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?”


13 thoughts on “Untreatable

  1. manyofus1980 says:

    I think we’re all treatable. I’m glad you’ve found someone now to help you and get you through the tough times. Therapy can be an amazing process. Xo


  2. Ellen says:

    I don’t really like the term ‘treatable’ because it is so medicalized, but I know that you are capable of healing and being helped by a therapeutic relationship. A good sign is that your thoughts are so well organized – you understand what’s going on, and that’s really helpful IMO. Also you have high motivation – that’s really great also.

    It is inexplicable to me that professionals terminate clients. I don’t get it. I get screening for fit at the start, the same as clients screen therapists. But once they’ve accepted a client, IMO, they have a sacred trust to stick with them, even when the going gets rough.

    Glad to hear you aren’t giving up, and looking for another therapist. You deserve someone committed and good at their job.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Fumbling Through Therapy says:

      Thank you so much, Ellen, for you kind words and support. I completely agree on the termination front. In the medical world, physicians can be sued for abandonment if they withdraw care without 30-60 day notice in writing. And it needs to be for a good reason! I also agree that “treatable” is very medicalized – what does that even mean? I think the outcomes-focused way of doing therapy is strange anyway because it misses out on all of the small, yet crucial, ways that we grow and improve as clients. I hope I can find someone who isn’t afraid to commit and stay steady through the tough stuff. Because man, I’d really like to do that work….


  3. lenasclove says:

    The feeling of being given up on really resonates. Thank you for your honest writing. Much appreciated. You are helping a lot of people by sharing your own journey.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Laura P. Schulman, MD, MA says:

    Hell no, you’re not treatable! You said it yourself. We can’t undo the traumas. The best we can do is to learn healthier ways of coping. And as you said, isn’t that what therapy is for? To get the poisons out in the open, so the therapist can then help you pick your way through the burning reeking garbage, picking up things that refuse to burn…it’s a dirty, stinking, unpleasant business, is therapy. So if you were willing to take her to that excruciatingly uncomfortable place, and she wasn’t willing to help you through it….I’m really sorry you had to have that happen, but you are lucky she bailed on you when she did. So you are totally, 100% untreatable, if the therapists are going to be easily run off. I have fired many therapists, mostly if, like Zooey, they had no backbone. You have to keep testing them out, until you find one who will push you harder than you push them. I see you’re ready to do it. I very much hope you find your therapy dance partner soon…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Fumbling Through Therapy says:

      You make so many good points here. I think the hardest part is trying to find balance and peace with this. I have evidence in front of me that clearly demonstrates my own willingness and ability to be treated. Yet those old demons come back to make an appearance and mess with my head. In the end, however, it really was not about me. It was about Zooey’s inability to sit with and hold what I had to bring to therapy. And that’s not my fault. Somehow, someway, I need to figure out how to internalize that truth. Thanks for your comment and support!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Laura P. Schulman, MD, MA says:

        I think it’s very, very, VERY uncomfortable for many therapists to deal with the heavy stuff that goes along with our illnesses, especially PTSD that in my not particularly qualified opinion gives rise to what are called “personality disorders.” Yes, they are hard to treat. One pretty much has to acknowledge that this might be a lifelong process. I’ve noticed in my own practice that most people who come to me with a BPD diagnosis end up having a history of sexual abuse. People don’t just “get over” that. So the main thing is to learn survival tactics to use when one’s inner baby is screaming. For the last few months I’ve just gone right ahead and screamed, and it did help, but I do live very far from any human habitation, so it is unlikely that the cops would show up! Screaming in the car is also good. Sigh. Oh, and I’ve been fired by a psychiatrist because I made her uncomfortable!

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Amb says:

    You didn’t do anything to push her away. She made that decision on her own, selfishly. It was her responsibility to take care of y’all, not the other way around. I am so sorry that she did this.


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