I couldn’t get up. My alarm went off, and I stayed in bed. The bus I was supposed to be on left, and I was still in bed. I felt frozen, and like there was something squeezing my chest. When I finally got up, my knees were shaking.
In the back of the taxi, I watched Timon dress in drag and do the hula (Arrrrre you achin’ [yup yup] forrrr some bacon? [yup yup]) over and over, imagining the psychiatrist as the hyenas, trying to make myself laugh. But when we arrived, a whole new source of dread struck me – when I tried to pay the driver, my card declined. I was already a few minutes late, but I stood outside the building trying to decide whether to go in. It wasn’t like I didn’t have the money – I’d just got a new card the night before and they’d cancelled my old one – but the idea of explaining to the psychiatrist or the receptionist that I couldn’t pay today was so unbearably shameful I almost turned around and went back home. I went in, but the anxiety clung to me.
I was right to be afraid I was going to cry. I didn’t, but I wanted to. Alina is pretty shrewd about abandonment pain; the moment I handed over the list of psychiatrists I’ve seen, she zeroed in on the number who’d referred me on after a single session, and questioned me about how painful that had been. (“A bit frustrating” was all I was willing to admit to, but she saw the truth on my face.) Later, when Anna came up, she poked the sore places again.
“Twice a week for 8 months, and she sent you an email saying she doesn’t want to see you, she can’t help you. Do you think she was angry at you?”
The question I heard was ‘Are you one of ‘those’ BPD clients? Were you too demanding? Did you burn her out?’
“No,” I said, but with a slight upwards inflection that betrayed some uncertainty.
“Why can’t she help you?”
Because she cared too much and she tried too hard, I think. Because she liked me and she wanted to help me, and when I didn’t get better she was frustrated and lost and she couldn’t separate herself from my own sense of hopelessness, and it overwhelmed her. Because she was always reaching for me, asking me to text and email and I almost never reached back, and she was afraid I was more attached to Jen and Aisha than I was to her, and she felt useless and insecure about what her place was.
“She just felt stuck, I guess,” is what came out. Alina wasn’t satisfied, but she moved on.
“I don’t think I have ever seen anybody who overdosed at 13.”
I shrugged. “I don’t think it’s that uncommon.”
What I was saying was ‘There is nothing special about my pain’, but she seemed to hear ‘You don’t know what you’re talking about’.
“Probably not, I’m just saying I haven’t seen anybody. Or maybe I did, but usually the people that started that early, they don’t function that well later in life. But you finished school very well, you went to university, you are working, you have good friends…so I’m just a bit sort of puzzled I guess.”
I didn’t really know how to respond. Normally I feel proud that I’m resilient, but the way she was talking, it didn’t seem like something to be proud of – just another way I’m different, another reason I’m hard to treat. And I felt torn, because part of me felt frustrated and disappointed that again I’m a puzzle, that she couldn’t understand me, but the rest of me knows how much I hate psychiatrists assuming they know me after one session, and I know that I prefer humility in confusion to arrogance in certainty.
It was inevitable that at some point, the topic of my wrist was going to come up.
“Why did you break four of your bones?! That’s not normal, you know.”
“I don’t know – the thought just popped into my head, and…” I started to trail off, and she interjected immediately, strongly.
“What do you mean?!”
“I don’t know – the thought came into my mind, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it until I’d done it, so I did it.”
She looked down at her papers for a moment, shaking her head. “Listen. It puzzles me, the way you talk about what has been happening to you. I need you to start feeling and thinking about all this stuff. It’s almost like you’re telling me ‘You know what, I don’t want to think about it, I’m just doing it, and I have been doing it for a very long time and I probably will continue doing it, but I’m not thinking about it’. What do you think is wrong with you?” I sat silent, not liking the question and not knowing where to even start answering it, and she interpreted: “You’re not telling me that.”
“Mmm.” I felt stormy, misunderstood, outraged – I do think about it! – but I knew I wasn’t giving her any reason to believe there was anything deeper behind my bland, monosyllabic responses.
“Okay. You are a difficult case – you know that, don’t you?”
“Yeah,” I agreed immediately, confidently, owning it so I could pretend there was no shame in it.
“Why do you think you’re a difficult case?”
“Well, I’m not that great at communicating, so that makes it more challenging.”
“Well, I think you’re communicating. You might not be talking, but I think you are communicating.”
Touché. She definitely won that round.
Later, she circled back to my broken wrist, and my parents’ reaction.
“Did mum cry? Did they give you a hug?”
“No,” I said with an incredulous half-laugh, giving her a flat, warning look.
“Did they say ‘oh my god, what happened?'”
“No.” I upped the intensity of the stare, and she conceded.
“All right. Okay.” She stopped, took in a deep breath. “Whew. You’re a funny girl.”
Her tone wasn’t unkind, exactly – it felt impersonal. Like she’d already given up on trying to understand why I might be reacting that way, and had concluded that I didn’t have any feelings she could hurt.
So. She goes on holidays in three weeks, and she offered to see me 4 more times before she decides whether she can work with me or not. (I took this as “You’ve got three weeks to start talking and start showing some insight or you’re out, kid“.)
I prickled at some of the things she said – like when she described my (beloved) schizophrenic uncle as “disabled” and summarised my foster brother’s home as a “bad family” – but I’m trying to look past the phrasing to the intent. She’s blunt, but I didn’t sense disrespect or dismissiveness. The way she spoke to me in general wasn’t overtly compassionate, or exactly kind, but I heard some gentleness in her tone.
I don’t think she will ever be the kind of psychiatrist who will sit with me on the floor, take me to the park or blast rock music during sessions. I can’t picture her holding my hand, or sending me a text, and I don’t think there’d be much laughter or banter between us. I feel grief about that. Seeing Alina made it very real; I am never going to see Anna again. And with Alina, I feel very much that it’s my job to convince her, win her over. I feel like I’m on trial, and I miss the safety of Anna. Her priority from the start was to make me feel comfortable, to do whatever she could to win my trust. That was uncomfortable, but this is harder.
I’ll go back next week, and I’ll try to share more, and I’ll hope she’ll be kinder. But I hate this. I hate it.
Oh, and – no big surprise – when she asked what I want to achieve in therapy, I said “I don’t know“.