Got What I Wished For, I Guess

“Hi Rea. Sorry, haven’t had a second to call you today. Crazy busy. Dr S sent a message to say he did hear from you on Saturday and that you’ve gone back to [home] for a week. Sounds like a good plan! Hope you have a good break! Text me when you get back and we can organise another session. Thanks for paying those fees too! Talk soon. N.”

I hate her. I never want to see her again.

Got What I Wished For, I Guess

I Really, Really Scared Myself

On Thursday morning, my bags are packed, and I’m ready to go to the psychiatric hospital.

I haven’t slept much. I’ve looked though the timetable of mandatory activities for inpatients, and they mostly look okay, but I’m terrified they’re going to make us do some kind of interpretive dance workshop where we pretend to be trees. (My anxieties are apparently very specific.) When it occurs to me that I’ll probably have to share a bathroom, I almost change my mind completely.

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I’m desperate, but I also feel centered. I’m out of control to the point where I can’t see any option other than being in a hospital, being supervised, kept safe, forced into a routine that will pry me out of bed…and there’s a strange kind of peace in that. I have total conviction that no matter how frightened and averse I feel to doing this, doing this is the only choice and so I have to get through it. The anxiety is muted beneath a full-body sense of deadly calm. Dissociation, probably.

Things on Thursday don’t go smoothly. Based on my experience, the admissions department is run by six Beagle puppies and a dead tarantula, and their process is something like this:

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The first hurdle: the day before, the psychiatrist from the emergency room decided I was “resistant” to being admitted because I said that I hadn’t made a final decision yet, and so he elected not to send my discharge papers over; I can’t be admitted without them. (I find this out from my boss, who’s rearranged meetings to drive me to the hospital and is angry with me for screwing up the process. I tell him I don’t want his help if he’s going to be like that, and hang up (angry, sad, sobbing: I didn’t do anything wrong, I don’t understand why the ER psychiatrists always treat me like I’m so difficult, I’m not, it’s not fair)).

The second hurdle: once I’ve dealt with the paperwork nonsense, the hospital changes their mind, and decides I have to be assessed by Psychiatrist #11 before they’ll take me. (I’ve seen him twice before, to get a referral for DBT.) I’m so phone phobic and overwhelmed I have to burn myself to gather the courage to make the call, and he won’t discuss it over the phone, so I have to make a ($400) appointment to see him the next day.

The needy, clingy part of me wins over the guilt and shame: I want Nikki to know where things are, what the plan is. I want to feel that she’s keeping track of me, keeping me tethered, contained, watching and ready to step in. I don’t want to do this on my own.

So I text her, and tell her her I have an appointment, and ask if she’ll be in her office (only a couple of minutes walk from the psychiatrist) afterwards. I can be; no, don’t come in specially, just thinking about a safety plan if things go badly; okay, but call me from his office as soon as you’re done. 

She ends her last message with ‘Night‘, and I’m stung; I know how to judge when a conversation’s over. I wouldn’t have replied anyway; you don’t have to push me away.

It isn’t until afterwards that I think: What? I’m making a safety plan?

At the third hurdle, I fall.

I fuck up. I sleep in, and wake up one minute before my appointment. I can’t go without showering, I can’t leave the house if I’m not clean, so our appointment is cut down from 45 minutes to 15.

There are ligature marks around my neck; I choked myself the night before, too many worries, too much despair and anger to sleep. I tell him about the overdose, the cutting, the burning, that I feel out of control.

In a voice that tells me it’s a decision and not a discussion, he says that he thinks being admitted will make me worse, and everything goes numb. I’m somewhere very far outside of my body.

Okay; why do you think it will make me worse?

Because I’ve worked with a lot of people with your kind of issues, and based on my experience, I think it will make you worse. 

I don’t cry yet. I feel like I’ve just been told that someone I love is dead, and I know that I’m devastated, but it still feels unreal. I nod blankly when he tells me to come back on Monday, and to call tomorrow morning to make an appointment once I’ve decided whether or not I’ll be going to work that day (no, he won’t give me a morning or evening appointment unless I’m sure I really need one, those are sought after and if I’m not going to go to work anyway then I should come during the day, call once you’ve decided – because, evidently, on Saturday by 12pm I will know whether or not I’ll be able to get out of bed on Monday).

I hate him, and I hate myself more.

As promised, I call Nikki. I tell her that he won’t admit me, and she’s frustrated (Oh, you’re kidding!), and immediately responsive.

(Do you want me to come?

I don’t know.

I’ll jump in the car now. I can be there in 10. Okay?

A long pause. I feel completely devastated. I don’t think I can talk. I don’t really have the money for another session. I didn’t bring a cigarette lighter, so I can’t hurt myself enough to make me coherent. But what’s the alternative? I can’t just go home.

Okay.)

