But I Don’t Want To Be A Grownup

2016-06-20 12.31.33

This is Albus. He is 6 weeks old, and he weighs about the same as a stick of butter. A few days ago he was living on the street, and now he is living in my bathroom, in the basket that used to hold my spare rolls of toilet paper.

We’re all still adjusting.

Albus came to my session with Nikki yesterday, and he wailed the whole way there. Partway down the street I realised I was talking out loud to apparently no one, saying “Oh, I know, it’s so scary. I can hear you’re very upset. It’s okay, mummy’s here.”, and was delighted to find I didn’t give a fuck.

She was instantly besotted with him, and pulled out her phone to snap photos to show her son. We sat together on the floor, closer than I ever could have tolerated with Anna, and Albus gambolled around our legs, pouncing on bits of fluff and falling over. But when I left, I was disappointed and frustrated and upset, and fixated on hurting myself.

At the time, I thought it was just because the session wasn’t helpful. I wasn’t upset with Nikki, because it wasn’t her fault that we’d done nothing but go over old ground – it was general frustration that therapy isn’t helpful and nothing is helpful. We’d talked a little bit about my belief systems about enduring pain being a character strength, but she said that it was a quantum leap to go from the fact that my parents encourage stoicism and shame “wimpiness” to the belief that hurting myself shows strength, and that it didn’t seem like enough to create that belief system, and I felt so embarrassed that I didn’t pursue it any further. Either I’m wrong and stupid, or I’m fucked up and weird and I took a normal experience and turned it into an extreme ideology. Or I could check the facts and stop focusing on the most negative possible interpretations of every statement, but God forbid I actually learn anything from my DBT class.

So I didn’t lead the session and it didn’t go anywhere, but that isn’t really why I was upset. An hour or so after trying to stab myself in the arm with a kitchen knife, I realised that mostly I was just feeling sad and small because she hadn’t really said anything empathetic during the session.

Ugh, that feels gross to write.

She mirrored my affect almost exactly – calm, a little detached, and focused on the facts. When I told her I’m struggling with urges to cut myself with a power saw, put hydrochloric acid on my skin or set myself on fire, she didn’t blink, just calmly asked whether I’d have a wet towel waiting to put it out. When I told her that when I was 16 my school called my parents to tell them that I had third degree burns, and my parents told them I was fine and refused to come in for a meeting, she observed that they were very well defended. When I told her that if I delay self-harm for a week or so, I start hallucinating the people around me hurting each other and hurting themselves, she diverted into asking me why I always hit my cheekbone instead of the back of my head. All very rational…and I was expecting a reaction. It wouldn’t have fixed anything if she’d said “Oh god, that must be awful“, but I guess I would have felt less alone. And safer – it feels like such a risk to show any emotions before I’m sure whether she’ll respond to them.

The part that really stabbed me in the chest came after she asked how Aisha used to react when I self-harmed during sessions with her.

She was chill,” I said, and she was – I have no idea how she really felt about it, because she was totally calm and non-reactive and never asked me to stop, and that made me feel safe. Thinking back now, I’m surprised I didn’t feel abandoned or uncared for, but I just felt held, because there was nothing I could do that wasn’t okay with her.

Is that how you feel you’d like this to go?” Nikki asked.

In the moment, I had no idea. I’m still not really sure.

I don’t know if it makes a difference – I usually do what I’m going to do, regardless of what other people…” I trailed off.

I suppose there’s a danger, if I was to get…kind of…you know, ‘you really need to be trying hard not to do this’, obviously I’m not going to say that, that’s ridiculous. But there’s a danger of it becoming a certain dynamic, where it’s no longer two adults in the room talking and it’s a bit more parent-child and that’s one to watch out for. We don’t want that to happen because you know, it’s your life, you’re an adult and it’s about your responsibilities.

The urge to hurt myself immediately intensified, and I noticed a need to close myself off from her. A voice in the back of my head wryly observed ‘Yep, you’re definitely going to be blogging about this later‘.

