Mommy Transference at Work

It’s been almost two months since Nikki left. At first, I missed her intensely, thought about her constantly, was counting the hours and minutes and seconds until she’d be back, but I was stable. No self-harm, no suicidal ideation.

Then I crashed. Like a piano falling out a twenty-storey window. It was loud and dramatic and I ended up in pieces at the bottom. Without Nikki around to catch me and protect me and parent me, I glommed onto the first mother figures I could find, and I can’t make myself let go.

Unfortunately, those mother figures are my managers at work.

***

There’s Carol. Frighteningly competent, matter-of-fact but with a sharp sense of humour. Two teenage children, boys – she invited me to go camping with her family last year. I’m completely in awe of her, and I so badly want her to think well of me that I get tongue-tied whenever I talk to her. She’s the human resources manager, and she’s told me I’m precious, beautiful, intelligent, hard-working and good, but she was also the one who sat me down and told me I was coming across as arrogant and my colleagues were complaining about me.

There’s Sam. Only been with the organisation about a year, and I feel less intimidated by her. Has a teenage son with major mental illness, and is fascinated by brain plasticity and optimistic about healing. The level of detail I’ve shared about my issues is way out of proportion to the depth of our relationship. Over the last fortnight, she’s started calling me “dearest“, and “hon“.

And Kim. The manager of the internship program, the one who’s known me and believed in me since I was an undergrad law student with no work experience. Her brother killed himself in front of her – this stuff is re-traumatising for her, but she still sticks around. Calls me “love“, “bubba“, “my angel“. The first time I had surgery and she was visiting me in hospital, she said “I wouldn’t let one of my kids go home in this state, so why would I let you?“. Later, when she said she had too much on her plate and she could be my friend but she couldn’t be my mother, I was humiliated at the implication that I was expecting too much from her, and crushed.

***

It started with the overdose.

I’d been in a downward spiral for days. Not going to work, not even getting out of bed. I couldn’t make myself do anything, and that made me anxious, and that made me even less able to do anything. So, I texted Kim, and asked if she could pick me up on her way to work the next morning. That way I’d have to get up. Inconveniencing Kim by not showing up on time and making her late would be even more anxiety-provoking than getting up and going to work.

Except I impulsively decided to take thirty times my normal dose of anti-psychotic, (knowing it wouldn’t be fatal), and I did not show up on time. I slept through all fourteen of my alarms. And they panicked.

When I woke up, I had missed call after missed call, and a bunch of texts. The last one was from Sam, and it said I had half an hour to get in touch before they called the police.

Fuck, fuck, fuck.

I felt so stupid. Why was I so fucking useless I couldn’t take myself to work? Why was I so fucking useless I couldn’t get out of bed on time? Why was I so fucking worthless? I called Sam and told her I was fine and I was about to start work on a report, but I felt so young and guilty I couldn’t put up my normal professional front, and I was slurring my words, and she worked out something was wrong.

It didn’t take much convincing for me to tell her how many pills I’d taken. I wanted to give her a better reason for scaring them than just I’m a useless cunt and I slept in.  I felt about four years old, and she was talking to me in the kind of tone you use with very young children.

Can you unlock your door? I’m sending someone around to check on you.

I heard Carol’s voice in the background, muffled, and then Sam came back on the line.

Rea, have you cut yourself at all?

Nooo.” I was disappointed with myself – I wished I could say yes.

Carol’s voice in the background again, then another question from Sam.

Have you done anything else at all?

It was one of those crazy frustrating moments where I just wanted to shake myself and yell at myself to snap out of it. Rationally I knew that I hadn’t, completely 100% knew, but the part that was running the show genuinely felt unsure.

Don’t think so.

You don’t think so?” A pause. “Can you have a check and see?

I thought for a second. “I’m fine.”

You’re fine,” she repeated in a cooing, baby-talk tone, presumably to pass my answer on to Carol. “What about your arm? Is your arm okay?

Yep.”

Yep. What about your legs, are your legs okay?

 

She kept running through and confirming different body parts, and part of me was going I’m a 26 year old woman with a law degree what the fuck is happening, and the rest of me wanted to be babied even while I found it ridiculous and embarrassing.

What about your neck? Is your neck okay?

While the rational part of me was saying internally ‘Yes, of course it is, it’s fine‘, I was standing in front of the mirror, examining it, leaning in close to check. Then the intercom rang.

Do you know what that noise is? That’s your door.”