Less than 10 minutes in to my explanation of what happened, I’m crying. Raw.

I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. 

 

I don’t think I can keep myself alive if I go home. The private hospital won’t take me; the psychiatrist dismissed me, cavalierly (I’ve lived this long without being admitted, and I’m not somebody who can be helped, anyway; probably just looking for attention, best not to indulge that sort of thing).  The emergency department thinks I’m difficult, one of those patients.

How? I don’t understand what’s so wrong with me that they can look at me bleeding and bruised and poisoned and choking, drowning, asking for help, and turn me away. Make me feel bad for asking.

 

I was going to do the yoga class and focus on mindfulness and talk in group about practicing coping skills. Carol and Megan were going to visit and Chiara was going to look after my cats. I don’t understand. How could that make me worse? How can I be any worse?

Nikki suggests we make a list of options of what to do. Yes. Okay. That makes sense. Option one is to try again to find another hospital that will take me; option two is to do nothing in response to the immediate risk, to continue seeing her once or twice a week (once? why once? why are you saying once?), keep doing DBT and keep seeing Psychiatrist #11.

And then the conversation derails; what do you want in terms of therapeutic stuff, as in ongoing therapy in the long term? Would you rather go forward seeing a psychiatrist for psychotherapy instead, maybe Psychiatrist #11?

(Okay, okay, she’s just asking, it’s the wrong question to be asking right now, the wrong thing to be discussing right now, but it doesn’t mean anything, she’s just asking, giving you options. Oh god, it hurts that she’s asking. I feel sick.)

 

No, I tell her. I like that he’s direct, and I can have intellectual conversations with him, but he’s not somebody that I would be able to share anything emotional with.  

And then she starts pushing. Maybe that’s just about building trust, maybe I should see him once a week and her once a week, once you establish a connection she’s heard he’s really good, and really, can you share emotional stuff here either? She’s not just giving me options any more; she’s pushing me away.

And then she’s talking about her maternity leave, and how she’s going to have to separate, and she’s not going to be able to be the crisis person, and she’s not supposed to be the crisis person anyway, so there’s going to be have to be a line. She wants me to have someone else while she’s gone, she’s nervous about me taking a break from therapy.

I don’t understand why she’s talking about this when we only have an hour to figure out some kind of plan; if we don’t figure out what’s going to happen right now, today, then I won’t be alive while you’re on maternity leave, so it isn’t going to matter. There’s a rhythmic swooshing sound in my ears. I feel dizzy, fuzzy, far away; my head drops backwards sharply, suddenly too heavy to hold up, before I catch myself, pull myself back upright.

This is not the time for you to panic about boundaries, Nikki. You can panic later. Don’t do this to me right now. Please. Don’t do this today.

It’s not like she’s suddenly cold and distant. She spends two hours with me; when I completely shut down and we’re stuck in silence, she convinces me to come for a walk with her and buy some lunch. (She gets a salad, and I get the world’s grossest smoothie which turns out to have bee pollen in it. Bee pollen. Why?).

It’s still clear she cares about me, is still drawn to care for me.

(I feel like I should have come with you [to the psychiatrist] today. 

I don’t want you to sit for any more hours in that shitty hospital. I don’t want you to feel any more pain. This is so ridiculous to say, isn’t it? But just know. Just know. 

If I could do the maternal thing, and drive you there, and set it all up, and settle you in, tuck you up in a nice clinical bed with some lovely matronly staff, then I bloody would, but I can’t.)

But I’m a client and she’s my therapist, and All I can really say to you is come and see me on Tuesday. 

It’s a death blow. A hammer to my chest. I’m not going to make it until Tuesday.

I don’t want you to be going away from here today feeling like you’re completely alone and unsupported and lost, she says, but it’s exactly how I feel. I am alone. I’m going home, alone, and the only person who’s going to save me is me. That’s right, that’s the way it’s supposed to be, but it’s hard to reconcile that she’s going to leave me to die because she needs to move her car, and because tomorrow isn’t a work day. Three days ago she was driving me to the hospital; two days ago she was bringing me food and clothes. If she hadn’t, then being sent away now wouldn’t feel so bad. It would be normal, expected (though really, she should be calling the police, or an ambulance; at this level of risk, no therapist should just let me leave).

But I’ve had a taste of feeling like I matter. And being a client, with the expectation that I’m on my own until our next session, is crushing me.

I’m partway home when the obvious solution comes to me; I’ll fly home and stay with my brother, C. I’m safe with him.

It’s incredible, the shift. In the space of a second, I’m no longer at risk. I still feel terrible, but I have a way forward.

