I went back to see Alina on Tuesday. It felt wrong to call and cancel after she’d gone out of her way to see me, and even if we couldn’t work it out and she wanted to refer me on, I didn’t want to end things with her telling me I had to leave, and with me walking out. I didn’t want her to think I was seething in a corner somewhere, downing shots and throwing darts at a photo of her face.
So I went back. We had an appointment scheduled, and I assumed that if our last session was The Final Straw and she wasn’t willing to see me again, she would have had her receptionist call and cancel my appointments. I was wrong.
I arrived at 2pm, and she was with another client. I sat in the waiting room for 15 minutes before I’d constructed enough of a poker face to ask the receptionist, and my cheeks flamed red as I lied unconvincingly that I must have got the wrong day, and stumbled out the door.
I don’t even really understand why I felt – feel – so ashamed. She was unprofessional enough not to communicate with me before booking over my timeslot; how is that my shame? But something about it feels so cringeworthily pathetic, to turn up thinking she would be expecting me, when she’d crossed me out and moved on.
And I felt angry. Who is she to assume that she knows me, to be so sure that I’d just walk off and not show up again?
In the two hours between that debacle and my appointment with Nikki, I cut and burnt, and I really wasn’t in the mood for therapy. I was feeling even more guarded than usual, which basically means I threw a couple extra alligators in the moat to back up the catapults. I didn’t tell her what had happened with Alina, because I dreaded being asked how I felt about it.
I’d wanted to talk to her about working on my belief systems around pain. We only have 8 sessions left now, and if we keep just going through my history, I’m going to walk away feeling like I’ve dug up a mess of bones without any time to clean them up, lay them out neatly and bury them back in the ground. I’m worried about boring her by focusing in on one narrow thing, but I think that’s the only way to leave believing that it was worthwhile. So why didn’t I bring it up? Yes, I was very shut down after what had happened with Alina, and trying to initiate a conversation with Nikki about goals felt abhorrent and impossible. But therapy sucks anyway. Why am I suffering through it in near-silence and getting nowhere, instead of pushing a bit harder, suffering a bit more and maybe actually changing something?
So far, Nikki is following the well-trodden path of psychologists before her. She wants to know what will help me feel comfortable; we’ll go for a walk next week; I should bring Everest along to a session. She asks to see my arms, is distressed at the extent of the scarring, and both sessions run at least 15 minutes over time. She says she’ll make calls, talk to people, try to get more help for me, but says that doesn’t mean she is getting rid of me; she’s more than happy to keep seeing me. I like her, a lot, and if I could afford to keep seeing her I would. But there is nothing that makes me think this person could help me change my life. Can anybody?
The next morning, on my way to work, I got a text from Alina – the receptionist had told her I was there.
“I am sorry that our meetings ended in such way. And I am sorry for misunderstanding of what has happened on Friday. I was looking forward working with you although we both know it would not be an easy path. But you said last Friday that you were not ready to sacrifice with staying on line and checking your e-mails while you are at therapy sessions, in fact you said you were choosing e-mails over therapy and left in the middle of the sessions. So I interpreted all of it as a sign that you were not ready to commit to therapy. And as much as I regret that out attempt to work together has failed this time, I also know that I could not do anything else. We know that there is a very strong self-destructive force in you and without clear boundaries and limit setting we will not achieve anything. I think you know that you need a strong therapist, but then you are fighting it at the same time.”
I got angry, I cried, I cut myself, and then I started wondering whether she was right. Not about her retelling of what happened – I certainly never said I was choosing emails over therapy! – but about me sabotaging myself. Did I walk away from somebody who was inflexible and arrogant enough to be certain of her own assumptions, or did I throw away an opportunity to work with someone great because I was too willful and stubborn and convinced that I was right? Or like most things, does the truth lie somewhere in the middle, and if we’d both bent a bit we could have connected?
I don’t know, but I want to. I felt so outraged that she was claiming I was uncommitted and self-destructive when my conscious motive for picking up my phone was to regulate, to stay calm enough that I could stay in the room with her, in therapy.
A little too outraged, perhaps. Usually when I feel that fired up about something, it’s because I know there’s at least a glimmer of truth in it, and I wish there wasn’t.
I’m a bit at sea. There’s no rush, I keep reminding myself, but if my conception of a ‘good’ therapist is completely different to what I actually need to get better, then it doesn’t matter how long I wait. They could land in my lap, and I’d throw them back into the sea.