Fuck. Fuck, fuck, no. I put her on mute, and started taking pills as fast as I could swallow them. The same thing I always do when help is on the way – make sure I’m really fucked up enough to need it. Things had gotten so out of control so fast, and this was the only thing I could control.

Rea? Rea? You have to let them in, hon. You need to let them in. Go and push the button for the intercom.”

“Rea? Rea? Rea?”

“Rea, it’ll be okay, just go push the buzzer and let them in.

I could hear Carol telling the police that I wasn’t responding, but I didn’t know what to do. My mind was running frantically, trying to come up with a way to undo it all. To go back to 8am and get in the car with Kim and drive to work and listen to her nag me about whether I’d eaten breakfast.

I’m fine, Sam,” was all I could come up with.

I could hear her brain working, trying to come up with a new angle to convince me. “Well, just let them in so they can see that you’re okay, and then it’ll all be okay. But if you don’t let them in then we don’t know you’re okay.”

I caved, but it didn’t matter – they’d gotten into the building anyway, and they were on their way up.

I’m going to stay on the phone, okay? Will you leave me on the phone so I can be here if you need me?

The whole conversation makes me cringe, and I want to block it out and hold it close, both at the same time. But that part – that part makes me feel warm. She wanted to stay with me.

***

That afternoon was beyond awful. The police called the paramedics, and they decided not to schedule me, and I was pitifully relieved. But the sedative effect of the pills took all control away from me.

I had a psychiatrist appointment in the city, and I woke up five minutes before it started. Getting up and walking downstairs was a struggle, and I kept gagging in the back of the Uber. By the time I walked into the building, I was staggering like I was drunk, and I crashed into the wall and then collapsed on the floor. I couldn’t get up. My face felt hot and my arms were tingling and I thought I was really going to die.

This is rock bottom, I thought. Oh my god.

Lawyers from the chambers in that building were walking past and stepping over me, but there was nothing I could do. I couldn’t sit up, I couldn’t keep my mouth closed, and I couldn’t think of anybody I could call. I just had to lie there.

After fifteen minutes or so, I managed to stagger the four steps into the lift, and once I reached the fourth floor, I stepped out and collapsed again, so close to my psychiatrist’s door I could have reached out and touched it. It was another ten minutes before I could get up again.

***

I didn’t go in to the office the next day, but I talked to Sam on the phone. She tells me she feels closer to me, and she feels like she got to talk to the real Rea for the first time.

I don’t want to dump this stuff on you, though.”

There was a moment on the phone where I just got this gut feeling that you’d gone – I thought you’d slipped away, and the way that felt…” She trailed off.  “Anything is better than that. I’d do anything to prevent that.”

***

Things kept getting worse.

It’s heartbreaking for me to see you like this,” Kim says, while I’m lying on the couch in the Story Room at work, unable to get up and sit at my desk.

We’re deeply worried about you,” Carol says, after pulling me into a private office to ask me why I have steri-strips holding together a cut on my face.

Everest isn’t the only one who loves you,” Sam says, holding me while I sob and tell her she has to keep Everest if I die.

One night, when there’s nobody else around, I take out the rope I bought specifically for this purpose, climb up onto a wobbly desk chair that’s missing a wheel, and hang myself from a bracket in the wall. The rope leaves friction burns on my neck, and even though I cover them with concealer the next day, people notice.

***

A couple of days ago, Carol and Sam left for a week-long visit to one of our remote program sites, and the childish intensity of my feelings was terrifying – I had to literally bite into my tongue to stop myself saying “I don’t want you to go“. When I found Sam had rushed to the airport without coming to say goodbye to me, I was crushed.

But I wanted her to check on me, the little parts whimpered. I wanted a hug goodbye. 

Yesterday morning I had to text them both to tell them I’d be working from home – that’s the deal. If I don’t show up and they haven’t heard from me, they call the crisis team.

Are you okay? Is there a particular reason for working at home today?” Carol texted back.

This is where I fucked up. I could have kept a balance between honesty and boundaries, and told her I wasn’t feeling great but I was able to work as long as I could stay in bed. But those baby parts have no fucking boundaries. They hurt, and they need mommy to know that they hurt.

Nope, not okay. Mostly working from home because I can’t get up, but also am not safe being in the office atm. I am being productive and have talked to [boss] about priorities for today and tomorrow.”