Half an hour after I leave, Nikki texts me, tells me she’ll call me after she’s spoken to Psychiatrist #11, okay? I don’t reply. I’ve shifted states completely, from vulnerable and desperate to completely self-contained. Nikki feels like a stranger, not so much intrusive as just irrelevant. I’m not trying to make her worry, but I don’t feel any connection to her, and I don’t care if she is worried, don’t feel any impulse to make sure she’s reassured. (There is anger under there; I hear it now.) Any way I respond will have layers of meaning, then Nikki’s reply will impact me, and I want to stay an island.

Twenty minutes later, she texts again, says she’s really concerned, she’ll have to call the crisis team unless I contact her within an hour and commit to staying safe until our next session on Tuesday. I don’t reply.

When the hour is up, she calls, to check in, she says in her voice message. I don’t pick up.

Three hours after that, she texts a third time, lets me know she only spoke with the psychiatrist briefly, that she wants me to catch up with a friend tonight, and she wants to touch base on Monday to make sure I’m okay; take care. I read it and I think: Why is she assuming that I’m still alive? 

Saturday morning she texts a final time to remind me to call the psychiatrist and make an appointment for Monday; she hopes my Saturday is going better than my Friday!!; talk on Monday. All I feel is aversion. No warmth knowing that she’s thinking of me. No urge to reply.

Tomorrow, she’s going to call, and I don’t know what I’m going to do.

I don’t want to ignore her, to sit with the discomfort of behaving against my values, and be stuck with knowing that we’ll have to mend a rift next time I see her.

I don’t want to talk to her. I want to protect myself from disruption; it’s too dangerous, I’m feeling more contained, and I can’t risk having feelings right now. I’m in a safe bubble, here with C, and I don’t want her touching it.

I don’t want to tell her I don’t want to talk to her, and have her respect that and back off. I think that might kill me.

Ideally, I want her to just stop existing for a week. Maybe two. She can exist again when I’m ready. But right now, I’m not.

I Really, Really Scared Myself

The Last Time?

That night in the hospital, I text Nikki at 2am; I want to be better or dead and I don’t care which one. I’m hooked into an IV drip inserted just above an infected burn on one arm, stitches in the other, my right foot streaked with yellow and purple from hitting it with a sledgehammer, and I’m throwing up everything I’ve ever eaten. I’m a fucking mess.

The next day, though, I realise I don’t mean it. Nikki comes to visit, and partway through the conversation, I roll my head back on the pillow, pressing my eyes closed.

I can’t believe I’m here again. 

This is the last time, she says, resolute, and it hits me like a lightning bolt. The last time? No. No! I have the urge to somehow clasp this experience to my chest, like a toddler with a favourite toy, and refuse to let her pry it away. The idea of never being in a blood-stained emergency room bed again is frightening. I hate the nausea, the urine samples, the doctors on rounds talking about me as though I’m sitting right there, and I need it. It’s routine. Familiar. I don’t really want to be dead, but maybe I don’t really want to be better, either.

The last couple of days have been like some kind of weird movie directed by Tim Burton where an attachment-disordered client’s dreams come to life. In very concrete, solid ways, Nikki has manifested all the care, support and concern that we want from our therapists. Met all of those primal needs. Touch. Food. Clothing. She’s been a mother.

When I call her and tell her I’m freaking out, she asks me if I want her to come over. I’m hesitant (isn’t that…weird?), but I know little Rea will never stop yelling at me if I pass up this opportunity to have her at home with me, so I decide yes, please can you come? And she does. She sits in my chair and she comments on the art on my walls and reads the titles on my bookshelf aloud to herself. It is incredibly uncomfortable and everything I’ve ever wanted, all at once.

She falls into the situation sideways, because she does home sessions as a part of her normal practice, and she can’t predict that I’ll panic and take an overdose, but it ends up being a pretty literal rescuer scenario.

(Have you done something?

A nod, eyes fixed on the bedspread. Fear coiled in my stomach. Dread.

What have you done? Gentle.

Silence.

Have you taken something?

A nod.

What have you taken?

Just Panadol. Quiet.

How many? Distress, but not surprise.

I only had 20.

That’s not ‘only’. You know that’s a lot. We need to go in.

I don’t want to. 

I know you don’t. You can die from that, and I won’t let that happen. There’s no chance. Firm. There might be tears in her eyes, but I only look up at her for a second, so I’m not sure.

I’m so fucking stupid. A whisper.

Oh, Rea. A beat. I’m glad you told me.

A long pause.

Don’t be mad at me. Little Rea, crying.

I’m not mad at you. Tender.

You should be. But I don’t want you to be.)

Instead of calling an ambulance, she takes me to her car, and drives me. She seems to be fighting herself at every stage; first she says she’ll walk me (it’s five minutes from my apartment), then she realises she needs to move her car and says she’ll drop me off. Then she’ll just park in the five-minute drop-off zone and get me checked in, then she says she’ll stay until eight and goes out to move her car into parking. At half past, when she finally tells me she has to go, she still seems hesitant.

