This Is Beyond My Capacity For Radical Acceptance

When I turned up to therapy on Tuesday with ligature marks around my neck, Nikki kind of freaked out. The night before I’d choked myself with a rope until I was coughing blood, so I suppose I can’t blame her.

I barely spoke. I just sat and looked at my hands. Nikki commented that they were shaking, and that I looked fragile.

“Do you need a hug?” she asked gently.

I shrugged, and didn’t look up. Yes, I needed a hug, but not from her – too intimate, too much contact (and I’m taller than her: too weird). I wanted her to sit next to me, maybe hold my hand or rub my back, but I didn’t want a hug.

She told me a story about getting sick while she was travelling in India, and going to get a hug from Mātā Amṛtānandamayī, the ‘Hugging Guru’, “and bloody hell, if you can’t give someone a hug, it’s a ridiculously sad day. Because you know, part of me went ‘Appropriate? Not appropriate?’…I feel like giving you a hug. Probably boundaries…fuck boundaries.

She pivoted straight into asking whether she should be calling an ambulance, or the crisis team, or one of the Jewish mamas from work, or my brother, so I didn’t get a chance to respond. Which is just as well, because I had no idea what to say. I wanted comfort so badly, but I couldn’t ask her to sit with me, in case she said no – after her comment a few weeks ago about how weird it would be if she was sitting there holding my hand, the risk of rejection or uncomfortableness was too high. But I didn’t want to say no, either, in case she never offered again.

In the end, instinct ruled the day. I was standing, ready to leave, and she was looking at me, obviously reluctant to let me go, and then she started swooping in, her arms out. She got one hand on my shoulder before I twisted the rest of my body away and threw up an arm to block her, saying in a panic “I don’t want a hug!

Fuck, I hate that I did that. She had to go out on a limb to offer it to me, and I didn’t want to push her away or make her feel uncomfortable, but fight or flight just took over.

I refused to promise her that I’d be safe that night. I don’t think she has any idea what it’s like to be me – I can’t ever promise that I’m going to be safe, because I don’t know. Even if I’m feeling okay, in half an hour something could trigger me and I could be slashing my wrists in the bathroom. I’m never more than a step away from the precipice, and that night I was right on the edge.

Twenty minutes after I left, she called me. I didn’t pick up, because our phone conversations never go well, and the only way it was likely to end was with me feeling worse than before.

When I listened to the message, I could tell from her breathing that she was walking home. She reminds me to eat something, to cuddle my cat, and that I can call her up until 10pm if I need her to phone for an ambulance, and she tells me she’s going to call the crisis team, because if I can’t guarantee my safety that’s what has to happen.

And I’m fucking pissed. If it’s so clear and certain it has to happen, then why not tell me to my face, instead of calling after the fact, just like you did last time? If you’re that fucking worried, then why not call the ambulance yourself instead of making the crisis team do your dirty work?

I walked the 4km from Nikki’s office to home, because she asked me to, and I felt a little better after being out in the air. A few hours later the crisis team called, and I ignored it. They sent me a text message saying they were coming around with the police, and I rolled my eyes. Yeah right: I’ve heard that one before. Good luck with those empty threats.  But there was still a little niggle of fear in the pit of my stomach.

A little before 10pm, the intercom buzzed. At this stage I was just delaying the inevitable, but I still couldn’t bring myself to let them in. I don’t want these strangers in my fucking house. A few minutes later there was a banging on the door, the kind of banging that’s quite happy to keep on banging for as long as it has to. I’ve subjected my neighbours to enough over the years, what with the hysterical screaming and the police and the blood trails down the corridor and the constant smell of cat urine, so I open the door.

Two male police officers, and two female crisis team staff. I’m sarcastic, and evasive, and too cocky, because I’ve had the crisis team come over while the rope was still lying in the middle of the floor and they did nothing, so I’m confident I’m safe.

I’m wrong. They schedule me, they call an ambulance and they take me to hospital.

They search my bag, they search me, then they take all my stuff away from me and lock in a plexiglass cabinet, where I can see it but I can’t have it. They take my blood and give me a cup to pee in for a urine sample. After a couple of hours of sitting uncomfortably, debating with myself and cursing myself for not planning ahead, I ask permission to change my fucking tampon, and the nurse accompanies me to the bathroom (like I haven’t been here enough times to know exactly where it is). It’s all invasive and intrusive and humiliating and I need to be in my (suddenly less) safe home in my (suddenly less) safe bed, but I don’t have a choice, so I step outside myself and make myself be numb.

The doctor and the nurse and the psychiatrist ask questions, but I don’t speak. Can’t. Won’t. I’m overwhelmed and angry and scared and refusing to speak is the only control I have left.

I’m in emergency, in the same little box-room I was in last time. Last time, when I smashed my head against the concrete wall thirty times, until the nurse came in and yelled at me to stop. Last time, when I sat and sobbed hysterically for hours, eventually resorting to wiping my nose on my jeans when nobody brought me a tissue.

One of the nurses comes in with a printed copy of the poetry she found in my file, hoping it will comfort me. The poetry Anna used to read to me. It’s an incredibly sweet gesture, and also the worst possible thing she could have done. She leaves it on the floor, and I want to tear it in half, hold a chunk of the paper together and cut my arms with it. But I don’t want to risk getting the nurse in trouble, and I want to go home.

A few hours later, I’ve calmed down enough to be ready to talk. I want to ask the nurse whether Candeece is working, and if she’ll come see me.

