I’m So Lucky (And It’s Still Not Enough)

TW for non-specific mention of self harm

I have been given so much support over the last week. (Originally that sentence said “more support than I deserve this week” so I had to go back and rewrite it – I wish someone would invent the therapy equivalent of a spellchecker that would automatically correct invalidating and self-deprecating statements to positive self-affirming ones.)

It’s been a hard week, and frustratingly, half of what’s been hard is completely in my head. Yes, the crisis plan finished last Tuesday, so I no longer contact Anna when I’m intending to act on self harm urges, but that doesn’t mean that anything in my life that would trigger me to self harm has actually changed. In the four months we had the plan, I only contacted her three times anyway, and all three ended with her calling the police. A bunch of uncomfortable men in uniforms standing in my bedroom asking me where I bought my artwork is really something I can do without.

My trip home to see my cousin and her kids last week was taxing, though not quite in the way I expected. I knew the kids would cling and cry when I left, and ask me why I couldn’t stay. What I didn’t expect was the honest, connected conversation with my cousin about her social phobia, about the way her parents spoke to her when she was a child and how her mother shamed her father for his depression, about how isolated she is and how frustrated she gets with my oldest niece. There are probably two people in the world she’d have that conversation with, and the other is her husband. Her trust in me brought our connection alive again, and the more connected we are, the more guilt I feel about betraying her. She still won’t get help from a psychologist, even if I pay, even if I go with her, and I had to do something to protect the kids, but I’m doubting whether it was the right choice.

And my army has rallied. Last Wednesday, I spoke to Aisha in the morning, and then spent most of the rest of the day barricaded in my bathroom, telling myself I wasn’t allowed to come out until I’d harmed myself severely, but struggling with the physical pain in a way I never have before, to the point that I ended up screaming. I reached out to Jen via text that night, and despite having four kids, two dogs and a new puppy, she got back to me just before midnight, checking if I needed medical help or support and asking me to touch base with her the next day. Which I did, but not in the way she expected. I’m experiencing major inner cringe as I write this – my friend had an appointment with her in her capacity as a chiropractor, and suggested I come along, so I did. A whole new level of gatecrashing. I sat in on their appointment, then my friend basically demanded that she see me before her next patient, and she was incredibly gracious about it and did. It wasn’t that helpful in the “wow I feel better” sense (unsurprisingly since at the time I was having a bad reaction to a new medication I’d forgotten I’d taken) but it was really reassuring to see her and know she was still there. I felt a little like a child sitting on the floor playing nearby while her mother chats with friends. I didn’t really want to talk to her, I just wanted to be with her.

From the same friend who took me to Jen, Aisha heard that I was struggling, and sent me an email on Thursday to say she was thinking of me and sending me a big hug, and then reached out again to offer me an extra session on Saturday, which I took gratefully. Again, it wasn’t so much about the content of what we discussed as it was about reminding myself I’m an adult now, I have support now – I’m having experiences which are scary but I can talk about them with someone now.

I saw my GP on Friday, and she was the same lovely mix of completely unhelpful advice and totally warm support that she always is. She’s just not good at talking to me about emotional issues, but while my injuries were being dressed, she sat next to me on the bed, bumped her shoulder playfully against mine then leaned her head against me and said “You can come every day if it helps“. When we walked back through reception, she called out cheerfully to her receptionist “Who can we cancel so Rea can come again on Monday?“, then stood rubbing my back while we made another appointment. After I left, she texted me to say “it was really good to see you today – didn’t realise I’d missed you until you left“. Her level of affection for me does make me anxious, because I feel like I always have to be “on” to make sure I keep it, but I feel very cared for with her.

I am so lucky. And it still doesn’t stop me dramatically spiraling when I get a response that isn’t what I hoped for. Last Wednesday, the awful day, I texted Anna to ask if we could set up an appointment for the next week (the good old scheduling excuse), when really I just wanted contact with her. Thanks to Rachel, I at least considered just saying I was struggling and wanted some kind of nurturing from her, but the whole point of the crisis plan ending is that we don’t have an agreement for that any more and I just couldn’t. She texted back three options, two of which were impossible (which you SHOULD KNOW, Anna, why don’t you have my schedule memorized?) and the other option she knows I hate (we refer to it as the Devil’s hour). And I totally flipped.

