a twenty-storey window. It was loud and dramatic and I ended up in pieces at the bottom. Without Nikki around to catch me and protect me and parent me, I glommed onto the first mother figures I could find, and I can’t make myself let go.

Unfortunately, those mother figures are my managers at work.

***

There’s Carol. Frighteningly competent, matter-of-fact but with a sharp sense of humour. Two teenage children, boys – she invited me to go camping with her family last year. I’m completely in awe of her, and I so badly want her to think well of me that I get tongue-tied whenever I talk to her. She’s the human resources manager, and she’s told me I’m precious, beautiful, intelligent, hard-working and good, but she was also the one who sat me down and told me I was coming across as arrogant and my colleagues were complaining about me.

There’s Sam. Only been with the organisation about a year, and I feel less intimidated by her. Has a teenage son with major mental illness, and is fascinated by brain plasticity and optimistic about healing. The level of detail I’ve shared about my issues is way out of proportion to the depth of our relationship. Over the last fortnight, she’s started calling me “dearest“, and “hon“.

And Kim. The manager of the internship program, the one who’s known me and believed in me since I was an undergrad law student with no work experience. Her brother killed himself in front of her – this stuff is re-traumatising for her, but she still sticks around. Calls me “love“, “bubba“, “my angel“. The first time I had surgery and she was visiting me in hospital, she said “I wouldn’t let one of my kids go home in this state, so why would I let you?“. Later, when she said she had too much on her plate and she could be my friend but she couldn’t be my mother, I was humiliated at the implication that I was expecting too much from her, and crushed.

***

It started with the overdose.

I’d been in a downward spiral for days. Not going to work, not even getting out of bed. I couldn’t make myself do anything, and that made me anxious, and that made me even less able to do anything. So, I texted Kim, and asked if she could pick me up on her way to work the next morning. That way I’d have to get up. Inconveniencing Kim by not showing up on time and making her late would be even more anxiety-provoking than getting up and going to work.

Except I impulsively decided to take thirty times my normal dose of anti-psychotic, (knowing it wouldn’t be fatal), and I did not show up on time. I slept through all fourteen of my alarms. And they panicked.

When I woke up, I had missed call after missed call, and a bunch of texts. The last one was from Sam, and it said I had half an hour to get in touch before they called the police.

Fuck, fuck, fuck.

I felt so stupid. Why was I so fucking useless I couldn’t take myself to work? Why was I so fucking useless I couldn’t get out of bed on time? Why was I so fucking worthless? I called Sam and told her I was fine and I was about to start work on a report, but I felt so young and guilty I couldn’t put up my normal professional front, and I was slurring my words, and she worked out something was wrong.

It didn’t take much convincing for me to tell her how many pills I’d taken. I wanted to give her a better reason for scaring them than just I’m a useless cunt and I slept in.  I felt about four years old, and she was talking to me in the kind of tone you use with very young children.

Can you unlock your door? I’m sending someone around to check on you.

I heard Carol’s voice in the background, muffled, and then Sam came back on the line.

Rea, have you cut yourself at all?

Nooo.” I was disappointed with myself – I wished I could say yes.

Carol’s voice in the background again, then another question from Sam.

Have you done anything else at all?

It was one of those crazy frustrating moments where I just wanted to shake myself and yell at myself to snap out of it. Rationally I knew that I hadn’t, completely 100% knew, but the part that was running the show genuinely felt unsure.

Don’t think so.

You don’t think so?” A pause. “Can you have a check and see?

I thought for a second. “I’m fine.”

You’re fine,” she repeated in a cooing, baby-talk tone, presumably to pass my answer on to Carol. “What about your arm? Is your arm okay?

Yep.”

Yep. What about your legs, are your legs okay?

 

She kept running through and confirming different body parts, and part of me was going I’m a 26 year old woman with a law degree what the fuck is happening, and the rest of me wanted to be babied even while I found it ridiculous and embarrassing.

What about your neck? Is your neck okay?

While the rational part of me was saying internally ‘Yes, of course it is, it’s fine‘, I was standing in front of the mirror, examining it, leaning in close to check. Then the intercom rang.

Do you know what that noise is? That’s your door.”