Almost a year ago, the last time I was admitted for an overdose, she was my doctor, and when I had a total meltdown in January and was scheduled for the night, I got the chance to thank her. My upper arm had been a mess of cuts, and she couldn’t keep track of which ones she’d already anesthetised, and I wasn’t speaking so I couldn’t tell her, but she never got frustrated or impatient, just apologised every time she hurt me. Some of the cuts were spurting blood, and when she put the needle in, it sprayed up into my face. I flinched, and squeezed my eyes shut, and she wiped it off gently with a cloth.

That was enough to cement her in my mind as a good, safe person. I need a good, safe person right now, and I want to ask for her. But I can’t. I wait for the nurse to come back in, and I try to ask, but I can’t get any words to come out.

I sit sideways on the bed, with my back against the wall and my boots on the sheets. The nurse offers me pyjamas, but I refuse. I don’t want to accept that I’m staying here for the night. She lets me have my phone back, and I play games, look at tattoos on Pinterest, and a bit after 1am, I give in to the temptation to send Nikki an angry message.

“The crisis team showed up with the police – apparently my psychologist told them that I tried to kill myself last night. I told them that wasn’t true, but apparently my psychologist told them I was going to lie to them, so they didn’t believe me. They scheduled me and took me to hospital and apparently I’m stuck here at least for the night.”

My battery doesn’t last long, but there are lights and alarms and people screaming, and I don’t want to try to sleep. Almost idly, I look around the room, thinking of ways I could hurt myself. I’m holding a half-full Styrofoam cup of water, and an image pops into my head of jamming my mouth and nose into it and trying to drown myself.

As bleak as I feel, I have to laugh.

Eventually I lay down, and at around 6am, I drift off to sleep.

I wake at 7am, and I talk. To Nurse Q, to Doctor W, to Psychiatrist Y, to Psychiatrist Z. And then I wait. Nikki texts mid-morning, tells me she knows I’m probably very angry but my safety is really important to her, and calls a couple of hours later. I am very angry, and I don’t pick up.

They let me leave, and I go home and go to bed.

She calls again around 7pm on Thursday, and her voice message sounds a little defeated. I’m still mad, but I’m not enjoying it, and impulsively, I decide to call her back. The conversation is awkward – her son is on her lap, and she talks to him intermittently – but I hang up feeling more okay.

This morning, I can’t get up for work. It’s been almost two weeks now, and I’m rapidly running out of sick leave. Impulsively, I decide to take Nikki up on her offer of a session. There isn’t anything I want to talk about…I just want to be with her, and be comforted.

And she’s sweet. She’s lovely. She starts with a rapid-fire of concern: “What’s up? What’s happening? Are you okay?“. She asks if the crisis team called me last night, like they were supposed to, and when I shake my head, she flips out and says that she’s going to call them tonight, “because that’s fucking shit!“. She says she regrets letting me leave on Tuesday, and she should have put me in a cab and taken me straight to hospital.

At the end of the session, I’m standing near the door, waiting while she packs up the office to leave for the day. She’s standing on tiptoes, sliding the box of kinetic sand back into the cupboard, when she says:

So I’m going to say it now because it’s going to be extremely obvious, if it isn’t already – I’m pregnant.

Everything goes numb. This is my worst.fucking.nightmare. This cannot be happening right now. This is so far above and beyond my capacity for handling bad things right now. Oh god, fuck. 

Oh,” I muster, and she laughs. “I didn’t notice. Congratulations!

She talks a bit as she continues to potter around, about how they’ve been trying for years, that she gets really massive when she’s pregnant so it could be a bit confronting, that she’s not due until April but she wants to reassure me that she’s barely taking any time off, she’ll probably only be gone a couple of months, and all I can think is: Don’t cry. Don’t you dare fucking cry. 

This Is Beyond My Capacity For Radical Acceptance

Stupid, Pathetic, Disgusting Bitch

I haven’t been able to find the words to respond to your comments yet, but please know that you and Everest have literally been getting me through. I am so grateful to all of you. [TS, tonight I sat in bed with chocolate milk and read Winnie the Pooh.] But this post is different, and it talks about things that feel incredibly wrong to share with people who have survived assaults when they had no choice but to endure it. So I want you to know that if you feel angry with me, or repulsed, or whatever you might feel, that’s okay, and I’m sorry. 

Last night, I wanted to hang myself. I had the rope tied, and I leaned my weight against it to make sure it would hold. Right now, the idea that I didn’t hang myself seems crazy, but I wrote here, and read blogs, and watched children’s movies on Netflix, and somehow the time passed until I fell asleep, with a scalpel under my pillow.

I am so far at the end of my rope (oh, god, pun not intended) that I seem to be giving zero fucks right now. I told my boss that I couldn’t work because I was suicidal. I told our HR manager that I couldn’t go to our biggest event of the year because I didn’t feel up to it. And last night, when the beautiful La Quemada said she wanted to keep me safe, and asked what she could do, I told her she could make me a recording. When I first started writing, I was so impossibly in awe of her, but she has been one of my staunchest and most loving supporters, and when she offered, I wasn’t afraid to ask.

A little after midday today, I got up, got dressed, and went out for a walk. I patted a dog, and smelt some flowers, and felt a little better. Then I went into a hardware store, pretending to myself that I just wanted to look at plants, when I knew I was really going in to look at dangerous things.

I found one that I really wanted. I picked it up, put it down, walked away and came back to it, then repeated the cycle again. I really wanted it. If I’d taken it home, I would have used it. So I took a breath, and thought ‘Okay, this is the time to listen to Q’s recording‘. The shop was pretty empty, and I ducked behind a shelf and sat down on the ground.

I was in tears after the first two words. I cried, and I felt relief. She told me she could see that I was weighed down, and beyond tired, and that I couldn’t see how I was supposed to go on living my life like this, and that it’s okay to feel like this. That I don’t have to force myself to keep pushing through no matter what, and it’s okay to take a break.

