Two more days until the appointment, and I’m afraid that if she asks me about what happened with my last therapists, I’ll cry. It feels very important that I not cry.
One option is to cut myself, soon enough before the appointment that it’s still fresh, but long enough that I don’t bleed through the bandage and onto my clothes. Somewhere that my hand naturally rests, the top of my thigh maybe, or the side of my ribs, so that I can press into it, hard, when I start feeling emotional.
My preference would be a chemical burn. To soak a cloth in bleach and tape it to my skin, so that it hurts throughout the appointment, keeps me sharp and clear. It’s risky, though; I can’t think of a good explanation for the smell (removing nail polish?) and it might bleach through my clothes. Plus chemical burns are usually too superficial to really help, and they itch like crazy.
I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to be calm and detached and pretend I don’t care if she can’t help me. And I don’t want to be honest and vulnerable and open myself up to hurting myself badly when she decides she can’t see me (see psychiatrist #4 below). I’m frustrated with myself for “making this into such a big deal“, but it is a big deal for me. It probably wouldn’t be for other people, but that doesn’t change the fact that it is for me. And I’m being stupid, because I wouldn’t be anywhere near so anxious about this if I could take Everest with me, and one of the other practitioners at this clinic has a therapy dog, so it quite possibly wouldn’t be an issue. But I can’t make myself ask my brother to call and check, because I’m convinced that I’ll seem impossibly high maintenance and ruin any possible chance I have of her seeing me again.
She asked me to bring a list of the psychiatrists I’ve already seen, presumably so she can cross them off the list of possible referrals. This seemed like the right moment to reflect on 2015 and the 6 experiences it brought me.
#1. After 5 minutes, he decided it would be more productive if I went and sat in the waiting room and he took my history from R instead. For the whole 50 minute consult. I went out obligingly then thought “wait…what the fuck?“. Even then, I still went back for a second appointment, during which he repeatedly told me he was only a baby psychiatrist so I couldn’t expect too much from him, and informed me that he would need to speak with my parents about their perspective of my issues. (I was 24.) I did not go back.
#2. To borrow a phrase from La Quemada, a NAPIWET of the highest order. We were late and she got into an argument with R in the waiting room over the (apparently ridiculous) suggestion that perhaps the receptionist had given us the address to a different office where she also consults. Her tiny office had a huge desk between me and the door (panic panic panic!) and she was cold and clinical. At the end of the 50 minutes she informed me that I definitely had borderline personality disorder because all people who self harm do (not true) and that I needed to get into a DBT program that would teach me that the rejection I was perceiving from medical staff wasn’t really happening and was all in my head (Really? Comments like “You need stitches but I’m not going to waste my time because you’re just going to cut again anyway” were just me reading too much into things?). She referred me on to #3.
#3. I still feel bad about cancelling my second appointment with her. She didn’t do anything wrong – she listened, didn’t show any signs of exasperation when I didn’t share much, and she really thought about what other resources she could refer me to (like a low-cost psychotherapy program). Probably I should call and find out if she could see me again. The reason I didn’t go back is because she often didn’t understand what I was saying, and asked me to repeat myself or asked questions that made it clear she’d misunderstood. This may have been partly because English is her second language, or because of my style of speaking – I’m a sesquipedalian and tend to use very formal, rigid English when I feel uncomfortable (which is probably why my third psychologist, Gemma, told me I came across as arrogant in my first session with her).
#4. I was so excited about her. She was a psychiatrist who did psychotherapy, and I’d spoken to her on the phone when I made the appointment and really liked her. Things felt a little off during our first session, but I really wanted to believe that she was the one, my therapy soulmate, so I kept stretching myself, and I told her more than anybody I’d seen before. Towards the end of the session, she told me – in a tone that indicated it should be obvious – that she couldn’t see me on an ongoing basis, but if I wanted to make another appointment in a month (a month!) she could call around and see if she could find someone who would see me. I barely made it through the rest of the session, and when I got home, I burnt myself beyond my body’s capacity to heal. I believed that there had to be something truly, fundamentally wrong with me for so many practitioners to reject me and I was so distressed I could hardly feel the flame touching my skin. A week after I got out of the hospital, from surgery to fix the burn, she called me and said she was sorry to hear about my injuries (the hospital had called her to confirm that I had an upcoming appointment), but that she hadn’t been able to find anybody who’d take me on so there was no point me coming in next week. She wrote a letter to my GP, and S offered to print me a copy then took a look at it on the screen and said “Oh, wait…better not“. I still wonder what was in that letter.
#5. He was lovely and he tried really hard to connect with me. Our first session wasn’t great; as usual, he assumed I have borderline personality disorder, and started telling me not to go home thinking that he’s terrible because things aren’t black and white and he’s not all bad. Which made me angry, because that isn’t how I think, and there’s such arrogance in the assumption that you can predict anybody’s thoughts after knowing them for less than an hour. But I was sick of searching and he seemed okay, so I kept going. Honestly, (and this is embarrassing), if he had been a woman then I would probably have been able to connect with him, and would be happy to keep seeing him. But he wasn’t the mother figure I wanted, so I never warmed to him, and I wouldn’t share anything with him.
#6. I liked her dog? I very reluctantly went to see her shortly after being released from hospital following a suicide attempt because #5 wanted a second opinion. No idea what happened with that – I never heard from her.
Anna was so different. At the very start of our first session, she observed that she could tell I wasn’t feeling grounded and that was okay, admitted that she was feeling nervous too, and told me that she’d warmed up a heat bag in case I wanted something to hold onto to help me stay more present. (I didn’t, but the care and thought in that gesture…it still amazes me.) She asked me if I was happy sitting on the chairs, or whether I would prefer to sit on the ground, or on the desk, or stand. I felt uncomfortable (holy shit, so uncomfortable) but she was really attuned to me in a way that was more comforting than scary.
Still, though, I have to reluctantly admit that my history with psychiatrists is not as bad as the story I tell myself. Two of them were objectively terrible. One was horribly disappointing, but because of how I reacted to her, not because of her. I wrote one of them off too soon, and the other just had the misfortune of being the wrong gender. All in all, not sufficient reason for the total terror I have about seeing another one.
But really, the reason I’ve calmed down a little is because I’ve decided to make an appointment with one of the psychologists I’ve found online who look empathetic and a good fit for me. This is probably a stupid decision. I have two appointments this week with two different psychiatrists, and with a third later in June. Should I really be adding another person I can only (and barely) afford to see for 10 sessions? Shouldn’t I at least wait and see how it goes with the other people first?
Fuck. Of course I should. But I’m desperate for some empathetic connection. Desperate is such a dirty word, to me, but I am. I feel like I have to sit in a room with someone who understands the pain and fear and overwhelm I’m experiencing and cares about it, or I’m going to self-destruct. In my experience, psychiatrists don’t do that. I don’t care about making progress or learning new skills, I just want to spend an hour a week feeling less alone.
Stupid. Pathetic. I think I’m going to do it anyway.