Fuck. Fuck, fuck, no. I put her on mute, and started taking pills as fast as I could swallow them. The same thing I always do when help is on the way – make sure I’m really fucked up enough to need it. Things had gotten so out of control so fast, and this was the only thing I could control.

Rea? Rea? You have to let them in, hon. You need to let them in. Go and push the button for the intercom.”

“Rea? Rea? Rea?”

“Rea, it’ll be okay, just go push the buzzer and let them in.

I could hear Carol telling the police that I wasn’t responding, but I didn’t know what to do. My mind was running frantically, trying to come up with a way to undo it all. To go back to 8am and get in the car with Kim and drive to work and listen to her nag me about whether I’d eaten breakfast.

I’m fine, Sam,” was all I could come up with.

I could hear her brain working, trying to come up with a new angle to convince me. “Well, just let them in so they can see that you’re okay, and then it’ll all be okay. But if you don’t let them in then we don’t know you’re okay.”

I caved, but it didn’t matter – they’d gotten into the building anyway, and they were on their way up.

I’m going to stay on the phone, okay? Will you leave me on the phone so I can be here if you need me?

The whole conversation makes me cringe, and I want to block it out and hold it close, both at the same time. But that part – that part makes me feel warm. She wanted to stay with me.

***

That afternoon was beyond awful. The police called the paramedics, and they decided not to schedule me, and I was pitifully relieved. But the sedative effect of the pills took all control away from me.

I had a psychiatrist appointment in the city, and I woke up five minutes before it started. Getting up and walking downstairs was a struggle, and I kept gagging in the back of the Uber. By the time I walked into the building, I was staggering like I was drunk, and I crashed into the wall and then collapsed on the floor. I couldn’t get up. My face felt hot and my arms were tingling and I thought I was really going to die.

This is rock bottom, I thought. Oh my god.

Lawyers from the chambers in that building were walking past and stepping over me, but there was nothing I could do. I couldn’t sit up, I couldn’t keep my mouth closed, and I couldn’t think of anybody I could call. I just had to lie there.

After fifteen minutes or so, I managed to stagger the four steps into the lift, and once I reached the fourth floor, I stepped out and collapsed again, so close to my psychiatrist’s door I could have reached out and touched it. It was another ten minutes before I could get up again.

***

I didn’t go in to the office the next day, but I talked to Sam on the phone. She tells me she feels closer to me, and she feels like she got to talk to the real Rea for the first time.

I don’t want to dump this stuff on you, though.”

There was a moment on the phone where I just got this gut feeling that you’d gone – I thought you’d slipped away, and the way that felt…” She trailed off.  “Anything is better than that. I’d do anything to prevent that.”

***

Things kept getting worse.

It’s heartbreaking for me to see you like this,” Kim says, while I’m lying on the couch in the Story Room at work, unable to get up and sit at my desk.

We’re deeply worried about you,” Carol says, after pulling me into a private office to ask me why I have steri-strips holding together a cut on my face.

Everest isn’t the only one who loves you,” Sam says, holding me while I sob and tell her she has to keep Everest if I die.

One night, when there’s nobody else around, I take out the rope I bought specifically for this purpose, climb up onto a wobbly desk chair that’s missing a wheel, and hang myself from a bracket in the wall. The rope leaves friction burns on my neck, and even though I cover them with concealer the next day, people notice.

***

A couple of days ago, Carol and Sam left for a week-long visit to one of our remote program sites, and the childish intensity of my feelings was terrifying – I had to literally bite into my tongue to stop myself saying “I don’t want you to go“. When I found Sam had rushed to the airport without coming to say goodbye to me, I was crushed.

But I wanted her to check on me, the little parts whimpered. I wanted a hug goodbye. 

Yesterday morning I had to text them both to tell them I’d be working from home – that’s the deal. If I don’t show up and they haven’t heard from me, they call the crisis team.

Are you okay? Is there a particular reason for working at home today?” Carol texted back.

This is where I fucked up. I could have kept a balance between honesty and boundaries, and told her I wasn’t feeling great but I was able to work as long as I could stay in bed. But those baby parts have no fucking boundaries. They hurt, and they need mommy to know that they hurt.

Nope, not okay. Mostly working from home because I can’t get up, but also am not safe being in the office atm. I am being productive and have talked to [boss] about priorities for today and tomorrow.”