Actually hearing her say that was powerful. I’ve only ever been able to express myself with cuts and burns and suicide attempts before. But I’ve been using words, and Q understands. She really understands. (I think you all do.) Those two minutes and forty-six seconds decreased the urgency of needing to act on the thoughts and the feelings.

I went back and touched the dangerous thing one more time, then left without it.

It’s getting harder and harder to hurt myself. That sounds like a good thing, but it isn’t. I still need to hurt, I’m just too much of a cowardly chicken-shit to do it myself any more. My pain threshold is getting lower, or my critical voice is getting weaker, or something, I don’t know, but sometimes I just can’t make myself do it, even when my whole body is on fire with the need for pain. I’m afraid of it, but I need it.

I don’t know if this is a sensation that’s familiar to anyone else, and the closest analogy I have is that tingling sensation that comes with attachment pain, that visceral need to be held. It feels intolerable, like there’s no way to soothe it.

A few weeks ago, I was lying in bed, completely taken over by it. I don’t remember what was happening, whether I was stressed, or anxious, or if something had happened, but I needed to hurt. I ran through all the options in my head – cutting; burning; hitting myself; banging my head; breaking a bone; choking myself – and I couldn’t come up with a single one I felt capable of doing. I didn’t think I could cut deeply enough to feel better, and I didn’t want to hold a flame against my skin. It hurts so much, and I was scared, and I just didn’t want to. Couldn’t.

I felt desperate. So I started Googling.

Hire someone to punch me in the face.” No results.

Pay someone to beat me up.” No results.

Looking for somebody to hurt me.” Nothing. Other than an (apparently defunct) app in China which allowed people to hire vigilantes to beat up their enemies for revenge (or their friends for a laugh), it wasn’t getting me anywhere.

I am very, very averse to sex of any kind. I don’t want to have sex, ever. I’m saying that (with some discomfort) so you understand that when I reluctantly started looking into S&M, it was a last resort. The urge to cut myself is coming up now, just thinking about being in that situation. But I was desperate. I couldn’t hurt myself, so I needed to find someone to do it for me.

Over the next few days, I trawled through Craigslist and any other website I could find, finding men in my area who fit my criteria. Anybody who mentioned aftercare or safe words was automatically off the list. Anybody who seemed kind or respectful was off the list. Somebody who was just going to mildly bruise me in a controlled way then rub it with soothing ointment was not going to hurt me enough to make me better. I was looking for somebody who wouldn’t want to talk to me, who seemed likely to punch me and cane me, kick me, who wouldn’t stop if I was crying, or if I said no. Somebody who would probably want sex, and wouldn’t care that I didn’t.

It sounds like a rape fantasy or something, but I swear it’s not. I want it because I don’t want it. Part of me believes that if I go through something traumatic and awful where I have no control over the pain or what happens to me, it’ll fix me. If it’s bad enough, I won’t want to hurt any more. The same way I thought breaking my wrist might fix me. It won’t, I know it won’t, but I don’t know what else to do.

I held on for a few days, and then the need to hurt triumphed over the fear of going to a stranger’s house where god knows what would happen. I clicked on the profile for the man ‘looking for a submissive slut to abuse‘, and started writing a message.

But god, I so didn’t want to do it. So I ended up in the bathroom, giving myself a chemical burn instead.

The last time I burnt with chemicals, I’d promised myself I’d never do it again. It takes hours, and it’s agonising, like a million fire ants biting at your leg. Unlike lighter burns, the pain lasts for days, and the next night I was literally writhing in bed, whimpering and crying. But it’s passive. You don’t have to slice, or hold a flame against you. You just have to sit, and endure.

And that is why I needed surgery.

I think this is maybe part of why I’m so suicidal. The burn didn’t change anything – it just postponed it. I’m still struggling to hurt myself, and I still need to hurt. It would be easier to be dead.

Stupid, Pathetic, Disgusting Bitch

Psychiatrist #10, Meds and DBT

I’m not sure whether I’d actually shoot myself. I just want to hold the gun, and see how it feels. And then put it in my mouth, and decide. Do I want to pull the trigger?

It’s 3am, and I didn’t go to work today. I meant to, I was going to, but I couldn’t get up. My boss called this morning to check whether I was in the office yet, and I told him I’d be there in half an hour or so. And then I hung up, lay back down and went back to sleep.

I am not functional. I can’t function. I have been hurting myself since I was five years old, and I am still hurting myself. I broke five bones in my wrist this year. I burnt myself so badly I needed surgery, again. I am fucking traumatized. I have been traumatized for years and years and years. I first tried to kill myself when I was 13 – why am I still alive?

Everest just heard me sobbing, and got up on the bed to rub her face against my cheek. Over the last few days she’s been lying with me, her head on my neck, on my shoulder, tucked into the crook of my arm. She’s saved me so many times.

I think the best way to describe Psychiatrist #10 is to describe her office. Her desk is bigger than the ocean, and sits between us. My chair is low to the ground, so I am looking up at her, feeling a little like I’m in the principals office, and I’m in trouble. The tissues are in a gold metal container, resting on a silver platter next to a bottle of hand sanitizer. I imagine the psychiatrist uses it more often than her patients do.

On Tuesday, I saw her for the third time, and she switched my Effexor for Cymbalta. On Wednesday morning, before I’d even started the switch, I couldn’t get up – it’s not the meds that are breaking me. But Effexor is hard to come off, and my body is feeling the way it does after I overdose. There’s a weird taste in my mouth, and a blockage in my throat, and a cold knot in my stomach.

