Do not abandon me…

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Barely a minute after I make myself comfortable on the couch, DS assumes a businesslike position, refers to his iPad and says he would like to chat. Something is different. Normally, he’s reclined in his chair with one leg over the other, waiting to listen. Every inch of my body stiffens in anticipation of his announcement. It’s like the last few seconds before a car crash. Everything happens in slow motion, sound seems to distort and it’s impossible to escape the inevitability of it all. Why do I feel like a naughty schoolgirl being called into the principal’s office? I try to focus on his face.

DS tells me he will not be able to make our session the week after next and can we reschedule? The first part of the sentence makes my neck stiffen and the second part induces a relieved whoosh of air through my lips. Just last week he told me he would be off for two weeks over Christmas. Add to that my vacation plans and I was facing three weeks without him. At the time, I tried to be grown up about it but that had slowly given way to fear at how I was going to cope without him. I try to reason with myself while listening to DS, attempting a flicking of the “do not panic” nervous system switch. Attachment panic does not listen to reason. It lays urgent claim to every bodily process and tries to establish a sense of security. I nod and we work out an alternative session for the week after next. In the back of my head I am wondering whether he is going to bring up the ballet show invite I e-mailed him a week ago. My body remains on the edge of the seat and ready to respond to any threat. It seems like we are coming to the end of our administrative discussion but alas, it is just the beginning.

“I also needed to speak to you about our session time for next year,” DS says while looking down at his screen, presumably at a calendar or a set of notes. He seems really calm. Cold fear grips my heart. This can’t be good. He doesn’t want me around anymore.

Just a few days ago, I dreamt that I arrived at his office and found a strange man sitting in his spot. This stranger was rude, perfunctory and looking at a tick-list. I felt like I was in a bureaucratic department and not a therapy room. This strange therapist ignored my pleas to see DS and decided I was done with therapy. I was enraged. He ticked a huge box on the form and sent me away.

“I am taking on some new commitments next year and will not be able to meet with you at our regular time on a Monday,” he says. “I was hoping we could discuss another time that works for both of us”. His words filter slowly through the neurons in my brain and it seems like a confused, foggy soup in there.

“How does Monday during the day work for you?” Anger rises in my chest at his request. I tell him I have to work during the day to make a living and there is no way to carve time out. “And lunch time?” he asks. No, he doesn’t get it. He is coming up with impossible times because he knows I won’t be able to say yes and it will give him a reason to say he has no other option but to stop seeing me. Tears pop up at the corners of my eyes. I cannot do lunch because I have such an unpredictable job. There is no way to commit to that. I feel frustrated, I want to scream… I feel completely abandoned. Instead, I sit mute and re-iterate that I can only see him after work. He offers an after-hours session on Wednesdays next year and I quickly nod.

Everything feels too intense. DS’s voice seems distant. Concentration is near impossible. He is negotiating and I just want to close my eyes and rest my head. Escape can’t come quick enough.

But it doesn’t and we’re straight onto our third matter for the day, the invite. DS acknowledges the invite and wants to know how I feel after sending it. I feel content with my decision to invite him to the show but also uncertain of what his reaction will be. “Well, to…um… respond, I cannot go to your show because of our professional relationship,” DS says. I hate that I am putting him in this possibly uncomfortable position. Obviously, we had already chatted about how I knew it wasn’t possible for him to attend. It still didn’t lessen the disappointment that I felt in the moment.

We spent the rest of the session talking about my fear at slipping back into old patterns of feeling and relating while spending the holidays with my parents. DS wanted to know about all my fears. What he doesn’t know is that I am scared he is going to forget about me. I am also scared because it is difficult to call up his face in my mind, especially when I feeling strongly, and I doubt my own abilities to self-soothe. As much as I hate to admit my dependency, I am continuing with a move towards intimacy and plan to ask for something of his to hold onto until our first session in the new year. I think this would be a way to soothe all the childlike fears I have and represent a physical way of holding onto the therapeutic relationship.

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21 thoughts on “Do not abandon me…

  1. You articulate so well that I felt the pull and attachment during my own therapy. It is a huge deal to find a place that begins to feel safe enough to really unload and find what I needed to get through another week. So much hinged on their every word. And always there is the threat of abandonment and the bottom falling out.

