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.