Help Wanted

It was twenty minutes past the end of my session. We’d been sitting on the floor, and I was crouched on my knees, waiting for a sign that it was time to get up and go. She’d noticed that we were over time, and I’d given her Albus for one last cuddle then risen to leave, but she kept bringing up another topic of conversation.

Another pause came, and she clicked her pen rapidly, a nervous habit I’m starting to recognise. Then she looked up at me.

“I think what’s happening is that I don’t want to let you go because you’ve said you’re going to set fire to your leg. I think that that’s what happening. And your leg is currently black, and that is extremely bad, and that makes me feel scared for you.”

She ended up keeping me with her for two hours, more than double my session time. None of the mindfulness skills she tried did anything to release my thoughts, and none of the distraction activities she suggested were new to me, but I felt pitifully grateful that she was worried, that she cared.

(I tried to set myself on fire that night, but the accelerant didn’t ignite, and I felt an immediate flood of relief.)

If Anna was a 10 out of 10 on the ‘cares a lot’ scale, Nikki is at least an 8.3. When we talked about the therapist I saw via Skype never responding to my termination email, and I cried, she did too. She usually says goodbye with “take care“, or one glorious time, “take care, hun“, and it doesn’t sound like just an automatic sign-off, a superficial ‘best regards’ or ‘warm wishes’, but like she means it, like she really wants me to take care of myself.

The night I was planning to burn myself, and she was trying to talk me out of it, I said “I’ve got so many scars already, does one more really make a difference?“. And she said maybe the best thing a psychologist has ever said to me.

I just feel an incredible urge to protect you, and sadness that you’re putting yourself through that. I mean, I can’t imagine how much pain you must be in emotionally when you’re putting yourself through that much pain physically. And even a second more of it is not okay. Of course it matters.”

I felt this huge rush of sadness, and relief, and then I shut it off, and shrugged.

Dunno.”

Last week I told her that I’d choked myself with a rope until I passed out, and that I didn’t want to be alive any more. I could barely get the words out, and she leaned forward to move the tissue box in front of me, then put her hand on my knee and squeezed it, tight.

(It was exactly the right thing to do, and surprisingly meaningful, that little piece of human comfort that reminded me I was a person, talking to a person, not just a client in an office. But if she’d asked first, the way Anna would have, can I put my hand on your knee?, I would have said no. Because it strips the humanness from it, I wonder? Why does it become so excruciatingly self-conscious and uncomfortable just because it’s acknowledged? Is it because by saying yes, I have to imply that I want to be touched?)

So Nikki is giving me the warmth I wanted, in shovelloads. It isn’t enough to make me happy, but it does make me feel good, warm, to know that she sees me struggling and it matters to her, that she wants to make it better. I’m stitching together all her little scraps of kindness, to make a blanket to wrap myself in. But she isn’t helping me. Last week I started crying in the middle of a conversation about whether I have D.I.D., or maybe O.C.D., or maybe both with a side of complex trauma, because it all just seemed so cyclical, a hamster on a wheel. Pointless. Futile. I couldn’t understand how sitting there, doing therapy, could ever make things better for me. I still can’t. Nothing changes. I see person after person, I talk, I don’t talk, whatever. Nothing changes.

My three sessions with #9 were up two weeks ago, and I decided not to keep seeing her. I liked her, but I just couldn’t see how we were ever going to build enough of a rapport to work together. For the last two sessions, we sat in silence for the entire 45 minutes. She won’t talk unless I do, but anything I could think of to say was either too banal or too personal. I don’t know her; I can’t just start telling her about how my younger cousin is mad at me for reporting a sexual assault on one of her friends to the police, but she’s not the kind of woman you can share a photo of your sleeping kittens with either.

I’m getting frustrated, because I can’t explain why it seemed so directionless, so impossible. It just felt like the monkeys were running the circus. Like I was supposed to be in charge of my own therapy, but I don’t know how or what to talk about and I needed her to meet me halfway.

On Friday, Nikki called me out of the blue.

“Hi, Rea! Just phoning to check in with you and see how you’re doing.”

I froze. It was such a shock to hear her voice on the other end of the line; we’d never discussed phone contact, and I was thrilled she’d called, and horrified at the thought of having this conversation at work, and resistant to telling her anything because what was the point when she couldn’t help me anyway?

It quickly became apparent that she wasn’t calling just to check in. She was calling to tell me that some of the things I’d said in our session on Tuesday had freaked her out and she was calling the crisis team.