She’s right, of course – I am an adult. But I don’t feel like one, and I hate being reminded that I am. To me, adulthood carries connotations of too old to be looked after and you’re on your own. I was so unhappy when Alina wanted me to contract to go to the hospital every time I self-harmed, and yet when Nikki recognises my freedom to make my own decisions, I feel abandoned and alone and miserable. I mean, fucking hell.

Later that night, when I finally realised why I was upset, I felt an aching emptiness in my chest and tears came to my eyes: fuck, I miss Aisha. She was never very reliable, but when she was there she was completely warm and steady and accepting and she never, ever made me feel like I was being difficult. It’s occurred to me for the first time that instead of seeing Nikki a few more times after my 10 sessions are up, I could see Aisha – it would cost twice as much as Nikki, but the benefits would probably be more than double, since she knows me so well. But probably that would just stir things up more, and then I’d have to go through separating from her again.

Nikki is supposed to be speaking to Aisha today. (They had arranged to speak two weeks ago, but Aisha realised at the last minute that she’d double-booked and couldn’t find another time, and it’s so typically Aisha that I had to smile.)  So I guess I’ll find out what happened and go from there.

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But I Don’t Want To Be A Grownup

18 thoughts on “But I Don’t Want To Be A Grownup

  1. He’s utterly adorable. Ugh this sounds so upsetting – Nikki being new and not acting how you want her to act (but maybe it’s good she seems sort of unflappable? I don’t know.) I would also want empathy and connection. And it makes so much sense to miss Aisha. You were close and you like her and it hurts that you aren’t in touch. And having such strong urges to hurt yourself is so painful – I’m sorry that you’re struggling with it. I hope you are able to enjoy Albus. Sending warm thoughts to you (not super helpful, I know)

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    1. It is, though – warm thoughts are the most helpful of everything, I think. Thank you, Sophia. I’ve been thinking of you and hoping you were able to repair the rupture with T.

      It is good that she’s unflappable, because I wouldn’t last long with a therapist who’s scared of self harm! And I don’t feel safe with therapists who are very emotionally expressive, because then I’m afraid they can’t hold my feelings and I shut down. But it was hard to not get anything. I’m struggling, but enjoying the good moments too. I’m lucky to have sunshine and kittens and birds singing in the trees.

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  2. Oh kittens! How does Everest feel about this? I assume not too pleased. 🙂

    It is an interesting ballance that I am still trying to work out. For me it’s like “For god’s sake please care and don’t be okay with my self destruction! But I am keeping my options open so no way in hell should you tell me what to do!” And then yes the whole adult thing because I swear I don’t really know what to do and I’d like someone else to take over and be in charge. But maybe not. Its confusing!

    It is good you came to the realization that the SH is to cover those hurt, sad, little feelings. I get feeling really icky about that, but from over here it seems appropriate to want someone to care and be there for you. Aisha does sound great but dependability and consistency seems rather important….

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    1. Everest is pleased that I brought her home a fluffy little snack, and pissed off that I’m not letting her eat it.

      I think what I want is “I care about you and I really don’t want you to hurt yourself, and I’m here to support you, so if you’re struggling please reach out to me so I can help. But if you do self harm that’s okay, I know you’re struggling and I’m sorry you’re in so much pain”. Which, now that I’m writing it out, is exactly what Anna did and I fucked it up by pushing her away. I’m so pissed at myself.

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      1. ha ha, Everest cracks me up!

        I disagree. You did not fuck it up. Anna did. I reread a few of your first posts just to double check what my impression was, and yep, she had boundary issues. Not your problem. Still fucking hurts and I am pissed at her for your sake. I think she tried to help, but she was in over her head and pulling back made things worse not better. I think you can find that balance again, but with someone who is more skilled. Maybe write up something like this and take it in to any of your providers to indicate what it is you are looking for and see if there is a way to negotiate those needs?

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      2. I still wish I had just done what she asked and gone back to session with ideas of how to support me, instead of pushing her to decide whether or not she could help me. Maybe things would have turned out differently. I doubt I can find anyone who will be as supportive as she was – psychiatrists just don’t do that. Not feeling very positive today.

