The One You Feed

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“Inside each of us are two wolves. One is evil, one is good, and they are always at war.”

“Grandfather, which wolf wins?”

“The one you feed.”

The next day, Nikki texts me at midday to ask whether she’s seeing me at 6pm or whether she should cancel our appointment.

For fuck’s sake, I think, anger settling in my belly and spreading out through my arms. Last night you said to text you when I get back – why are you now asking me if I still want my session today? I feel like you’re hurling me around in the air like one of those gymnast ribbon things. 

For a couple of hours, I can’t decide what to do, and I don’t really want to think about it. I’m annoyed with her for disrupting my day again, after I’d mentally shelved her until next week.

I could text her back and tell her yes, please cancel the session; I even start writing the message in my head, but it doesn’t feel good. It feels hostile, and closed, and distancing. I have this feeling in my chest like I’ve taken a big black ball of gooey tar, wrapped it up in clingfilm and pressed it in just above my heart. I know if I choose to step away instead of move towards her, that ball will stay inside my chest for a while.

So I text her back, and tell her that I made a doctor’s appointment because I got the impression we were cancelling, but as long as they’re running on time then I can Skype at 6pm.

(Though I’m tempted to, I don’t say Take a beginner’s class in scheduling and learn how to have the barest, most basic level of stability, you scatty idiot. That would definitely be feeding the bad wolf.)

We don’t actually connect until 6.40 – technological difficulties again – and part of me is hoping she’ll say forget it, sorry, this isn’t going to work tonight. I feel shut down and protective and I don’t know what I’m going to say to her.

Not much, it turns out. She asks how I’m doing, and I don’t trust her with any kind of real answer, so I say I don’t know how to answer that. (I still think this is progress from “okay“.) She asks a few questions about how long I’m staying at home, and she’s engaged, tender, leaning right in to the camera.

How was the weekend? she asks, and I shrug, take a breath, and think for a moment, eyes slipping off the screen. The true answer is that it was fine, that I took Everest and Leia to a studio to get professional photos, I went to a concert, I came home to my brother. But the full answer is that it was fine, and I’m relieved that it was fine, lucky and grateful that it was fine, because it almost wasn’t and that still scares me.

I’m not ready to open that up with her yet. It was okay, I say, with the quirk of my lips that acknowledges I know there’s a lot I’m not saying.

Okay, she says. Her brows are furrowed, and she has both hands resting around her neck. She pauses for a second, then gives a quick, almost imperceptible shrug and says I worried about you the whole weekend. 

Another momentary pause. I’m doing that face I do when people say caring things that feel like they can’t really be true; kind of a mix between skeptical and patronising.

I woke up worrying about you. 

Sorry, I say, but only because I can’t think of anything else to say, not because I mean it. I wonder if she should be telling me this, whether this is a boundary issue again, but it has its intended effect; I thaw a little.

The camera freezes as she starts to respond, and when she unfreezes, she has tears in her voice. I interrupt to tell her that she’d frozen, but I wish I hadn’t, because she doesn’t repeat whatever she was saying.

It keeps freezing every 30 seconds or so, and it’s just impossible to have a conversation. 6 minutes in to the call, I’m done. We’ve touched base, our relationship is okay, and there’s no point trying to talk about anything meaningful when it’s this disjointed. But I still feel an aching distress in my chest after I hang up.

With the contact barrier broken, I don’t really hesitate when I want to text her the next day. I’ve been thinking about the options for her maternity leave, prompted by her raising it on Friday, and seeming frustrated when I insisted that I didn’t want to see anyone while she was gone, that I wanted to take a break. And there’s a kernel of doubt in me, planted by Dr S last week, when he brought up Nikki’s maternity leave, and asked whether she was leaving “for a year or indefinitely“.

The last time we talked about the length of her leave was in October, when she said she was “barely taking any time off” and she’d “probably only be gone a couple of months, 8 weeks“. I want to be sure of how long she’ll be gone before I sit down and make pro and con lists for each of the options. I want clarification, but mostly I want reassurance that yes, she won’t be gone too long.