I thought If you’re so worried then why didn’t you call them on Tuesday?; and If that’s what you need to enjoy your weekend in peace without having to worry about me, sure, but what came out was “Okay“.

I was working to a deadline on Friday night, at the office until almost midnight, and the crisis team left messages on my phone saying that if I didn’t pick up they would call the police to break into my apartment. And okay, that’s happened to me before (courtesy of Anna) and it literally saved my life while I was bleeding out on the bathroom floor, so I get that sometimes that’s necessary. But the thing is, they don’t mean it. They’ve said it before, and they didn’t do it, and they said it this time and they didn’t do it. And however good their intentions are, threatening mentally ill people with empty words to make them give you access to their home pisses me off.

There’s no denying it, though – I’m not doing so good, and I could use some more support. So I resolved to be open to talking to them, and see what they could offer me.

The answer, it turns out, is not much. They showed up at my door on Saturday, and I let them in. They can get me one appointment with a psychologist, but as my old friend Flora the NAPIWET pointed out, “there’s not really much point in that“. If I’m acutely suicidal or intending to harm myself, I can call them and they’ll either talk to me over the phone or come and take me to the hospital. So…they’re basically an ambulance without the sirens?

I don’t get it. I don’t get how having them show up and say Hey, I hear things are shit – bummer is supposed to help me. And I suppose the answer is that they’re not. As long as I’m not actively tying a noose, I am not their job.

They asked to see the list of psychiatrists I’ve seen, and the even longer list of psychiatrists who don’t have room to see me, and I pulled it up. Flora spotted someone she knows, and went on at length about how wonderful she is, how good she is at her job, she’d be perfect for me, what a pity she doesn’t have room to see me, but of course all the good psychiatrists are always booked solid.

I sat on my bed, legs crossed and face blank, thinking “Yes, Flora, please keep telling me how wonderful this person who can’t see me is, and how nobody good is ever available. This is just what I needed. I feel so much better.

And as I think about going to session on Wednesday, I realise that I’m mad at Nikki. Why? I’m glad that she hears how bad it is right now, that she was concerned enough to call in extra help. Sure, maybe she could have offered for me to call her if I needed to, but I wouldn’t have, and if I had it wouldn’t have helped. She doesn’t know anything about my history with Flora and the crisis team and how much I don’t want them in my space. So why am I mad? Why do I feel guarded, and distant from her?

Last night I sat on the steps leading up to my building’s laundry room, and I smashed my head against the edge of the step, 164 times. Today, when I showed up for my doctor’s appointment with a black eye, she checked whether I was still working, and asked “Don’t the other staff go to management and complain and tell them they don’t want you working there? That’s what the staff here do, about the people with eating disorders too“.

That really hurt me. The people I work with are my friends, my Jewish mamas, my mentors and mentees, and nobody has ever been anything but kind and supportive. But now I feel ashamed, and like I don’t deserve my job, and like maybe there is talk about me that I just don’t hear. And I feel sad to know that her staff, who have always been nothing but warm and friendly to me, treat people that way. That anybody thinks that other people deserve to be treated that way.

I’m dwelling on a lot of negatives right now, and there are positives to focus on. My brother is still alive; Finding Dory is finally at the cinemas; Albus and Everest are getting along at last.

But I really just want to set myself on fire.

Help Wanted

Ninth Time Lucky?

Before I started therapy, I didn’t realise that with different people, silence can sound different.

I met Psychiatrist #9 yesterday, and it didn’t start well. After I walked in and said hello, she proceeded to read the full referral letter from my GP aloud, then said “All right…take it away!

I laughed a little incredulously (um, really?), and when she didn’t step in to prompt with a question, I immediately started seething with rage. If I could have set her editions of the DSM aflame with the power of my gaze, I would have. I was furious at her for not doing anything to put me at ease and for not just asking me what my parents do for a living like every other fucking psychiatrist, and I was furious that I was here doing this again and again it was bad and hard and not fair.

And then…the anger just dissipated. There was no expectation in the air. No sense that she was waiting for me to say something. She was just sitting, still, gaze resting on the floor to my right. Not fidgeting, not reading, not tapping her pen. Just sitting.

It gave me space to settle myself. I noticed the tension in my shoulders, took a breath and consciously let them relax. I let myself see my resistance and discomfort and anxieties about having to take the lead. It felt like longer, but I only held out for two minutes before I said:”I’ve done this so many times I’m bored of my own story, to be honest.”

