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.