Reading that makes me want to kick myself in the face. I hadn’t told anyone about hanging myself in the office and the massive triggers I was facing there and I desperately needed someone to hear that things were really not okay, but I knew that sending that message was just feeding an unhealthy dynamic. I knew, and I sent it anyway, because I so desperately needed to not be alone.

She called me immediately, and tried to convince me to go to the emergency room. I didn’t want to, so she gave us both half an hour to think, and then she and Sam called me back on speaker, and spent twenty minutes coaxing me into a safety plan for the rest of the day. We agreed I’d work for an hour, then I’d go out for a walk, and I’d text Carol a photo so she knew I’d got up.

Okay, so that’s the plan – you do that, and then we’ll talk again later this afternoon, okay?

You really don’t have to do that.

Yeah, I know, but we want to do that,” Sam said firmly, and Carol chimed in over the top of her.

Yes, we want to.” And I felt held, and a little more stable. I showered, and I went out. I texted Carol a photo of the McDonalds sign [“This is what you meant when you said to go outside, right?“], and sent Sam a couple of photos of the kittens.

They didn’t call.

***

I cried on my bathroom floor for hours last night. I thought about taking myself to hospital, but the thought of going alone…I didn’t want to do it. I wanted Carol or Sam to take me. I thought about texting Kim, but it was late, and I was afraid she’d say no. Or say yes, even though she didn’t want to. A couple of weeks ago, on a really bad day, she’d offered to take me to the hospital, but made it clear that she’d just drop me off, she couldn’t stay – she had to work on a scholarship application with her daughter that night. And it stung. She’s not my mother, and her daughter comes first. But it stung.

I feel very alone. I know there are millions of people in the world who feel the same way I do. Who’ve hurt themselves the way I have, and worse. But in my therapy groups, in my friends who self-harm, I’ve never connected with anyone who understands what it’s like to spend hours breaking your own wrist. To burn yourself badly enough to need surgery. To smash your head against the wall hundreds of times until you’re bleeding from your eyes. To have done two of those things while you were still a child. I’ve hurt myself so, so much. It feels like too much.

I climbed into bed with Everest, and she curled into me with her head on my chest. I kissed her nose, and told her I loved her so much, and that everyone knew how much I loved her, and they’d make sure she was okay.

And then I took an overdose of Panadol.

(Which I almost immediately threw up. I’ve taken so many overdoses my body anticipates the nausea before it even comes. I can still feel the chalky taste of the pills in my mouth.)

***

There was no way I was going to the office this morning, but I didn’t want to tell Sam and Carol that. I wanted to be petulant and sulk. I’m not your friend any more. Making them chase me, though – no. I was grouchy with them, but I didn’t want them to be grouchy with me. So I sent a short text: “Staying home today“.

An hour or so later, Sam called me to check in, in a casual ‘I’m assuming everything is okay’ kind of way, and we chatted amiably for a couple of minutes. Until I threw another.fucking.dramabomb.

Is there anything you need from me before I go?” she asks.

It would be good if you or Carol could refer me to the crisis team,” I say off-handedly, and she’s startled.

What’s happened?

It doesn’t matter.

It does, it does! Okay. You’re very – well done, okay? Have you taken something?

 

We go back and forth – I’m cagey, trying not to over-share, and she’s insistent that I tell her what’s going on.

Don’t be shame with me,” she says firmly. The way Aboriginal people speak about shame really resonates with me – it’s not something I feel, it’s something I am. Every piece of me is consumed with it, wants to disappear into myself, hide. I’m so mad at myself for being so high maintenance. I’m not worth it; I’m a waste of space; they should just fire me for causing so many issues.

I tell her. Carol calls the crisis team multiple times, and they refuse to get involved.

***

I don’t know how to make myself stop.fucking.disclosing.everything. I have to have better boundaries, but it’s so hard to put that cat back in the bag. Especially when they’re actively encouraging me to reach out to them. I’ve made some feeble attempts to be more professional and take a step back, but:

I don’t want to keep holding you guys up. I know you’ve got lots of stuff you need to be doing.”

You’re not holding us up. I don’t want you to feel like that. We want to make sure that you’re safe. That’s the priority – us supporting you as best we can.”

How can I not crumble?