Why didn’t she check in on how I’m doing when she knows this is a bad day for me – hell, two weeks ago she wanted me on 24 hour watch today! Why is she offering me session times she knows I won’t want -is she trying to stop me coming in next week? She doesn’t even care about me. I hate her. I hate her! 

She asked whether my appointment with the new psychiatrist had been scheduled for that week, and then asked if I was going to follow up with them or if I wanted her to do anything about it. By now, I was petulant, but still passive-aggressively reaching out.

Thanks, but not right now. I can’t cope with anything else at the moment, I’ll think about following up next week.”

A couple of hours later, she responded “Really sorry to hear things are tough. If you need me to ring that Dr I will.”

Of course, what I read was: “I am not providing any support other than calling the psychiatrists office. End of conversation“. I felt so angry at her for abandoning me and fell into that place of despair mixed with rage, and immediately turned it against myself: “Anna hates you. Anna doesn’t care about you. You’re such a stupid bitch.” And plenty more.

Even at the time, I knew (again, thanks to Rachel) that I wasn’t communicating in a way that was going to get my needs met. And yet I was still triggered as hell when they weren’t. I think this is the negative side of having so much support offered by Aisha and Jen and my GP – when it’s not forthcoming from Anna, it feels even more punitive. Which isn’t fair to Anna, because everyone gets to set their own boundaries.

And then I was in tears tonight. I thought I was so secure in my relationship with Jen that I couldn’t be triggered by any perceived rejection, but I was wrong. This morning I took Everest to my appointment with my GP (at her request), which made me think that maybe Jen would be open to me bringing her too. Tomorrow morning I’m taking Everest to my office and will have to go straight to Jen from there, so I texted her to ask if Everest could come too. Why not, right? The worst thing she can do is say no.

Turns out the worst thing was harder than I expected. When I read her reply I felt like the breath had been knocked out of me: it was a moment of pure shock.

Hi Rea. Apologies, but no pets in the clinic. Thx. Jen” 

Innocuous, right? BUT IT’S NOT. She never uses my name in texts – she always opens with “Hi there” or something similar. And she never signs off with her name and it feels weird and distancing and the whole tone just seems off. So I’m spiraling into a mess of criticisms for texting her last week (even though I checked and I’m allowed), for showing up without an appointment, for being too much and inappropriate and crossing boundaries and needing to be put in my place.

Part of me knows that this is crazy. That I’m talking about a woman who offered to come to my house last year to throw out my pills to make sure I wouldn’t overdose. Who has offered for me to stay at her practice all day when things are really bad so she can keep an eye on me and make sure I stay safe. Who texted me back on Christmas day even though she was in the hospital with her teenager daughter who had just broken her leg. That she has four kids and an incredibly busy practice and that even if she is or was frustrated with me, it’s temporary and it’s okay. But it’s not okay. It hurts. And it’s so frustrating that even though my army prove time after time that they care and they’re there for me, it only takes one little perceived misstep for me to fall off the edge.

I’m So Lucky (And It’s Still Not Enough)

Part II – Mostly Just Sad

I don’t know why it’s been so hard to write about the second half of the session with Anna. I suppose I’ve been holding onto it for myself.

We sat quietly for a moment, letting the repair settle, then she asked tentatively “Do you want to have a shot at telling me about the guilt [over calling child protection]?”

I did, but it looked like we were teetering off the tracks again. I couldn’t find the words, or maybe wasn’t ready to share them, and she offered some suggestions but none of them were right. I kept saying “It’s not about that“, but I didn’t know what it was about either.

Anna gave me some time to sit quietly, head down, and tears started slipping down my face. I was feeling alone and angry that my mother had again been unable to handle the situation and left me to step up and deal with it by myself, but mostly I was feeling deep regret for not having the courage to reach out to my cousin earlier and push her to get help, even though that would have meant risking rejection. And then I realised why it was so hard to talk about guilt: because really, that wasn’t at the heart of what I was feeling.

I’m mostly just sad,” I said. The words were honest, but my tone was still calm, almost flat.

Sad for your nephew?” she asked, and I shook my head. “Sad for your cousin?” I shook my head again. “Sad for you?

A swell of emotion came over me, and the tears fell faster as I nodded, eyes still fixed on my knees. This was the first time she’d ever seen me cry, and she didn’t leave me to sit with it by myself.

All right, it’s okay,” she murmured, crossing the room to pull out a tissue, and coming to kneel beside me. I was so inward – focused that I didn’t realise she was reaching out to wipe my nose until she was almost touching me, and I jerked away abruptly, reflexively giving her a sideways look.

