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

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?

Stupid, Pathetic, Disgusting Bitch

I haven’t been able to find the words to respond to your comments yet, but please know that you and Everest have literally been getting me through. I am so grateful to all of you. [TS, tonight I sat in bed with chocolate milk and read Winnie the Pooh.] But this post is different, and it talks about things that feel incredibly wrong to share with people who have survived assaults when they had no choice but to endure it. So I want you to know that if you feel angry with me, or repulsed, or whatever you might feel, that’s okay, and I’m sorry. 

Last night, I wanted to hang myself. I had the rope tied, and I leaned my weight against it to make sure it would hold. Right now, the idea that I didn’t hang myself seems crazy, but I wrote here, and read blogs, and watched children’s movies on Netflix, and somehow the time passed until I fell asleep, with a scalpel under my pillow.

I am so far at the end of my rope (oh, god, pun not intended) that I seem to be giving zero fucks right now. I told my boss that I couldn’t work because I was suicidal. I told our HR manager that I couldn’t go to our biggest event of the year because I didn’t feel up to it. And last night, when the beautiful La Quemada said she wanted to keep me safe, and asked what she could do, I told her she could make me a recording. When I first started writing, I was so impossibly in awe of her, but she has been one of my staunchest and most loving supporters, and when she offered, I wasn’t afraid to ask.

A little after midday today, I got up, got dressed, and went out for a walk. I patted a dog, and smelt some flowers, and felt a little better. Then I went into a hardware store, pretending to myself that I just wanted to look at plants, when I knew I was really going in to look at dangerous things.

I found one that I really wanted. I picked it up, put it down, walked away and came back to it, then repeated the cycle again. I really wanted it. If I’d taken it home, I would have used it. So I took a breath, and thought ‘Okay, this is the time to listen to Q’s recording‘. The shop was pretty empty, and I ducked behind a shelf and sat down on the ground.

I was in tears after the first two words. I cried, and I felt relief. She told me she could see that I was weighed down, and beyond tired, and that I couldn’t see how I was supposed to go on living my life like this, and that it’s okay to feel like this. That I don’t have to force myself to keep pushing through no matter what, and it’s okay to take a break.

Actually hearing her say that was powerful. I’ve only ever been able to express myself with cuts and burns and suicide attempts before. But I’ve been using words, and Q understands. She really understands. (I think you all do.) Those two minutes and forty-six seconds decreased the urgency of needing to act on the thoughts and the feelings.

I went back and touched the dangerous thing one more time, then left without it.

It’s getting harder and harder to hurt myself. That sounds like a good thing, but it isn’t. I still need to hurt, I’m just too much of a cowardly chicken-shit to do it myself any more. My pain threshold is getting lower, or my critical voice is getting weaker, or something, I don’t know, but sometimes I just can’t make myself do it, even when my whole body is on fire with the need for pain. I’m afraid of it, but I need it.

I don’t know if this is a sensation that’s familiar to anyone else, and the closest analogy I have is that tingling sensation that comes with attachment pain, that visceral need to be held. It feels intolerable, like there’s no way to soothe it.

A few weeks ago, I was lying in bed, completely taken over by it. I don’t remember what was happening, whether I was stressed, or anxious, or if something had happened, but I needed to hurt. I ran through all the options in my head – cutting; burning; hitting myself; banging my head; breaking a bone; choking myself – and I couldn’t come up with a single one I felt capable of doing. I didn’t think I could cut deeply enough to feel better, and I didn’t want to hold a flame against my skin. It hurts so much, and I was scared, and I just didn’t want to. Couldn’t.

I felt desperate. So I started Googling.

Hire someone to punch me in the face.” No results.

Pay someone to beat me up.” No results.

Looking for somebody to hurt me.” Nothing. Other than an (apparently defunct) app in China which allowed people to hire vigilantes to beat up their enemies for revenge (or their friends for a laugh), it wasn’t getting me anywhere.

