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.