Mommy Transference at Work

She Didn’t Reach Out (So I Did)

It’s 10.30PM. The hospital is quiet – for once, nobody is screaming. I’m stuck here overnight, even though I tried to persuade four different nurses that I’m fine to go home. (If they’d agreed to release me, I would have felt disposable and devastated.)

I felt very small while they were prepping me this morning. It’s hard to be confident and self-assured with five people crowded around your bed in a small room, one inserting a canula, another taking your arms out of the gown while trying to keep your breasts covered, with a third sticking heart rate monitors on your collarbone while the registrar explains the procedure and shows you where to sign. Even though I was familiar with the process, I felt kind of lost, and like I’d surrendered – no matter what they wanted to do, I would have obediently lifted a limb or rolled to the side or followed whatever instructions they gave. That isn’t me, and I don’t like it when the compliant child parts are running the show.

I’m sad that I didn’t feel scared, or even nervous. I did the first time, and the second, but skin grafts are just old hat now.

My heart rate dropped during the surgery, and it stayed low after I woke, so I was groggy and out of it for hours. When they called the anesthetist back to check on me in the ward and she asked me if I knew where I was, I had to really think about it.

The visitor’s chairs have been empty all day. I decided not to tell anybody what was happening. While I drifted in and out of wakefulness, I surreptitiously imagined Nikki walking in the door, bringing me fruit salad, offering to drive me home, holding on to my arm while I struggled up the stairs to my apartment. Mostly I knew it wasn’t going to happen, but I still hoped.

I came out of the recovery room at 10.30am, but I didn’t get my bag with my phone until 4pm. I turned it on, hoping, hoping….but she hadn’t texted.

The monitors by the bed started beeping, alarmed by my blood pressure. It felt like something was squeezing my heart. When I had this operation last year and I’d only been seeing her for a few months, she still texted to check on me. When I was last in hospital, she came to sit with me. But this time I had to grow up and deal with it on my own. This time she was just my therapist, nothing more, and there were boundaries and I’d see her in her office on Tuesday and that was that.

I know she’s supposed to encourage me to reach out for support from my other relationships, and that being there for support unsolicited isn’t really therapeutic. She’s all over the fucking place and there’s counter-transference and frustration and god knows what she’s feeling towards me right now but I don’t doubt that in general, she does care. It’s not the end of the world. It’s fine.

But I wanted her here.

For half an hour, I debated whether or not to text and ask if we could talk for five minutes.

She’s going to think you’re needy and dependant and she’s going to regret the times she’s supported you and she’s going to pity you. Don’t be pathetic. You made the choice not to ask anyone to come be with you, and you have to deal with the consequences of that. It’s not appropriate to go whinging to Nikki when you brought this on yourself. 

You’re running out of chances to have the experience of reaching out. She’s leaving in a month, could be less if the baby comes early. Just this once, don’t be so rigid about living up to your own exacting standards. If you don’t reach out, you’ll regret it later.

So I texted, and she called, and we talked for fifteen minutes. I told her about the two opposing sides at war in my head: the one that is so angry and shaming me for not hurting myself badly enough, for being stupid enough to bother getting the operation when the injury is nothing, so minor that they’re willing to send me home tomorrow, that wants me to hurt myself again but properly this time; and the one that’s so sad and just doesn’t understand how I can be expected to go on with life like normal and get back to work tomorrow when something so major has happened.

Talking to Nikki didn’t help. It didn’t make me stop aching for a hug. But that wasn’t really the point. The point was to believe that I matter enough to reach out, and to push past the shame of being needy and do it anyway. Even though right now I kind of wish I didn’t, I’m glad I did.

This sucks, guys. I wish someone was here to tuck me into bed.

She Didn’t Reach Out (So I Did)

Here We Go Again

I cancelled my next two appointments with Nikki. Every time I imagined going back into that room and sitting down with her, the conversation in my head went something like this:

[“Can you tell me why you were so upset with me last session?”

“Because you were being a cunt.”]

It was the kind of uncontrollable rage that I used to feel as a teenager, (and as a child, I guess), when I used to throw things and hit and slash at people with words because I felt so angry I couldn’t contain it. I don’t know how to explain how big and uncontrollable it feels. And I get even more irrationally angry at everyone else going about their lives and making cups of tea in the staff kitchen and chatting over their cubicles because why are they being so calm and normal when everything is imploding why aren’t they angry and spinning out and losing control too? 