Reading that makes me want to kick myself in the face. I hadn’t told anyone about hanging myself in the office and the massive triggers I was facing there and I desperately needed someone to hear that things were really not okay, but I knew that sending that message was just feeding an unhealthy dynamic. I knew, and I sent it anyway, because I so desperately needed to not be alone.

She called me immediately, and tried to convince me to go to the emergency room. I didn’t want to, so she gave us both half an hour to think, and then she and Sam called me back on speaker, and spent twenty minutes coaxing me into a safety plan for the rest of the day. We agreed I’d work for an hour, then I’d go out for a walk, and I’d text Carol a photo so she knew I’d got up.

Okay, so that’s the plan – you do that, and then we’ll talk again later this afternoon, okay?

You really don’t have to do that.

Yeah, I know, but we want to do that,” Sam said firmly, and Carol chimed in over the top of her.

Yes, we want to.” And I felt held, and a little more stable. I showered, and I went out. I texted Carol a photo of the McDonalds sign [“This is what you meant when you said to go outside, right?“], and sent Sam a couple of photos of the kittens.

They didn’t call.

***

I cried on my bathroom floor for hours last night. I thought about taking myself to hospital, but the thought of going alone…I didn’t want to do it. I wanted Carol or Sam to take me. I thought about texting Kim, but it was late, and I was afraid she’d say no. Or say yes, even though she didn’t want to. A couple of weeks ago, on a really bad day, she’d offered to take me to the hospital, but made it clear that she’d just drop me off, she couldn’t stay – she had to work on a scholarship application with her daughter that night. And it stung. She’s not my mother, and her daughter comes first. But it stung.

I feel very alone. I know there are millions of people in the world who feel the same way I do. Who’ve hurt themselves the way I have, and worse. But in my therapy groups, in my friends who self-harm, I’ve never connected with anyone who understands what it’s like to spend hours breaking your own wrist. To burn yourself badly enough to need surgery. To smash your head against the wall hundreds of times until you’re bleeding from your eyes. To have done two of those things while you were still a child. I’ve hurt myself so, so much. It feels like too much.

I climbed into bed with Everest, and she curled into me with her head on my chest. I kissed her nose, and told her I loved her so much, and that everyone knew how much I loved her, and they’d make sure she was okay.

And then I took an overdose of Panadol.

(Which I almost immediately threw up. I’ve taken so many overdoses my body anticipates the nausea before it even comes. I can still feel the chalky taste of the pills in my mouth.)

***

There was no way I was going to the office this morning, but I didn’t want to tell Sam and Carol that. I wanted to be petulant and sulk. I’m not your friend any more. Making them chase me, though – no. I was grouchy with them, but I didn’t want them to be grouchy with me. So I sent a short text: “Staying home today“.

An hour or so later, Sam called me to check in, in a casual ‘I’m assuming everything is okay’ kind of way, and we chatted amiably for a couple of minutes. Until I threw another.fucking.dramabomb.

Is there anything you need from me before I go?” she asks.

It would be good if you or Carol could refer me to the crisis team,” I say off-handedly, and she’s startled.

What’s happened?

It doesn’t matter.

It does, it does! Okay. You’re very – well done, okay? Have you taken something?

 

We go back and forth – I’m cagey, trying not to over-share, and she’s insistent that I tell her what’s going on.

Don’t be shame with me,” she says firmly. The way Aboriginal people speak about shame really resonates with me – it’s not something I feel, it’s something I am. Every piece of me is consumed with it, wants to disappear into myself, hide. I’m so mad at myself for being so high maintenance. I’m not worth it; I’m a waste of space; they should just fire me for causing so many issues.

I tell her. Carol calls the crisis team multiple times, and they refuse to get involved.

***

I don’t know how to make myself stop.fucking.disclosing.everything. I have to have better boundaries, but it’s so hard to put that cat back in the bag. Especially when they’re actively encouraging me to reach out to them. I’ve made some feeble attempts to be more professional and take a step back, but:

I don’t want to keep holding you guys up. I know you’ve got lots of stuff you need to be doing.”

You’re not holding us up. I don’t want you to feel like that. We want to make sure that you’re safe. That’s the priority – us supporting you as best we can.”

How can I not crumble?

Mommy Transference at Work

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)

Here We Go Again

I cancelled my next two appointments with Nikki. Every time I imagined going back into that room and sitting down with her, the conversation in my head went something like this:

[“Can you tell me why you were so upset with me last session?”