I still find this kind of a weird thing to do – I’m 25, not 5, and that is definitely not what I meant when I said I need her to be more nurturing. But at the same time, I feel warm and a little nervous that she wanted to take care of me in a tangible way, and that she is obviously taking our conversation about needing to be more than a case manager seriously.

Sorry,” she said softly, pulling back and handing me the tissue.

Are you okay if I’m here?” she asked, still crouched beside me, and I paused for a moment, but nodded. I was sitting on the floor, and at the start of the session she’d said she wanted to be on my level and asked if she could sit on the floor too. I’d been willing to try it, and she’d pushed her chair back so there was more room between us before shifting down, but I immediately felt uncomfortable and panicky that she was too close and I’d asked her to go back up to her chair. Further away. Safer. But sitting side by side where I didn’t have to see her face felt okay.

Can I sit here?” she checked, and I nodded.

Can I put my hand on your shoulder?” she asked, and I immediately shook my head vehemently. I’m sure I also tensed, and probably leant away from her a little.

Okay, I’ll just stay here then,” she said gently.

I’m surprised by how strong my reaction was. It’s something I’ve thought about before – Jen and my GP both touch me a lot, not only for work-related reasons but in a comforting way, and I love it. Jen will hold my hand or lay a hand on my stomach or my shoulder or my forehead when I’m upset, and my GP will rub my back or playfully bump my shoulder. Aisha is more limited given that she is on the other end of a computer screen, but will send me a big hug when she knows I’m struggling. All of this makes me feel cared for and protected. When I’ve thought about Anna touching me I’ve always felt uncomfortable, but there’s also part of me that really wants that comfort, so I’m surprised I wasn’t torn. I’m glad I said no, but I’m afraid she won’t offer again.

We ended up going over by 45 minutes. She encouraged me to tell her more about the sadness, but I was just crying quietly, and she ended up spending most of the time talking to me.

It was a relief when I managed to gather myself enough to tell her I was flying home the next day to see my cousin and her kids, and I was scared about it. She asked me not to go and told me it was putting me at risk; the kids knew I was coming and I had to go, but it was nice to have someone recognise how big it was. When I hit the end of my words, she asked me to text to her, and she got her phone and we sat side by side while I typed out the things I couldn’t say out loud.

We weren’t suddenly in perfect sync. She wasn’t getting the depth of how much I love my cousin and how desperate I’ve been to keep my relationship with her, and was making comments about how I would have said something to her if I’d thought there was any chance she was going to change, and that just isn’t true. Towards the end, she commented “Okay, I’ve lost something here. I feel like I’ve misattuned or something. I haven’t got something. I’m searching, but I’m not getting something. I wish I could know what I’m not getting.

But she was trying, and there was connection between us. She was reaching out again, physically and metaphorically, asking me to touch base with her after I’d been with my cousin so she could offer support.

Right now, I’m feeling disconnected from her again. But I can hold on to that memory, and know that it doesn’t have to stay this way.

Part II – Mostly Just Sad

Part I – The Repair

This session has firmly cemented my belief that WordPress should be required reading for all new therapy clients. It was such an important conversation, but before I started reading other people’s blogs about their ruptures and repairs and rawness and vulnerability with their own therapists, I just couldn’t have been so open with Anna about how I was feeling.

She started the session by telling me that she knew I’d called child protection and had been having a hard time with it, and we talked around it for a bit, but I was very calm and contained in my responses, giving her the facts but not the emotion. The turning point came when I told her that I’d changed my mind about needing to self-harm next week after DBT and our crisis plan end – this was obviously a surprise to her given that I’d left the week before very set on it, and she wanted to know what had happened.

With a little attitude, I told her that I’d talked to Aisha and she’d understood and helped me shift things. She was a little lost for words for a minute (or maybe distracted by Everest biting her toes), and then asked why I could talk to Aisha and not to her. It was pretty excruciating, and my voice cracked, but I forced out the truth:

“After the last couple of sessions, I’ve felt pretty strongly that you don’t care how I feel or what I think; you just want to tell me what to do.”

 

I felt embarrassed and exposed and ridiculous, but I knew I couldn’t talk about anything deeper until we’d addressed it. Her initial response was very accurate, but not helpful – she was missing the point. She talked about how they are collaborative and her role has been more of a case manager trying to prevent crises and Aisha is the one who provides nurturing, and that what she does is caring in a different way. Which would be fine if she hadn’t told me two weeks earlier that having two therapists wasn’t practical in the long term, and I was going to have to decide between them. So I put my cards on the table:

“But as you pointed out, I’m going to have to make a choice, and at the end of the day that’s going to be you, because it doesn’t make sense to keep seeing Aisha over Skype when you’re here.”

