I ended up calling my therapist on Tuesday. I kept ruminating about her failure to talk with me about her short break next week for Thanksgiving, so at about 11pm, I called and left her a voicemail that went something like this:
“Hi, it’s Andi. I’m calling super late because this is the first chance I’ve had to slow down and breathe all day. And I realized that I’ve spent most of today obsessing over you not telling me that you’d be out both Thursday and Friday next week. I mean, maybe it should be obvious that you’d be off Friday as well, but it wasn’t. So it’s just really concerning and distressing to me that you didn’t talk about that with me. Especially since next week is Thanksgiving, which is something I’m super stressed about, which you know because we’ve been talking about it! And I know we’ve been in a weird, difficult place lately, but I’m still pissed that I have to go through that without you. It pisses me off and I need a place to discharge all of that emotion, so…here it is. Okay, bye.”
I felt kinda better after I hung up. It served its purpose.
She called back the next day and acknowledged my voicemail. She reminded me that she’d offered sessions on Tuesday and Wednesday next week to make up for the missed hours and said we should definitely try and talk about this during our next session.
I kinda just skimmed it the first time I listened. I didn’t want to hear what she had to say. Then I listened again and realized she sounded very thoughtful, which was nice. I could tell she’d chosen her words and tone carefully.
So after stalling for five minutes at the opening of yesterday’s session, I told her I’d received her voicemail. I said the thing that stood out first was her reiteration that she’d offered me other times:
“I heard you say that. It wasn’t lost on me. But that isn’t the point…that isn’t what upset me. I was upset that you were…I don’t know, it was unlike you. You’re very diligent about this kind of stuff – scheduling, parameters. You are always on top of that. So it seems careless to me that you didn’t bring it up with me sooner that you’d be out of the office during two of our regular sessions.”
She said that made sense and that I was right – it was different of her to not have talked to me about it and she could see why that would be upsetting to me. Then I told her I didn’t know what to say because it seemed like the conversation was over now.
“Well I didn’t mean to end the conversation. If there’s more to say about it, I want to hear it.”
“Okay. So…you’re supposed to protect me. That is part of your job – to keep me safe in the ways you’re able to. And we talk all the time about how the ways to keep me safe, and keep the work and the space safe, is to ensure we have routine, predictability, parameters. But you broke that. And the timing is particular unfortunate because, to me, it seems like you’re putting conditions on keeping me safe.”
“Conditions? How so?”
“Because! We’ve been in this awful place lately and it seems to me like you chose not to be as firm with your usual professional conduct because I am somehow not meeting your conditions.”
“What would those conditions be?”
“That I demonstrate to you that you’re doing your job; that I respond to treatment and to you; that I don’t cause you to feel helpless…”
“That sounds like a lot of work. And it sounds exhausting.”
“It is. And I’m serious.”
“I know. I was planning to bring up the break with you on Monday, but -“
“-I don’t believe you.”
“I know. I know you don’t. And I was hesitant to talk about this with you because we’ve had such a hard time lately when it comes to scheduling changes. Our conversations end up being very upsetting to you. I wasn’t sure how you’d react to me bringing that up.”
“First of all, that’s different. If I come in and say I need to cancel or reschedule, that’s on me. But we are not equals on this. So I can change things and be a flake or whatever and that’s part of my deal. But you don’t get to do that! You have to be consistent. And you have to tell me when you won’t be here, no matter how you think I’ll react to that information.”
“I hear you. I hear you.”
“Plus you didn’t seem to care when I brought it up on Monday. I asked if you’d be out Friday and you were just like ‘No, I won’t be here.’ Why didn’t you take that time to have a conversation with me about this?”
“Did you not hear me offer other session times next week?”
I felt the heat start to rise into my face. I wanted to just shut this conversation down, but I took a deep breath and collected myself.
“See. That, to me, is challenging. You know the answer to that question because I answered it in the beginning of this session. I told you that I heard you say that. So why would you ask me that question if not to be challenging?”
She literally shrugged and threw up her hands.
“Why are you doing that?! Why are you just throwing up your hands like you don’t care?”
“I absolutely care. But I feel like my hands are tied. I feel like everything I say to you is upsetting.”
“So? What are we supposed to do? Just sit here?”
“I don’t know. What if I just don’t know the right things to say? What if I’m not a good enough therapist to figure that you? What would that mean?”
I laughed. “Do you really believe that? That you’re not good enough?”
“Wait…are you worried about that? Do I need to be worried about that?”
“Maybe. Maybe you do. Maybe we both need to be worried…”
I felt my heart stop. Everything stopped. I looked at the clock – it was halfway into the session. I started thinking of ways I could get myself out of that room without making a scene. I needed to leave. I needed to get out of that physical space before the unthinkable happened. I was just about to excuse myself to at least go get some water when she said,
“…okay, I was being playful about that. It seemed like a particular difficult topic to talk about, so I was trying to find a way in. But I can see now that it didn’t help.”
I was dumbfounded. “No. That was not funny.”
Tears started streaming down my face.
“I see that now. And I can see that I hurt you. What did I trigger?”
“What?? Are you asking me that because you just want me to talk about it or because you genuinely don’t know?”
“I genuinely don’t know.”
I just sat there for a long while before saying, “I feel like you’re mocking me. Because it seems SO OBVIOUS to me what just happened, so the fact that you’re saying you don’t know seems almost like you’re making fun of me.”
“I promise I’m not making fun of you.”
I sat for a while more, still crying. Still panicking.
“Well now I just feel stupid because this is so important and so triggering to me and you have no clue what is going on!”
“Well then maybe I am the stupid one.”
I sat a little more, just trying to keep myself relatively composed. I felt like I would burst. I was shaking. Then I started to dissociated.
“Try to stay with this. I know it’s painful, but try to stay with it.”
“I can’t even remember anymore! I can’t remember what I said or you said or what even happened.”
“That’s not as important as the emotion…what’s the emotion you’re feeling?”
I didn’t want to tell her that, or anything else. I waited a little longer before asking her to repeat the last few moments of our conversation before everything came to a screeching halt. Once she did I said,
“Okay. So in the roughly 12 seconds between when you suggested that we should be worried and the time you clarified that you were kidding, I was absolutely terrified. I seriously thought you were going to tell me that you were backing out of this.”
“Why would I do that?”
“Because…I just thought you were opening up a conversation about how this isn’t working and we’re not a good match and maybe we should talk about what to do moving forward…”
She looked startled as she realized what I was saying.
“You thought I was abandoning you.”
I covered my face and started really crying.
“Yes. I really did. And I just thought to myself, ‘No. Please no. I can’t do this again. HOW did this even happen again?! WHY is this happening?!’ I went to this horrible, dark place inside and I really thought you were going to terminate my therapy. I thought you were giving up on me.”
“That’s…I’m sorry. I don’t think that at all. I’ve never thought that. I think this IS the work…we’re in it. It’s hard and painful and uncomfortable, but we’re doing it. I believe in us. And I believe in you.”
I believed her. Sort of. But I could not recover from that moment. I still don’t think I’ve recovered. It’s not really her fault or my fault or anyone’s fault, but reliving that moment – realizing this thing I need and want and love and rely on was about to be yanked away from me – was severely triggering, even if it ended up being false.
I know she was trying to use humor to help us communicate, but this was just not funny. But I’m so glad she clarified for me and we were able to talk about it more.