“Because you were being a cunt.”]

It was the kind of uncontrollable rage that I used to feel as a teenager, (and as a child, I guess), when I used to throw things and hit and slash at people with words because I felt so angry I couldn’t contain it. I don’t know how to explain how big and uncontrollable it feels. And I get even more irrationally angry at everyone else going about their lives and making cups of tea in the staff kitchen and chatting over their cubicles because why are they being so calm and normal when everything is imploding why aren’t they angry and spinning out and losing control too? 

It wasn’t because Nikki said a few thoughtless things at a particularly volatile time. I was (am) so, so angry because she isn’t the right therapist for me, and I so badly want her to be. I want her to suddenly be attuned and appropriate and helpful so that I don’t have to say goodbye to her.

She isn’t, though. She isn’t ever going to get it. She cares and she means well, but she isn’t equipped to work with me.

[I know that working through anger is an important part of therapy, but I felt sure that going in angry would just make her defensive, and the situation would deteriorate beyond my ability to handle it, so I cancelled my Friday and Tuesday appointments – it felt like a wise mind decision, not avoidance. By Tuesday, though, I was starting to calm down enough that I thought I would be able to keep my next appointment on Friday.

Then on Tuesday afternoon, her office called and left a voicemail.

“If you want to keep your appointment with Nikki on Friday then you’ll have to see your GP for a review before then. If you don’t have time to arrange it before Friday then let us know and we can reschedule your appointment.”

The anger imploded again. What. the. fuck. It’s a normal part of our healthcare system that you have to see your GP for a review after six sessions (which I hadn’t actually had yet – Nikki counted wrong) but why were they telling me this with two days notice? It takes at least a week to get an appointment with a GP.

And again, it wasn’t really about this incident. It was about all the times she’s forgotten to book my sessions, or forgotten to show up for the session, or told me she has to leave on time and then changed her mind, or told me she’s taking two months maternity leave and then changing it to four or maybe five. She’s not stable and consistent, and I can’t do this with someone who isn’t stable and consistent, but she doesn’t even seem to realise how hopelessly scattered she is. And I’m angry, because I care so much. I want her to be my therapist, but she can’t be.

I sat on it for a few hours, then sent her a text: Why am I getting a call on Tuesday afternoon to tell me I have to see my GP before Friday if I want to keep my appointment? I felt like I couldn’t calm the anger down enough to go back there until she’d acknowledged it was a fuck up and apologised.

She didn’t respond. She’s never, ever not responded before.

I went back anyway. This is how she addressed it in session:

“Sorry I didn’t have time to answer your text. It sounded like you were pissed off. But once they called back and explained, it was fine and you weren’t angry any more?”

It’d be nice if this kind of thing didn’t keep happening,” I said, but then I let it go.

Oh, and another example? In that session, she told me she’s decided to go on a holiday after the baby’s born, and she won’t be back until November. So, not two months of maternity leave. Not four months. Seven months. It shouldn’t matter, when I’m not planning to go back to her anyway, but it does.]

During that week of feeling uncontrollably furious, I kept functioning. I often cried all the way to the door of the office, but I went to work every day. I meditated every day, I went to a boxing class, I went to DBT, and even though I wanted to desperately, I didn’t self harm.

That decision had major consequences for the way I behaved. If I’d hurt myself, it would have regulated my emotions enough to be able to keep myself in check. But I didn’t, and I was impatient, sometimes snappy,  trying so hard to rein myself in, observing myself and not liking the way I was behaving but not able to change it. Following a phone call with a government funder, I sent a recap email with some information missing, which meant we had to send a second email, and I wasn’t apologetic, and I didn’t care.

The next Monday, I was called in to meet with our HR manager. The woman I texted after taking an overdose last month, who came to visit me in emergency and brought me Pringles and crossword puzzles, the one that the nurses mistook for my mother.

She told me that she’d had feedback from staff that I hadn’t been a good team player last week, that the Jewish mama who’s been my strongest, closest supporter told her I was coming across as arrogant, that I needed to be careful about bringing my personal issues to work and jeopardising my relationships with my colleagues.

It was true. It doesn’t happen very often, but when I’m in that state, I do come across as arrogant, and I’m not very likable. But fuck, I’ve never felt so betrayed. I’ve worked here for three years. These people know me, love me, support me. I reach out to them and confide in them. One bad week, and I’m being warned to watch my step? It hurts, to feel as though their respect is so precarious. When I had lunch with my boss on the weekend, and I was in a better place, he said “I love this part of you,” but I can’t be that person all the time. Unless I self harm.

