A friend of mine shared an interesting article from The Atlantic entitled, “How Patient Suicide Affects Psychiatrists.” Obviously the main focus is on clinicians’ responses to losing a patient to suicide, but it also explores the world of the chronically suicidal, a.k.a. “the untreatables.” One quote in particular resonated with me:
“I completely fell apart after my therapist quit, because I relied on her very heavily…I got really attached to her, and it’s so hard when someone you care about, that you trust, decides not to work with you anymore. It makes you feel like they think you’re never going to get better. It felt like she gave up on me.”
As much as I’ve been trying to convince myself that Zooey didn’t “give up” on me, I know I don’t really believe that. When I was first diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) back in 1999, I had no idea what it was. When I asked about it, no one would even tell me. All I remember about it was that the hospital staff often used the phrase “Borderline” as a catchall derogatory term used to encompass all resistant or difficult patients. I felt like this horrible label had been slapped on my forehead and from that point on, I was one of the infamous “untreatable” patients.
It also made my treatment teams very lazy. The classic symptoms of Borderline mirror that which are found in individuals with a history of trauma. Not only did I have a trauma history, but I was in the throes of abuse while a patient at these facilities. At first they showed a little bit of interest in the “why” of my behavior. But once that Borderline label was slipped into my chart, all the questions stopped. Because no matter what the question was – the answer always seemed to be “because she has Borderline.”
I eventually graduated to a diagnosis of both BPD and Bipolar Disorder. That’s when the parade of medications made it’s way into my life and wreaked havoc on my body. They didn’t work, primarily because I do not, in fact, have Bipolar Disorder. But the stigma and the horrible experience of being deemed “untreatable” has always stuck with me.
I believe I took all that baggage with my into treatment with Zooey. Naturally. So perhaps I projected my fear of her deeming me unworthy of treatment or incapable of recovering so strongly and so frequently that it became a self-fulfilling prophecy. I wonder if I didn’t unintentionally/intentionally push her to the breaking point because I’d always assumed she’d just get overwhelmed and walk away anyway.
But even if I did, the point of therapy is to “act out” some of the earlier experiences of your life that caused you to create disruptive or destructive patterns of coping. This enables you to step back and examine those patterns and then make changes to healthier, more effective methods. I should have been able to push Zooey and then push some more – to test her and see if she was the real deal. And push, I certainly did. Maybe I pushed her too far, but honestly? That just tells me she wasn’t the right therapist for me.
Because I AM treatable. The last year has proven to me that I can make the difficult decisions and choose a new way of living my life. Maybe I didn’t do it at a comfortable enough pace for Zooey, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t progressing. It doesn’t mean I’m not capable of healing and living a life that isn’t constantly invaded by the aftermath of trauma.
Yet, there’s still that doubt. That little dark seed planted so many years ago that refuses to die out. And so as I continue this process of finding (and committing to) a new therapist, I often find myself asking the same old question: “Am I even treatable?”