And she clicked.

“And that’s scary, because what if you can’t get that nurturing from me.”

I could have explained better, that I’m not looking for care and nurture just for the sake of care and nurture, but because I can’t open up my insides to somebody who is examining them clinically with a microscope and a pair of gloves. But I hope she gets it.

And then things got even more excruciating.

“Have you ever got nurturing from me?”

Of course I knew the answer, but in the moment I panicked at the thought of being so vulnerable, and went for a noncommittal response that turned out something like this:

She gave me one of those knowing looks, then asked about the time she’d come to visit me in the emergency room at midnight after spending almost three hours on the phone with me, and brought me a stuffed dog and sat with me, rubbing my arm and holding my hand while I coughed and gagged – “did that feel nurturing?”

Even then, I only begrudgingly admitted that maybe, yeah, in hindsight. This is something I want to change about myself. I always struggle to express gratitude to anyone for anything, because then it implies that maybe I wanted it and maybe I needed it and I never, ever need anything from anyone because then they have power over me, and I never, ever admit to wanting something I was given, because then I owe them something that will have to be repaid.

With beautiful synchronicity, she segued to the other issue I wanted to discuss:

“When you see the psychiatrist, you might find that you connect with her, and that might be another option for you for another form of nurturing. It’s not that I don’t want to give it, but sometimes the risks to you are quite high and I feel like I haven’t got the resources to really help you with those risks. I was really freaked out about only checking my phone by accident on that night you needed to be admitted to hospital. That’s really freaky because something could have happened to you and in a way I’m responsible because of the crisis plan we have, and we’ve got no fallback in the plan because I’m not a 24 hour service.”

This was exactly what had made me so frustrated in our last session – she had kept telling me that she wasn’t a hospital and there were limitations and from now on I needed to call the mental health crisis team after 6pm, when I’d suggested limits in the first place and she’d told me she wanted to be available any time day or night. I’m always so careful of never being demanding, never overstepping my welcome, and I’d felt so hurt and so angry when she’d acted as though I didn’t understand that 24/7 availability wasn’t realistic, like I was so self-absorbed I only cared about my own needs and didn’t recognise the pressure that put on her.

Of course, because it was so frustrating it meant it was almost impossible to articulate – I was so choked up I couldn’t get more than a sentence out at a time, and I found myself saying the same thing over and over with slightly different words, hoping this time she’d get it. It was so shameful for me to show her how much this had affected me.

She was a bit defensive of her good intentions to start with, but to her credit, she stuck with me, encouraging me to keep trying:

“It’s really important to tell me how you feel. I’m listening to it and I’m taking it on board, and I’m learning in my really slow way about it. I’m still not getting it though, I can feel it – I’m still not getting exactly what you’re saying to me, and I need to get it. I want to get it right.”

It took some time, but we got to a place where it felt okay – she told me openly that she’d offered so much because she’d really wanted me to know how much she wanted to support me and be there for me, but that she knew she’d made a mistake and put me at risk, and she was able to reflect on our last session and recognise that she’d been feeling guilty about not being able to follow through on the crisis plan and she’d overcompensated by telling me about the limits over and over again. And then she said, with tears in her eyes:

“It’s hard to stuff up, because I know how hard it is for you. I don’t want to hurt you more. But if I do, I want to do my best not to stuff up again. Having you calling me on it is a good thing.”

I couldn’t stay with that emotion, and I think I was starting to feel uncomfortable about turning this into such a big deal, so I redirected my attention to Everest (who was trying to tear the head off her monkey) and Anna crossed the room to get a tissue and blow her nose, then we shifted to talking about the child protection issue. But I’m really proud of myself for exposing myself enough to let her fix it.

I’d like to think that maybe she’s proud of me too.

Part I – The Repair

I’m Not Great (But I’m Doing Okay)

Yesterday I called Child Protection Services to make a notification. It felt terrible, and the person taking the statement didn’t make it any easier – she informed me at the start that there were no other notifications about my nieces and nephews, in a tone that indicated I was wasting her time because if anything serious was going on then they would already know about it.

