It Went Well (Oh My God, It Went Well!)

When Nikki’s voice gets gentle, it’s like being in a warm, dark cocoon. I could curl up and stay there forever.

I’m glad I asked for a phone call. It was awkward, and we talked over each other, and I got choked up and could barely speak, and Everest was in the background wailing for food, but I feel warmer towards her, now. Still distant, still uncomfortable, but warmer.

I asked whether it would be helpful to send her some of the stuff I’ve written, and she was enthusiastic (“That would be great!“) but when I asked for reassurance (“….Are you sure?“) she really showed up.

Oh, completely! Completely. That’s not a problem at all. That’s fantastic! I’d welcome any of that.

And she explained that she’s feeling a lot of pressure to get to know me quickly so she can start to help. I felt defensive, and a little ashamed, because pressure means demands and demands mean you think you’re worth demanding something, and I wanted to deny it, to say “That’s not me, I never rush into relationships with new people, never,” but the truth is I do want to skip all of this introductory stuff. I want a relationship like I had with Aisha and with Jen, and I don’t want to wait. I want someone I can confide in, somebody who can comfort me, and I want it now.

(Ew, ew, why does it feel so wrong and so weird to be putting pressure on our relationship? It just feels so completely opposite to who I am, but I don’t even really understand what it all means.)

I’m understanding more, now, that the thing I’m struggling with most is unpredictability. Sometimes Nikki is gentle, and caring, and sometimes she’s brisk, almost harsh, and I never know which she’s going to be.

So I was brave, and I wrote to her about the things she said that hurt, and ended in me walking out of session, and I sent her my list of coping strategies and my old crisis plan with Anna, and some blog posts. A lot of blog posts, actually. The long one I wrote about my relationship with Anna, and the list of things I want out of therapy (oh, god), and the one about the needs met by self harm (oh, fuck), and other ones about Aisha and oh, man, maybe this was a bad idea.

I tried not to censor anything, but I marked the things I’m not ready to talk about yet. The stuff about my issues with my body was marked ** Very, very off limits.  Guarded by a moat with dragons and crocodiles and Arnold Schwarzenegger, and also the moat is on fire. But maybe it’s worse, knowing that she knows and it just being an elephant in the room.

That was on Wednesday. It’s Sunday now, and she hasn’t replied. And I feel okay about it, but I feel terrified about my session on Tuesday.

Tomorrow I have an appointment with Psychiatrist #10. She has fifteen pages of negative reviews online, and I’m nervous, but only a little. I almost want her to be bad, I think, so that I don’t have to decide between her and Nikki.

It Went Well (Oh My God, It Went Well!)

I Am A Champion, I Am Amazing, I Deserve A Gold Medal

 

I felt terrible during therapy today, and even worse afterwards. Things started going wrong before I’d even seen her; sitting in the waiting room, I could feel heat creeping into my cheeks, tears pressing at the back of my eyes and the urge to dig my fingernails into my skin, to “get a grip” on myself. I felt tongue-tied and too big for the room and taking a deep breath was not as helpful as people always say it is.

Once I was sitting across from Nikki, I felt completely distant from her. Somehow she wasn’t the imaginary Nikki I’d been talking to in my head for the last three weeks, the one I’d been impatiently counting down the days to see. She was some other person, and one I didn’t want to talk to very much.

She started up some conversation about how maybe I turned into a demon child because my mother labelled me a demon child and it became a self-fulfilling prophecy, and I felt shut down and uninterested, and a little incredulous that she hadn’t even mentioned the fact that I’d got up and left in the middle of our last session and then screened her calls, let alone asked me why. Things weren’t going the way I’d wanted, and I felt stuck. I was seeing overlapping realities; the one I was in, where Nikki and I were on two totally different planes, and the one I’d imagined, where I was talking and she was listening and everything felt calm and in sync. I knew I needed to do something, but I didn’t know what, or how.

And then halfway through the session I answered one of her questions honestly, and things shifted.

I don’t know; I wasn’t listening.”

Seriously?” she asked, sounding shocked.

Yeah.”

Okay, well, this is a two-way adult relationship, and sometimes I’m going to say something that’s going to piss you off. I don’t want…it shouldn’t be about this just being a fluffy time.

