After all the chaos of last week, I went into Monday’s session feeling very apprehensive. It was hard to fall asleep the night before because I felt so anxious about seeing the therapist again after having such a tumultuous week, therapy-wise (real life seemed to go okay, since I scored a perfect 100 on both of my midterm practical exams, despite all the ensuing crises). I shared some of my thoughts about this with my wife who said I should just open the session by sharing how anxious I felt about it and go from there.
But I didn’t. I did make a half-hearted joke about how “interesting” things had been last week and she laughed appropriately. But I could immediately sense I had my “charming” face on (which happens a lot when I come to session right from school and Rachel has been out) and was going to be pretty superficial all session. Despite that, we ended up talking about some really important stuff because she’s good at her job, so she can steer any conversation I try to derail into therapeutic territory.
But it wasn’t the space I wanted to be in. And it felt compulsive – this need to be super stable and “okay” and “surface” after a particularly challenging week. It’s not that I don’t value the work we do when sessions are lighter, but there’s also this underlying sense that I am pushing away things that really need to be brought in there. She asked me a few sessions ago if I thought anything was triggering me (or the System). I said no even though I knew there were no less than four pretty big-deal things that were creating tension and stress among various Parts.
Why did I lie? I don’t really know. But I think it’s because I have a really difficult time understanding how to introduce more difficult topics in session, especially if it’s something that involves another Part. Not only am I afraid of triggering myself, but I am afraid that the space somehow won’t be safe. This could mean that I destabilize in some way simply due to the nature of what I’m talking about, or it could mean that the therapist does not respond in a way that feels safe. I am already quite sensitive as it is. Bringing up particularly difficult topics only makes me even more reactive to every little thing she does, which tends to be a chain reaction that’s considerably hard to interrupt.
I had touched on this idea of compulsive stability throughout session, in a different context. I was juxtaposing my “therapy life” with my “school life” and sharing my utter astonishment at how I can be so emotional and unraveled in session, but then completely controlled and calm for classes and exams. When asked to expand on that, I shared that I believe this comes from different Parts being more invested in our professional life, but (if I’m being honest) it also comes from me.
Very few things scare me more than the idea of being legitimately crazy. I also hate being labeled as crazy, but my true fear is in the potential truth of that statement. So I tend to go through much of my life with this compulsive need to appear as normal, healthy, and stable as possible. I know I don’t always succeed, but I do fairly well. Even when my abnormalities go noticed, I have endless reasonable excuses to explain away my eccentricities. Most people don’t care enough to investigate further anyway.
It makes for a pretty lonely existence, though. I get along well with my classmates, but I keep them at a very safe distance. Even the friend I hang out with 2-3 times a week for study sessions is a very casual friend. We mostly just laugh when we’re together, which is good and something I need, but also – I’m constantly monitoring myself to ensure I don’t accidentally reveal my true (collective) self to her. It’s exhausting.
Which is probably why I need therapy to not be yet another place where I have to hide things away. So I brought it up. I told the therapist that there were all these things that most definitely triggered the System prior to last week. I said, “This has been a productive session and we talked about important things, but none of them are the things I should have been talking about.”
She responded by saying that “sometimes after a difficult period of time, it is better to have a stabilizing session where you don’t get into much depth or intensity.”
She also said some other things, but I can’t remember them because the above statement totally activated me. I felt like she wasn’t understanding me, so I tried clarifying. It didn’t work. So then I just shared that what she offered as a response is not what I needed from her right then.
“I’m not sure how else I could’ve responded to you. You told me that there were these other things that you should have talked about, but we’re in the last five minutes of session, so we really can’t get into those today. But we can definitely talk about them on Friday…”
Then I was just done. I wanted to bail out of there and forget about the whole thing, but it also felt really important that I clarify this with her.
“It’s not that. I know it’s the end of session! I didn’t bring these things up so that I could share them right now – I brought them up because I DIDN’T mention them when I needed to or when I should have. And although I understand that it can be important to have lighter sessions after a crisis, I am telling you that this is something I need help with! It’s a really big deal to me because I’m trying to hold onto all of these HUGE things and I can’t do it! I need to be able to bring them in here, but I don’t know how. I don’t know how to do that because I’m worried that I’ll fuck everything up and ruin this.”
“Well, I think this is why we should keep talking about adding more space. Sometimes it can feel like this when there isn’t enough space…I’ve found that you kind of know when the frequency is off. And when you hit the right frequency, things start to feel more okay.”
“Fine. Whatever. Space! I hear you, but this isn’t about that. Adding more space wouldn’t matter. I could come more often or we could have longer sessions, but it would be the exact same…”
“Because you still wouldn’t know how to talk about these really scary things…”
At that point my voice was breaking and I was lightly crying. But it really was the end of session. As in, one minute left. Still, she stayed completely with me in the moment. I could tell she was working incredibly hard to track with me. She knew that this was an important moment and she didn’t want to miss what I was trying to communicate. I’m not sure exactly what was said after that, but I think she more or less understood the larger point I was trying to make.
I stood up to leave and she said, “Thank you for sharing that with me. I think it IS really important and we can talk about it more next time.” I just nodded and walked out, but it admittedly felt unresolved and like a whole lot to hold onto until Friday. So I called and asked for an extra session this week. She offered one for tomorrow and I took it.
I took the extra damn space.
Maybe I’m not ready to talk about the Big Stuff – the things I don’t talk about with anyone, ever. But I think what I truly need right now is for her to help me create a space where it feels like it would be okay if I did choose to bring them in. Because I am so tired of feeling like my speech and my emotions are policed by mental health professionals. I’m tired of feeling like I need permission to share my honest truth in my own therapeutic space. And I’m tired of constantly feeling afraid that my truth will further alienate and distance me from my clinicians.