Meant to ask yesterday. When you told me last year that you were pregnant you said you’d be taking a couple of months maternity leave (which I mentally rounded up to three because two doesn’t sound like enough). But when you were talking on Friday about plans for when you’re away it sounded like you’re going to be away for quite awhile? Have plans changed?

It’s a bad day today, the worst I’ve had since I’ve been home. My brother is back at work, and I’m home alone and failing to be productive, fighting the urge to go back to bed. Nikki doesn’t reply for a long time, and I’m unsettled, uneasy, expecting that she’ll tell me no, nothing has changed, but unable to really focus on anything until she does.

Hours later, her reply comes through. I’ve been sitting by my phone, sometimes just holding it, so I open it immediately.

I don’t think I ever said there was a set in stone amount of time I was taking off. Pretty sure I said I would have to get my head around how long I would take. So sorry if I’ve confused things. I think I would have to say four months is realistic so not that much longer than the three you thought. I think I may have said we might have to start with Skype sessions at first? It’s really difficult to predict that early on with the new baby. Can we discuss this further when you get back!

For a moment, I’m too thrown by the phrasing of the message to really register the content. I feel attacked. She sounds hostile and defensive, and the fight part of me rises up to obscure the hurt and confused: what did I do wrong?

Then it hits me. She’s going to be gone at least until August. Given that both of our Skype sessions have been total disasters, probably at least until September.

The urge to self harm rises up, coils around me. Oh my god. There are tears pressing at the back of my eyes. I was insistent that I didn’t want to see anybody else because I didn’t see the point; I really wanted, needed to save the money, and seeing somebody for two months wouldn’t help me make progress; we’d barely get past the introductory stuff in two months. But five months? That’s too long. Oh my god. 

The shock is like I’m getting the news of her pregnancy for the first time. I’m so glad I didn’t find out in session; I don’t think I could have poker faced my way through. And I’m so glad I didn’t find out at home, or I’d be bleeding.

Instead, I put on a meditation app, and I notice how the tears fall harder on each exhale. I go out for a walk, and when my brother comes home, he puts on his focus pads and we box. I try to use my feelings to feed the good wolf, not the bad.

(I can’t believe she’s so fucking unprofessional she gave me misleading information about how long she’ll be gone and then never corrected it because she’s never mentioned it again in the last three months becomes: You did such a good job to ask her to confirm, Rea, you’re getting so much better at raising things, I’m so proud of you, and This feels a lot like the way my parents never spoke to me about self harm because they knew I didn’t want to talk about it, this would be a great chance to explore that dynamic, the way I subtly intimidate people into being afraid to bring things up.

Five months, oh my god, that doesn’t even fucking make sense, if she can Skype then she can come to the office, it’s only 10 minutes from her apartment – is she planning to do sessions alone with the baby, which is not okay, or with her partner at home in their tiny one-bedroom apartment, which is also not okay, and I wouldn’t even know she has a one-bedroom apartment if she wasn’t so fucking unprofessional becomes I’m so upset she’s going to be gone for so long, and this is also a great opportunity to have the time and money to explore other things; I could do private yoga therapy or take a Buddhism class or focus on physical health and fitness.)

I’m probably trying too hard to run straight past grief and into acceptance. This sucks. It fucking sucks. No; it’s devastating. I’m afraid to feel the full weight of it.

I can’t make myself work, even though I told my boss I would, so in the afternoon, I push myself to use a DBT distraction skill. I bought some brush lettering pens a couple of months ago, and I like the focus on pressing hard on the downstroke and lightly on the upstroke. It’s rhythmic, engrossing, calming. I pick whatever words come to mind and feel right; shit; sad; cry; stab; hurt. Bitch keeps coming to mind, but it doesn’t feel right.

And then another word comes to mind, and the tears well up again, and I don’t write any more. I realise why I’m so upset about the length of the break, and that what I’m feeling is grief. I don’t think I can go five months without therapy, I don’t think I can stick to my plan of just taking a break, but if I start seeing someone else, then I don’t think I’ll go back to Nikki.

My last word is goodbye.