I am very, very averse to sex of any kind. I don’t want to have sex, ever. I’m saying that (with some discomfort) so you understand that when I reluctantly started looking into S&M, it was a last resort. The urge to cut myself is coming up now, just thinking about being in that situation. But I was desperate. I couldn’t hurt myself, so I needed to find someone to do it for me.

Over the next few days, I trawled through Craigslist and any other website I could find, finding men in my area who fit my criteria. Anybody who mentioned aftercare or safe words was automatically off the list. Anybody who seemed kind or respectful was off the list. Somebody who was just going to mildly bruise me in a controlled way then rub it with soothing ointment was not going to hurt me enough to make me better. I was looking for somebody who wouldn’t want to talk to me, who seemed likely to punch me and cane me, kick me, who wouldn’t stop if I was crying, or if I said no. Somebody who would probably want sex, and wouldn’t care that I didn’t.

It sounds like a rape fantasy or something, but I swear it’s not. I want it because I don’t want it. Part of me believes that if I go through something traumatic and awful where I have no control over the pain or what happens to me, it’ll fix me. If it’s bad enough, I won’t want to hurt any more. The same way I thought breaking my wrist might fix me. It won’t, I know it won’t, but I don’t know what else to do.

I held on for a few days, and then the need to hurt triumphed over the fear of going to a stranger’s house where god knows what would happen. I clicked on the profile for the man ‘looking for a submissive slut to abuse‘, and started writing a message.

But god, I so didn’t want to do it. So I ended up in the bathroom, giving myself a chemical burn instead.

The last time I burnt with chemicals, I’d promised myself I’d never do it again. It takes hours, and it’s agonising, like a million fire ants biting at your leg. Unlike lighter burns, the pain lasts for days, and the next night I was literally writhing in bed, whimpering and crying. But it’s passive. You don’t have to slice, or hold a flame against you. You just have to sit, and endure.

And that is why I needed surgery.

I think this is maybe part of why I’m so suicidal. The burn didn’t change anything – it just postponed it. I’m still struggling to hurt myself, and I still need to hurt. It would be easier to be dead.

Stupid, Pathetic, Disgusting Bitch

Psychiatrist #10, Meds and DBT

I’m not sure whether I’d actually shoot myself. I just want to hold the gun, and see how it feels. And then put it in my mouth, and decide. Do I want to pull the trigger?

It’s 3am, and I didn’t go to work today. I meant to, I was going to, but I couldn’t get up. My boss called this morning to check whether I was in the office yet, and I told him I’d be there in half an hour or so. And then I hung up, lay back down and went back to sleep.

I am not functional. I can’t function. I have been hurting myself since I was five years old, and I am still hurting myself. I broke five bones in my wrist this year. I burnt myself so badly I needed surgery, again. I am fucking traumatized. I have been traumatized for years and years and years. I first tried to kill myself when I was 13 – why am I still alive?

Everest just heard me sobbing, and got up on the bed to rub her face against my cheek. Over the last few days she’s been lying with me, her head on my neck, on my shoulder, tucked into the crook of my arm. She’s saved me so many times.

I think the best way to describe Psychiatrist #10 is to describe her office. Her desk is bigger than the ocean, and sits between us. My chair is low to the ground, so I am looking up at her, feeling a little like I’m in the principals office, and I’m in trouble. The tissues are in a gold metal container, resting on a silver platter next to a bottle of hand sanitizer. I imagine the psychiatrist uses it more often than her patients do.

On Tuesday, I saw her for the third time, and she switched my Effexor for Cymbalta. On Wednesday morning, before I’d even started the switch, I couldn’t get up – it’s not the meds that are breaking me. But Effexor is hard to come off, and my body is feeling the way it does after I overdose. There’s a weird taste in my mouth, and a blockage in my throat, and a cold knot in my stomach.

The second time I saw her, she told me there was no point doing psychodynamic therapy because there are so many gaps in my memory, and the only thing that has any chance of making a difference is DBT. And I agreed to join a six month class, because I don’t want to sit around complaining about how bad things are without doing anything to try to make them better.