It was a cheat – saying something without really saying anything, to get her to respond so I wouldn’t have to take the initiative. I didn’t want to just regurgitate my history, but I didn’t know what to say. Her response annoyed me, but I was impressed – she knew exactly what I was doing and she held firm.

I was truthful when I said I’m patient. When people do this sort of work they do it at their own pace.” She paused, then added “So if you want to sit there and just reflect on things quietly, we can do that for as long as you want.”

For the next five minutes, we did exactly that. I looked over her bookshelf, gazed out the window, counted the drawers in her shelving unit, and I thought; why am I here? what is happening in my life, right now? what do I want to share?

Eventually, I broke the silence with a brief explanation about my self-harm. I don’t want that to be the first topic of conversation, the thing that defines me, but it’s the most obvious place to start. We spoke about it a little, then lapsed into silence for almost ten minutes. She only ever looked at me when I was seeking eye contact. As soon as I broke her gaze, she’d look away. I liked that.

I should have been prepared for the conversation to turn to Anna – after all, Anna had contacted #9 when she terminated with me – but for whatever stupid, stupid reason, I hadn’t thought about it at all. #9 had forgotten about her call with Anna until the subject came up, and flipped to her notes to refresh her memory.

I’ve finished my therapy with a difficult self-harming patient,” she started to read aloud, and I felt my whole body tense and my face flinch, in the split second before I took a step back and detached from my body, letting a mask slide down over my face. Hearing Anna describe me as “difficult” hurt, so much.

She read through the next part silently, lips pressed together, then started to narrate aloud again. “Bright lawyer……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…

The mask almost slipped at the word “controlling”, but I imagined a flame against my skin, and I stayed outwardly calm. Just wait until you get home, I told myself. You can burn as soon as you get home. 

She’s the fourth therapist I’ve told the story of Anna and Aisha to, and every time, I’ve stayed bland and unemotional. If she couldn’t help, then I’m glad that she told me. And I liked her a lot, but it was difficult via Skype. There’s so much shame in admitting how much I hurt when they left. I trusted them and I depended on them but to them, I was just a difficult client. Whenever I think about telling Nikki the truth, about how my voice would wobble and my face would scrunch and – oh jesus – how I’d cry, my mind flashes to an image of blood dripping down my arm. Can I move past the hurt and betrayal without expressing it out loud, having it witnessed and understood? I don’t know.

We didn’t talk about anything of substance for the rest of the session. She warned me a few minutes before the end (another point in her favour), and asked me if I had any questions for her. And I surprised myself – for the first time ever, I did.

Her answers were good. I felt a little bit of fluttering in my chest when she talked about the first year being focused on containing self-destructive behaviours – she knows how long this is going to take. She talked about creating a safe contained space, and about working with people whose histories make it difficult for them to function in the world.

I’m definitely not sold on her yet. There’s a lot I like about her, but I question how wise it was to read me comments from my last therapist in our first session. And I’m horrified that she charges $480 for a 35 minute initial appointment. It’s not about spending the money; it’s the concept of somebody in a helping profession charging an exorbitant fee that would prohibit a lot of people from being able to access help. There’s probably a reason for it, but it doesn’t sit well with my values.

So, we’ll see. But for once, I’m not dreading my next appointment.

I’m finding it interesting, comparing the transference with Nikki to the transference with the psychiatrists. I’m getting attached to Nikki, for the wrong reasons. She’s competent enough, I guess, but I don’t care all that much about her therapeutic skills, really. I just want to be nurtured.

I want to curl up on the floor in her office, knees tucked to my chest and leaning against the wall, and I want her to reach across the table to me, silently offering to hold my hand. I want to go for walks with her and colour with her and show her photos of my farm. Basically, I want her to take me home and tuck me into bed and hug me when I wake up with nightmares and spoon-feed me cereal for breakfast. You know, the normal stuff that people want after knowing someone for three weeks.

It feels like I’m trying to re-enact my relationship with Anna. And I’m very aware that even though I’m feeling an intense desire to cling to Nikki, it isn’t really because of her at all. She could be anybody young-ish and pretty-ish and caring. I know that looking to her for comfort isn’t that smart and isn’t that helpful. But fuck my brain. Why does it always get to run the show?

Ninth Time Lucky?