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The One You Feed

20 thoughts on “The One You Feed

  1. Sirena says:

    It might be goodbye. See what she offers up. I’m glad you know that you need to keep some form of therapy. I’m glad your weekend was okay. x

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    1. I’m not sure there’s anything she can offer that changes the situation – she’s gone for at least four months, and I can either see someone new and try to move forward or tide myself over with my old kinesiologist or my old skype therapist and wait for her to come back. But yeah, there are still two months until she leaves so I need to let things play out. 😔

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  2. This tugged at me. I remember the awful inevitability of maternity leave with R and how hideous it was trying to navigate something that is so… immovable. There’s no getting around it. I was also immensely jealous of the tiny baby who was going to take all her love. Totally supporting you with this.

    If it helps at all. R went on maternity leave for a year. In that time I saw someone else but kept in contact by email with R – probably once every 2/3 months, mostly when big things happened, like when I graduated. We had discussed that I could go back to her at some point in the future but at that time I felt settled where I was. Then, months and months later I felt like I needed to work with her, in her specific way again… so we started working together again and the gap felt okay. Eventually. I don’t know if that helps. Maybe just that it could be a goodbye but also maybe not a firm, solid, unbreakable goodbye either?

    I wrote a whole post about R’s pregnancy and what I did to help myself. If you want the link let me know. X

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    1. Having Nikki be so available and responsive and visiting me at home and at the hospital was so bittersweet, because she’s not going to be that available when she has a new baby in a few months – another thing that tiny human is taking from me. Your support helps. It helps to be reminded that I’m not the first person to go through this jealousy and sadness and be pushed into a transition I don’t want, and that it’ll be okay and I’ll get through it.

      I would definitely like the link – thank you. And I don’t know if I’ve ever told you this, but I love your blog, so much I felt bereft when you stopped seeing T as often and stopped writing as often, though I’m so happy for the progress you’ve made and the stability you’ve found.

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  3. love you Rea. I want to reply to your email and add some thoughts later, I don’t have the strength to do it right now (feeling a little rattled about something that happened with T, not a big deal, but I want to reply to you when my head’s back on straight). For now I’m sending my thoughts and my love, so much love. xoxo

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  4. I’m sorry Rea. You did good, though, with asking her and then using other skills to stay safe. I’m sure this feels like your heart is breaking, knowing you are going to say goodbye to someone you have a very strong attachment to. Two months left means you have time to process this with her, to say a proper goodbye and that you will be able to hopefully interview and find a new therapist before Nikki leaves. That’s my hope for you, anyway. You are in my thoughts, and I’m sending lots of safe warm hugs your way. 💟xx

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    1. Thanks, Alice. You’re right that we have some time left – this will be my first time of ending with somebody with a long lead up (not just an abrupt termination) and it feels really hard to keep showing up when I know she’s leaving. I don’t know what we’re going to do with the next two months but once I get through the transition I know I’ll be okay.

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  5. I want to say something that will help but I can’t quite find the right words. I know that it is often much more painful to try to deal with uncertainty and shifting ground than the disappointment of a clearly understood limit. Thinking of you.

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  6. I know Nikki cares about you a lot, and that is a comfort to you, a reassurance of your value that you need and deserve. But over and over, she lets you down professionally. She’s unreliable, scheduling is a mess, Skype connections are bad, and her boundaries change. At the risk of pissing you off, can I say that this may be a good opportunity to move to something healthier? I know it will hurt to let her go (at least it will not be via a rupture but rather can be thoughtful and planned). It will be sad.

    I wish that you could find someone like E. She’s made a few mistakes along the way, but not many, and she corrects when needed. She is loving but stable and steady. When I’m unstable, she’s is a rock. She doesn’t freak out or run away, she might come closer but still respecting boundaries. She is very experienced and professional. Also, she just turned 60 so thank god she is not going to get pregnant and go on maternity leave.

    There must be someone who can be there for you, solid, secure and caring, experienced and unafraid. Someone who can help you feed the good wolf.

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    1. That’s exactly why this is so hard. If things were working and it was just a matter of gritting my teeth and waiting 5 months for her to come back, I could do that. If it was only 2 or 3 months, I could do that without having to examine whether or not it’s a good idea too closely. But it’s hard to justify planning to go back to her when her professionalism is such a mess and I feel sure that I can find somebody “better” in the interim.

      But I don’t want to let her go. I don’t want to say goodbye. (And now I’m crying in the middle of the airport.)

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