I don’t want to leave you, she says, and I bite back I want you to stay.

I’m okay, I say instead.

Before she comes to my apartment, she calls the psychiatric hospital, and organises an appointment for me with the intake coordinator the next day at 12pm. She’ll pick me up from home at 11.30, she says.

(I can take myself.

You don’t have to.)

Even after the overdose, the drama, the inconvenience, she’s still planning to take me. She’ll pick me up from the hospital, but call her in the morning if anything changes, okay? It turns out, though, that the hospital refuses to discharge me in time because I have toxic levels of paracetamol in my blood, and she can’t drive me the following day [today] because it’s her day off and she’s caring for her son.

(If you really cared you’d get a babysitter, I think mutinously, then I’m horrified that the thought would even cross my mind. How did I become an entitled monster so quickly?)

She touches me to comfort me, to gently get my attention, and I soak it in.

(A couple of months ago I told her a story about my mother, and she said That reminds me of the time I tried to give you a hug, and the amount you repelled…it was like I’d burnt you, or given you an electric shock. You were practically up against the wall, like this, and she mimes flattening her arms out straight against the wall.)

When she arrives at my apartment, I’ve just finished hastily wiping up the blood from the bathroom floor, and I thrust the kitten at her to try to distract her from the bloody towel I’m pressing to my arm. It doesn’t work.

Is it time for a hug? she asks, sympathetic, and she’s already standing close, and I can’t even remember how it happens, but we’re hugging. It’s fuzzy now, but I think her cheek is pressed against mine. Eventually she draws back, because I’m never going to.

At the hospital in the waiting room, I slump against the wall half-conscious, and when she wants to talk to me, she puts a hand on my knee instead of saying my name. Both times she says goodbye, she puts a hand on my shoulder and squeezes gently. It’s another barrier down between us.

(I want her to hold my hand when the doctor’s poking around in my arm trying to find a vein, but I notice the still-tacky blood smeared across my palm and fingers, and I’m afraid she’ll be disgusted but feel obligated to do it anyway. So I don’t ask. But she doesn’t flinch at anything, not at my apartment when I reach for the kitten and accidentally drop the towel covering the fresh gashes –

Sorry.

Don’t be sorry. It’s not like I don’t already know this is what happens. 

– and not when the doctor peels back the covering over the open, infected third-degree burn on my forearm.)

The food is the thing that most strikes at the desperate orphan in me. When she comes to my apartment, she brings a tub of fruit salad and yoghurt, because she’s worried I haven’t been eating. Later, at the hospital, when my hands are on my stomach and I’m breathing through the nausea, she thinks it’ll get better if I eat and wants to go out and buy me something.

Having someone tend to physical needs is enormously meaningful for me, especially since my mother is so scornful of me for daring to eat. The next day, when she comes to visit for an hour with a bag of food, it isn’t even just the gesture of bringing sustenance that floods me with feeling; it’s the caretaking in the detail of it.

[This is what’s in the bag:

A salad with chicken on top, and a little plastic pig full of salad dressing: earlier in the day she texts to tell me she’s making me a salad, and asks whether I eat chicken.

A snap-lock bag full of Vita-Weat biscuits, and an equal number of roughly-sliced pieces of cheese wrapped in clingfilm, with a little jar of chutney to put on the cheese.

A tub full of grapes.

A pack of wet wipes, because I’d told her that I felt and smelled like a rotting animal.

A singlet of hers, to replace my bloodstained tshirt; it smells like her, and I immediately decide I’ll never wear it because I don’t want to have to wash it.]

That’s the kind of bag only a mom could pack for you. Right?

She asks whether my cats need to be fed, and mentions that she’d thought about going to my apartment and picking up my laptop for me; when I tell her that a friend has fed the kittens for me, she seems almost…disappointed? After she’s gone, when I try to organise payment for the hour she was with me, she absolutely refuses. It was my choice, she says.

Of course, there’s a major problem with the illusion that Nikki is my mother – it’s an illusion. And the bubble has to pop.

The psychiatrist comes over to tell me I’m being discharged, then adds And we’ve talked to your psychologist and told her that next time she has to call an ambulance, and being in your home wasn’t appropriate. 

[The psychiatrist doesn’t like me.]

I’m on fire while I walk home. When I step in the front door of my building, I think I should kill myself. I feel intensely distressed, chaotic, frightened, shamed. I feel like I did something terrible, that I trapped Nikki by overdosing even though I knew she was coming. You got Nikki in trouble, you stupid bitch. She’s going to hate you now. She’s going to wish she never helped you. 

I need to text Nikki to ask her about logistics for the possible private hospital admission, but I feel intensely guilty for contacting her, afraid that I’m coming off as needy, that she’ll see the messages and regret that she reached out to me, think Oh dear, she really is desperate, poor thing. I feel sure that the responses she texts back are as deliberately brief and uninvolved as possible, intended to put distance between us.

