Unbearable

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, my therapist closed Friday’s session by saying,

“There is nothing I can say right now that will help you or make you feel better. And that is awful. So we’re just going to need to hold onto this until Monday. But I am here. If you need to check in before then, I am here.”

I was so irritated with her and myself and the entirety of therapy in that moment, but I really appreciated that she said that. It was honest and real and she was absolutely right; nothing either one of us did would have helped take away the pain I was feeling. Her comment didn’t seem to come from a place of helplessness as much as an acknowledgement of our reality.

I also appreciated that she offered contact with me over the weekend. It was an important gesture because it signaled to me that despite the 45 minutes we’d just spent completely missing each other, she was still there and we were still connected. She wasn’t going to take herself away from me just because we struggled to reach each other in session.

So I did call her, basically the minute I walked in my front door. I left a message asking her to call me back and she called about 90 minutes later. I opened the conversation by saying, “I think I just need to hear your voice” (which is a pretty big deal considering the repercussions of saying the same thing in a voicemail to Zooey).

She said, “It sounds like you’re needing connection right now, after having such a difficult session.” 

I agreed and expanded on that thought. I said, “Leaving session when our relationship is in turmoil is the worst for me. Leaving after other stuff, such as talking about trauma or emotionally difficult material is very hard, but it’s not as hard as feeling like something is wrong with us. That, to me, is unbearable.”

“Can you talk more about that. Do you know what makes it unbearable?”

“It’s just…if you and I are not okay…if something is wrong with our relationship, then it feels like everything else is just hanging in the balance. And that terrifies me.”

“Yes! Our relationship is the foundation of this work – it is what everything else it built upon. So if you’re feeling concerned about the status of our relationship, it only makes sense that you’d be afraid of everything else coming undone.”

She reminded me again that she did not (and does not) take my behavior personally and that I’m allowed to bring any and all emotions into session, whether they’re directed at her or not. She also told me that she felt as though the session was super important for us. She said,

“Sometimes when we’re in that place where we’re struggling to track with each other and find common ground it can actually be what helps our relationship become stronger, because we have to really push through that together. It was so hard for you to stay with that emotion; to stay in that space despite how painful it was – and I know it was painful for you; I could feel that pain. But you did it and it was imperfect. Yet here we are, talking and connecting. And it’s so important for you to know that things can be imperfect without being irreparably damaged.”

She was making some good points that I am only now beginning to internalize. At the moment, I was too caught up in fear and anxiety to really process her words. I spoke more about the stress of feeling as though we’re at battle:

“It consumes so much energy to worry about us and if we’re okay. And there’s so much for me to hold onto when things feel shaky between us. There’s all of this really heavy stuff we’d begun to explore, but I put that on hold to address the relational issues because I wanted to feel like we were on solid ground before we even attempted to go there. Yet, somehow, I dug us into an even deeper hole and now we’ve spent an entire week missing each other and existing in entirely separate realities. So now, on top of carrying all of the shit around this new memory or alter or whatever is happening, I have to hold onto the relational stuff. And it’s just too much.”

“I know it’s a lot for you…”

“It is! And I can’t do it. So then I wonder: is this right for me? Is therapy right for me? Does it really make sense to do this? Because I already have to deal with the trauma, regardless of whether or not I’m in treatment. Having a therapist just creates this entirely new painful element to my life as I try to navigate our relationship and constantly worry that I will be hurt again. And I don’t need that. I can’t do that.”

“This sounds like the doubt you brought up on Monday.”

“Yes! THAT is the doubt I was expressing on Monday! I actually don’t really doubt you at all, as a therapist. I think you’re capable and I mostly feel like you’ve got this handled. But just the relationship itself is a source of tremendous pain and struggle and I start to doubt whether or not it makes sense to subject myself to that. How will we ever get to the work if we’re constantly butting heads and we can’t even reach each other?!”

She let out a gentle laugh and said, “Andi, this is the work. We’re already in the work; we’ve BEEN in the work. And so much of that happens through our relationship; that is a lot of what therapy is. I know it feels like therapy is on hold when we’re working through our relationship, but so much of that process is the process.”

