I have session three times per week. Right now, my appointment times are the same on Mondays and Fridays and slightly earlier on Wednesdays. I have to haul ass to get there on time after clinic. This past Wednesday I took a little longer to finish up with a patient and thus I got to the office one minute late.
I know my therapist’s clock is a little slower than my watch, so I wasn’t too worried. I really had to pee though, so after sitting in the waiting room for a minute or so, I just said “screw it” and ran to the restroom, assuming her door would be open by the time I got back.
I watched as the minutes passed and I became increasingly more anxious. Other patients came in and then went to their respective therapist’s offices for session. I still just sat there. Eventually, after probably 8 minutes or so I grabbed the book I was almost done reading and tried to occupy my mind with something other than my growing panic.
Fifteen minutes after my session was supposed to start, my therapist opened her door. She looked her normal self and didn’t offer any explanation for the delay. I was scared to say something, but I knew I needed to.
“Don’t we start a little earlier on Wednesdays?”
I watched as she processed what was happening and then a slight look of horror crossed her face. “Oh my god. Yes, you’re right. I’m so sorry – I got confused about the days and times.”
I felt both my heart and lungs stop functioning. I froze in place.
As I’d been sitting in the waiting room, I had imagined almost every possible scenario to explain why she hadn’t come to get me for session. But I didn’t know for sure until I walked into her office and asked her about it. Once I realized she hadn’t been managing some sort of crises or whatever, it hit me:
She had forgotten me.
And that sent a shockwave right to the very center of my most vulnerable and scary insecurities. I tried to recover from the experience, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t speak or move or even think. I was just stuck there, battling out emotion and reason inside my brain.
I think we attempted to salvage the situation by talking about it. I know she reassured me (more than once) that she had NOT forgotten me and had in fact just mixed up the times. She said she’d actually been thinking of me, but had thought our session was 15 minutes later. She also shared that she was absolutely mortified that she’d started the session late.
I shared that I thought she was full of shit.
She asked me to talk about my experience of waiting. I didn’t want to do that. I’d just lived through it and was still actively trying to pull myself out of the automatically physiological trigger response it sparked. Plus I felt hurt and betrayed and abandoned, so I wasn’t feeling too willing to be vulnerable with her.
But eventually I said, “You know me well enough to know what that was like for me. I’m not asking you right now to literally guess, but I’m just saying…I’m sure you can surmise the types of things that would go through my head in fifteen minutes.”
She said she probably could guess, but that she’d rather not because she’ll definitely be wrong about part of it and it would be better to just hear it from me.
“I was thinking a lot of things….that you had a client emergency, that you were sick in the bathroom, that you’d gotten sick and had to leave suddenly, that you’d had a personal emergency and had to leave. I actually took my phone back out of airplane mode to see if you’d called and left me a message. You didn’t, so then I wondered if you’d had something come up that was so urgent you couldn’t call your clients or leave a sign on your door or anything. Then I worried you’d gotten hurt or were dying or even already dead.”
“Wow. That’s a lot. And quite a spectrum of possibilities.”
She asked how I felt. I told her mostly scared. And forgotten.
She wondered if I had questioned whether or not she was intentionally delaying session or not wanting to see me. I thought it was weird that she asked that because I didn’t mention any of those things, but I suspect she thought I was too scared or ashamed to admit those thoughts.
But I didn’t have them. Well, part of me did (of course), but I didn’t. I told her as much.
“Honestly, that thought didn’t really linger for me. I would actually find it hard to believe that you’d forget about me. For one thing, you seem more professional than that. For another, you see me three times a week…I’m assuming I cross your mind rather frequently.”
She laughed quietly and nodded in agreement. She shared that she was really glad I hadn’t assumed her lateness was a passive-aggressive message about our relationship and added that although she is generally a professional person, leaving a client in her waiting room for 15 minutes is decidedly unprofessional. She added,
“The session was supposed to start at 4:15 and it did, but you were in it by yourself.”
I just looked at her, confused.
