“Inside each of us are two wolves. One is evil, one is good, and they are always at war.”
“Grandfather, which wolf wins?”
“The one you feed.”
The next day, Nikki texts me at midday to ask whether she’s seeing me at 6pm or whether she should cancel our appointment.
For fuck’s sake, I think, anger settling in my belly and spreading out through my arms. Last night you said to text you when I get back – why are you now asking me if I still want my session today? I feel like you’re hurling me around in the air like one of those gymnast ribbon things.
For a couple of hours, I can’t decide what to do, and I don’t really want to think about it. I’m annoyed with her for disrupting my day again, after I’d mentally shelved her until next week.
I could text her back and tell her yes, please cancel the session; I even start writing the message in my head, but it doesn’t feel good. It feels hostile, and closed, and distancing. I have this feeling in my chest like I’ve taken a big black ball of gooey tar, wrapped it up in clingfilm and pressed it in just above my heart. I know if I choose to step away instead of move towards her, that ball will stay inside my chest for a while.
So I text her back, and tell her that I made a doctor’s appointment because I got the impression we were cancelling, but as long as they’re running on time then I can Skype at 6pm.
(Though I’m tempted to, I don’t say Take a beginner’s class in scheduling and learn how to have the barest, most basic level of stability, you scatty idiot. That would definitely be feeding the bad wolf.)
We don’t actually connect until 6.40 – technological difficulties again – and part of me is hoping she’ll say forget it, sorry, this isn’t going to work tonight. I feel shut down and protective and I don’t know what I’m going to say to her.
Not much, it turns out. She asks how I’m doing, and I don’t trust her with any kind of real answer, so I say I don’t know how to answer that. (I still think this is progress from “okay“.) She asks a few questions about how long I’m staying at home, and she’s engaged, tender, leaning right in to the camera.
How was the weekend? she asks, and I shrug, take a breath, and think for a moment, eyes slipping off the screen. The true answer is that it was fine, that I took Everest and Leia to a studio to get professional photos, I went to a concert, I came home to my brother. But the full answer is that it was fine, and I’m relieved that it was fine, lucky and grateful that it was fine, because it almost wasn’t and that still scares me.
I’m not ready to open that up with her yet. It was okay, I say, with the quirk of my lips that acknowledges I know there’s a lot I’m not saying.
Okay, she says. Her brows are furrowed, and she has both hands resting around her neck. She pauses for a second, then gives a quick, almost imperceptible shrug and says I worried about you the whole weekend.
Another momentary pause. I’m doing that face I do when people say caring things that feel like they can’t really be true; kind of a mix between skeptical and patronising.
I woke up worrying about you.
Sorry, I say, but only because I can’t think of anything else to say, not because I mean it. I wonder if she should be telling me this, whether this is a boundary issue again, but it has its intended effect; I thaw a little.
The camera freezes as she starts to respond, and when she unfreezes, she has tears in her voice. I interrupt to tell her that she’d frozen, but I wish I hadn’t, because she doesn’t repeat whatever she was saying.
It keeps freezing every 30 seconds or so, and it’s just impossible to have a conversation. 6 minutes in to the call, I’m done. We’ve touched base, our relationship is okay, and there’s no point trying to talk about anything meaningful when it’s this disjointed. But I still feel an aching distress in my chest after I hang up.
With the contact barrier broken, I don’t really hesitate when I want to text her the next day. I’ve been thinking about the options for her maternity leave, prompted by her raising it on Friday, and seeming frustrated when I insisted that I didn’t want to see anyone while she was gone, that I wanted to take a break. And there’s a kernel of doubt in me, planted by Dr S last week, when he brought up Nikki’s maternity leave, and asked whether she was leaving “for a year or indefinitely“.
The last time we talked about the length of her leave was in October, when she said she was “barely taking any time off” and she’d “probably only be gone a couple of months, 8 weeks“. I want to be sure of how long she’ll be gone before I sit down and make pro and con lists for each of the options. I want clarification, but mostly I want reassurance that yes, she won’t be gone too long.