The second time I saw her, she told me there was no point doing psychodynamic therapy because there are so many gaps in my memory, and the only thing that has any chance of making a difference is DBT. And I agreed to join a six month class, because I don’t want to sit around complaining about how bad things are without doing anything to try to make them better.

The last time I did DBT, almost exactly a year ago now, I spun completely out of control. I took an overdose and cut my arms, and I would have died on my bathroom floor if the police rescue squad hadn’t broken in. I am fucking terrified of doing it again. Last time I had Aisha, and Jen, and Anna, and R, and it wasn’t enough. Now all I have is Nikki, once a week, and it’s nowhere near enough.

Wouldn’t it be better to die now, before any more broken bones? Before any more lacerations, concussions, burns, bruises, stitches, surgery?

It occurred to me a couple of hours ago that I need to write a note, to make sure someone posts to tell you if I die. I don’t want to just disappear and leave you wondering.

Psychiatrist #10, Meds and DBT

I Wish I Was Dead

The day of my session with Nikki, I woke up feeling vulnerable, and small. Like I wasn’t big enough to go to work, and I should have been sitting in front of the TV, watching cartoons and eating froot loops.

I felt unsettled all morning, but I was getting through my tasks. Then at midday, I got an unexpected email from Nikki. I’d been sure I wouldn’t get a reply to the email I’d sent the previous week, because we had a session booked anyway, but I did.

Hi Rea

Thank you so much for sending this. I know it’s really hard for you to communicate difficult stuff like this. I want to reassure you that I understand you are trying REALLY hard to communicate in sessions and I get that you have come a long way from the early days of Aisha.

I’m sorry that you feel I don’t listen sometimes. I think it’s an important lesson for me to learn to stop more and not feel the need to fill in the quiet moments… Possibly a bit more difficult on the phone… I think I’m a talker and the need in me to try to help make things better overrides the patience to go with the flow sometimes.. I recognise that’s not good for you. I’m happy to be the sounding board when you want to whinge and be pissed off and it’s ok to say “bloody hell, just shut up and listen to me”!

I also recognise that things are REALLY hard for you. Please don’t feel that, if I ask you about that and/or comment that you are incredibly high functioning, I think you don’t struggle daily with the most basic of tasks (sorry for the double negative – I’m sure you know what I mean). I do hear you.

I hope that we can talk about the other day when we meet but I understand that it’s hard for you face to face. I just found myself a little bewildered at what I’d done to upset you so much and I think it wold be useful to think through what, if any, interpretations were going on  for both of us. 

No question of hanging in there. Right back at you!


PS I think it’s beautiful that you volunteer and that can be for a whole host of motivations. I doesn’t always have to make you feel great about yourself but it’s ok if it does give you a lift – it doesn’t mean you are self motivated!

I immediately started feeling distressed, and I didn’t understand why. I was trembling and teary, and I had to get up and pace and take deep breaths.

It’s a lovely email. It’s humble and caring, and there isn’t a single thing I could misinterpret to mean that she hates me and I’m garbage. And now, a few days later, I think that’s what upset me so much. It was thoughtful and attuned and she heard me, and I don’t know how to process that.

When I arrived for my session, I still felt tearful and dissociated. I’m finding it hard to write about it in a coherent way – it feels sort of fragmented.

I’m really sorry if you’ve not felt listened to,” she said, soon after we got settled on the floor, and she seemed solid. Not defensive, or antsy, the way she has been in the past. Just solid.

She talked for a bit about how the social conventions don’t apply here, and I can lash out and tell her to fuck off or to shut the fuck up, and told me “This [our relationship] is going to be consistent no matter what happens”. I felt an immediate flare of white-hot anger.

That’s not true! I thought. Don’t say that! 

I hadn’t realised until then that I’m convinced Nikki’s going to quit. The thing that hurt the most when Anna abruptly abandoned me was all the promises she broke – she’d told me over and over again that she was never going to leave, that nothing could make her leave me, that we were going to be working together for a really long time. That lasted 8 months. And I don’t want Nikki to make any promises, because then it’ll hurt less when she leaves.

A couple of months ago, she went out and bought art supplies – watercolour paint, pencils, markers, crayons, and art journals for both of us. We were both cross-legged and barefoot on the floor, pencils strewn around between us and only an arms-length apart. A month or so ago, I couldn’t have handled being that close. Actually, the last time we were in that room she got up and moved her chair closer to me (but still further than we were this week), then read my body language and went “Okay, that’s too close,” and moved it back.

My progress in therapy is so slow that it feels good, when I notice these little things, little signs that things are changing, minutely. I felt comfortable and safe, being close to her.

She talked for 10 minutes or so, and then she stopped herself. “Okay,” she said. “So, I’m listening.

I was too overwhelmed to talk. For the first time, I couldn’t even come up with anything I wanted to draw. Normally I just draw patterns, or shapes, or play with the watercolours, but my brain was spinning too much. I just ran my fingers over the pencils, lining them up so that I could read the names, reciting them silently in my head. White. Light green. Cyan. Red. 

Tears welled up in my eyes. I don’t remember what I was feeling sad about, or even if there was a reason, but for once, it felt okay. I didn’t want to try to push myself to talk; I knew if I did, I’d have to shut down the emotion, and I wanted to practice this. Being emotional in front of her, and not trying to shut it down. Just letting it be there, and letting that be okay.

For a while we just sat, Nikki quietly painting a spiral, and then she broke the silence.

You okay?” she asked gently, and I shook my head, refusing to make eye contact.

I really am listening.

I know,” I said softly, and went back to running my fingers over the pencils.

Eventually I picked up a pencil, and drew a short line on the page. I just wanted to see what colour it was. And then I drew another line, and another one, and soon it turned into a small, ugly tangle of criss-crossing lines.

