Today is not a good day.
I can’t really even explain why or what’s wrong, but everything feels off.
There’s definitely been a lot of chaos within the system lately, which always makes even very basic functions challenging. I’ve barely been able to make any decisions all day. I was studying in a coffee shop when suddenly the combination of people + noise + sunlight + warmth from said sun created so much stimulation that I had to jump up and leave immediately. I felt like I was going to die if I did not get out of there at that exact second.
I couldn’t decide on what to eat. I muddled it over for so long and then eventually just settled on a homemade protein shake, which is banana, almond milk, and cocoa powder with natural protein powder and ice. It’s a liquid food and one of the least threatening things I can consume when I get like this. I ate far too few calories today, which is frustrating because we’d been doing so much better with eating recently.
I’m still in the midst of midterms, so there’s much studying to be done around that. I also have an assignment due on Tuesday, at least three chapters to read, and a paper to begin writing. It’s not really a LOT of stuff, but I am struggling to get any of it done because it all feels so overwhelming and impossible to even begin tackling.
There’s also the real-life practical testing that goes on in the clinic, so I constantly have to be reviewing old material to be ready for the spontaneous “tests” my Clinical Instructor gives me in the middle of treating a patient. To be fair she’s really great and clearly loves teaching, so I learn a lot from her, but it’s still quite stressful.
Finances are always looming in the periphery and since I chose today to book our flights to see my Mom and sister in December, I was totally losing it. I grew up in a small town with a ridiculously small airport. You can fly there from NYC (because you can fly to everywhere from NYC) but it’s about $600 more than flying to the airport an hour away. I didn’t want my sister and brother-in-law to have to make that drive four times, especially during a northeastern winter, but I really could not justify spending that extra money.
After agonizing over this for a few hours, I decided to just text my sister. She texted me back within seconds and said she and her husband would absolutely pick us up and drop of us. We figured out which flight options were best and Wife booked them. So that’s done now. There’s just the imminent stress of traveling back “home” in the midst of the holiday season. Meh.
I told my therapist I was likely going to be traveling for a week in December. And that week falls the week before she normally takes her winter vacation to the day. Literally the day I get back is the last day she’s in the office until the second week in January. So we would miss three weeks of session, which is nine hours of therapy. Yeesh.
She briefly suggested we do phone sessions during my vacation because “it seemed to work well last time” but I was not in a place to commit to that. It’s two months away. I wanted it to be on her radar, but I’m not ready to talk about much else. I basically become immobilized whenever I even think about it, so I’m gonna avoid that for a while.
As far as the sessions on Thursday and Friday, they both went very well.
On Thursday, I brought in the emotions around her changing the parameters for phone contact. I explained that I imagined part of why she did that is because she felt very helpless and frustrated by my need for her to call me back and then have extra session time. I said,
“I guess I imagined that you got the voicemail [on Thursday night] and knew you couldn’t call me back so you were like ‘Ugh! This sucks! I can’t call her back!’ and so then I email you the next day after missing your return call and ask for more time, which you didn’t have available. So, again, I imagine a similar reaction of frustration and helplessness. I feel like you probably felt a lot of things about it.”
She jumped right in, “I did! I had all of those emotions you described. I felt frustrated and a little helpless because you needed something that I couldn’t offer you. I did have that reaction of ‘Ugh! This is no good!’ but I think you need to hear this: I can handle those emotions. I’m okay with having them; with feeling that way. I have support in place and ways of managing emotions like this when they come up. And I only feel that way because I do care about you and I care about what you need.”
I actually felt a little overwhelmed by her transparency and obvious affection for me. It made me panic a little. I told her that I wasn’t upset as much by the changes she made; I understand them. But I am concerned that she even felt she needed to change them; I worry that I’m doing something wrong.
She said that I’d done nothing wrong at all. I told her that may be true, but whatever I did still shifted the relationship and one small shift can lead to another small shift and before you know it, we’re in a place I really don’t want to be in.
Her response was that our relationship is less linear and more about creating balance. She explained that the relationship is always in a state where it’s shifting, which creates a lot of potential for growth and healing. In her role as the therapist, she feels it is her job to constantly monitor that balance. When we start to move too far in one direction, she needs to be aware of that and determine the best way to bring us back to center, because center is where we can do the best, safest work. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but it does have to be protected.
Her commitment to keeping me safe is foreign and intimidating. I love the words she says, but they frighten and worry me. My response is always to assume that I will somehow threaten or damage the relationship and she will give up.
I’ve spoken before about the idea that I inspire helplessness in my clinicians. I brought this up again and said,
“I think I inspire people to want to help me. I have a magnetic quality that draws people to me. They are invested in being the person who can help me, possibly in part because at the front I seem like someone very capable of recovering. But then they can’t do that as well as they imagined, by their own measures and interpretation, I think it’s difficult and painful for them to sit with the subsequent emotions. They begin to feel helpless and incompetent and inadequate. And they project that onto me; they lash out. So all of that tension and rupture becomes about me and how I’m too much or have needs outside of their available resources. I become the problem, rather than their own dissonance or insecurities or even just the nature of this kind of work.”
I continued, “I’ve mentioned before how often times when Zooey would talk about her helplessness or difficult in meeting my needs, I would sit there wondering if she was talking to me or to herself. It felt as though she was responding to needs that I never actually communicated to her. And that felt awful to me. It made it seem as though I’d somehow accidentally communicated something that was making her change the way she reacted to me and now there was nothing I could do about it. Which is how I felt about you on Monday. And that’s when I said that I’d never felt more like I was in Zooey’s office than in that moment. Because in that moment it seemed as though YOU were responding to a need I hadn’t expressed and now you were making these changes based on that and I was helpless to stop it.”
She acknowledged and validated my experiences and thanked me for sharing that with her. Then she very gently said,
“I hear you. And I’m wondering about this idea that your therapists respond to a need you didn’t express. Because I did feel that way over the past few days. But part of that comes from the fact that someone else came to Friday’s session and they admittedly did communicate something very different from what I know Andi to believe. But that part of you is important. You may not feel contempt for me or for therapy, but part of you does. So, for me, I sensed that my unavailability somehow triggered that part and caused some sort of protective mechanism within the system to be activated.”
“So possibly what has happened for you historically, and possibly why it feels like your therapists are responding to someone else is because they are responding to someone else. They are responding to the part that spoke with them and shared a very different opinion or need. And although you may not share that need, it still exists and it still deserves recognition and thought in order to meet it.”
I just sat there. She was so right it made me angry. I pouted for a second and then responded,
“Regardless, Zooey still hurt me. Not only did she abandon me, but she did so with the message that it was not her, it was me. She threw me out the door with a list of the specialists she felt I needed in order to heal. She told me that I was in need of something extraordinary because I was too much for an ordinary therapist. And that hurt.”
My therapist said, “Right. She left you questioning your own ability to heal.”
“Yes! So I called these ‘specialists’. I talked to them and met with them and they were awful. They couldn’t see me or hear me at all. So she was wrong about that; I didn’t need a specialist. But she wasn’t wrong about me needing something extraordinary, I just see now that extraordinary can actually be…”
She cut in, “…ordinary.”
We both sat there for a moment as we quietly acknowledged the power of what we’d just said. She knew I was talking about her and I knew she was talking about me.