The rage monster inflated inside me. A fluffy time? Are you fucking serious? DO YOU REALLY THINK THIS IS ANYTHING REMOTELY CLOSE TO FLUFFY? THIS IS NOT FLUFFY!

(This is the part where I win a gold medal.)

I took a moment, and I thought: this is not the conversation I want to be having. And I can do something to try to change that and be able to leave here feeling like I’ve been skillful, even if I don’t get the kind of empathy or validation I wanted, or I can sit here and be angry and achieve nothing and leave here wanting to die.

I need a break,” I said. “Can you go out for five minutes?

Those five minutes made a huge difference. I find it almost impossible to switch states in front of a therapist, but with a little time and space, I can shift from miserable, angry and shut down back into feeling positive and okay. When she came back, I greeted her with a grin, and said “Let’s start this again!

I mean, don’t get too excited. It’s just a gold medal, not a Nobel Peace Prize. Things still didn’t go well: I was able to share all of the positive things that’ve been happening, which is great, but I felt really unsatisfied with the way she responded to the conflict. She kept making statements like:

It’s going to take a long time for us to develop a strong relationship, so you just have to try not to get too impatient,”

and:

We are going to go over old ground, I’m sorry, that’s just the way it is,

and I just felt there was zero understanding or compassion for how hard it is to be starting again with yet another therapist, and talking about all the same things that didn’t help the first time around, when things are really bad and you really need some help right now. She gets defensive when she feels criticised. That’s human, and I am trying to hold compassion for that and knowledge that as a therapist she needs to do better at being non-reactive, at the same time.

(But wait, there’s more. I was amazing twice.)

On my way home, I started thinking about quitting. And all the thoughts were about Nikki: she’s never going to give me what I need, she’s never going understand me, she she she. And then I thought: fuck that. If it’s not working then I need to try something different.

I want to send her a bunch of blog posts, and the list of strategies that I use to help regulate, so that she can learn and understand me more without having to spend session after session going over old ground. But I’m worried that that’s ‘too much’ and too high-maintenance, that it’s ‘too soon’ because I’ve only been seeing her for three months, that maybe I am trying to force the relationship to develop faster than it reasonably can, or paradoxically that I’m ‘chickening out’ of telling her things face to face and that sending her emails will just make us more disconnected in person, and I’m frightened that sending an email would be crossing a boundary that I didn’t know existed.

Instead of shutting myself down and waiting until the next session, by which time I would almost definitely be completely incapable of bringing it up, I took a risk and sent her a text.

“Hey Nikki. I found today hard and am feeling disconnected from you so am trying to practice opposite action and lean in rather than lean back. I have a couple of questions and I was wondering whether we could talk for 5 minutes tonight or tomorrow. We haven’t had the “boundaries” conversation so I’m worried about asking because I don’t know if that’s something you do or not and whether texting is an offense punishable by death.”

About an hour later (8.15pm) she replied.

“Yes. I didn’t think you were feeling it today. Thanks for reaching out. It must have taken you a lot to do that. I’m really happy to talk about boundaries and discuss any questions you have. Let’s talk about it tomorrow though, it’s very late…Text definitely not punishable by death!”

I have never texted a therapist and asked for a call before. It might be a disaster – if we’re going to talk about boundaries, it probably will be. But I am so fucking proud of myself.

I Am A Champion, I Am Amazing, I Deserve A Gold Medal

That Extra $100

I’ve been thinking about Nikki a lot this week.

The day after I walked out of session, she called me. When I didn’t pick up, she called me again, and left another message.

“Hey, you. It’s me again. So, I’ve tried you twice. I hope you’re doing okay – you know to go to emergency if things aren’t okay. But I will try you again in 45 minutes, and after that you know what to do – I assume you don’t want to talk to me. Take care, bye.”

I felt a sharp pain and a tightening in my chest, tears came to my eyes, and I tossed my phone onto my bed a lot harder than I should have, considering I have $60 in my bank account and a tawdry history with destruction of electronics.

She was right; I didn’t want to talk to her. I was still upset that she hadn’t been able to help me in session the day before, and I was pretty sure speaking to her would just make me feel worse. But I wanted her to keep calling me. Anna would never have let me get away with just not picking up, I muttered to myself, sulkily.