That’s not like any doodle I’ve seen you do before,” she said softly, and I shrugged, my eyes on the paper.


What’s it about?

It’s not about anything,” I said listlessly. “I’m just scribbling.”

She paused for a moment. “Do you think sometimes doodles kind of represent…how you’re feeling?

I shrugged, then something started rising up in me. I scribbled a few more lines, then abruptly threw the pencil onto the floor and pushed the journal off my lap, tucking my head down against my shoulder and looking at the ground, tears in my eyes. I felt violently unhappy, all of a sudden, like everything was terrible and it could never get better.

Nikki put a hand on the paper, over the scribbles, and eyed me carefully.

“You okay?

Fucking dandy, I thought sarcastically, and lifted my head.

Had better days,” I said, then added “I’ve also had much worse days.”

(Even after two years in therapy, I still have to add the disclaimer.)

She suggested that she just ask me questions instead, and I shook my head.

No. Quiet is good.

You sure? Cause I’ve got seriously loads of stuff coming up in my head that I could ramble about.” We laughed, and she added:”I’m writing it down here, so I don’t say it,” and gestured to her paper. In the top right-hand corner, she’d painted a few words: Touch, Nails, Money, and something else I couldn’t decipher.

For the rest of the session, my eyes kept going back to the list, over and over. Fuck. She wanted to talk about touch. Had she seen how much she’d wounded me, last time it came up? Did she want to give me another awkward speech about why it’s too weird in therapy? Did she change her mind and want to offer it? Did she just want to know why it helps, without being willing to give it to me?

And which was worse?

I couldn’t get out of bed yesterday. It wasn’t exhaustion, or sadness, or anxiety. I just couldn’t get up.

Hours after I should have been at work, I was still debating whether to officially take a sick day, or show up with an excuse. (Traffic was terrible? Um, really terrible?).

I’m feeling suicidal. I’m buying things to hurt myself with, and there is a refrain in my head: I wish I was dead. I wish I was dead. Yesterday I asked a co-worker if I could borrow her gun.

I’m trying to be practical about it. To write it down on paper, so I can see that they’re only words. To remind myself that it’s okay, it doesn’t really mean I need to die, it’s just my brain telling me that I’m overwhelmed. To try not to get sucked into the story where this is a huge deal, where I can’t cope and I feel terrible and I can’t endure it.

I want someone to hit me. Hurt me. Snap me out of it.

I Wish I Was Dead

Trying Not To Push My Therapist Away

The day after the disastrous session with Nikki, I felt guilty. Okay, things had not gone well, but there wasn’t really much she could do about that. It wasn’t her fault that Skype froze and FaceTime didn’t work and she happened to be at the same festival that I was. She committed an hour out of her day to me, and that’s what I got – the fact that we were only able to talk for half of that doesn’t change the fact that she spent an hour focused on me.

She hadn’t seemed angry the night before, but I still felt anxious about exposing my nastier side to her. I didn’t feel like I could wait another week to reconcile, but I was afraid of contacting her again, of being too demanding and high-maintenance.

In the early afternoon, I sent her a text, asking if it would be okay if I sent her an email. Before then, she had replied to every text message in less than 5 minutes. This time it took 3 hours. It wasn’t the waiting that bothered me – it was the change. I took some deep breaths, and tried to listen to the wise voice that counselled me not to read too much into innocuous things.

Eventually, she sent back “Of course!

I feel ambivalent about sending her emails – it’s not the way I want to communicate, but at the moment, it’s the only way I can communicate. My mind is jumping from Point A to Point Q – the last time I sent her an email, she hadn’t read it by the time of our next session almost a week later, because she hadn’t checked her inbox in that time, and I leapt to the conclusion that she must not have many (or any) other clients who email her, and therefore I’m weird and demanding and she’s taking pity on me.

But it doesn’t help, to not be able to explain things to her, and then feel hurt and frustrated that she doesn’t understand me. So I sent the fucking email.

Hey Nikki

I’m frustrated with myself, that it feels so impossible to talk to you.  And I know it’s frustrating for you too, because of course you can’t help if all I give you to work with is monosyllables.

I often find myself thinking You’re not listening to me!, but when I reflect, I know it’s probably actually:

  1. What I think I’m saying and what I’m actually saying are two completely different things; or
  2. It’s one of these situations:


So I guess I’m writing this because I’m not sure whether I’ve communicated it and I do want you to know and understand some of how I feel, and because I want you to know that I am trying, even when I’m being impossible.

This is what an okay week looks like:

Wake up feeling anxious, ten minutes after my last alarm went off.  Go back to bed for another ten minutes, until I’m definitely going to be late for work, then bang my head against the headboard a couple of times to get myself moving.  Stand under the shower and think about what I should write in my suicide note to my favourite nephew; blink back tears.  Get off the train and walk to work with my chest feeling tight, my skin tingling; feel the urge to sink a razor into my arm.  Do the rounds, say good morning, chat to Cara about what we both did last night.  Sit at my desk and work for a little bit, then notice that I’m rocking myself back and forth.  Shift back to lean against the chair to try to keep myself still.  Go back to work.  Open eBay and search for scalpels; no, I’m supposed to be working.  Close the tab.  Go back to work. 

Check in with Sarah; how is it going?; listen to her vent.  Stop at P’s office; (she looks stressed); ask how she’s feeling.

Spend twenty minutes trying to decide what to eat for lunch; everything looks unappetising.  Share some cat videos with Cara; read new blog posts; check in with Ash and Ally; go back to work.  Talk to R; try not to get snappy when he gives me more work to do.  Look up whether you can overdose on Effexor, and how many pills it would take.  Go back to work.  Feel blood trickling down my arm; am I bleeding?  Put a hand up my sleeve to check; no, just memories.

