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.
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.
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.