So I went home that night and burnt my leg, badly. Then I went back to work the next day and thanked the manager for her feedback, spoke to the colleague that I know complained and apologised for my behaviour. I sucked it up and made nice and I want none of them anywhere near me, emotionally, ever again. It hurts that I trusted them so much.

I went to the Burns Clinic yesterday, and they wanted to schedule me for surgery today. I’m having it next week instead.

I might as well just kill myself.

Here We Go Again

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?

She Didn’t Say Sorry

The night before my next session with Nikki, I was awake until 6am, obsessively planning the conversation in my head. We needed to talk about why her text messages upset me so much, and I wanted to do it right, so that she’d really understand. So that things would finally change.

Usually when I try to raise something I’m upset about, it goes something like this: So I kind of wish you didn’t do that, but I totally get where you’re coming from, I think I was probably just grumpy because I was hungry actually, it was no big deal, let’s talk about something else, have you seen that new movie yet?

I didn’t want to do that. It feels even worse to bring it up and then immediately invalidate myself than it does just to never mention it at all.

I was profoundly anxious about it. Not about her reaction, but about whether I’d actually be able to do it or not. I was sure that if I explained it properly, she would get it, and she’d kick herself, and tell me she was sorry.

I couldn’t do it. We sat in silence for a while, and I tried and tried to summon the courage to bring it up, but I couldn’t get the words out of my mouth. I had an opening line in my head, and I kept taking a breath and preparing to say it, but I couldn’t do it. The thought of being vulnerable made me want to bleed.

Instead we played with Lily for a while, and then went over my list of coping strategies. I wanted to ask her if I could pay her for an extra half hour, because I was so desperate to get the conversation over with and I didn’t want to leave the room with it still dangling over my head like a sword, ready to impale me. But for once she was scrupulous about ending right on time – when she looked at the clock and told me ‘We’re going to have to finish in a couple of minutes‘, I felt intensely despairing and….I don’t even know what, but whatever it was, it was intense. She greeted the next client in the waiting room, and I could hear them in her office laughing together while I was paying, and I wanted to kill myself.

We finally had the conversation yesterday, and it went so, so badly.

She was all “In the spirit of perspective, can you see how I was doing as much for you as I could?“, and “It was chaotic at my place – there were shits in nappies – and I was texting, and I was like ‘Aaargh!’, and so I was trying to shut the conversation down“, and “Can you see how we were both making assumptions about what the other one’s thinking and doing at the time?” and “We need to be able to sit with the negative emotion, but it’s difficult to hold that in a text” and “Do you feel like you have a clearer understanding of where I was at and where I was coming from?“.

I was on the verge of tears the whole conversation. It just felt like she was making excuses and she was more interested in trying to make me understand her perspective than she was in listening to mine.

She did say “It sounds like you need more affirmation and confirmation – it goes without saying that things are shit for you, but maybe it needs to be said“, but she was also all “I do believe in positive psychology, and it feels like you’re saying that it’s a blanket no, and to be honest that feels slightly uncomfortable“.

At the end, we were sitting in this tense, awkward silence. Neither of us were making eye contact, and neither of us knew what to say. It was all very civil, and ostensibly resolved, but I think we both felt defensive and misunderstood. She said something generic about how talking things through when you’re upset is one of the most important things to be able to do, and that she hoped the conversation hadn’t brought me down when I’d been in a good mood, and I left feeling like I was on fire.

I burned myself when I got home, and I felt a little calmer, less physically anxious, but still just as sad. I lay in bed with Lily stretched out between my breasts, her head on my shoulder and paws soft on my neck, and I could feel the grief tight in my chest. You feel so sad, baby, I said to myself gently, and the grief immediately spiked. I started sobbing, and I didn’t stop for a long, long time.

In my head I’m calling her a bitch and a cunt, but I know she’s neither. She’s just a person who wants to help me, and keeps hurting me instead.

This morning (okay, fine, afternoon), I woke up feeling better, but my mind kept going back to Nikki. Things that I wanted to say to her kept coming up, and so I started jotting them down, and it turned into a letter.

Back in March, when I was in this situation with my last therapist Anna, I emailed the letter to her, and asked her to tell me by email whether she was able to keep seeing me or not. (The answer was no). This time, I’m planning to take it to my session on Tuesday, and ask her to read it. That’s progress, I guess.