Watch the clock.  Is it time to go home yet?  I need to go home.  Skim through a document; can’t focus; check the clock.  Maybe I can just leave early?  Go back to work.  Finish a little after 5.30, pack up my stuff, tell myself I have to call out goodbye to Rebecca and Siobhan as I leave, I have to, it’s not that hard.  (It’s too hard; I don’t.)

Walk to the train station; feel bored and frantic at the same time. 

Shit, I have to go and pick up Everest’s food from the vet, she’s been out of wet food for days.  But I’ll probably know the staff member and I’ll have to make small talk; I can’t, I can’t talk to anyone, it’s too hard.  I’ll go tomorrow.  (I said that yesterday.) 

Walk in the door, tear off long sleeves, pick up Ev and crawl into bed.  Love her so much; she touches my face with her paw; my heart could burst.  Lie with her; close my eyes.  Think about having to get up and do this all again tomorrow; want to cut myself.  How am I going to get through tomorrow without cutting myself?

Pull my laptop onto the bed; flick through Netflix.  Watch five minutes; can’t focus; too much effort. Think about choking myself; no, the rope’s in a box under the bed, it’s too hard to get it out.  Text Gretel a photo of Snape in a wig; laugh at the photo of Dumbledore she sends back.  Close my eyes. 

Read blogs; leave comments.  Play Words with Friends.  Write in the Highlight Of My Day book (sat in the grass; photo of the baby from J; stranger singing to himself on the train).  Feed Ev; get ready for bed; crawl under the covers.  Too restless; roll from side to side; feel panicky; kick the end of the bed.  Get up and pace.  Read five pages of Calvin and Hobbes.  Go back to bed.  Put headphones in.  Skip through twenty songs, listen to half a song then start skipping again.  Curl up; dig my nails into the bottom of my foot.  Get up and pace.  Go to the bathroom and get out a razor blade.  Hold it for a minute, press it against my skin, then put it back.  Go back to bed.  Fall asleep at 4am, and dream about bleeding.

When I say spending time with friends is “too much effort”, you seem to hear something like this:


What I’m trying to say is: Sometimes I spend an hour and a half in the shower because the idea of getting out, drying myself and getting dressed feels too impossibly difficult.  I get up every day and go to work and attend meetings and make calls and support colleagues, and the effort it takes to be functional makes me wish I was dead, but staying in bed all day isn’t going to make anything better.  So I go to work, and I volunteer, and I keep in touch with family, and I look for a second job, because my niece wants dance classes but she lives near the beach so I’m not taking her out of swimming, because I need to be able to go home regularly, because I need therapy, because I can’t stop myself buying medication for the homeless guy at the pharmacy who can’t afford his script, because my brother owes me over $8,000 and I was crazy enough to book a trip to Bali with my tax return.  A lot of days, I feel like I’m way past my capacity to cope. And the thought of adding another thing that’s “good for me” but doesn’t feel good makes me want to cut myself.

When I say “I don’t want to”, what I mean is I usually make an effort not to complain, and to see the good in things, because my life is better when I look for the positives. But things are hard, and it’s exhausting trying to be ‘brave’ all the time. I need this one place where I get to whinge and be pissed off about how hard I have to try, and not be expected to be upbeat and instantly ready to tackle anything all the time.

I get that there’s a tension there, and you want me to make changes because you want my life to be better – that comes from a lovely place.  I guess I just want to know that you hear me, too.

Thanks for hanging in there with me.


P.S. Can we change “push” to “encourage”? Maybe ‘encourage’ doesn’t capture what you mean, but I prefer it because it sounds like you’re on my side – ‘push’ doesn’t.

Trying Not To Push My Therapist Away

The Day Skype Almost Killed Me

I’m only just recovering from a disastrous session with Nikki two nights ago, in which she was lovely and did nothing wrong, but small thing by small thing slowly pushed me over the cliff.

It started with a voice message on Monday afternoon, letting me know that she didn’t have me booked in for my regular appointment the next day. She didn’t have any availability that day, but could do Wednesday or Friday, and could I call her back?

No, I could not call her back.

I hate talking on the phone, and I felt intensely torn about whether I even wanted a session that week. I settled for texting her back and letting her know that I couldn’t do either of the times she suggested, and it felt good when she persisted – she offered me another two times, including one on her day off, but they were both mornings, and I can’t work after I do therapy. My brain just doesn’t function – it’s like asking a toddler to recite pi to 300 decimal places.

TRIGGER 1: She replies and says she has some childcare issues tomorrow, but offers to do the session via Skype. What is she going to do with her child, then? He can watch TV; I don’t need to worry about her arrangements. Um, apparently I do, if your arrangements are to put your toddler in front of the TV and trust that he won’t interrupt us for a full hour. The feeling of being unsure about whether she’d actually be paying attention to me or thinking about her son and whether he was still in front of Spongebob or drawing on the wall with crayons was really hard, but I agreed.

TRIGGER 2: Five minutes after our session time starts, she texts and asks for my Skype ID, and tells me that the friend request will probably come from her partner’s account because she’s using his iPad. I feel exposed and unsafe.

TRIGGER 3: She adds me; I call her and she doesn’t pick up. I call her again, and it connects, but there’s no video – my camera is turned on, but hers isn’t. I feel like an idiot; I assumed that we’d be video-calling, but maybe we’re not? I feel intensely embarrassed while she says that the call came through on her phone so there’s no video, and she’ll call me back from the iPad.

