Life support


My therapist DS (Deep Soul) did not buy into the idea of accepting handwritten notes about my weekly thoughts, feelings and experiences. When we met last night, he was curious to know why I had wanted to give him stuff to hold onto between sessions. He guessed it might have been a way for me to sustain our connection, something I’ve really been struggling with lately. I said that was definitely part of it and told him my other reasons.

As he was asking questions, I sensed he was not keen about the idea and immediately felt like I had to defend my intentions. I should not have expected him to share in my excitement. Silly me. My heart started racing, I had a lump in my throat and I sat on the edge of my seat. I doubted myself and felt ashamed for even asking. He said I was welcome to write notes but that I would need to choose the most important ones and bring them into my session, not leave them with him.

He said it seemed as though I was finding it difficult to deal with these boundaries. It also seemed like I was not finding the support that I needed from therapy.

I nodded my head.

The last few months have been an extremely difficult time for me emotionally. My weeks have been punctuated with bouts of sadness, despair and lethargy. I wasn’t sure whether these feelings were more frequent or whether I was simply more aware of my underlying emotional state because of the therapeutic work we had been doing. Not having a clear cause or reason to feel this way left me in a state of flat denial.

You want me to work on my work?

But during the session, I realised I may be feeling this way because of what I have experienced at work. I’d prefer not to disclose what I do for a living but I can share that many of my days are filled with tales of death, violence and loss. Believing I was coping through professional detachment, I never raised my experiences with DS because I didn’t want it to hijack our work in areas I felt were important.

However, last night was different and I told DS about two of the notes I had written about these on-the-job experiences. The floodgates opened and I realised how much I had kept inside. DS asked what methods I was using to cope and I knew he was going to ask whether I was relying on my husband for support.

“I tell him what’s going on and yes, I do tell him how it makes me feel. But I usually summarise everything because I don’t want to be a burden to him,” I told DS. “I am painfully aware that the first 13 years of his life were spent dealing with a very sick and increasingly unavailable mom. I am scared my feelings will overwhelm him. I don’t want to trigger him.”

DS scribbled furiously and gave barely perceptible all-knowing head nods.

“And I know this is probably just all in my head. But it feels real to me, that my fears are real.”

Lean on me but be careful with that shaky boundary fence…

It was starting to make sense. Going through these experiences at work without adequate support had left me feeling quite unsafe and unsettled. It explained why I had been needing DS more and more recently and why I had a nagging need to be hugged or curl up into a ball. He was the only one I felt safe enough with to PRACTICE reaching out to, something I habitually avoid because I feel I need to be strong.

And so, the last three months have been filled with:

– An intense need for him to reassure me that he will be there therapeutically
– An unending yearning for him to tell me I am okay, no matter what I bring to the session
– Dreams of him abandoning me in some way or another
– A desire for him to be okay with me contacting him via email or phone if I really needed it.

And while he has listened to these needs, he has never encouraged or fulfilled them in any way. This has left me deeply bereft and increasingly isolated because I am worrying about the therapy relationship in addition to the job trauma and not feeling able and safe enough to turn to others for full support.

It’s not you, it’s me…

The weight of this now unburied hopelessness, grief and fear hit me at the end of the session. I tried to pull myself together and grab my bag and book off the couch before standing up. It was impossible. I couldn’t see much through the tears and I was ZAPPED of all energy. I must have tried this three or four times. DS could see I was a mess and sat down again.

He then asked me a series of questions about whether I had been keeping up my various commitments the last few months, if I had been struggling to sleep, whether I wanted to sleep more or less and how my appetite had been. I answered as best as I could through the sobs and basically said life was “running” thanks to an ingrained sense of responsibility (and not because of meaning, drive and passion). I appreciate that he took 10 non-paid minutes to check in with me.

It’s hard not to just give up and throw the towel in. But I’ll continue to try, battling my inadequacies, demons and critical thoughts the next few days as I always do… by myself.



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18 thoughts on “Life support

  1. 😦 I want to write something meaningful, but it will have to wait. For now, I send you hugs and strength.

  2. Penny Lane says:

    I thought the notes idea was actually very good! How can you be expected to contain everything for a week and then release it all in a big gush in a raw, emotive way? I get that this therapist is setting boundaries but he seems to be doing this all the time now! It’s not like you’re turning up at his house! Sounds like he’s on a bit of an ego trip! You look after yourself and if something works for you – you try it x

    • Jay says:

      I also thought writing notes would be a good idea because of that emotional release you referred to.

      Your comment about boundaries made me smile. It certainly does feel like he is setting an awful lot all of a sudden. But I’ve been processing this a lot and trying to understand whether his boundaries had perhaps always been there but it’s only because I am testing them now that they seem to be so much more present.

      I am so OVER aware of keeping boundaries in place, which is not even my responsibility as a client. In fact, I always tell him our time is up and as much as I want or need to contact him during the week, I don’t. I don’t even ask him personal questions because I would feel awful putting him in that position.

      Thank you for your support and words of encouragement. I think I will definitely keep writing the notes, even if just for myself.

  3. Therapy is so hard… You write so much of what I, and I’m sure others, are feeling. I’m thankful for your thoughts and sad for your continued struggle…

    • Jay says:

      Indeed it is! I wish there was an easier way sometimes but I guess that is part of the human struggle. We learn from experiencing, not getting or being told.