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      3. Sorry you aren’t feeling very positive. I still think that she was responsible for staying professional and not colluding with you. If she had been able to do that, it wouldn’t have gotten to the point where she lost sight of the bigger picture. It sucks but I think there is something to learn from the experience. Not that you should’ve done things differently as much as getting a clearer picture of what works for you.

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  3. Sirena says:

    Albus is adorable! He’s making me broody for another cat! How did you end up with him?
    This self-harm thing seems really ingrained in you and I can’t quite work out what the need is in it for you. Do you know why you do it, what it gives you or what your need is?
    I understand what Nikki is saying about not wanting to get into a parent/child dynamic with it. But perhaps she’s assuming what the reason for the self-harm is rather than actually finding out. Because avoiding that dynamic is only useful under certain circumstances ie if the S.H is an attempt to not take responsibility or to force someone else to the responsibility for it.
    And actually there is and should be an element of re-parenting and parent/child dynamic in the therapeutic relationship, the difference is it should be a healthy dynamic. I strongly feel like too many people in your life have ignored or underplayed the self-harming, too many people haven’t been horrified by it and too many people did nothing about it. So I’m not sure underplaying it or ignoring it now is the answer as that re-enacts the past . The level of it is shocking, and horrendous and so sad. I feel like it should be noticed, talked about, and empathy given. But on the other hand…. that would maybe only work if empathy and your inner pain being acknowledged is what you’re looking for?
    So maybe the first step is to identify all the reasons you do it. There may be many many reasons, all of which might conflict each other which is confusing but normal too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I volunteer for an animal shelter and I signed up to be a foster carer – that’s actually how I got my first kitten, Everest. Hopefully I manage to give this one back!

      I know the functions of self harm inside out and backwards and I know why I do it, but I’ve never really looked at it from the slightly different perspective of what need it’s filling. Well, not until 3am this morning when I read your comments and my brain immediately started spinning. I think I know what my next blog post will be!

      I don’t really know how to put it in words (despite sitting here for 10 minutes trying), but thank you for saying that the self harm should be noticed – I often feel like that’s not okay and I’m grateful to hear that you think it is.

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      1. Sirena says:

        Ha! You have no chance of giving that little snowflake back! 🙂
        I will look forward to reading your next post about this. If you can’t find the words for describing it, is there feelings, single words, images, colours, shapes that come to mind? Sometimes it can help to express it in those terms?
        I think self-harm makes sense in the context of trauma and it absolutely needs to be talked about and tended to.

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  4. Adorable!! It must feel nourishing to have the kitties around.
    I agree whole-heartedly with Sirena’s comments about the self-harm being utilized to fill needs. I have some ideas, but will be curious to see what you come up with.
    Also, I agree that the self-harm deserves time and attention and is not something to be overlooked or unattended to for worry it will reinforce the behavior. I think that you do need warmth and empathy and so much sensitivity – not an aloof demeanor. Or indifference. I reference the Schema Therapy handbook often, because I find so much of the information inside brilliant. Jeff Young says that when working with BPD (or any kind of disorganized attachment/complex trauma, I extrapolate), the therapist cannot be un-involved, emotionally. The therapist cannot be cold or indifferent or neutral. It will not work. I agree with him.
    I say all of this to hopefully validate what you are feeling.

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    1. I would love to hear your ideas once I have organised mine.

      I also really like the ideas underpinning Schema Therapy, though oddly enough, the woman I saw who practiced it was the least warm and emotionally involved of any psychologist I’ve ever seen. Do you know anything about Masterson’s theory? #9 practices it, but I tried to read about it and I found it hopelessly opaque. Couldn’t get a grasp on even the basic ideas.

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      1. I haven’t ever heard of Masterson’s theory. I will internet search it, as I am curious now.
        Very odd she was the least emotionally involved – there is actually one paragraph that states clearly to therapists, if they cannot be emotionally available and warm and empathic, they probably shouldn’t do schema therapy.

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      2. If you do end up looking at it, I’ll be interested to hear what you think. So far she seems more like a psychoanalyst and I’m wondering if she takes a neutral stance with clients.

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