Hi Nikki,

I’m not okay with where we left the conversation last week. It bothers me that you’ll apologise six times for something that I really don’t care about, like starting session fifteen minutes late, but when I explicitly tell you that something has really upset me, you don’t say you’re sorry. Maybe it’s “it goes without saying” again, maybe you’re not sorry, maybe you can hold the superficial things enough to be apologetic but it’s too confronting for you to really reflect when deeper things go wrong – I don’t know.

Rightly or wrongly, I get the impression that you still feel that the way you approached the text conversation made total sense, and that you’ve said you’ll try and listen more and affirm my position more, but that you’re kind of half-hearted about it.

You get to do therapy however you want to do therapy.  There’s no point in me trying to dictate that. And if the feedback I’m giving seems unreasonable or off base to you, maybe that means we aren’t a good fit. I hope not – that would really suck – but I don’t feel at all sure that we’ve resolved anything, and I can’t even consider sharing anything meaningful with you without feeling more assured that you do get why I’ve found your responses invalidating and unhelpful and you do want to change things.

I’d like you to sit quietly for a minute and imagine that you just told someone that something is so upsetting you’d rather die, and they told you to go for a walk and forget about it.

I can hear your brain already saying “But…”.

No.

Shut that off for a minute.  Stop rationalising.  You told someone you’re so upset you’re suicidal, and they told you not to judge, and maybe you should go for a walk and just forget about it.

How do you feel?  Do you feel better?

I know that there’s so much going on and so many things you have to juggle in every conversation we have, and it’s hard. I really do have compassion for that, and for how you want to do the right thing but it seems impossible to figure out what that is. At the same time, though…this is your job. You chose this. I didn’t choose this, and my best day with you is harder than your worst day with me.

You have good intentions, and I always know that no matter how pissed off I am. I also know that sometimes you will get it wrong – we all get it wrong sometimes. And that’s okay, if you can accept that you fucked up, and apologise. Even though you mean well, it doesn’t change the fact that what you do has an impact. It isn’t enough to say “Well, I was trying to help” – I want you to acknowledge “I was trying to help, but I realise I didn’t. I’m sorry, and I want to do things better next time.”

I know I’m really pushing you here, and the easy, tempting thing for you to do is to say “Fuck this; I’ve worked so hard to do everything I can and nothing is good enough; I give up”.  Part of me really wants to just drop this whole issue and not risk you quitting, but all that would do is defer immediate pain to later pain. And I know that it must be pretty scary for you to think about the possibility that I’ll do something destructive if you do step back, so I want to reassure you that it’s okay.  You’re responsible for doing your best to help, and being honest if you don’t think you’re the right person to work with me.  I’m responsible for the rest.

What do you think? Too harsh? Too blame-y? Too controlling? Too ultimatum-y?

If she quits, I’m going to be devastated. If she doesn’t quit, but still doesn’t apologise, or fake-apologises, like I’m sorry you got so upset about what I said, I’ll be just as wrecked, maybe more, because then I’ll have to quit. She’s maybe not the right therapist for me, but she does (did?) care about me, and I’m attached to her. I’ve been seeing her for 6 months – of course I’m attached to her. I’ve seen so many different people and I don’t want to get back on that treadmill again. This part of me doesn’t want to give her the letter, but it doesn’t feel safe with her either, so, I mean…what exactly is the plan, buddy? Keep sitting in silence week after week?

The other part of me knows that the emotion doesn’t fit the facts. If Nikki quits, I have a Jewish mama who will text me sweet messages on the weekend, and take me to the hospital if I need to go. I have another who will hug me as long and close as I need, another who will take me to the park for lunch, another who will pick me up for work in the morning. I’m surrounded by love and support, and even though it would suck to start looking for a therapist again, losing Nikki just isn’t that important.

But it is, though.

She Didn’t Say Sorry

This Is Beyond My Capacity For Radical Acceptance

When I turned up to therapy on Tuesday with ligature marks around my neck, Nikki kind of freaked out. The night before I’d choked myself with a rope until I was coughing blood, so I suppose I can’t blame her.

I barely spoke. I just sat and looked at my hands. Nikki commented that they were shaking, and that I looked fragile.

“Do you need a hug?” she asked gently.