It wasn’t because Nikki said a few thoughtless things at a particularly volatile time. I was (am) so, so angry because she isn’t the right therapist for me, and I so badly want her to be. I want her to suddenly be attuned and appropriate and helpful so that I don’t have to say goodbye to her.

She isn’t, though. She isn’t ever going to get it. She cares and she means well, but she isn’t equipped to work with me.

[I know that working through anger is an important part of therapy, but I felt sure that going in angry would just make her defensive, and the situation would deteriorate beyond my ability to handle it, so I cancelled my Friday and Tuesday appointments – it felt like a wise mind decision, not avoidance. By Tuesday, though, I was starting to calm down enough that I thought I would be able to keep my next appointment on Friday.

Then on Tuesday afternoon, her office called and left a voicemail.

“If you want to keep your appointment with Nikki on Friday then you’ll have to see your GP for a review before then. If you don’t have time to arrange it before Friday then let us know and we can reschedule your appointment.”

The anger imploded again. What. the. fuck. It’s a normal part of our healthcare system that you have to see your GP for a review after six sessions (which I hadn’t actually had yet – Nikki counted wrong) but why were they telling me this with two days notice? It takes at least a week to get an appointment with a GP.

And again, it wasn’t really about this incident. It was about all the times she’s forgotten to book my sessions, or forgotten to show up for the session, or told me she has to leave on time and then changed her mind, or told me she’s taking two months maternity leave and then changing it to four or maybe five. She’s not stable and consistent, and I can’t do this with someone who isn’t stable and consistent, but she doesn’t even seem to realise how hopelessly scattered she is. And I’m angry, because I care so much. I want her to be my therapist, but she can’t be.

I sat on it for a few hours, then sent her a text: Why am I getting a call on Tuesday afternoon to tell me I have to see my GP before Friday if I want to keep my appointment? I felt like I couldn’t calm the anger down enough to go back there until she’d acknowledged it was a fuck up and apologised.

She didn’t respond. She’s never, ever not responded before.

I went back anyway. This is how she addressed it in session:

“Sorry I didn’t have time to answer your text. It sounded like you were pissed off. But once they called back and explained, it was fine and you weren’t angry any more?”

It’d be nice if this kind of thing didn’t keep happening,” I said, but then I let it go.

Oh, and another example? In that session, she told me she’s decided to go on a holiday after the baby’s born, and she won’t be back until November. So, not two months of maternity leave. Not four months. Seven months. It shouldn’t matter, when I’m not planning to go back to her anyway, but it does.]

During that week of feeling uncontrollably furious, I kept functioning. I often cried all the way to the door of the office, but I went to work every day. I meditated every day, I went to a boxing class, I went to DBT, and even though I wanted to desperately, I didn’t self harm.

That decision had major consequences for the way I behaved. If I’d hurt myself, it would have regulated my emotions enough to be able to keep myself in check. But I didn’t, and I was impatient, sometimes snappy,  trying so hard to rein myself in, observing myself and not liking the way I was behaving but not able to change it. Following a phone call with a government funder, I sent a recap email with some information missing, which meant we had to send a second email, and I wasn’t apologetic, and I didn’t care.

The next Monday, I was called in to meet with our HR manager. The woman I texted after taking an overdose last month, who came to visit me in emergency and brought me Pringles and crossword puzzles, the one that the nurses mistook for my mother.

She told me that she’d had feedback from staff that I hadn’t been a good team player last week, that the Jewish mama who’s been my strongest, closest supporter told her I was coming across as arrogant, that I needed to be careful about bringing my personal issues to work and jeopardising my relationships with my colleagues.

It was true. It doesn’t happen very often, but when I’m in that state, I do come across as arrogant, and I’m not very likable. But fuck, I’ve never felt so betrayed. I’ve worked here for three years. These people know me, love me, support me. I reach out to them and confide in them. One bad week, and I’m being warned to watch my step? It hurts, to feel as though their respect is so precarious. When I had lunch with my boss on the weekend, and I was in a better place, he said “I love this part of you,” but I can’t be that person all the time. Unless I self harm.