The last time I did DBT, almost exactly a year ago now, I spun completely out of control. I took an overdose and cut my arms, and I would have died on my bathroom floor if the police rescue squad hadn’t broken in. I am fucking terrified of doing it again. Last time I had Aisha, and Jen, and Anna, and R, and it wasn’t enough. Now all I have is Nikki, once a week, and it’s nowhere near enough.

Wouldn’t it be better to die now, before any more broken bones? Before any more lacerations, concussions, burns, bruises, stitches, surgery?

It occurred to me a couple of hours ago that I need to write a note, to make sure someone posts to tell you if I die. I don’t want to just disappear and leave you wondering.

Psychiatrist #10, Meds and DBT

I Wish I Was Dead

The day of my session with Nikki, I woke up feeling vulnerable, and small. Like I wasn’t big enough to go to work, and I should have been sitting in front of the TV, watching cartoons and eating froot loops.

I felt unsettled all morning, but I was getting through my tasks. Then at midday, I got an unexpected email from Nikki. I’d been sure I wouldn’t get a reply to the email I’d sent the previous week, because we had a session booked anyway, but I did.

Hi Rea

Thank you so much for sending this. I know it’s really hard for you to communicate difficult stuff like this. I want to reassure you that I understand you are trying REALLY hard to communicate in sessions and I get that you have come a long way from the early days of Aisha.

I’m sorry that you feel I don’t listen sometimes. I think it’s an important lesson for me to learn to stop more and not feel the need to fill in the quiet moments… Possibly a bit more difficult on the phone… I think I’m a talker and the need in me to try to help make things better overrides the patience to go with the flow sometimes.. I recognise that’s not good for you. I’m happy to be the sounding board when you want to whinge and be pissed off and it’s ok to say “bloody hell, just shut up and listen to me”!

I also recognise that things are REALLY hard for you. Please don’t feel that, if I ask you about that and/or comment that you are incredibly high functioning, I think you don’t struggle daily with the most basic of tasks (sorry for the double negative – I’m sure you know what I mean). I do hear you.

I hope that we can talk about the other day when we meet but I understand that it’s hard for you face to face. I just found myself a little bewildered at what I’d done to upset you so much and I think it wold be useful to think through what, if any, interpretations were going on  for both of us. 

No question of hanging in there. Right back at you!

Nikki

PS I think it’s beautiful that you volunteer and that can be for a whole host of motivations. I doesn’t always have to make you feel great about yourself but it’s ok if it does give you a lift – it doesn’t mean you are self motivated!

I immediately started feeling distressed, and I didn’t understand why. I was trembling and teary, and I had to get up and pace and take deep breaths.

It’s a lovely email. It’s humble and caring, and there isn’t a single thing I could misinterpret to mean that she hates me and I’m garbage. And now, a few days later, I think that’s what upset me so much. It was thoughtful and attuned and she heard me, and I don’t know how to process that.

When I arrived for my session, I still felt tearful and dissociated. I’m finding it hard to write about it in a coherent way – it feels sort of fragmented.

I’m really sorry if you’ve not felt listened to,” she said, soon after we got settled on the floor, and she seemed solid. Not defensive, or antsy, the way she has been in the past. Just solid.

She talked for a bit about how the social conventions don’t apply here, and I can lash out and tell her to fuck off or to shut the fuck up, and told me “This [our relationship] is going to be consistent no matter what happens”. I felt an immediate flare of white-hot anger.

That’s not true! I thought. Don’t say that! 

I hadn’t realised until then that I’m convinced Nikki’s going to quit. The thing that hurt the most when Anna abruptly abandoned me was all the promises she broke – she’d told me over and over again that she was never going to leave, that nothing could make her leave me, that we were going to be working together for a really long time. That lasted 8 months. And I don’t want Nikki to make any promises, because then it’ll hurt less when she leaves.