I shrugged, and didn’t look up. Yes, I needed a hug, but not from her – too intimate, too much contact (and I’m taller than her: too weird). I wanted her to sit next to me, maybe hold my hand or rub my back, but I didn’t want a hug.

She told me a story about getting sick while she was travelling in India, and going to get a hug from Mātā Amṛtānandamayī, the ‘Hugging Guru’, “and bloody hell, if you can’t give someone a hug, it’s a ridiculously sad day. Because you know, part of me went ‘Appropriate? Not appropriate?’…I feel like giving you a hug. Probably boundaries…fuck boundaries.

She pivoted straight into asking whether she should be calling an ambulance, or the crisis team, or one of the Jewish mamas from work, or my brother, so I didn’t get a chance to respond. Which is just as well, because I had no idea what to say. I wanted comfort so badly, but I couldn’t ask her to sit with me, in case she said no – after her comment a few weeks ago about how weird it would be if she was sitting there holding my hand, the risk of rejection or uncomfortableness was too high. But I didn’t want to say no, either, in case she never offered again.

In the end, instinct ruled the day. I was standing, ready to leave, and she was looking at me, obviously reluctant to let me go, and then she started swooping in, her arms out. She got one hand on my shoulder before I twisted the rest of my body away and threw up an arm to block her, saying in a panic “I don’t want a hug!

Fuck, I hate that I did that. She had to go out on a limb to offer it to me, and I didn’t want to push her away or make her feel uncomfortable, but fight or flight just took over.

I refused to promise her that I’d be safe that night. I don’t think she has any idea what it’s like to be me – I can’t ever promise that I’m going to be safe, because I don’t know. Even if I’m feeling okay, in half an hour something could trigger me and I could be slashing my wrists in the bathroom. I’m never more than a step away from the precipice, and that night I was right on the edge.

Twenty minutes after I left, she called me. I didn’t pick up, because our phone conversations never go well, and the only way it was likely to end was with me feeling worse than before.

When I listened to the message, I could tell from her breathing that she was walking home. She reminds me to eat something, to cuddle my cat, and that I can call her up until 10pm if I need her to phone for an ambulance, and she tells me she’s going to call the crisis team, because if I can’t guarantee my safety that’s what has to happen.

And I’m fucking pissed. If it’s so clear and certain it has to happen, then why not tell me to my face, instead of calling after the fact, just like you did last time? If you’re that fucking worried, then why not call the ambulance yourself instead of making the crisis team do your dirty work?

I walked the 4km from Nikki’s office to home, because she asked me to, and I felt a little better after being out in the air. A few hours later the crisis team called, and I ignored it. They sent me a text message saying they were coming around with the police, and I rolled my eyes. Yeah right: I’ve heard that one before. Good luck with those empty threats.  But there was still a little niggle of fear in the pit of my stomach.

A little before 10pm, the intercom buzzed. At this stage I was just delaying the inevitable, but I still couldn’t bring myself to let them in. I don’t want these strangers in my fucking house. A few minutes later there was a banging on the door, the kind of banging that’s quite happy to keep on banging for as long as it has to. I’ve subjected my neighbours to enough over the years, what with the hysterical screaming and the police and the blood trails down the corridor and the constant smell of cat urine, so I open the door.

Two male police officers, and two female crisis team staff. I’m sarcastic, and evasive, and too cocky, because I’ve had the crisis team come over while the rope was still lying in the middle of the floor and they did nothing, so I’m confident I’m safe.

I’m wrong. They schedule me, they call an ambulance and they take me to hospital.

They search my bag, they search me, then they take all my stuff away from me and lock in a plexiglass cabinet, where I can see it but I can’t have it. They take my blood and give me a cup to pee in for a urine sample. After a couple of hours of sitting uncomfortably, debating with myself and cursing myself for not planning ahead, I ask permission to change my fucking tampon, and the nurse accompanies me to the bathroom (like I haven’t been here enough times to know exactly where it is). It’s all invasive and intrusive and humiliating and I need to be in my (suddenly less) safe home in my (suddenly less) safe bed, but I don’t have a choice, so I step outside myself and make myself be numb.

The doctor and the nurse and the psychiatrist ask questions, but I don’t speak. Can’t. Won’t. I’m overwhelmed and angry and scared and refusing to speak is the only control I have left.

I’m in emergency, in the same little box-room I was in last time. Last time, when I smashed my head against the concrete wall thirty times, until the nurse came in and yelled at me to stop. Last time, when I sat and sobbed hysterically for hours, eventually resorting to wiping my nose on my jeans when nobody brought me a tissue.