I spent the rest of the day in kind of a foggy haze, unable to focus on work or put words together to talk to my colleagues. When a friend tried to give me a hug I was overcome with anger – I didn’t want him near me or touching me, and I didn’t want to talk. I just wanted to be alone.

I spent most of the night looking at photos of me and my cousin, as babies, as children, as teenagers, and as adults. There’s one photo I particularly love taken at about this time last year, leaning together and grinning at the camera at my brother’s wedding.

But I didn’t realize how much it was affecting me until I cried in DBT this morning. I just feel so guilty for not stepping up and talking to my cousin sooner. I love her so much and I’m so afraid of being rejected by her that I’ve never been able to bring myself to confront her. But if I had, maybe things wouldn’t have got this far. I keep reminding myself that she has chosen to act the way she does, and I’m not responsible for trying to change her behaviour to prevent her having to face the consequences of that behaviour. But that’s just words and logic and it can’t touch the part of my heart that’s hurting.

The kids are the most important thing. That’s why I made that call. My cousin matters too, and even if it was the right decision, it doesn’t make it easy.

But despite the fact I’m struggling, I’m doing okay. The charity I work for had a Board meeting today, and the directors praised my work on the Board papers (all 80 pages of them…) and elected me company secretary. Even though I’ve been very emotionally affected by feeling as though I’ve betrayed my cousin, the most self-destructive thing I’ve done is eat too much chocolate. I’m doing my best to come up with practical ideas of how to support the kids, like getting them to see the school counselor and paying for them to take swimming lessons. I don’t have any control over what I did and didn’t do in the past. But at least I’m doing my best in the present.

I’m Not Great (But I’m Doing Okay)

An Unexpected Session

It wasn’t one of my better days.

I wasn’t even supposed to have a session with Anna last week. At the start of the year, we’d agreed on no more than two therapy sessions a week to make sure I don’t get overwhelmed and flooded and suicidal like I did last year. I hadn’t realised that my DBT group counted as a therapy session, though, meaning that I was going from seeing Anna twice a week last year to once a fortnight this year.

But after working 40 hours in three days, I was exhausted, and I slept through DBT. I felt terrible when I woke up – I was disappointed I’d missed it, and I was scared that Anna was going to take it as proof that I wasn’t trying. But most of all, it meant that there were only two sessions left until the end of DBT, and the end of the crisis plan that’s stopped me self-harming for the last 3 months. Part of me is counting down the days, and another part is terrified of what I’m going to do to myself.

By the time I went to my sign language class that night, I was so flooded with anxiety and thoughts of self harm that I couldn’t follow what was happening. So, trying to reach out and do the healthy thing, on my way home I texted Anna for our required DBT check-in and told her I was having a hard day. She offered me a choice of two session times the next day, and that was that.

I wish I hadn’t gone. I took Everest, and we had quite a few light-hearted moments (like when Evee got up on the table between us and started drinking out of Anna’s glass, or when she bit her toy monkey and it started screaming and she ran away and hid under the couch), but I left feeling much worse than when I came in.

We’re still stuck in a bad dynamic (of my creation) where she opens the session, she talks at me, and I contribute when she gives me an opening. She knows about my fears about the crisis plan from Jen and Aisha, and she went straight to problem-solving mode, suggesting 24-hour supervision by a friend on the day DBT ends, and an agreement that if I start self-harming “badly” that I be admitted to a private hospital.

From a practical perspective, these were rational and necessary suggestions. From an emotional perspective, I felt silenced. I didn’t want “Here is what you should do“. I wanted “How are you feeling? That sounds awful. I’m so sorry you have to deal with this – it’s not fair.” I needed my fears and my conflicts heard and understood and affirmed before I was ready to talk about and commit to safety planning.

I have no doubt it came from a place of caring. And some of the things she said were lovely – when she was talking about me going into the hospital, she said that for her and Aisha and Jen, it was like me having to watch Everest cross the road with my hands tied behind my back, and that because they’re not a hospital they don’t have a team to hold me, and they don’t know that every night I’m okay, that I’ve been fed and put to bed and looked after. Hearing that really threw me. It never would have occurred to me that she cared about any of that, and it was uncomfortable but nice to hear.

The thing that really triggered me came on my way out the door. She told me that it was pure chance that she’d got my message last month the night my kitten died, and that as a sole practitioner she can’t be there 24/7 – her ultimate point being that from now on, after 6pm she wants me to call emergency services instead of her.