This idea of what is or is not therapy reminded me of what I’d said in my last post – about how I felt like a little kid who wanted to run back to her Mom and tell her about some great thing that happened at school. I told her that and added a story from my childhood:

“I was in sixth grade, which was the year I became ‘popular’. There were these six girls, they were called ‘The Six Pack’, and they wanted to be my friend. We got along well until one day when we had this big blowout fight that involved physical violence. We were sent to the principal’s office and everything. I was devastated. I couldn’t imagine my life at school if these girls hated me. They were the coolest girls at school! So I told my Mom what happened. She listened…well, she didn’t leave the room as I was talking, at least. And after I finished sobbing out this whole story, she said ‘Andi, you’re just going to have to get new friends.'”

My therapist gasped and said, “Oh my god!”

“I felt so dumb. This thing was so so important to me and she just brushed it away…it’s like I was a fly on her shoulder that was bothering her.”

She paused a second and said, “And this is so much of what happens for you, right? This idea that you’re not important and that what’s important to you cannot or will not be seen – that YOU won’t be seen, or heard. And that if you are, it will be dangerous and invalidating.”

We talked about that a little longer and she again acknowledged how painful it is for me to sit with that emotion. She said that she wants to help me create a space that feels safer and more open to me. She said,

“I think if I had given you more space today and allowed you to just get out whatever you were trying to say, it might have been easier for you. And I want to make this easier for you; all I can do is try and I’m going to try.”

Then she said she had to go soon and asked if there was anything else I needed or wanted to say.

“I…yes, actually. Can we do a phone check-in for maybe Sunday?”

“Sure. Do you want to schedule that or just call me and I can call you back?”

“I think we should schedule it. If we don’t, I won’t call. I will want to, but I won’t.”

So we scheduled a call for Sunday afternoon.

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17 thoughts on “Unbearable

  1. Tina says:

    I’m SO glad you didn’t talk yourself out of reaching out by trying to convince yourself to be strong & not appear weak or needy. It was brave & courageous on your part to reach out & talk about it. I’m glad you voiced your fear & it really sounds like she heard you. I mean REALLY heard you. I love your honesty about checking in Sunday by admitting you’ll want to call but won’t. It’s good that you didn’t turn down the option & scheduled it.Tough stuff!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sirena says:

    Wow, that was brave to ask for the call on Sunday. The whole things was brave. And we alked about synchronicity yesterday of how we all seem to go thru similar at the same time. I thought today about calling my therapist just to hear her voice, and stopped myself. I wasn’t as brave as you. You explain so clearly to her how you are experiencing things, experiencing her it’s quite amazing actually. And it sounds like she’s had a little bit of time to refelct her part in what happened? What do you think?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Andi says:

      Thank you, Sirena. I think we’re both brave, but at different times and in different ways. Reading your posts, it’s clear that you’re in a particularly vulnerable place right now, which would make it extra hard to reach out for support.

      I do think she’s had time to think more on what happened in session. Her comment about giving me more space was very sincere and seemed like something she’d thought about since I left her office. Which is something I love about her – that she’s always shifting and adapting to meet my needs as we sorta figure out what those are.

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    • Andi says:

      Yeah, me too. It shows me that she really thought about her role in that disruption and is considering how to do it differently in the future. Thanks, E ❤

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  3. Tracey Taylor says:

    Wow I have to honestly say I am so jealous at how attentive she is and how available. As you may remember I told you my psychologist’s agency sends all after hours calls to a crisis line… That’s just it! When I was in my early twenties I was in therapy and my step father who was incarcerated for the abuse was released and on probation, would then violate and prosecutor kept trying to send him back and I kept getting called into court yata yata…. and not one single family member was supportive, well THEN…I did have a therapist who did crisis calls or I would not have made it!! I literally wanted to die the majority of the time, carrying around a full bottle of lithium with me at all times in case I couldn’t bear another moment. I was very self destructive. I would have NEVER made it without her after hours help. But not so much at this time. But I sort of accidentally figured a bit of a way around it. I had been writing notes to my therapist on a notepad app and several months ago I was feeling very disconnected, I think she was going to a conference or something and I asked her if I could share them as I went along by forwarding through email. I didn’t ask her to respond at all. (She doesn’t email clients as clinical director is very busy and spread thin) She was fine with the idea, seemed pleased to think that it might help and it worked so well and I did start to feel much more connected in between sessions. And surprise!! She occasionally responds with short encouraging messages. I don’t expect it or get upset if she doesn’t do it but it is SO COOL when she does, maybe more so because she doesn’t have to. But I have noticed that she must check her work emails at home because her responses come in at all varying hours/days. For instance she responded earlier this eve, Sunday at around 6pm and gave some advice because five year old suicidal Sedona, named after a bad experience there has suddenly been around lately and just cries for extended periods and nothing really works for her. Therapist told me to play the emdr beeping that we downloaded for her at a very slow pace. The point is, I think I could get her in case of a true emergency if I really needed. That feels good. You must feel so good though knowing she is that available. Does that soothe you Andi? It’s so funny because sometimes I think it’s not even always about needing to get them but just knowing you can! The more they prove that to you the less you truly need it. It’s so hard, like I understand object permanence intellectually of course, and very young children aquire it and she tells me we don’t have it and it feels so stupid to not have something that babies can even get. Like how can that be?? My sense of safety is so wrapped up in her. Not nearly as much as it was in my therapist who saw me for 7 years in my twenties…. but still very much so and people have no idea how horrible it feels, how terribly out of control, panicking like you are gonna die it feels when the therapists connection seems unavailable or threatened. All ability to regulate disappears!! I guess that’s what the majority of childhood must have felt for us and especially those early years when we were completely dependant and then abused abandoned, ignored, by the primary caregiver(s). It’s so sad. Hard for me to be sad for myself cause I never cut any of us a break, but it makes me horribly sad to see it in others! To see your hurt and pain when that connection isn’t secure. And how could Zoey NOT see the permanent damage she would be doing to that part of you when she just cut you off like she did! When that fear takes over Andi then look on your site, we can all help soothe you in her absence o at least we can try. You are NOT alone and your site has made me realize that I am not either!! Take care Andi!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Andi says:

      Yes, exactly. These challenges within the therapeutic relationship are especially painful and difficult because they DO replicate our childhood attachment wounds. I’m very grateful that I have a therapist who is both willing to have out-of-session contact with me AND able to hold that within safe boundaries; I think that can be a tough combination to come by. I wish I knew what the hell Zooey was thinking. I like to think she understand how much she hurt me, but I mostly think she doesn’t think about me at all :/

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  4. alicewithptsd says:

    I’m really glad that you were able to reach out and schedule an check in for Sunday. That’s good stuff!

    I also want to say how impressed I am with your ability who talk about the relationship and your fear surrounding it. I’m so afraid of the relationship that it’s as if even discussing it in therapy is forbidden. I think it’s quite awe inspiring that you are able to do this. And despite what I believed over a year ago when I therapy, I do agree that the relationship is the foundation of the work, and everything you and the therapist said about the relationship feeling unstable and so being unable to bring other stuff to therapy makes perfect sense. I also think that you have been doing the work– and it’s been hard painful work. Xx

    Liked by 1 person

    • Andi says:

      Thanks, Alice! It is admittedly very difficult to talk about the relationship within session. It is probably the scariest thing, really. But it’s so hard to do anything else of the relationship feels unstable or in jeopardy. So I always push to have these conversations, even when it makes me want to crawl into a hole and die.
      Thank you for saying I’ve been doing the work – sometimes it’s so hard for me to see that. I feel like I spend a lot of time waiting for the moment when I’m “doing therapy” haha. Looks like I already am! But, yes, … super painful.

      And hopefully, worth it. xx

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    • Andi says:

      Thanks, Jen! I think we’re a pretty good match, too. These moments, where we get lost and persist to find our way back to each other, reaffirm that for me in a way that is very healing.

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  5. ambivalencegirl says:

    This is the therapy and so beautifully healing. And I feel like that 6th grade girl you described. Andi, you are healing and you are going to get through all this and be my age and healthy and content and I’m just so pleased for you that I don’t know what to say!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Amb says:

    I’m so proud that you reached out to her. It took a lot of guts but you truly deserved her support. Sometimes it’s just nice to hear their voices and feel connected. xxx

    Like

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