One of the nurses comes in with a printed copy of the poetry she found in my file, hoping it will comfort me. The poetry Anna used to read to me. It’s an incredibly sweet gesture, and also the worst possible thing she could have done. She leaves it on the floor, and I want to tear it in half, hold a chunk of the paper together and cut my arms with it. But I don’t want to risk getting the nurse in trouble, and I want to go home.

A few hours later, I’ve calmed down enough to be ready to talk. I want to ask the nurse whether Candeece is working, and if she’ll come see me.

Almost a year ago, the last time I was admitted for an overdose, she was my doctor, and when I had a total meltdown in January and was scheduled for the night, I got the chance to thank her. My upper arm had been a mess of cuts, and she couldn’t keep track of which ones she’d already anesthetised, and I wasn’t speaking so I couldn’t tell her, but she never got frustrated or impatient, just apologised every time she hurt me. Some of the cuts were spurting blood, and when she put the needle in, it sprayed up into my face. I flinched, and squeezed my eyes shut, and she wiped it off gently with a cloth.

That was enough to cement her in my mind as a good, safe person. I need a good, safe person right now, and I want to ask for her. But I can’t. I wait for the nurse to come back in, and I try to ask, but I can’t get any words to come out.

I sit sideways on the bed, with my back against the wall and my boots on the sheets. The nurse offers me pyjamas, but I refuse. I don’t want to accept that I’m staying here for the night. She lets me have my phone back, and I play games, look at tattoos on Pinterest, and a bit after 1am, I give in to the temptation to send Nikki an angry message.

“The crisis team showed up with the police – apparently my psychologist told them that I tried to kill myself last night. I told them that wasn’t true, but apparently my psychologist told them I was going to lie to them, so they didn’t believe me. They scheduled me and took me to hospital and apparently I’m stuck here at least for the night.”

My battery doesn’t last long, but there are lights and alarms and people screaming, and I don’t want to try to sleep. Almost idly, I look around the room, thinking of ways I could hurt myself. I’m holding a half-full Styrofoam cup of water, and an image pops into my head of jamming my mouth and nose into it and trying to drown myself.

As bleak as I feel, I have to laugh.

Eventually I lay down, and at around 6am, I drift off to sleep.

I wake at 7am, and I talk. To Nurse Q, to Doctor W, to Psychiatrist Y, to Psychiatrist Z. And then I wait. Nikki texts mid-morning, tells me she knows I’m probably very angry but my safety is really important to her, and calls a couple of hours later. I am very angry, and I don’t pick up.

They let me leave, and I go home and go to bed.

She calls again around 7pm on Thursday, and her voice message sounds a little defeated. I’m still mad, but I’m not enjoying it, and impulsively, I decide to call her back. The conversation is awkward – her son is on her lap, and she talks to him intermittently – but I hang up feeling more okay.

This morning, I can’t get up for work. It’s been almost two weeks now, and I’m rapidly running out of sick leave. Impulsively, I decide to take Nikki up on her offer of a session. There isn’t anything I want to talk about…I just want to be with her, and be comforted.

And she’s sweet. She’s lovely. She starts with a rapid-fire of concern: “What’s up? What’s happening? Are you okay?“. She asks if the crisis team called me last night, like they were supposed to, and when I shake my head, she flips out and says that she’s going to call them tonight, “because that’s fucking shit!“. She says she regrets letting me leave on Tuesday, and she should have put me in a cab and taken me straight to hospital.

At the end of the session, I’m standing near the door, waiting while she packs up the office to leave for the day. She’s standing on tiptoes, sliding the box of kinetic sand back into the cupboard, when she says:

So I’m going to say it now because it’s going to be extremely obvious, if it isn’t already – I’m pregnant.

Everything goes numb. This is my worst.fucking.nightmare. This cannot be happening right now. This is so far above and beyond my capacity for handling bad things right now. Oh god, fuck. 

Oh,” I muster, and she laughs. “I didn’t notice. Congratulations!

She talks a bit as she continues to potter around, about how they’ve been trying for years, that she gets really massive when she’s pregnant so it could be a bit confronting, that she’s not due until April but she wants to reassure me that she’s barely taking any time off, she’ll probably only be gone a couple of months, and all I can think is: Don’t cry. Don’t you dare fucking cry. 

This Is Beyond My Capacity For Radical Acceptance