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?