TRIGGER 4: After we talk a little about my place (which she can see in the background), she asks how my week’s been, and whether I’ve done any socialising. I tell her I went to a music and dance festival with a friend on the weekend, and she says Oh! I was there too, with my little boy! This is a nightmare come true for me. When I’m out in public, I always feel paranoid, inhibited by the thought that maybe my therapist is there, and she’ll see me doing something, like dancing or eating or something I wouldn’t choose to share with her. The festival I was at was very small, and the audience stood in a circle around the dancers, so it’s quite surprising that I didn’t see her, and a high risk that she would’ve seen me. I hate that.

TRIGGER 5: Skype freezes repeatedly for the first 10 minutes, leaving both of us stuck in unflattering expressions, like actors on a children’s show pretending to be fishes.

TRIGGER 6: We give up on Skype, and spend 10 minutes trying to connect on FaceTime. It doesn’t work, so we give up, and she calls my mobile.

TRIGGER 7: She asks about the volunteer work I do (which I’ve never told her about, until I mentioned it as an explanation for why I couldn’t make the session time she offered). Last year I was supervising a research project about outcomes for Indigenous children in out of home care, and the literacy and numeracy outcomes for the kids (and the impact on their life opportunities) were so appalling I wanted to do something. So I signed up for a program that matches people with children in foster care, and once a week I read books and play games with a gorgeous, spirited six year old Aboriginal girl called Immi. This resonates with Nikki, because she used to work in child protection, and she thinks it’s amazing, and points out that most people don’t hold down a full-time job and two volunteer positions, let alone those with major mental illness. I feel like a fraud, because I love Immi, but the thought of going to see her the next day instead of leaving work and going home to bed makes me want to slash my wrists.

TRIGGER 8: She asks whether there’s anything I want to talk about today; there is, actually. I haven’t managed to bring it up, but for weeks I’ve wanted to tell her about why I did the last chemical burn, the one that needed surgery. But I look at the clock, and there’s only a few minutes left to the hour. Don’t you have to go soon, though? She pauses, then says He’ll probably be fine for another 10 minutes. And I mentally flip out, because we’ve only actually talked for less than 30 minutes, and even though she’s offering more time it feels like we haven’t talked about anything and 10 minutes is no good and everything is awful. I don’t say anything for a long minute, and she says We can talk for another 10 minutes, or we can finish now – I’m happy either way. And I’m completely devastated and shut down and the thought of having to say goodbye and hear her tell me to take care and see you next week is unbearable, so I just hang up.

TRIGGER 9: She texts me and says she’s not sure what happened but she’s available for another 10 minutes if I want to talk. I feel like the world is caving in and therapy is awful, I wait for it all week and then it just makes me feel terrible, and I hate it. I text back, and say ‘I hung up you. Sorry. Lesson of the day: phone is not a good medium for us‘. She says that’s no problem, we can leave it til next week, take care of yourself. I completely. fucking. IMPLODE. I’m not okay and she’s GOING and I HATE her. For a few minutes, the urge to send back ‘Fuck you‘, ‘I hate you‘, ‘You’re such a bitch‘ is so strong, all I can do is lie still and breathe. I have a white-knuckle grip on my phone, and I want so badly to lash out. I breathe, and remind myself that I’m feeling a lot of pain right now, but Nikki is not the source of the pain.

I am not intending to take care of myself tonight; I am intending to cut myself open, and I send back ‘Nope‘. She is non-reactive. ‘Okay. Let me know if you need anything‘. I don’t understand what that means; I never understand what that means.

It takes a few more minutes of breathing, but I manage to come up with a response that I hope will come closer to ending the conversation in a way that doesn’t make me want to tear myself apart.

I need to not feel like slashing my wrists every day, and you can’t help with that. And I’m pissed off about it but I know it’s not your fault.

When I get her response, I realise I was expecting her to be defensive, snappy. Instead, she says ‘Thank you for sharing your feelings! I know it’s really tough. I’m truly sorry that I don’t seem to be able to help with that at the moment but if you want to stick with counselling you know where I am. I hope you have the resources to keep safe tonight but let me know if you don’t feel like you do. Otherwise give me a call/text if you want to book another appointment tomorrow or later in the week.’

I soften. How could I not?

The Day Skype Almost Killed Me

She Used To Care, And Now She Hates Me

“I’ve just finished my therapy with a difficult self-harming patient….hospitalised a couple of times this year with self-harm, very rigid views and belief systems…very controlling about what can be said and what’s said…

Those words have been playing over and over in my head for four months now. Difficult. Rigid. Controlling. Those are the words my last therapist, Anna, used to describe me when she was referring me on to a new therapist, after she abruptly cut and run, even though she promised over and over that she’d never leave me.

Anna, who took me on walks to the park with her dog and visited me in the hospital and read me poetry over the phone, who was willing to be there for me all the time, any time, if I’d only reach out. Anna, who told me I was funny and kind and smart, who poured warmth into all the empty spaces inside of me.

I know that they aren’t mutually exclusive. I know that people can be kind, and smart, and rigid, and controlling all at the same time. But it’s thrown me off balance. I didn’t know that she thought those things about me – what else don’t I know? It makes me feel naive, and afraid, and I don’t know what to trust any more.

Almost two months ago, impulsively, I wrote to Anna, requesting a copy of my notes. It was a short, clipped email, and part of me feels bad about it. It was polite, and I don’t think I owe her anything more than politeness, but it also doesn’t feel good to be so cold. The last time I’d been in touch with her, it was right after she’d quit, and I was sending venomous email after venomous email, wanting to make her feel as terrible as I did. I hadn’t intended to contact her ever again, and I didn’t want to, but I just couldn’t get it out of my head. Difficult. Rigid. Controlling. 