“Well, so you were out there and I was in here. But you were having all of these thoughts and reactions to my behavior, so you were already engaging with me, or about me, and about our relationship but I was in another room. You were alone with all of that not-so-nice stuff.”
Yeah, no shit.
We spent most of the session butting heads and speaking in fractured, disjointed snippets of dialogue that never really made a lot of sense to me. I think that I was just too activated by the wait and the panic.
I didn’t get to talk about anything else. There were some important things I’d hoped to bring up but I literally could not speak to her. She didn’t feel safe or trustworthy. The space didn’t feel safe. Nothing felt safe.
I started to leave and she said she would see me Friday at 4:30.
Like a brat, I said, “Well I guess we’ll find out, won’t we?” as I walked out the door.
“I suppose we will….”
I was a damn nervous system disaster. I got home and told my wife what happened. She suggested I call my therapist and let her know that this incident was still having a powerful impact on me. I didn’t really want to do that.
But I wanted to want to do that. I wished I had that urge, that longing, to connect with her and to double-check that we were okay and she didn’t hate me and blah blah, the usual. But I didn’t.
I just thought, “Meh, I’ll survive. It will suck, but I can get to Friday without talking about this with her.”
Wife pointed out that I was (once again) engaging in active and unnecessary self-deprivation so I committed to calling and leaving a voicemail. I said I’d decide what to do if she called back when that moment came.
It did (about 30 minutes later or so) and I picked up. I didn’t have any plans except to tell her I was kinda freaking out, imaging that I was a total loser and should probably just not show up to class or clinic the next day because I’m clearly such a stupid fat loser that my own therapist forgets me.
She was basically like “Whoa, slow down. That is NOT what you said in session…what’s going on right now?”
I mean, who knows. The joy of multiplicity, amirite? I constantly have to feel completely opposing things and then try to navigate through the world holding onto all of that nonsense. It sucks.
We talked for a while. Nearly an hour, I think. This is the first time I’ve been able to engage with her in a while. The whole starving oneself tends to get in the way of cognitive functioning. Now that I’m eating (slightly) more, I also feel things more.
Which definitely explains why I have an eating disorder in the first place.
Anyway. Somehow we got to talking about our attachment and how it felt unsafe and unsure and that I question whether or not she’s someone I can trust. She said it’s natural to have questions like that after something like what happened earlier in the waiting room.
“Yeah, but I’ve also been feeling like something is wrong for a while now.”
“What’s a while?”
“I don’t know. Um, three months?”
“Well that’s concerning.”
“Concerning? What do you mean by that??!!”
“We are working very hard to build this intimate relationship where we’re connecting to each other and creating a safe space for you to do some very difficult work. If you’re feeling this way, and have been feeling this way for a while, that worries me.”
We spoke about this a little longer and she said she had a feeling of what this linked back to (boundary issues, of course. God I’m so predictable). I hadn’t been thinking of that at the moment, but as soon as she brought it up I knew she was right. We’d managed to get through that mess, but not unscathed and not with a full resolution.
Then, in typical therapist fashion, she told me she thought it was good that all of this was coming back up and that maybe this unfortunate situation will be a way for us to swing back around and go back to those unresolved relational issues.
I wanted to scream. I hate it when my suffering is re-framed as a fucking opportunity for personal growth. No. Just stop being an asshole, people of the world!
Whatever. I’m glad we were able to talk about this because today was a big deal for me at clinic and I needed to go in that feeling okay(ish) about our relationship. She pointed out that it’s very very painful for me when there’s friction between us.
Again: no shit.
She said she was glad I called her and I told her that pissed me off because I knew she’d be glad I called and I didn’t want to make her happy. She playfully scoffed and said, “Fine. Then I’m not glad, but I’m intrigued that you called” (or something like that).
She said we needed to allow all of those emotions I was feeling that somehow got trapped inside of me to come out and be seen and heard; that it’s important for my anger with her to have a place in our work.
Ha. Yeah sure, lady. Good luck with that.