And I desperately need her. My brain is an oxytocin junkie. It wants more, and it’s not satisfied with little hits. A text message isn’t enough now that I’ve had a hug and a home visit and a little bag of biscuits and cheese slices. I want to talk to her on the phone, to hear her voice. I don’t want somebody else to drive me to the hospital; I want her, and I’m deliberately slow about making the arrangements, hoping that if the admission gets put off to tomorrow she’ll offer to take me. The night I’m in the hospital, I almost don’t contact Carol and ask her to come sit with me, because I’m afraid it’ll make Nikki think I don’t need her. I’ve never felt this needy. I’ve never had to pace and bite my fingernails to hold myself back from picking up my phone.

I imagine sending out an internal rescue mission for the old me, and it makes me smile, at least. You. Yes, you, the teenage part with the bad hairstyle. Go find me the part that hates talking on the phone and bring her back here, on the double. And somebody get rid of this whimpering child part! 

 

I’m aware that Nikki and I are playing out patterns that have existed for over a decade. I don’t know how, but somehow I make people want to mother me. Take care of me. Rescue me. And I don’t know why; why have I spent over ten years seeking out and soaking in love from maternal figures but resoundingly rejecting any care from my own?

There’s a lot to explore and to understand in this dynamic. But I don’t think Nikki will bring it up on her own, and I don’t want to. Talking about it will take it away, and I don’t want it to go away.

I have no idea how this is going to pan out. Nikki might panic at her level of involvement, terminate and run like hell. But whatever happens, I’m going to get through it.

The Last Time?

Breathing and Trying Not To Throw Up

I’m dying,” I tell myself.

No, you’re not,” I reply. “Stop being stupid.

Then I catch myself.

Why do you feel like you’re dying, honey?” I ask, the way Q and Rachel have taught me.

But there’s no answer.

I’ve been falling apart for days now. Since Sunday. I feel…weird. Like Rea has died, and I’m someone different altogether. I feel completely hysterical and completely calm all at once, and I couldn’t go to work if my life depended on it. (Which it does, sort of, at least the part that involves having a roof over my head and food in my fridge.)

Something is very wrong.

Yesterday was Monday. Yesterday Nikki texted to confirm that I definitely wanted to cancel my appointment today, which I did, even though I didn’t. (Money, money, it all comes back to money.) I told her yes, but could we move my Friday appointment to Wednesday, because I felt like I was decompensating?

Today is Tuesday. Today I’m sitting in the emergency department, covered in blood and trying not to throw up. Today I was stupid.

At midday, I called Nikki. “Can you call the private hospital and find out if they have any beds available?” I would have said. “I don’t know what’s wrong but something very bad is happening and I don’t feel like I’m going to hurt myself but I’ve never felt like this before and I think I need to do something.” That’s what I would have said, only she didn’t pick up.

That was okay. I knew she would call back. Instead, I took some deep breaths. I opened the blinds. I lit a candle. I went for a walk and bought some flowers. I took some more deep breaths. It’s okay, just breathe, you’re okay. 

She called back, and everything went wrong. I fucked up. I asked her to call the hospital, and to come over and do a session, but I panicked and I couldn’t breathe and instead of waiting for her to come, and going to the hospital, I took an overdose, and I cut my arm, very deep.

Nikki was in my house. Nikki isn’t supposed to be in my house.

And then she took me to the hospital, in her car. I’m not supposed to be in her car. And she stayed, and she got paper towel to mop up the blood that was running out through the bandages, and she gave me chocolate, and a hug, but then she left when the doctor took me me to get stitches, after he’d decided that probably I hadn’t cut any arteries. And I wanted to cry, and ask her not to leave me, but I don’t do that, so instead I said I don’t want to get stitches, but she left anyway.

I messaged Carol and asked her to come, but she has a full and rowdy household tonight.

So now I’m sitting, breathing and trying not to throw up.

I don’t know what’s wrong with me.

Breathing and Trying Not To Throw Up

She Forgot Me

I felt totally humiliated today. It was like one of those dreams where you show up to school with no pants on, except this time it was showing up for a session and finding your therapist wasn’t there and wasn’t expecting you, and it wasn’t a dream.

A couple of weeks before Christmas, I told Nikki I was thinking of taking three weeks off therapy. I desperately needed to save some money, but mostly I just wanted a break from the constant triggers. After thinking about it for a while, I decided that that wasn’t a good idea, that it would just be perpetuating my avoidance and reinforcing my “therapy sucks” attitude, neither of which promote healing. But after our crappy session in the park, when we were back in the reception area with clients and other staff milling around, she asked me whether she should cancel three weeks of our regular sessions, and I felt so intensely aversive to telling her that I was coming back that I shrugged.

