After Nikki told me she was pregnant, I lay awake all night. I was not being mindful, and I was not finding a calm centre, and I was not regulating my nervous system by shoving my face in a sink full of ice. I was ruminating about how I was going to have to find yet another therapist, and start all over from the beginning again, and I might as well just die. I was crying and despairing and I was not ready to even consider trying to approach the situation in a healthy way.
I slept most of Saturday, and that night I fell back into the cycle of rumination and despair. About 3am, I snapped. I was counting out pills when I remembered that when I was released from hospital on Tuesday, I’d promised the doctor that I wouldn’t attempt to kill myself for at least a week.
For the first time, I walked into the hospital and told them I was suicidal. I couldn’t stay home and keep my promise, and integrity is important to me. It was an awful night, though. I was feeling fragile and scared, and the intake nurse was verbally aggressive with another patient, then grabbed him by the arm and started yanking him around. It was triggering and too much, and when he told me I had to take my headphones out I refused.
It was completely irrational, but I’d latched onto them as a sense of security, kind of a barrier I guess, and the idea of removing them was like removing my clothes – it made me feel vulnerable and bare and panicky and I knew I was being ridiculous but I just couldn’t do it and I didn’t understand why he was making such a big deal out of it. I told them that I wasn’t listening to anything, and I just wanted to leave them in, but another man came along and asked me sarcastically:
“Do you want to see a doctor?”
“Then you’ll take the headphones out.”
I don’t deal with reprimands well at any time. This time, I burst into tears and tried to leave, at which point I was involuntarily detained, until another doctor came along and yanked the headphones out while I tried to stop her, scolded me for being inconsiderate, then wrestled my phone from my hands and took it away.
It wasn’t a good night.
Maybe it was the push I needed, though. I knew I had to get back to work if I was ever going to start feeling better, but I knew I wouldn’t get there unless somebody made me. So I called Kim, one of my self-titled ‘Jewish mamas’, and told her everything, and asked her to pick me up the next day, even if she had to literally pick me up to get me out of bed.
I am the most unbelievably lucky person. The flexibility and care that my colleagues give me is more than anyone could ever hope for. For the past two weeks, I’d failed to show up when I said I would, missed deadlines, ignored their emails and screened their calls. And they met me with nothing but compassion.
Monday morning, I did the rounds of the managers, and told each one I’d been suicidal and in hospital, after choking myself and slicing up my thighs. Sarah told me she loved me, and my wellbeing was more important than work. Polly had tears in her eyes, and got up to hold me, one of those long, close hugs with my head tucked into the bare crook of her neck, those incredibly rare hugs where there’s no time limit, and they will stand there until you decide to let go. When I told her about hanging myself, she pulled me back in again. Carol, the HR manager, cried and told me I’m a beautiful person, and that I could call her any time and she would come to the emergency department with me. Kim hugged me, called me “bubs” and “my love” and “precious”, and I soaked up every word.
Even the people I didn’t share with know something is up, and they’re reaching out. A girl from another team that I’m kind of in awe of called me over to tell me that she’d had a dream about teaching me to fly. The accounts assistant, who I barely interact with, came and gave me this post-it note quietly, then started chatting about the new café down the street.
It was intense, and uncomfortable, and overwhelming. At times, it triggered an intense urge to bleed. But being surrounded by so much love made me feel like I didn’t really need Nikki anyway.
The next day, I had my regular weekly session with Nikki. I was quiet at the start, but the kind of quiet that has an edge to it.
We’d decided to go for a walk to the park, but before we left, she took me into her office to show me she’d bought me some scented Play-Doh and a colouring book, because I’d started getting bored with the watercolours.
I had no idea what to say. I couldn’t really say “Great, looking forward to it!”, because I’d already decided this would probably be our last session, but it also seemed too abrupt to just say “Nope, actually, I’m devastated and repelled by this pregnancy you’ve been desperately wanting for years, so I’m not coming back”.
I probably should have bitten the bullet, though, because I didn’t even manage to tell her I’d been in hospital over the weekend until we were already returning from the walk.
I started off mostly with angry frustration (“I was distressed because now I have to find another fucking therapist”) but it quickly shifted to sadness (“I don’t want to quit, but I just cannot cope with this”).
I couldn’t explain it, because I don’t really understand it. The thing is, even my reaction to her pregnancy is weird. I’m not all that worried about a two or three month break, because I know I’ll miss her, but I have other options – I can go back to see Jen, or Aisha, and I know I can get through it. If she was taking the time off to go on a holiday to Hawaii, I wouldn’t have even considered quitting. And I’m (maybe naively) completely convinced that she will come back. It’s not a fear of abandonment.
At least, not that kind of abandonment. Not the direct kind. I’m a little afraid of her leaving me mentally, that she’ll be too distracted by thoughts of the baby to actually listen to me, too tired from sleepless nights to focus on what I’m saying, too frazzled by ‘baby brain’. I’m already using it as evidence that she doesn’t really care about me (it’s just the hormones that made her feel maternal towards me). And there’s the fears around how her availability will change when she has an infant, how I won’t be a priority any more.
But mostly, it’s this kind of internal recoil from her physically being pregnant. Normally I have no issues with it – in fact, I’m the kind of person who’s desperately keen to put their hands on a friend’s belly and feel the baby kick – but Nikki having a swollen belly feels really not okay and really not safe. Like, to the extent that I feel as though I can’t be in the same room as her. If she was adopting, I wouldn’t be freaking out anywhere near this badly. Is it a boundaries thing, feeling like she’s bringing too much of herself into the session (in a very tangible kind of way)?
At the same time, though, I know it isn’t just about the physical aspects of it, because my level of distress also depends a lot on whether it’s a girl (catastrophe) or a boy (only a moderate disaster).
(I really hope that coin toss comes up ‘penis’.)
I picture having a session with her in a few months’ time, and the imaginary Nikki in my head is unpredictable, and I’m afraid to talk to her because she might lash out at me. Is this some kind of object permanence thing? That if she looks different I can’t hold onto the fact that she’s still the same person?
I hated talking to her about it. I was so upset, and I wanted her to know how upset I was so she’d feel bad about just dropping it on me. She kept telling me that we could figure it out, that we still had five months, we just had to take it one step at a time. She wasn’t getting it. She wasn’t hearing that it was about the pregnancy, not the absence, and I just kept telling her I couldn’t do it, that it was too much, at the same time that I desperately wanted her to hold onto me, and tell me there was no way I was going anywhere.
Eventually, she offered to give me some referrals, and I told her I’d already looked into it over the weekend and picked a couple of possibilities. I felt heavy, and empty.
By the time we made it back to her office, I’d mentioned dying enough times that she was worried, and she asked me if she should drive me to the hospital. I thought about it – really, the answer was yes, but I had a $3 million proposal due to the CEO that night, and I didn’t want to let him down.
She asked some more risk-type questions, but I was lost in the turmoil in my head, and I didn’t answer. Eventually, she looked at me and said “If you’re not going to talk to me, then there’s nothing I can do for you”. Her voice was flat, and it stung, so badly.
“Yeah, I know. I’m going to go.”
I got up, and she stood too. I don’t remember exactly what she said, but it was something about it being a pity, and a wasted opportunity. I couldn’t look her in the eye when I mumbled goodbye. And then I walked away.