A week later, she wrote back, three sentences, informing me that she did not consider it in my best interests to release the information to me, but that she was happy to speak with my current practitioner. I was expecting it, and I was enraged.

You don’t get to tell me what to do any more. You don’t get to make decisions about my best interests any more. 

It isn’t about the notes any more. It’s about power, and about taking the control back from her, and it’s about winning. I know she doesn’t want to give me the notes, and I want to make her do it anyway.

I guess she was right about me being controlling.

I wrote back, informing her that she had breached the legislation about access to health records, not only by failing to give a proper reason for withholding them (it has to be based on a serious risk to my life and health, not just my “best interests“), but also by failing to inform me that I’m entitled to nominate a GP and have the records sent to them instead.

Maybe it was just ignorance. After all, she knows I’m a lawyer, and it took me less than ten minutes to find the legislation and the relevant provisions. It would be a pretty stupid way to try to keep me from getting access to them. But it still makes me furious, because I’m lucky enough to have five years of law school behind me, but what about people who don’t know their rights, and can’t advocate for themselves?

(But I also know she’s right, that I am a danger to myself, and when I do finally get my hands on those notes, there will probably be a lot of blood.)

Last week’s session with Nikki was tough. After her disclosure the previous week, where she’d cried, and told me she feels the urge to protect me, I’d been feeling excited, and happy, and like I couldn’t wait to be back there again. I wanted to talk to her, suddenly. Her emotions had flipped some kind of switch, and I wanted to share difficult things. And I wanted to tell her what had happened with Anna. I’ve been seeing Nikki for over four months now, but I still feel raw about Anna abandoning me, too raw to even mention it to Nikki. She thinks we parted on good terms.

Over the weekend, I’d drawn out a therapy timeline, and sketched the name of each therapist I’ve seen. Aisha was written out on the keyboard of a laptop, with teardrops on the screen, and Anna was growing up out of the grass like a flower, but with clouds lurking overhead. It felt embarrassing, and vulnerable, showing it to her, but I remembered Lily’s box, and I made myself be brave.

We never made it to Anna, and it went really badly. I was talking about Jen, the kinesiologist I love and miss, the only person who’s ever really been able to comfort me, and I told Nikki that I think the thing that made the most difference was that she would just sit and hold my hand or rub my back, and that I’m much more tactile than verbal.

Nikki talked about how the therapy relationship is all verbal, and that “it’d probably feel pretty weird if I was sitting here holding your hand right now“, and that Jen “had to touch you because it was her job“, and then she put a hand on my shoe in a pointed, kind of mocking way, and I went home feeling dirty and disgusting and like I needed to tear myself apart.

I barely slept, and woke up the next morning feeling anxious. I was on the verge of tears all morning, and I felt like I had to self harm. Like I should self harm. I was still triggered by the therapy session the day before, and I felt clenched and sick whenever I thought about Nikki touching my shoe, but I also felt small and sad, and I wanted to reach out to her. For comfort, for reassurance, for understanding – for a verbal hug.

Can you remind me that it’s okay not to self harm? Is it okay not to self harm?

And as always, she was incredibly responsive – within two minutes, she’d replied, telling me it’s more than okay not to self harm, that it doesn’t help me at all in the long term, to do something to just get through the moment, and asking if something had happened.

I felt about a million times worse. Upset that the message somehow didn’t have the validation or attunement or care I’d wanted, angry at myself for reaching out when it never helps and I should have known better, angry at myself because you should feel better, normal people would feel better, and ashamed of bothering Nikki, of disrupting her day and then not even being grateful.

She asked if I needed to talk – she had a client in 5 minutes but could talk right now if it would help, or she could call me in an hour. But I didn’t want to – I was at work, and anyway, what would I say?

I tried so hard, though. I was feeling triggered and bad and she didn’t feel safe, but I texted her back, and told her I felt like I’d done the wrong thing, and I needed a “You don’t need to self harm for being an idiot and disrupting Nikki’s day for no reason” message. I’m proud of that, of pushing hard to stay open and keep reaching for what I needed when I wanted to withdraw.

I got the message I asked for, and then she told me she was going in with a couple of clients and that she hoped the rest of my day was nicer to me. That stung, and I felt shut down and abandoned, even though I’d chosen not to take her offer of a call.

About half an hour later, I got a cold email from Anna with an invoice for preparation of my file – once it was paid, she would courier the file to my GP.

She’d charged me over $700 for her time photocopying it.

(In the state next door to me, the absolute cap a psychologist can charge is $33. The recommended fee set by the Psychological Society is $140. And worst, worst of all, Anna’s hourly rate is $180, but she billed me at $238, the maximum hourly fee for a clinical psychologist. That’s the malicious part, the part that cuts deep.)

I can’t reconcile my kind, loving therapist with this person who hates me so much. Literally, I can’t; they’re split into two separate people in my mind. Oh, maybe she doesn’t hate you, maybe she just really wants to protect you from hurting yourself when you read it. Okay, but if she’s concerned about me, why not say that instead of just being a bitch?

I reached back out to Nikki, to ask her advice, and she thinks I’m angry with Anna. I’m not. I’m just so, so sad and hurt. What did I do wrong? 

One way or another, I’m getting those notes. I wrote back to Anna asking her to reduce the fee, given it’s more than $550 above the recommendation from the Society, and I called the government department responsible for information privacy to find out about making a complaint if she refuses. If all else fails, I’ll skip a month of therapy with Nikki and I’ll pay the $820 for them.

But I’m terrified of getting them, too. What the hell is in there that’s making her so determined to stop me seeing them?

She Used To Care, And Now She Hates Me