I don’t care. Whatever.”

And I walked out.

An hour or so later, she texted to thank me for the Christmas card and to wish me a Merry Christmas. I’d had enough space to calm down, and I texted back “See you on the 3rd!

Today I arrived right on the dot of 6pm, and buzzed the intercom. When somebody picked up and asked “Who is this?“, I panicked and froze. I must have pressed the wrong buzzer; the consulting rooms always just buzz you in immediately. I couldn’t think of anything to say, so I just waited for a moment, my head going fuzzy, then pressed it again.

This time, one of the psychiatrists who works at the rooms came to the door and opened it.

Who are you here to see?

Um…Nikki,” I said, awkwardly stepping around him while he stood halfway blocking the entrance.

There’s nobody here,” he told me. “I just turned off all the lights.

It was like I’d just run straight into a brick wall. This sudden, shocking wave of shame and humiliation just rose up and smacked me in the face. I wanted to crawl into a hole and die. I felt like this pathetic, unwanted, pitiable thing.

Before I could excuse myself and run away, he was dialing Nikki, and telling her there was a client there to see her. I heard her voice on the other end of the line, indistinct, then he covered the mouthpiece and asked “What’s your name?

Oh my god. Oh my god. I’ve seen her at 6pm on Tuesday every week for the last 7 months, and she had to ask who I was. Oh my god.

While I was still trying to figure out how to extricate myself from the situation and go somewhere quiet where I could tear myself apart, the psychiatrist finished his conversation with Nikki and told me she’d be there in 10 minutes. I sat down to wait, cursing myself. The day before, I’d wanted to text her to confirm my appointment, worried that this exact thing would happen, but I refused to let myself. Stop trying to control every little aspect of the process, I told myself. You told Nikki you’d see her on the 3rd, so just trust that she’ll be there.

Ha. Well, that was stupid.

She arrived breathless and panting, dressed in cut-off denim shorts, and excused herself to change. By the time we finally sat down, 20 minutes of the session were gone.

I thought we’d agreed that you’d contact me if you wanted to keep your sessions?” she said.

I did. I texted you and told you I’d see you on the 3rd.

She pulled out her phone to check, then winced. “I’m so sorry,” she said. “It’s lucky I only live 10 minutes away!

Apparently she cancelled all my sessions for the three weeks. Even if she’d forgotten the text message, I never actually said I wasn’t coming. I don’t blame her (she obviously assumed I was going to decide in favour of a break, and no point screwing herself out of possible income), but it hurt, that she wasn’t holding that space for me. It feels unbearable that she’s booking them back in, like I’m crawling back to her begging.

So; the session sucked. I could talk to her lightly, like telling the story of the time I ran stark naked down the hallway because there was a daddy long-legs spider in my shower, but I couldn’t share anything important. I can’t recover that quickly yet, and I didn’t have the sense of safety that I need to open up about anything – not only because she hadn’t been there, but because there was so little time left.

We came close to something difficult when she asked about my foster brother, but I said hesitantly “…I don’t know if I want to talk about that today,” and she dropped it immediately and moved on. I needed to be coaxed today, reassured that she really wanted to hear what was going on for me, but she probably felt it was important not to push me.

I’m trying to balance my humiliation with what it probably felt like for Nikki, to be called by a colleague and told she’d forgotten a client, and then to have to face that client completely unprepared. I’m trying to remind myself that I don’t have to hurt myself to express my feelings.

And at least for tonight, I haven’t self-harmed.

She Forgot Me

Good and Bad, Stirred In Together

Since the rupture and the failed apology, Nikki has been gentle with me. There have been a lot of silences in sessions, and I resisted a lot of her questions with simple one-word answers, but it didn’t provoke her into seeming frustrated or defensive. Session after session, she’s been able to reflect that I’m feeling wary, and that it’s really hard to come to sessions when I don’t trust her to validate my experience.

I think the extent of the disconnect between us really hit home when she found that I’d been to see a new psychiatrist twice but was too afraid of invalidation to even mention it to her. She seemed almost…sorrowful. Not in a self-pitying or melodramatic way, but just genuinely sad to realise that hard stuff was happening and I’d been really struggling, and coping on my own because I didn’t feel like I could talk to her about it. She’s been emphasising over and over that she wants to listen to me, that she really wants to understand how I’m feeling, and when she says “Talk to me?” my heart flutters with a timid kind of hope. I’ve felt much more connected to her. The day I took Lily back to the animal shelter, I wanted to talk to her, so I called her. I wanted to reach out, so I just called, for the first time – without texting first to check it was okay, or being excessively boundaried or weird about it.