A couple of months ago, she went out and bought art supplies – watercolour paint, pencils, markers, crayons, and art journals for both of us. We were both cross-legged and barefoot on the floor, pencils strewn around between us and only an arms-length apart. A month or so ago, I couldn’t have handled being that close. Actually, the last time we were in that room she got up and moved her chair closer to me (but still further than we were this week), then read my body language and went “Okay, that’s too close,” and moved it back.

My progress in therapy is so slow that it feels good, when I notice these little things, little signs that things are changing, minutely. I felt comfortable and safe, being close to her.

She talked for 10 minutes or so, and then she stopped herself. “Okay,” she said. “So, I’m listening.

I was too overwhelmed to talk. For the first time, I couldn’t even come up with anything I wanted to draw. Normally I just draw patterns, or shapes, or play with the watercolours, but my brain was spinning too much. I just ran my fingers over the pencils, lining them up so that I could read the names, reciting them silently in my head. White. Light green. Cyan. Red. 

Tears welled up in my eyes. I don’t remember what I was feeling sad about, or even if there was a reason, but for once, it felt okay. I didn’t want to try to push myself to talk; I knew if I did, I’d have to shut down the emotion, and I wanted to practice this. Being emotional in front of her, and not trying to shut it down. Just letting it be there, and letting that be okay.

For a while we just sat, Nikki quietly painting a spiral, and then she broke the silence.

You okay?” she asked gently, and I shook my head, refusing to make eye contact.

I really am listening.

I know,” I said softly, and went back to running my fingers over the pencils.

Eventually I picked up a pencil, and drew a short line on the page. I just wanted to see what colour it was. And then I drew another line, and another one, and soon it turned into a small, ugly tangle of criss-crossing lines.

That’s not like any doodle I’ve seen you do before,” she said softly, and I shrugged, my eyes on the paper.

Yeah.”

What’s it about?

It’s not about anything,” I said listlessly. “I’m just scribbling.”

She paused for a moment. “Do you think sometimes doodles kind of represent…how you’re feeling?

I shrugged, then something started rising up in me. I scribbled a few more lines, then abruptly threw the pencil onto the floor and pushed the journal off my lap, tucking my head down against my shoulder and looking at the ground, tears in my eyes. I felt violently unhappy, all of a sudden, like everything was terrible and it could never get better.

Nikki put a hand on the paper, over the scribbles, and eyed me carefully.

“You okay?

Fucking dandy, I thought sarcastically, and lifted my head.

Had better days,” I said, then added “I’ve also had much worse days.”

(Even after two years in therapy, I still have to add the disclaimer.)

She suggested that she just ask me questions instead, and I shook my head.

No. Quiet is good.

You sure? Cause I’ve got seriously loads of stuff coming up in my head that I could ramble about.” We laughed, and she added:”I’m writing it down here, so I don’t say it,” and gestured to her paper. In the top right-hand corner, she’d painted a few words: Touch, Nails, Money, and something else I couldn’t decipher.

For the rest of the session, my eyes kept going back to the list, over and over. Fuck. She wanted to talk about touch. Had she seen how much she’d wounded me, last time it came up? Did she want to give me another awkward speech about why it’s too weird in therapy? Did she change her mind and want to offer it? Did she just want to know why it helps, without being willing to give it to me?

And which was worse?

I couldn’t get out of bed yesterday. It wasn’t exhaustion, or sadness, or anxiety. I just couldn’t get up.

Hours after I should have been at work, I was still debating whether to officially take a sick day, or show up with an excuse. (Traffic was terrible? Um, really terrible?).

I’m feeling suicidal. I’m buying things to hurt myself with, and there is a refrain in my head: I wish I was dead. I wish I was dead. Yesterday I asked a co-worker if I could borrow her gun.

I’m trying to be practical about it. To write it down on paper, so I can see that they’re only words. To remind myself that it’s okay, it doesn’t really mean I need to die, it’s just my brain telling me that I’m overwhelmed. To try not to get sucked into the story where this is a huge deal, where I can’t cope and I feel terrible and I can’t endure it.

I want someone to hit me. Hurt me. Snap me out of it.

I Wish I Was Dead