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.
“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,”
“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.