So I went home that night and burnt my leg, badly. Then I went back to work the next day and thanked the manager for her feedback, spoke to the colleague that I know complained and apologised for my behaviour. I sucked it up and made nice and I want none of them anywhere near me, emotionally, ever again. It hurts that I trusted them so much.

I went to the Burns Clinic yesterday, and they wanted to schedule me for surgery today. I’m having it next week instead.

I might as well just kill myself.

Here We Go Again

If Nikki Is Shit It Doesn’t Mean I’m Bad

I’m too upset to be thoughtful or analytical or eloquent – I just need to write out what happened today.

It was my first session back after the whole overdose-rejection by hospital crisis-Skype failure-maternity leave misunderstanding debacle, and I was feeling more unsettled and uncomfortable than usual; when she came out to get me I was even stammering, which I rarely do.

There was this distance and disconnection right from the start. We were both being super cheerful and ‘friendly’ on the surface but there was an undercurrent of restrained tension that kept on building.

She started talking about strategies again and how I’ve been resistant so she’s been hesitant to suggest any, and I agreed. I am resistant. I have lists of skills coming out my ass, I have DBT group, and Nikki telling me to go for a walk or take a cold shower doesn’t add any benefit for me; it just upsets me that she’s trying to superficially problem-solve something that’s so much more complicated. Which prompted:

“What’s the point in coming here, then, if you can do it all yourself?”

and

“How was I supposed to know that?” [that I swim regularly]

and

“I’m not saying you should stop coming; if you want to keep coming it’s completely up to you.”

and

“If we can get to the stage where I can say to you ‘Rea, you’re being a dick, and if I was your mate I’d be really pissed off with you right now’, and if you can trust me enough that you can not think that that’s the end of the world, and I can trust you to not go away and think that it’s the end of the world – are you not getting it? Do you not get what I’m talking about? I think it’s an important piece of the picture.”

That’s going to be playing on repeat in my head for a long time.

The hurt and rejection boiled over at the end of the session, when she asked what had prompted the crisis two weeks ago, and I said I didn’t know; that it feels like it just happens.

“I wonder if that’s an important thing to know, because you seem to get it in your head that around anniversaries things get bad, and I wonder whether it actually is the anniversary or whether it’s just getting it stuck in your head. And so does that not give you some evidence that it’s not necessarily about anniversaries, it’s just about getting stuff stuck in your head, so actually taking the potency away from anniversaries?” 

I lost all control at that point; I took a couple of gasps of air, tears came to my eyes and I tucked my knees up to my chest and wrapped my arms around them, without any conscious intent to move.

“That’s the most stupid fucking thing. What the fuck.”

The confusion and betrayal are so intense; every time, for every anniversary, I’ve told her that I know it’s all in my head, that it’s so frustrating to feel compelled to harm myself when I know it’s completely arbitrary and meaningless. Where was she? If I could just change my thinking about it then I would; if I could just stop having obsessive-compulsive thoughts then I would. What the fuck.

It got her back up.

“I’m not saying I’m going to come up with pearls of wisdom all the time!”

I made her leave the room. I couldn’t sit there with her.

When she came back in, she asked “You okay?”, in a flat, almost irritated voice, and I blocked her out, calling for Leia so that I could put her in the bag and leave. Nikki wasn’t safe, at all.

She knelt down so that she was at my eye level, and asked again, calmer this time: “You okay?” 

I didn’t respond.

“I’ve just had a thought; you said you didn’t want to come on Tuesdays [today] while you were on the DBT group, but I haven’t deleted them from the calendar.”

More anger.

“That’s probably because I didn’t say that.”

Back before I started DBT, Nikki said that maybe two sessions a week would be too much while I was also doing group once a week, and I told her I’d have to wait and see how it went; I felt pressured to drop back to one and like I was being too needy if I said I wanted to keep two, so I equivocated. She apparently took that as a solid decision.

She’s so misattuned. The last time I did DBT I had much, much more intensive support (two psychologists and a kinesiologist) but Anna still built in extra support when I started DBT because it was so triggering for me. And Nikki just doesn’t hear me at all.

 

If Nikki Is Shit It Doesn’t Mean I’m Bad

The One You Feed

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“Inside each of us are two wolves. One is evil, one is good, and they are always at war.”