      Your words really are kind. I look forward to reading about your personal journey. We can truly learn a lot from each other and others here.

  4. Sandy Sue says:

    Yes, therapy is hard. Being vulnerable is hard. DS is right to hold the therapeutic boundary with you, though. I’ve had therapist who didn’t and that is just a recipe for disaster.

    I journal every day, much like what you do with your notes. How would it feel to keep a notebook of your writings, something for you instead of DS? I find that writing brings clarity to my thoughts, bleeds them of some of the emotion and urgency. It also helps me figure out what feels most important to take to my therapist.

    • Jay says:

      You are very wise Sandy Sue. While I am very confused and in despair about what is happening in the therapy room, I completely respect DS for holding that boundary. Obviously, I envisage how certain changes in his behaviour would benefit me but I respect that he has enforced that boundary because it is the only way for him to do his job sustainably.

      I am glad to hear you journal. I think it might be beneficial for me to continue writing about my life. As you say, when it’s down on paper, it takes on a new quality. We can observe our brain matter from the outside so to speak. I’ll try this and let you know how it goes. x

  5. Yes it’s up to the therapist to set boundaries. You’re right, it isn’t the patient’s responsibility. I think it’s also important from his point of view that whatever happens in a session stays within that session and does not spill over into ‘homework’ for him!

    All the best.

    • Jay says:

      Thanks for your insight and I agree with you completely. Had to laugh at the homework reference. It sparked a vision of packing DS off for the week with a bag full of my notes and psychology textbooks, me shouting out: “Figure it out and see you in a week”. Talk about a reversal of roles!

      I would LOVE it if DS gave me homework. Honestly. Even if it were extremely painful tasks. It would make me feel like I was DOING instead of guessing. I still set my own homework though πŸ™‚

      • Ha, me too, I thrive on that sort of thing and it also has immeasurable psychological benefit too.

        A therapist I saw a couple of times (only) gave me a simple exercise to do, write down my thoughts during the course of one day. The results are here, if you wanted to read them:

        However, she never got to look them over because she was quite useless in lots of ways, and forgot to turn up to our next session (which took place in the foyer of a Hilton Hotel) – d’oh!

        What strikes me now, reading back over what I wrote, was how short-lived and easily upset my good feelings were. I know that they still are in some ways but,baby steps. πŸ™‚

  6. ptero9 says:

    Hello Jay,
    Your post vividly reminds me of a point I reached in my own therapy, years ago. I was sure my therapist would die before we were finished. That was 20 years ago, and he’s still practicing!

    But the literal leaving is never the point, is it? For me, the therapy ripped me open, returning me to a state of rawness that was at the core of my deepest fears. Also, I was so hungry to be known, which was jumbled together with my ineptitude for knowing others, opening myself up to receive them.

    Sometimes, when we are falling apart, at our most vulnerable, it takes time to reassemble. I wish you well in your travels! Please know you are never alone.

    Thanks for sharing so much here with us.

    • Jay says:

      Hi Debra,

      WOW, what a lovely and helpful comment. I feel so much better knowing that it does get better and that therapists don’t act out our worst fears and pop off. Phew πŸ™‚

      So many lessons to be learned from your experience. Thank you for your support. Growth truly is possible when you put it like that.

      Hugs x

  7. Ellen says:

    My two cents. I agree that therapists do need to have boundaries, for everyone’s protection. The question is always where those boundaries are to be set. For me, your idea of notes seems good. I sometimes write my T an email during the week, if I’m struggling with something. I find that really helpful, as I cannot wait a week (at least, I feel like I can’t). Sometimes, he replies, sometimes not. But he always does read them. I’ve found this a much needed safety valve, as I am very shy about calling between sessions. My T’s boundaries are firm – sessions start and end on time, he shares little personal info with me, etc. But the emails fall within those boundaries.

    All T’s are different. Just, you’re not at all unusual for needing more than the once a week meeting. Especially when times are tough.

    It seems positive though that the notes led to you opening up about your job in a way you wouldn’t have otherwise.

    Come to think of it though, even with more contact, those attachment needs and pains don’t go away. It’s still a struggle, which is part of therapy.

    • Jay says:

      I think you’re right on the money there Ellen… Where to set the boundaries is the golden question and probably comes down to the type of client, the therapist’s experience and probably some instinct.

      Thank you for sharing your experience. I am really glad your therapist provides that safety valve, even if he doesn’t always reply. It helps just to know he is aware of your struggle and can assist if he feels it is necessary. You sure know how to make a gal feel more normal. I really thought I was highly needy (read weak) for wanting more contact every now and then 😦

      Attachment truly is a quirky beast. Hopefully we can tame and befriend it before our time on this planet is up.

  8. I’m starting therapy in a couple days, for the first time EVER. I am kind of nervous. I know exactly what you mean by always being strong. I tend to summarize things to my husband as well, and for all of the same reasons. Growing up, I always had to be the strong one and that has carried over into adulthood. Sometimes, being vulnerable IS strength. It takes a lot of guts to show weakness in a world full of people pretending to be strong. (If only I could take my own advice!) Hang in there, lots of hugs to you!

    • Jay says:

      Oh WOW what a big step! So exciting and thanks for letting me know. I completely agree with vulnerability being strength. What is stronger than being who you really are with conviction, in the face of doubt and potential criticism. Can’t wait to hear how your first session goes. I’m sure you’ll be making sure to see whether this therapist is a good fit for YOU. xx

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