Some things have been clumps of good and bad, all stirred in together. She’s so eager to be validating that she sometimes talks over me, or over-empathises to the extent that it comes across as false and ridiculous (no, actually, misplacing my $10 sunglasses was not “gutting“). One day when she was really encouraging me to open up about something that worried me about going home for Christmas, and give her a chance to start earning back some trust, I looked at the clock, and told her “I don’t think I can explain it in five minutes“. I never did manage to share it, but she let me stay an extra 20 minutes in the hope that I would; it touches me, that she really is making an effort, and it concerns me, that she just can’t or doesn’t hold boundaries even when it isn’t a crisis.

In the last week before Christmas, I was in a pretty hopeless space, with the I wish I was dead mantra playing in my head, and I didn’t have any words for what I was feeling. She got out pencils and our art pads, and encouraged me to draw it instead, but I couldn’t figure out how. The image that kept coming up was a memory of being fourteen years old, sitting on the floor of the family bathroom, cutting myself and crying, repeating “I don’t want to do this any more“. I picked a red pencil, but then just held it, rubbing my fingernail over it repetitively, trying to self-soothe, I suppose. After 10 minutes or so of silence, Nikki looked up at me from her seat on the floor, and held out her hand for it.

I don’t like you having the red one,” she said softly. “Too many connotations.

And that’s lovely. It’s so caring – she cares about me. Is it helpful, though, to have a therapist who expresses discomfort with the thought of me self-harming? Who wants to take back the colour I chose as the most authentic expression of my emotion in the moment, instead of trying to explore it with me?

(Am I focusing way too much into a caring gesture that didn’t cause me any actual distress or inhibition?)

She called me the next day to check in, and I cried on the phone. I didn’t even put it on mute so that she couldn’t hear. I felt very young and sad, and she felt safe. When I mentioned that I’d fainted earlier in the day but hadn’t told any of my colleagues and had stayed at the office until 6pm, she scolded “Reanna!“, then let out a surprised laugh. “Oh god, that was mummy…mummy-ish…using your full name when you’re in trouble.

I get a goofy little grin on my face whenever I think of it. I soak up every bit of affection I can, but the times when she’s openly and reflexively maternal are my favourite. It’s a surprise, given where we started. Back when we first started working together, she would talk about how we’re both adults in an adult relationship, and cautioned that we wanted to avoid getting into a parent-child dynamic, and I felt miserable, because I don’t feel like an adult most of the time. Hell, most of the time I don’t feel like I’m old enough to cross the street by myself, and an “adult relationship” seemed to signal a lack of affection and nurturing that I was (and am) desperate for.

I don’t know what’s changed, or if anything has changed. Maybe if she stopped and reflected, she’d be horrified that she’s admitted to having maternal feelings for me and she’d lock it down. Maybe as our relationship has evolved she’s felt comfortable working in a different way to how she usually does. And that gives me hope, because maybe if she was able to change in that way, she’ll also be able to shift away from the ‘positive psychology’ stuff, and be better at hearing and validating me.

On December 23, two days later, it all went downhill.

Neither of us did anything terribly egregious; we just weren’t attuned. Or actually, I think I attuned to her mood, and that meant I didn’t talk about the things that I needed to, and I ended up feeling alone and abandoned.

I think the first mistake was deciding to go for a walk in the park, instead of having a normal session in her office. The sun was shining, and Nikki was cheerful, and we strolled along casually chatting about her new sunglasses not quite fitting properly, and the reports she’s been procrastinating writing – it felt like a conversation between friends, and at one point she commented “I think this counselling is going in the wrong direction!“. I’d been deeply suicidal the night before, and expecting the kind of warm, attuned care we’d had on the phone two days earlier, but I quickly formed the impression that she was looking to keep things light, and so I didn’t bring it up. It felt so incongruous with the setting and the tone that it didn’t feel like I was allowed to talk about it.

For most of the first half of the session, we spoke about somebody I consider a second mother, who has been closely involved in my life since the day I was born. Her husband, who has always been there forever, is dying of MND, and I’m helping them with something deeply emotional and important, but this was the first time I’d ever mentioned them to Nikki.

With good intentions, Nikki commented that she’s making bad decisions that make her role as a carer harder and increase the pressure on my family, who are helping to care for him. By the end of the conversation, I was feeling really defensive of her, and was visualising standing between her and Nikki, physically pushing Nikki away. I knew that fundamentally, Nikki was expressing concern about her wellbeing, but in doing so she was criticising her. I’m very protective and very loyal, and there was no chance I was going to “side” with Nikki.

The enemy of my friend is my enemy, and so she became unsafe. I completely shut down, and refused to talk to her. It wasn’t completely out of petulance – I did think about explaining what was happening, but I was also aware that she hadn’t really said anything inappropriate and that my feelings of defensiveness would pass. I was afraid that if I was honest and we talked about it, she’d say something awful that would actually upset me, and we’d be left with a huge rupture right before Christmas.