“Grandfather, which wolf wins?”

“The one you feed.”

The next day, Nikki texts me at midday to ask whether she’s seeing me at 6pm or whether she should cancel our appointment.

For fuck’s sake, I think, anger settling in my belly and spreading out through my arms. Last night you said to text you when I get back – why are you now asking me if I still want my session today? I feel like you’re hurling me around in the air like one of those gymnast ribbon things. 

For a couple of hours, I can’t decide what to do, and I don’t really want to think about it. I’m annoyed with her for disrupting my day again, after I’d mentally shelved her until next week.

I could text her back and tell her yes, please cancel the session; I even start writing the message in my head, but it doesn’t feel good. It feels hostile, and closed, and distancing. I have this feeling in my chest like I’ve taken a big black ball of gooey tar, wrapped it up in clingfilm and pressed it in just above my heart. I know if I choose to step away instead of move towards her, that ball will stay inside my chest for a while.

So I text her back, and tell her that I made a doctor’s appointment because I got the impression we were cancelling, but as long as they’re running on time then I can Skype at 6pm.

(Though I’m tempted to, I don’t say Take a beginner’s class in scheduling and learn how to have the barest, most basic level of stability, you scatty idiot. That would definitely be feeding the bad wolf.)

We don’t actually connect until 6.40 – technological difficulties again – and part of me is hoping she’ll say forget it, sorry, this isn’t going to work tonight. I feel shut down and protective and I don’t know what I’m going to say to her.

Not much, it turns out. She asks how I’m doing, and I don’t trust her with any kind of real answer, so I say I don’t know how to answer that. (I still think this is progress from “okay“.) She asks a few questions about how long I’m staying at home, and she’s engaged, tender, leaning right in to the camera.

How was the weekend? she asks, and I shrug, take a breath, and think for a moment, eyes slipping off the screen. The true answer is that it was fine, that I took Everest and Leia to a studio to get professional photos, I went to a concert, I came home to my brother. But the full answer is that it was fine, and I’m relieved that it was fine, lucky and grateful that it was fine, because it almost wasn’t and that still scares me.

I’m not ready to open that up with her yet. It was okay, I say, with the quirk of my lips that acknowledges I know there’s a lot I’m not saying.

Okay, she says. Her brows are furrowed, and she has both hands resting around her neck. She pauses for a second, then gives a quick, almost imperceptible shrug and says I worried about you the whole weekend. 

Another momentary pause. I’m doing that face I do when people say caring things that feel like they can’t really be true; kind of a mix between skeptical and patronising.

I woke up worrying about you. 

Sorry, I say, but only because I can’t think of anything else to say, not because I mean it. I wonder if she should be telling me this, whether this is a boundary issue again, but it has its intended effect; I thaw a little.

The camera freezes as she starts to respond, and when she unfreezes, she has tears in her voice. I interrupt to tell her that she’d frozen, but I wish I hadn’t, because she doesn’t repeat whatever she was saying.

It keeps freezing every 30 seconds or so, and it’s just impossible to have a conversation. 6 minutes in to the call, I’m done. We’ve touched base, our relationship is okay, and there’s no point trying to talk about anything meaningful when it’s this disjointed. But I still feel an aching distress in my chest after I hang up.

With the contact barrier broken, I don’t really hesitate when I want to text her the next day. I’ve been thinking about the options for her maternity leave, prompted by her raising it on Friday, and seeming frustrated when I insisted that I didn’t want to see anyone while she was gone, that I wanted to take a break. And there’s a kernel of doubt in me, planted by Dr S last week, when he brought up Nikki’s maternity leave, and asked whether she was leaving “for a year or indefinitely“.

The last time we talked about the length of her leave was in October, when she said she was “barely taking any time off” and she’d “probably only be gone a couple of months, 8 weeks“. I want to be sure of how long she’ll be gone before I sit down and make pro and con lists for each of the options. I want clarification, but mostly I want reassurance that yes, she won’t be gone too long.

Meant to ask yesterday. When you told me last year that you were pregnant you said you’d be taking a couple of months maternity leave (which I mentally rounded up to three because two doesn’t sound like enough). But when you were talking on Friday about plans for when you’re away it sounded like you’re going to be away for quite awhile? Have plans changed?