I’ve been pretty frustrated with myself for being upset. You’re such a diva, Rea. What’s next? Are you going to demand she sort a bowl of m&ms by colour for you?  I wondered whether I was playing a game with her, and if so, how I was supposed to win. I’ve realised now, though, that what I wanted was to know that she was worried about me, that she understood the urgency of the situation, and that she cared about the fact that I was about to cut myself until I passed out on the bathroom floor, and wake up soaked in blood.

If her message had said “Hey, Rea. I’m calling to check in because I’m really worried about you and I want to know if there’s anything I can do to help you get through tonight. I care about you and I don’t want you to hurt yourself. I’ll call you back in about 45 minutes and I hope you pick up, but if not then I’ll assume you don’t want to talk to me. Take care, bye” then I think the need would have been satisfied. I might have even picked up the next time she called. But because I didn’t hear care and concern in her message, I needed her to prove it in another way, by keeping trying to contact me.

When she called again the next day, I didn’t pick up, but I sent her a text to let her know I was okay. That was two weeks ago, and she’s still on vacation.

I really want to talk to her, in a “Hey mommy, look at this painting I did at school today, the teacher gave me a smiley face sticker!” kind of way. Since she’s been gone, I’ve actually been making a lot of good, healthy decisions. I called a meeting with my boss, and asked for an apology for the things he said to me that breached the Disability Discrimination Act, and for a $20,000 raise (I got both). I’ve started swimming laps every second day, eating better, and spending more social time with my colleagues at work. I’ve gone 14 days without hurting myself. Hell, I even did some laundry. And I can’t wait to tell her ‘Look what I did!‘.

Except when I think about actually sitting down across from her, I get a sick feeling in my stomach, and I feel the urge to retreat into myself. The idea of actively reaching for connection with her doesn’t feel okay. And I think a big part of that is the uncertainty about how much longer our relationship is going to last.

Our ten subsidised sessions just ran out, and I can’t afford to pay the full $200 fee. I’m financially supporting my brother (who’s currently homeless and destitute), and my other brother who is more than $20,000 in debt, and my cousin who has seven children and another on the way. I could swing it for a while, but it’d just be delaying the inevitable, and I really need to see someone twice a week anyway. $200 is a stretch but vaguely possible. $400 is ‘not unless I win the lottery’.

When she asked a few weeks ago, and I told her (with no small amount of shame) that I couldn’t afford to keep coming, she offered to halve the fee.

Honestly, Rea, I think you need to keep on coming. I’ve reduced the fee for people who have less severe stuff going on and I honestly am very happy to halve it. Don’t let any kind of guilt get in the way of your decision.

Immediately a whole bunch of voices started popping up, and I was torn between two reactions: THANK GOD and HELL NO.

  • Nan’s voice: If you can’t afford it, you don’t buy it. When your mum was a child we had to handmake all her toys from scraps of wood because we didn’t have the money for new ones
  • University student me who was so poor she had to dumpster-dive and boil pet bones for food: But if I’m not paying the full fee, then none of my money is ever going to belong to me. If I buy name-brand cookies at the grocery store or pick up a magazine, then I’m ‘wasting’ money that I could have paid to Nikki. I’d rather be destitute than feel guilty all the time.
  • Virtuous, practically angelic me: If I don’t pay the full fee, I’m disrespecting all the years Nikki has spent studying and all the effort she puts into her work – I’m basically saying she’s not worth $200. And if she reduces it because I’m financially supporting my family, then she’s essentially buying groceries for total strangers – it isn’t morally right for me to let her do that. I have to decide on my own priorities, and if therapy isn’t one of them, then I have to deal with the consequences of that.
  • Suspicious me: If she does this for me, what’s she going to expect in return? I don’t want to be in her debt.

But most of all, I feel like that extra $100 buys so many things that are essential for therapy to work. How can I ever tell her I’m mad at her for something if I’m paying less than any other client? How can I ever reach out between sessions if I’m not even paying her enough for the 50 minutes I see her? How can I ask her to make phone calls or referrals for me? How can I be withdrawn and hard to reach and sarcastic?