So I shut up, but she didn’t. She tried to draw me out with the two hardest topics (her pregnancy, and the psychiatrist), which seemed colossally idiotic to me, then pushed me to “at least have a witter” with her, because “come on, it’s Christmas” (fuck off: I’m not here to entertain you). I stayed silent all the way back to the office, gave her a Christmas card (with an effort of will), wished her a merry Christmas, and left. The next day, Christmas Eve, I was flying home.

For a few hours, I felt like there was no way I could hold the discomfort until I next saw her, and that Christmas was going to be ruined because the distress I was feeling would block out any possibility of joy. I was completely wrong, of course. I was happy to be home with my family, and when I’m happy my heart opens, and I didn’t feel any aversion to her any more.

Maybe all of this is completely beside the point. If my connection with Nikki is solid and positive, I feel like therapy is going well, but that’s total nonsense. That might be true of tea and sympathy, but I need more than that. A solid connection is a prerequisite to good therapy, but it’s not enough by itself.

For right now, in this moment, though: it’s enough.

Good and Bad, Stirred In Together

I Am Not A Forgiving Person

Nikki apologised, and nothing is better.

I wanted her to throw herself on the ground and grovel, I think. Failing that, I wanted her to be solidly, repeatedly sorry in a self-reflective way. I wanted a meā culpā. Not much to ask, right?

That’s not what I got. I got “I am sorry that I didn’t validate your experience“, in a tone that might have been emphatic or might have been defensive. I got “I mean, I thought I apologised when we spoke about it last time, but obviously it didn’t come across” and “I can see I didn’t pick up on the distress and it’s important I do that“.

On the surface, that seems fine, and it was, I guess. But it left me hollow. It was too detached, I think. Too therapist-y. I mean, she didn’t even attribute the distress to me: it was just ‘the distress‘, like it was floating out in space somewhere.

I can see now that you were really distressed and I didn’t pick up on that, even though I should have – I’m really sorry.

That’s what I wanted.

Then it was “Can we take it as a real positive that you felt you could tell me that? [i.e. share the letter]“. Like it was showing how solid and trusting our relationship is, instead of showing that I’d lost most of my faith in her, and was open to the idea of terminating therapy with her.

What probably upsets me the most, in hindsight, is when she was launching into explaining her ‘agenda’ for the last session, and she commented as a disclaimer “This doesn’t undermine the fact that I didn’t validate the emotion in what you said, and I’ve apologised for that”.

It just sounded so begrudging. That’s not quite the right word, but…it was like, ‘I’ve apologised once, that part of the conversation is closed, we’re moving on to something else now”. 

Why not “This doesn’t undermine the fact that I didn’t respond in a helpful way, and I’m sorry for that – I really am. The agenda underlying some of the things I said last session was…“?  Are genuine, non-defensive apologies usually rationed so strictly?

I can’t help comparing it to the apology my last therapist Anna gave me, when we had a rift earlier this year. It’s been firmly established that Anna was not a great therapist, and I know that comparing only ever ends in tears, but I can’t help it. Anna was present and genuine, and her apology didn’t give me those prickles of frustration in my chest. Nikki’s did.

She was a bit defensive of her good intentions to start with, but to her credit, she stuck with me, encouraging me to keep trying:

“It’s really important to tell me how you feel. I’m listening to it and I’m taking it on board, and I’m learning in my really slow way about it. I’m still not getting it though, I can feel it – I’m still not getting exactly what you’re saying to me, and I need to get it. I want to get it right.”

It took some time, but we got to a place where it felt okay – she told me openly that she’d offered so much because she’d really wanted me to know how much she wanted to support me and be there for me, but that she knew she’d made a mistake and put me at risk, and she was able to reflect on our last session and recognise that she’d been feeling guilty about not being able to follow through on the crisis plan and she’d overcompensated by telling me about the limits over and over again. And then she said, with tears in her eyes:

“It’s hard to stuff up, because I know how hard it is for you. I don’t want to hurt you more. But if I do, I want to do my best not to stuff up again. Having you calling me on it is a good thing.”

The thing is, my unrelenting standards and hyper-criticalness don’t just apply to myself – they apply to other people too. I’m picking apart everything Nikki said, and I’m filtering it through a critical lens. If I felt positive about what she said, I could probably package the exact same words and sell them to you in a way that made her sound like the most enlightened therapist in the world.

It just still hurts. I’m mad at her because I don’t want to be mad at her, and she didn’t say the perfect thing that would make us okay again. I can’t believe it’s been over two weeks and I’m still crying about this – but I am.

I don’t know what the learning opportunity I’m supposed to be taking from this is. To learn to accept that things won’t always be exactly the way I want them, and to let it go and move forward anyway? Or to learn to let go of relationships that hurt me more than they help me, and move on without them?

I Am Not A Forgiving Person