Before I started therapy, I didn’t realise that with different people, silence can sound different.
I met Psychiatrist #9 yesterday, and it didn’t start well. After I walked in and said hello, she proceeded to read the full referral letter from my GP aloud, then said “All right…take it away!”
I laughed a little incredulously (um, really?), and when she didn’t step in to prompt with a question, I immediately started seething with rage. If I could have set her editions of the DSM aflame with the power of my gaze, I would have. I was furious at her for not doing anything to put me at ease and for not just asking me what my parents do for a living like every other fucking psychiatrist, and I was furious that I was here doing this again and again it was bad and hard and not fair.
And then…the anger just dissipated. There was no expectation in the air. No sense that she was waiting for me to say something. She was just sitting, still, gaze resting on the floor to my right. Not fidgeting, not reading, not tapping her pen. Just sitting.
It gave me space to settle myself. I noticed the tension in my shoulders, took a breath and consciously let them relax. I let myself see my resistance and discomfort and anxieties about having to take the lead. It felt like longer, but I only held out for two minutes before I said:”I’ve done this so many times I’m bored of my own story, to be honest.”
It was a cheat – saying something without really saying anything, to get her to respond so I wouldn’t have to take the initiative. I didn’t want to just regurgitate my history, but I didn’t know what to say. Her response annoyed me, but I was impressed – she knew exactly what I was doing and she held firm.
“I was truthful when I said I’m patient. When people do this sort of work they do it at their own pace.” She paused, then added “So if you want to sit there and just reflect on things quietly, we can do that for as long as you want.”
For the next five minutes, we did exactly that. I looked over her bookshelf, gazed out the window, counted the drawers in her shelving unit, and I thought; why am I here? what is happening in my life, right now? what do I want to share?
Eventually, I broke the silence with a brief explanation about my self-harm. I don’t want that to be the first topic of conversation, the thing that defines me, but it’s the most obvious place to start. We spoke about it a little, then lapsed into silence for almost ten minutes. She only ever looked at me when I was seeking eye contact. As soon as I broke her gaze, she’d look away. I liked that.
I should have been prepared for the conversation to turn to Anna – after all, Anna had contacted #9 when she terminated with me – but for whatever stupid, stupid reason, I hadn’t thought about it at all. #9 had forgotten about her call with Anna until the subject came up, and flipped to her notes to refresh her memory.
“I’ve finished my therapy with a difficult self-harming patient,” she started to read aloud, and I felt my whole body tense and my face flinch, in the split second before I took a step back and detached from my body, letting a mask slide down over my face. Hearing Anna describe me as “difficult” hurt, so much.
She read through the next part silently, lips pressed together, then started to narrate aloud again. “Bright lawyer……hospitalised a couple of times this year with self-harm, very rigid views and belief systems…very controlling about what can be said and what’s said…”
The mask almost slipped at the word “controlling”, but I imagined a flame against my skin, and I stayed outwardly calm. Just wait until you get home, I told myself. You can burn as soon as you get home.
She’s the fourth therapist I’ve told the story of Anna and Aisha to, and every time, I’ve stayed bland and unemotional. If she couldn’t help, then I’m glad that she told me. And I liked her a lot, but it was difficult via Skype. There’s so much shame in admitting how much I hurt when they left. I trusted them and I depended on them but to them, I was just a difficult client. Whenever I think about telling Nikki the truth, about how my voice would wobble and my face would scrunch and – oh jesus – how I’d cry, my mind flashes to an image of blood dripping down my arm. Can I move past the hurt and betrayal without expressing it out loud, having it witnessed and understood? I don’t know.
We didn’t talk about anything of substance for the rest of the session. She warned me a few minutes before the end (another point in her favour), and asked me if I had any questions for her. And I surprised myself – for the first time ever, I did.
Her answers were good. I felt a little bit of fluttering in my chest when she talked about the first year being focused on containing self-destructive behaviours – she knows how long this is going to take. She talked about creating a safe contained space, and about working with people whose histories make it difficult for them to function in the world.
I’m definitely not sold on her yet. There’s a lot I like about her, but I question how wise it was to read me comments from my last therapist in our first session. And I’m horrified that she charges $480 for a 35 minute initial appointment. It’s not about spending the money; it’s the concept of somebody in a helping profession charging an exorbitant fee that would prohibit a lot of people from being able to access help. There’s probably a reason for it, but it doesn’t sit well with my values.
So, we’ll see. But for once, I’m not dreading my next appointment.
I’m finding it interesting, comparing the transference with Nikki to the transference with the psychiatrists. I’m getting attached to Nikki, for the wrong reasons. She’s competent enough, I guess, but I don’t care all that much about her therapeutic skills, really. I just want to be nurtured.
I want to curl up on the floor in her office, knees tucked to my chest and leaning against the wall, and I want her to reach across the table to me, silently offering to hold my hand. I want to go for walks with her and colour with her and show her photos of my farm. Basically, I want her to take me home and tuck me into bed and hug me when I wake up with nightmares and spoon-feed me cereal for breakfast. You know, the normal stuff that people want after knowing someone for three weeks.
It feels like I’m trying to re-enact my relationship with Anna. And I’m very aware that even though I’m feeling an intense desire to cling to Nikki, it isn’t really because of her at all. She could be anybody young-ish and pretty-ish and caring. I know that looking to her for comfort isn’t that smart and isn’t that helpful. But fuck my brain. Why does it always get to run the show?