Next week I have three practical exams. Yeah, not fun. My classmates are all losing their freaking minds right now. We’re all putting in crazy long days trying to practice our clinical skills over and over and over again.
Normally we have “open lab” on Fridays from 10am-5pm. We were originally told that it was supposed to be “open” (meaning students can basically drop-in for help with lab skills) but what it actually means is “be there from 10am-5pm”.
I also have therapy on Friday mornings, so I usually stroll into the PT lab closer to 11:30am. Then I leave at 3pm because I have to work. I only scheduled work for that time because my director said open lab would go until 2:30pm. False.
I personally don’t think it’s a big deal because I am an “A” student who works very hard and I grasp material rather quickly. I don’t generally feel that I need seven fucking hours to review one week’s worth of material. Some people do. Fine. But I don’t. I end up so burned out and overwhelmed around hour four that I stop inputting new information anyway.
But the last time I showed up late for open lab, I was given the stink-eye by our lab instructor. And considering we have three practicals next week and he will be the assistant for ALL THREE PROFESSORS, I figured it would be wise to get my butt there in a more timely fashion. I don’t think pissing this dude off will end up benefitting anyone.
I wrote this down on Tuesday as part of my list of things to discuss in session. It was important to me to bring it up right away since the last time I had to reschedule a session, I forget and then awkwardly threw that information at the therapist on my way out the door. This time I wanted to, you know, NOT do that. I was sitting in the waiting area for about ten minutes reminding myself over and over again to bring up Friday morning’s session.
So as soon as I walked into her office, I sat down and rather abruptly said, “I don’t think I can come to Friday’s session.” She replied with a semi-startled, “Oh?” to which I just laughed and said, “You’re funny.” She asked why I thought it was funny and I explained that it’s just amusing because her response is so very therapist-y. I said that in “real life”, people don’t talk like that. They’d probably just suggest another time or assume you’d skip whatever event you couldn’t attend. But therapists? No. They need to analyze everything and figure out what it all means.
Which, whatever,…that is technically her job. I know. But it still feels strange to me. I suppose it reminds me that I am eternally under the microscope and there is no such thing as a “throw-away comment” with her.
Anyway. She later reflected back to me that she thought perhaps I was intentionally trying to provoke her (this was related to the conversation we were having at that moment). I originally didn’t think that was true. I will be upfront if I think that’s what I’m doing, but it honestly didn’t seem to fit. She asked if perhaps I was afraid that she would have responded with indifference to my statement and maybe I felt as though I really wanted to come to session on Friday, so it would have been hurtful if she didn’t respond in a way that showed she cared.
Actually, it was the exact opposite.
I knew she would respond responsibly and with compassion. I knew she’d ask what was going on that I felt I couldn’t make the normal session time. I knew she’d figure out how to make up the session at another time or, if that was impossible, speak with me about the implications of missing a session. I knew she’d be kind. I knew she would care.
And that felt absolutely awful to me.
I couldn’t tell her this. I thought it. I felt it. But there was no fucking way I was going to make myself that vulnerable to her. The sheer intensity of dissociation I was experiencing throughout the session let me know that at least one Insider is not thrilled with the state of the system right now. There’s some pretty serious efforts being made to push the therapist away.
So the more I think about it, the more I realize that she was right – I was absolutely trying to provoke her. The way I sorta barged in with this weird statement about not being able to come on Friday and then laughed at and challenged her response? Duh. Well, I don’t know that I, Andi, was trying to provoke her. But I feel very strongly that someone was. Or even multiple someones.
I know this is not uncommon in trauma survivors. In the literature I’ve read, I’ve come across more than one reference to the difficulty survivors often face when offered empathy and genuine compassion. I remember reading about a trauma client who physically ducked (as if being struck) when experiencing a moment of empathic connection with their therapist. It is often terrifying or physiologically painful for some of us.
I felt determined to find fault with this woman on Tuesday. Furthermore, I was doing everything I could to avoid receiving any empathy, kindness, compassion, or care from her. I would start to feel physically agitated or apprehensive when I sensed she was beginning to find any connection with me. I wanted to flee from my own body. At a few points, I wanted to put my hands up and physically push the emotion further away from me. The office felt tiny and crushing.
I’m going to try to bring this up with her on Friday (yes, we rescheduled the session for an earlier time). I don’t know how much she can help, but I think it’s important to share. And I’d really like to figure out which Insiders are using this as a protective mechanism and what purpose they believe it is serving them.