It’s a bad day today, the worst I’ve had since I’ve been home. My brother is back at work, and I’m home alone and failing to be productive, fighting the urge to go back to bed. Nikki doesn’t reply for a long time, and I’m unsettled, uneasy, expecting that she’ll tell me no, nothing has changed, but unable to really focus on anything until she does.

Hours later, her reply comes through. I’ve been sitting by my phone, sometimes just holding it, so I open it immediately.

I don’t think I ever said there was a set in stone amount of time I was taking off. Pretty sure I said I would have to get my head around how long I would take. So sorry if I’ve confused things. I think I would have to say four months is realistic so not that much longer than the three you thought. I think I may have said we might have to start with Skype sessions at first? It’s really difficult to predict that early on with the new baby. Can we discuss this further when you get back!

For a moment, I’m too thrown by the phrasing of the message to really register the content. I feel attacked. She sounds hostile and defensive, and the fight part of me rises up to obscure the hurt and confused: what did I do wrong?

Then it hits me. She’s going to be gone at least until August. Given that both of our Skype sessions have been total disasters, probably at least until September.

The urge to self harm rises up, coils around me. Oh my god. There are tears pressing at the back of my eyes. I was insistent that I didn’t want to see anybody else because I didn’t see the point; I really wanted, needed to save the money, and seeing somebody for two months wouldn’t help me make progress; we’d barely get past the introductory stuff in two months. But five months? That’s too long. Oh my god. 

The shock is like I’m getting the news of her pregnancy for the first time. I’m so glad I didn’t find out in session; I don’t think I could have poker faced my way through. And I’m so glad I didn’t find out at home, or I’d be bleeding.

Instead, I put on a meditation app, and I notice how the tears fall harder on each exhale. I go out for a walk, and when my brother comes home, he puts on his focus pads and we box. I try to use my feelings to feed the good wolf, not the bad.

(I can’t believe she’s so fucking unprofessional she gave me misleading information about how long she’ll be gone and then never corrected it because she’s never mentioned it again in the last three months becomes: You did such a good job to ask her to confirm, Rea, you’re getting so much better at raising things, I’m so proud of you, and This feels a lot like the way my parents never spoke to me about self harm because they knew I didn’t want to talk about it, this would be a great chance to explore that dynamic, the way I subtly intimidate people into being afraid to bring things up.

Five months, oh my god, that doesn’t even fucking make sense, if she can Skype then she can come to the office, it’s only 10 minutes from her apartment – is she planning to do sessions alone with the baby, which is not okay, or with her partner at home in their tiny one-bedroom apartment, which is also not okay, and I wouldn’t even know she has a one-bedroom apartment if she wasn’t so fucking unprofessional becomes I’m so upset she’s going to be gone for so long, and this is also a great opportunity to have the time and money to explore other things; I could do private yoga therapy or take a Buddhism class or focus on physical health and fitness.)

I’m probably trying too hard to run straight past grief and into acceptance. This sucks. It fucking sucks. No; it’s devastating. I’m afraid to feel the full weight of it.

I can’t make myself work, even though I told my boss I would, so in the afternoon, I push myself to use a DBT distraction skill. I bought some brush lettering pens a couple of months ago, and I like the focus on pressing hard on the downstroke and lightly on the upstroke. It’s rhythmic, engrossing, calming. I pick whatever words come to mind and feel right; shit; sad; cry; stab; hurt. Bitch keeps coming to mind, but it doesn’t feel right.

And then another word comes to mind, and the tears well up again, and I don’t write any more. I realise why I’m so upset about the length of the break, and that what I’m feeling is grief. I don’t think I can go five months without therapy, I don’t think I can stick to my plan of just taking a break, but if I start seeing someone else, then I don’t think I’ll go back to Nikki.

My last word is goodbye.

The One You Feed

Got What I Wished For, I Guess

“Hi Rea. Sorry, haven’t had a second to call you today. Crazy busy. Dr S sent a message to say he did hear from you on Saturday and that you’ve gone back to [home] for a week. Sounds like a good plan! Hope you have a good break! Text me when you get back and we can organise another session. Thanks for paying those fees too! Talk soon. N.”

I hate her. I never want to see her again.

Got What I Wished For, I Guess