If she is being so generous to me, I feel like I have to be a ‘good’ client. And I’m not. I’m a difficult client. I’m high-maintenance, and I’m challenging, and I refuse to pick up the phone when she calls. And that’s okay – I’m struggling a lot, and it’s just where I am right now – but if I’m not financially worth the effort, then it feels unfair, and I’m scared she’ll just ditch me. I know a lot of this is shame-based, that it comes from feeling like I’m not worth time and care, but accepting her offer just seems so wrong.

On the other hand, the part of me that will happily shoplift a chocolate bar to save $1 is desperate to accept her offer. It’s SO MUCH MONEY. Even if she halves the fee, it’s more than double what I’d pay to see a psychiatrist.

So I don’t know what to do. I need some advice. Nikki has told me so many times that she hates talking about money, and she’s glad that it’s out of the way because now it’s talked about and done and we never have to discuss it again – I don’t feel like I can work through this with her.

Five more days until I have to make a decision. Maybe I should flip a coin.

That Extra $100

Well, That Backfired Spectacularly

I took an overdose last week. Not a fatal one, (obviously), but one pill more than a toxic dose, so enough to make my body pretty unhappy. I’ve taken that many before without needing to go to hospital, so I was pretty confident I’d be fine, but it was risky enough to take the edge off the compulsion a little.

The thing is, I didn’t actually want Nikki’s help. Or if I did, I couldn’t tolerate it once I had it.

I hate talking on the phone. In fact, I hate it so much that I have an incredibly embarrassing and unprofessional voicemail message on my work phone, to try to force myself into picking it up so that clients won’t hear it. (Most of the voice messages I get start with “Hahahaha, oh my god!“.)  But when Nikki insisted on making calls to hospitals for me, I felt really uncomfortable. She suddenly felt like a total stranger. It felt way too intimate to have her talking to other people about me like she knows me, and I felt a physical urge to push her out of my space. The worst thing about hospitalisation is the powerlessness, and this just made it worse.

As it turns out though, nobody will take me. Two of the hospitals said no because of the self harm, two said no because they don’t do crisis admissions (“babysitting”) and two said no because they don’t have any beds. My insurance company is going to have a tough time getting me to shell out $3,000 for full hospital cover next year.

Oh, and the community support program won’t take me because I’m too high-functioning.

Tomorrow is the day, and I don’t know what’s going to happen. Tonight I was looking up directions to the most notorious suicide spot in my country – it’s less than half an hour from my place. I’ve set up a time to call my nieces and nephews tomorrow afternoon, just in case. I think it’ll be fine, that the minor overdose last week was enough to deter me. I don’t want to die. But I don’t know if I’ll be fine or if I won’t. I didn’t want to take an overdose last week, and I did. I’d told Nikki I was safe that night, and I thought I was, but I wasn’t.

My session with Nikki today was awful. I feel completely despairing and heartbroken and alone. After she found out that none of the hospitals will take me, and I can’t afford to go home, she dived into “well-what-about-urge-surfing” and “have-you-tried-exposure-therapy-the-idea-is-that-you-just-don’t-do-it” and other completely obvious, pointless suggestions. I was just sitting there on the verge of tears, feeling abandoned and frustrated, and she was feeling more and more helpless and like she needed to ‘do something’, so she started saying things like,

Well, nobody can physically restrain you from doing it, so you’re going to have to come up with a way to get through it,” and

You always get really upset when we start talking about strategies, and it’s hard, because this is what I’m supposed to do,”

and I snapped. There were still twenty minutes left, but I had to get out of there. I don’t know what I was afraid was going to happen (I’d cry? I’d lose all control and totally break down and be humiliated to death? She’d say something so bad I’d have to kill myself?) but there was no pros and cons, no will I or won’t I – I had to get out. For once Everest was good about getting in the bag, which is lucky, or I might’ve had to leave her behind.

Nikki chased me out to reception and pulled me up to make another appointment, but when she sat down and brought up her calendar, her face looked like she’d just realised she’d been playing Frisbee with Grandma’s antique cake plate.

Turns out she’s going to be away for the next two weeks. Probably would have been good if she’d thought to tell me that before today.

Well, That Backfired Spectacularly