Since I had to go to therapy right after the rather disastrous appointment with my shrink on Monday, I was in a difficult emotional space. I felt intense rejection and a sense that the world was caving in. I think I also felt like I had very little left to lose, since I was now in conflict with both my therapist and psychiatrist, which emboldened me in a much needed way.
So when I got to session, I opened with about as much truth as I could handle. I said,
“I feel like we should just end this: therapy, sessions. Because I feel like you are dangerously close to bailing on me and I can’t tolerate that thought. I can’t be in that space, dealing with all of this fear. I can’t be waiting for that. I can’t be imagining it. I don’t want to think or feel or do anything that has to do with you abandoning me. So I just want to walk away now, before you can really hurt me.”
She first assured me that she has (still) not had any thoughts about bailing on me or ending our treatment, but then she asked if perhaps her comment from last week had left me feeling afraid and concerned that she was at a limit with me?
She spoke about what happened and told me that she hadn’t thought through her comment about “24/7 availability” very well before speaking and realized after the fact that of course her words would have had the impact they did. I reminded her that she’d spoken about feeling like I don’t allow her to have boundaries. She said,
“Right. So what I mean is that if you (or River) ask for something and I cannot give it to you, having a reaction like that (such as storming out of the room angrily) makes it seem as if that is unacceptable. I want to be here for you, but I also need to be able to have space to not be able to meet your needs perfectly.”
“Well, actually, I have some opinions about that and I wrote it down on scrap paper while I waited for my birthday dinner at the restaurant after Friday’s session. Can I share it?”
She nodded. I started reading:
It seems like I may have an impact that causes you to WANT to shift your boundaries, or makes you question them in some way, and that seems very upsetting and uncomfortable to you. Because, sure, River asked for something she needed and your slight hesitation was okay. You’re allowed to hesitate. But River is also allowed to feel that’s an intolerable rejection that put her in danger of annihilation. And the reality is that nothing happened – we didn’t call, text, or email you. You didn’t hear from us again until our regularly scheduled session. So perhaps part of me does want 24 hour predictable access to you, but no one acted on that – no one pushed you. Which makes me wonder if this boundary that “isn’t allowed” isn’t perhaps coming from you and your wish to meet my needs (spoken and unspoken) that generates dissonance and thus resentment towards me.
I asked her not to “therapy” me to death. She asked me what that meant and said,
“Tell me what you need from me right now.”
“I just…I don’t need you to analyze it. And I really don’t need you to clear up whether or not my analysis of you is true. It’s not really about you, it’s about me and how I experienced you. And I think that when you jump in to ‘reality check’ my perception of you, it pulls me out of my experience. I know that is part of what you’re trying to do – to help me stay grounded in what’s really happening, instead of what I’m imagining is happening – but it also feels very minimizing. Because it might not be real for you, but it’s real for me and I think there might be really important stuff in why I react the way I do.”
“I agree. And I see that I do that – that I interrupt to share my experience when maybe what you really need is just to be heard.”
“Yes! Right now, I just need you to hear me.”
“I’m here. I’m listening. And I’m also going to really think about what you said and where there may be truth to it.”
Then I told her what happened with my psychiatrist. When I finished the story, she said,
“I’m torn. I want to just sit and listen, but I also have some theories on why she did what she did and I’m wondering if it would help to have some outside perspective?”
“No. Right now I just need you to be on my side. I’m sure there are plenty of plausible ‘good reasons’ for what she did, but right now I just need to be pissed and hurt and I need you to support me and just be pissed at her with me.”
“Alright. Well…I am pissed. At least, I’m disappointed. I really wanted this to go well for you because you really liked her and I hope you two can work through this. Do you think you could talk to her?”
“I don’t know.”
Then the vibrating alarm went off on my Fitbit (a fitness tracker you wear on your wrist). I laughed.
“What? What are you laughing at?”
“I just…so that’s an alarm that I set.”
“What’s the alarm for?”
I looked at the clock. “Five minutes left.”
She narrowed her eyes for a second, waiting for me to say more.
“I…ugh, so the end of session is really really hard for me. And I just thought if I had some way to signal to myself, to know that time is almost up, it might help me wind down. I kind of want it to be a way to gauge where I’m at and what I should do with the remaining time.”
She thought about it for a second and then said, “Which seems like it would probably be less jarring and less intrusive then me glancing at the clock and saying ‘so we’re almost at the end of our time, but….'”
“Yes! Much less jarring!”
She thought about it some more. I wondered if she was upset or something.
“What do you think?”
“I think it’s a good idea, especially if it will help you transition.”
Then I just sorta word-vomited and told her just how hard it is to manage all of the emotions around those transitions:
“So I come in here, and it’s usually right after class or clinic, so I have to sort of calm down and break down the shell that helps me get through normal life. And then it takes me a while to warm up to being here. I have to settle down enough to feel safe and comfortable. And then I do settle and our conversations becomes so soothing and we start connecting just in time for the session to end. So then I’m frantically trying to build the shell back up, but it’s hard and I want to hold onto you; hold onto the connection. I leave feeling absolutely devastated and like there’s this huge gaping hole. It’s excruciating. And I’m thinking of how I can hold onto you – should I call? Should I write? Should I blog? But it becomes unbearable to feel that longing, so I start smashing it all down, eliminating the feelings one by one until I’m numb and detached from the whole thing; from you. And then I finally feel calm and okay…I feel like I’ll be okay. But then it’s time for the next session and the process starts all over again. It’s exhausting and painful and I really really hate all of the ups and downs. I hate the connection. It’s too hard.”
She narrowed her eyes and looked right at me with so much compassion as I finished speaking. She said,
“I am so glad you told me that because it’s all very important and this is exactly the stuff that we need to be talking about. I don’t have the perfect solution and I don’t know what would work, but I think we need to keep talking about this and keep trying to come up with solutions to ease some of those painful emotions and make this less devastating for you.”
“I think so, too.”