The reality of her limited capacity to respond is not exactly news to me, given that I suggested putting limits on her availability back when we were writing the plan. I sent her an email requesting some boundaries:

“It would also be helpful for me to have some parameters around when I can contact you and the process you’d prefer (e.g. 9am-9pm Monday-Friday, text first and ask if I can call….or whatever).”  

Her response was this:

“Re contacting me… its going to be anytime. You will be in crisis… so I’m not expecting you to hang on. If I gave you a time frame it would be sort of like saying to a heart patient (if I was a heart Dr) if you are having a heart attack only contact me between the hours or 9 to 5. Try texting first. if I don’t respond fast ( ie within 30 mins). Ring. ( I may be asleep).”

So when she told me that 6pm was now the cutoff, I felt pretty angry and frustrated: “Oh, you can’t be available all the time? No fucking kidding! Why are you explaining this to me like it’s something I don’t understand? I’VE BEEN TELLING YOU THIS FROM THE START!”

It really worries me that even though I foresaw the potential issues with unlimited availability and raised it with her, she didn’t recognise it could be a problem until I was actually put at risk. Again, I’m sure she had the best of intentions. But I need to trust that she knows what she’s doing if I’m going to do this work with her, and that means that next session I need to tell her about my concerns.

I hope I can do it.

An Unexpected Session

Protecting Them From Me

Thank god for Everest. As far as icebreakers go, there’s nothing better than a tiny bouncy kitten who’s oblivious to the awkwardness in the room.

My first session back with Anna wasn’t terrible. It definitely could have been worse. But it was pretty challenging.

One of the great and terrible things about Anna is that she doesn’t beat around the bush. After five minutes of watching Evee explore and idly chatting, she told me that she doesn’t think I have DID, and that her gut feeling is that I have Pure O (a form of OCD). She talked about what that means for how we work together, and that medication and learning about emotion regulation will be the most important things.

What I heard was something like this: “You’re so gullible for going along with Aisha when she said she thinks you have DID. Things aren’t actually bad for you. You don’t have little parts that need compassion – you just need to learn to suck it up, stop overreacting to things and deal with your emotions better.”

What I said was something like this: “Yeah, that makes sense.”

Anna acknowledged that I was activated, but didn’t ask why, and the conversation moved on – but my brain didn’t, not completely, so the rest of the session was skewed through a triggered lens.

The real challenge came when we talked about my trip home over the holidays. Mostly I had a great time, but it’s got to the point where there’s one ongoing family situation that I just can’t stand by and watch any more.

I was incredibly close to one of my cousins as a child – so close we dressed as twins until we were 15. When I was 16 and she was 17, she got pregnant and my aunt and uncle wanted her out of the house by the time the baby came, so we started looking for an apartment together. I love children, and that baby became the most important thing in my world. I’d been self-harming for 6 years at that point, but I quit cold turkey, because I didn’t want to risk exposing him to it. In the end, my cousin’s partner got transferred to another state so we didn’t end up living together, but still saw each other regularly, and her son grew up calling me Aunty Rea. When I walked into a room, his face would light up and he’d run to me. When I left, he would walk around for days saying “Mummy, I lost Aunty Rea“.

She has a new husband now, and seven kids – four biological and three stepkids – and I don’t know who she is any more. For years, I’ve known that she is neglecting her children. Until I started therapy, I didn’t understand that it was serious enough to warrant outside intervention.

After Christmas, I went down the coast to meet them at our family caravan for a few days. When I drove up, my two year old niece was playing on the road. She’s almost never supervised – she can be gone for an hour without either of her parents noticing. When they do, neither of them go to look for her. The youngest, a nine month old baby, was only being fed two bottles a day, even though she’s supposed to be on solid food and bottles. When she finishes her milk, she screams. My cousin doesn’t play with her or interact with her at all, and she will sit quietly in her pram for hours without crying. She’s incredibly developmentally delayed – she isn’t even rolling over yet.

But her oldest baby hurts my heart the most. He’s seven now, and he’s a smart, active, angry little boy. He needs love and attention so badly. We were sitting together colouring, and talking about when he gets angry – what kinds of things make him angry, and how it feels, and what he can do to feel better. After we’d been colouring in silence for a little while, he said quietly, eyes still on his paper, “I put a cord around my neck and tried to choke myself, and it got stuck and Mummy had to cut it off“. My whole body went numb.

I love these kids so much. But as much as I hate what she’s doing, I love my cousin too.