Meant to ask yesterday. When you told me last year that you were pregnant you said you’d be taking a couple of months maternity leave (which I mentally rounded up to three because two doesn’t sound like enough). But when you were talking on Friday about plans for when you’re away it sounded like you’re going to be away for quite awhile? Have plans changed?
It’s a bad day today, the worst I’ve had since I’ve been home. My brother is back at work, and I’m home alone and failing to be productive, fighting the urge to go back to bed. Nikki doesn’t reply for a long time, and I’m unsettled, uneasy, expecting that she’ll tell me no, nothing has changed, but unable to really focus on anything until she does.
Hours later, her reply comes through. I’ve been sitting by my phone, sometimes just holding it, so I open it immediately.
I don’t think I ever said there was a set in stone amount of time I was taking off. Pretty sure I said I would have to get my head around how long I would take. So sorry if I’ve confused things. I think I would have to say four months is realistic so not that much longer than the three you thought. I think I may have said we might have to start with Skype sessions at first? It’s really difficult to predict that early on with the new baby. Can we discuss this further when you get back!
For a moment, I’m too thrown by the phrasing of the message to really register the content. I feel attacked. She sounds hostile and defensive, and the fight part of me rises up to obscure the hurt and confused: what did I do wrong?
Then it hits me. She’s going to be gone at least until August. Given that both of our Skype sessions have been total disasters, probably at least until September.
The urge to self harm rises up, coils around me. Oh my god. There are tears pressing at the back of my eyes. I was insistent that I didn’t want to see anybody else because I didn’t see the point; I really wanted, needed to save the money, and seeing somebody for two months wouldn’t help me make progress; we’d barely get past the introductory stuff in two months. But five months? That’s too long. Oh my god.
The shock is like I’m getting the news of her pregnancy for the first time. I’m so glad I didn’t find out in session; I don’t think I could have poker faced my way through. And I’m so glad I didn’t find out at home, or I’d be bleeding.
Instead, I put on a meditation app, and I notice how the tears fall harder on each exhale. I go out for a walk, and when my brother comes home, he puts on his focus pads and we box. I try to use my feelings to feed the good wolf, not the bad.
(I can’t believe she’s so fucking unprofessional she gave me misleading information about how long she’ll be gone and then never corrected it because she’s never mentioned it again in the last three months becomes: You did such a good job to ask her to confirm, Rea, you’re getting so much better at raising things, I’m so proud of you, and This feels a lot like the way my parents never spoke to me about self harm because they knew I didn’t want to talk about it, this would be a great chance to explore that dynamic, the way I subtly intimidate people into being afraid to bring things up.
Five months, oh my god, that doesn’t even fucking make sense, if she can Skype then she can come to the office, it’s only 10 minutes from her apartment – is she planning to do sessions alone with the baby, which is not okay, or with her partner at home in their tiny one-bedroom apartment, which is also not okay, and I wouldn’t even know she has a one-bedroom apartment if she wasn’t so fucking unprofessional becomes I’m so upset she’s going to be gone for so long, and this is also a great opportunity to have the time and money to explore other things; I could do private yoga therapy or take a Buddhism class or focus on physical health and fitness.)
I’m probably trying too hard to run straight past grief and into acceptance. This sucks. It fucking sucks. No; it’s devastating. I’m afraid to feel the full weight of it.
I can’t make myself work, even though I told my boss I would, so in the afternoon, I push myself to use a DBT distraction skill. I bought some brush lettering pens a couple of months ago, and I like the focus on pressing hard on the downstroke and lightly on the upstroke. It’s rhythmic, engrossing, calming. I pick whatever words come to mind and feel right; shit; sad; cry; stab; hurt. Bitch keeps coming to mind, but it doesn’t feel right.
And then another word comes to mind, and the tears well up again, and I don’t write any more. I realise why I’m so upset about the length of the break, and that what I’m feeling is grief. I don’t think I can go five months without therapy, I don’t think I can stick to my plan of just taking a break, but if I start seeing someone else, then I don’t think I’ll go back to Nikki.
My last word is goodbye.