Scared. Trying.

So, I’m in a residential program. I’ve been here for two weeks, and people keep asking me “Is it helping? Are you making progress?”.

I have no idea how to answer that. How do you measure two weeks of progress after sixteen years of severe mental illness? I feel like what they’re asking is “Can you hurry up and get better? Are you fixed yet? Are you trying hard enough? Can you just be normal now, please?

I was terrified to come in here, and now I’m terrified to leave. I’m afraid I’m not ready and I’m going to crash out of control again, and I’m afraid I won’t crash. My life has been chaos and pain for as long as I can remember, and it’s overwhelming and awful, but it’s also comforting, because at least it’s familiar.

I have two more weeks in the program. So far the days have been split into two different types:

Child screaming

Image result for screaming toddler gif

I keep finding myself using coping skills that you guys have taught me. I’m painting and collaging and scribbling the frenzy inside me onto the page. I’m doing puzzles, going to the gym, reading textbooks. I’m using my non-dominant hand to clumsily scrawl my feelings and fears, and then I’m scrunching up the paper and throwing it across the room.

And when I’m sitting in the bottom of the shower sobbing, I don’t try to stop myself. I just let myself cry.

It makes me feel like I have you guys with me, in a way. I’m so grateful for all of you and everything I’ve learnt from you. You’re helping me save my own life.

Scared. Trying.

She Didn’t Reach Out (So I Did)

It’s 10.30PM. The hospital is quiet – for once, nobody is screaming. I’m stuck here overnight, even though I tried to persuade four different nurses that I’m fine to go home. (If they’d agreed to release me, I would have felt disposable and devastated.)

I felt very small while they were prepping me this morning. It’s hard to be confident and self-assured with five people crowded around your bed in a small room, one inserting a canula, another taking your arms out of the gown while trying to keep your breasts covered, with a third sticking heart rate monitors on your collarbone while the registrar explains the procedure and shows you where to sign. Even though I was familiar with the process, I felt kind of lost, and like I’d surrendered – no matter what they wanted to do, I would have obediently lifted a limb or rolled to the side or followed whatever instructions they gave. That isn’t me, and I don’t like it when the compliant child parts are running the show.

I’m sad that I didn’t feel scared, or even nervous. I did the first time, and the second, but skin grafts are just old hat now.

My heart rate dropped during the surgery, and it stayed low after I woke, so I was groggy and out of it for hours. When they called the anesthetist back to check on me in the ward and she asked me if I knew where I was, I had to really think about it.

The visitor’s chairs have been empty all day. I decided not to tell anybody what was happening. While I drifted in and out of wakefulness, I surreptitiously imagined Nikki walking in the door, bringing me fruit salad, offering to drive me home, holding on to my arm while I struggled up the stairs to my apartment. Mostly I knew it wasn’t going to happen, but I still hoped.

I came out of the recovery room at 10.30am, but I didn’t get my bag with my phone until 4pm. I turned it on, hoping, hoping….but she hadn’t texted.

The monitors by the bed started beeping, alarmed by my blood pressure. It felt like something was squeezing my heart. When I had this operation last year and I’d only been seeing her for a few months, she still texted to check on me. When I was last in hospital, she came to sit with me. But this time I had to grow up and deal with it on my own. This time she was just my therapist, nothing more, and there were boundaries and I’d see her in her office on Tuesday and that was that.

I know she’s supposed to encourage me to reach out for support from my other relationships, and that being there for support unsolicited isn’t really therapeutic. She’s all over the fucking place and there’s counter-transference and frustration and god knows what she’s feeling towards me right now but I don’t doubt that in general, she does care. It’s not the end of the world. It’s fine.

But I wanted her here.

For half an hour, I debated whether or not to text and ask if we could talk for five minutes.

She’s going to think you’re needy and dependant and she’s going to regret the times she’s supported you and she’s going to pity you. Don’t be pathetic. You made the choice not to ask anyone to come be with you, and you have to deal with the consequences of that. It’s not appropriate to go whinging to Nikki when you brought this on yourself. 

You’re running out of chances to have the experience of reaching out. She’s leaving in a month, could be less if the baby comes early. Just this once, don’t be so rigid about living up to your own exacting standards. If you don’t reach out, you’ll regret it later.

So I texted, and she called, and we talked for fifteen minutes. I told her about the two opposing sides at war in my head: the one that is so angry and shaming me for not hurting myself badly enough, for being stupid enough to bother getting the operation when the injury is nothing, so minor that they’re willing to send me home tomorrow, that wants me to hurt myself again but properly this time; and the one that’s so sad and just doesn’t understand how I can be expected to go on with life like normal and get back to work tomorrow when something so major has happened.

Talking to Nikki didn’t help. It didn’t make me stop aching for a hug. But that wasn’t really the point. The point was to believe that I matter enough to reach out, and to push past the shame of being needy and do it anyway. Even though right now I kind of wish I didn’t, I’m glad I did.

This sucks, guys. I wish someone was here to tuck me into bed.

She Didn’t Reach Out (So I Did)

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?

Part I: Back in the Hospital, and the Mamas Find Out

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.

Well, fuck.

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?”

Yes.”

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.

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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.

Part I: Back in the Hospital, and the Mamas Find Out