I told Anna all of this. She affirmed that I was right to be worried, and that the kids are going to have major issues when they get older – I know that, but it hurt to hear it. Then she told me the only thing I could do was make a report to Children’s Services.

I told her “For a few years I’ve been thinking about whether I should move back home and just ” and she cut me off.

No. No. No. I’m sorry, it’s not for you to do, Re; you’re not healthy enough to do that. This is not your responsibility.

I shrugged. “It’s got to be somebody’s.”

No. It’s not yours. I’m serious, Rea. The smartest thing for you to do is make a Children’s Services report.

This part felt okay. She was disagreeing with me, but it felt like she was protecting me. But then she went on to tell me that I wouldn’t cope, and that the kids would be worse off with me than with my cousin. That really, really hurt. One of the only positive things I can recognise about myself is that I’m great with kids and my nieces and nephews adore me. Okay, yes, there’s a difference between playing a mean game of hide and seek and being a mother. But I know how to talk to children. I know how to sit down with my niece with a picture book and use it to help her understand her emotions; to ask her how the people in the pictures are feeling, and why, and what things make her feel like that. I know that when my nephew is hurt or upset and telling me to go away that leaving him is the last thing I should do; that if I sit with him, quietly, he will crawl into my arms to be held. As a child of a mother with mental illness, I know how it can affect children, and I know to be mindful of myself. I wouldn’t be perfect, but I’d sure as damn hell be better than my cousin.

I felt ashamed that she seemed to think so little of my capacity to be a parent, ashamed of having a mental illness, and angry that (from my perspective) she didn’t know me at all. It didn’t feel like she was protecting me any more – it felt like she was protecting them from me.

I like that she’s honest with me. I like that she has the best interests of my nieces and nephews at heart. But I still feel wounded.

 

Protecting Them From Me

Don’t Trust Your Instincts

I texted Anna today. I had DBT this morning, and part of the crisis plan we agreed on before it started was that I have to check in with her after every session. Which she recently retracted – she’s been away for the last two weeks and she didn’t organise a replacement person for me to check in with (for what turned out to be a fairly triggering session).

So the petulant part of me came out to play. “She obviously thinks I don’t need support any more – why should I text her? If she wants to check in then she can contact me.”

This is one of the many situations where following my instincts is a stupid idea. Pulling away from her would have felt safer and more comfortable, but I would have ended up sitting around brooding and waiting to see if she’d text. Even though I didn’t really need support, if she didn’t contact me then she would have failed a test, one that she doesn’t need to take. After all the support she’s given me, it’d be like asking an Indy 500 driver to sit a learner’s licence test.

So I texted, and I told her I wasn’t sure whether I was still supposed to check in after DBT. She didn’t actually answer the (implied) question, but asked how I was on our usual ranking scale of 1 to 10.

Again, my instincts tried to derail me. Normally I would have just texted back ‘6’ – my first rule of life is never offer up any more information than you’re directly asked for. That’s a philosophy that isn’t very helpful in therapy, given it turns the dynamic into victim and interrogator, and it’s one I’m trying to change. So I took a breath – be open, be open – and explained that I’ve just gone back on my meds and I’m struggling with anxiety.

The response she sent was not the same response I would have got a month ago.

What she said was reasonable enough – try a DBT skill, if it gets worse take some Seroquel, I’ll see you on Thursday – but it was a shock, and it felt like I was being physically pushed away. It hurt. In the past, she’s always given me affirmation for ‘hanging in there’, talked with me about what might help, and reminded me that I can touch base with her any time. Our conversations have never been that short, and she’s never closed them off so firmly. Basically, she’s been warm and responsive and caring.

That petulant child is never far from the surface, and she came out again. It’s not fair. This is what Anna wanted: shouldn’t she be encouraging me to move towards her, not pushing me back? Do I have to “earn back” her caring? It’s stupid that she’s changing the way she responds to me now – this is not what I need. We have our first session in 8 weeks two days from now, and I’ll be too guarded to talk to her and we’ll fall back into the same old patterns and nothing will ever change and nothing will get better.

I went on in this vein for about 5 minutes, ruminating and evaluating and second-guessing, until another thought stopped me. Whatever Anna is doing, she’s probably doing it with good intentions. Whether it’s objectively good or bad, misguided or appropriate, I do believe that she has my best interests at heart. And when I see things in that light, it’s a lot easier to be forgiving.

Don’t Trust Your Instincts