    What I heard that sounded really good was his keeping boundaries telling you he could not accept your invitation, It’s his job to do so. My guess is he will not give you something of his during his absence because he is respecting the boundaries of the therapeutic relationship. I could be wrong.

    But your idea reminds me of a self-soothing tactic Raymond suggested. He suggested a worry stone to keep in my pocket to rub when stressed. I collected a basket of chestnuts and kept one in my pocket despite thinking his idea was a little ‘nuts.’ I still have a few 20 years later.

    My relationship felt so close I sometimes thought he was all I needed. And feeling close to another human being was what I needed but couldn’t dare risk. But the reality is that learning to feel intimacy with him was a place to learn how to do so with others on a more permanent basis. Oh how it hurt when he moved.

    • Jay says:

      Thank you for sharing your experiences here! You are so right… The therapeutic relationship is a special one and has the ability to increase our hope and trust in external and future relationships. I like the idea of chestnuts 😉

      • After hearing comments of others, asking for an item seems helpful and saying he probably wouldn’t comply was off base on my part. I don’t remember thinking about for an item of Raymond’s during weeks we couldn’t meet and may have liked the it if I had. They say it never hurts to ask, but it does. Still, I’d rather ask for something and feel the stab of ‘no’ rather than not ask, because often the answer is a positive one. It’s a good practice to speak up for my needs either way, an ongoing challenge. Good luck!

  2. Wow. What a scary, scary session. So intense!
    I think it is really brave of you to ask for something of his to hold onto until your first session of the new year. 3 weeks is a long time, and I think that most people would be feeling anxious and fearful. Having a tangible item to hold is a really good idea.

    • Jay says:

      It definitely felt intense, kind of like a shock to the system! Haven’t asked him for a transitional object yet… Working up the guts 😉 One of my goals in therapy is learning to assert and voice my needs. There is a chance he may completely reject the idea. Scared to show dependency but fighting against instinct here to forge new ways of being. No one said therapy is easy 🙂

  3. Your post is a reminder to me as a therapist how much therapy means to some clients, and that it’s important to give them a chance to voice how they feel about changes in routine. Thanks for sharing.

    • Jay says:

      Wow, glad I could help. I think change is especially difficult for those who end up in therapy because it has usually led to something bad in the past. Clinging onto routine and control is one of the ways I’ve learned to lessen anxiety. But that mechanism is unsustainable because life is always changing and control is largely an illusion. I thank therapists around the world for their patience in helping us move towards being okay with change, even if it is at a snail’s pace!

      • I think most meaningful change is done at a snail’s pace because you’ve committed to something challenging. It takes courage and trust to enter into a therapeutic relationship.

  4. plf1990 says:

    Eesh well done you. I read that whilst chewing on my fingers, my own attachment anxieties high in my throat! I have a blanket, a polar bear and a book that belongs to my therapist. They are utterly invaluable. I hope you can ask for a transitional object xx

    • Jay says:

      Probably should have put in an attachment trigger warning! I am so glad you have these objects to keep close and help sooth you. Nothing better than a blanket… So warm, soft and easy to wrap around you like a big hug 🙂

  5. plf1990 says:

    Reblogged this on Understanding Me and Her and commented:
    Re blogging this as it expresses, so much more eloquently than I can, the attachment white noise that can come over me, even when the conversation is benign.

  6. Ellen says:

    I wonder how long you’ve been seeing DS for therapy? This reminds me of myself in earlier years, though not so much now after three years. It wasn’t exactly like this, but my T would say something in a particular tone of voice, about scheduling or just a comment like are you coming back next week…..and I would be convinced it all meant he wanted to get rid of me. I’d say he’s responded so consistently kindly in the last year, that those fears have faded for me to some extent.

    This might be a great area for you to bring up in your sessions. Interesting insights could emerge. I’m glad your fears were unfounded! And hope he can give you some transitional object. I’ve taken a shell, a small rock, and a book at different times, and it helped.

    • Jay says:

      I’ve been seeing him for a year-and-half. The first half of that, I was so wrapped up in the issues I had come to therapy with that DS didn’t even really feature on my radar except as a patient person willing to listen. Then something changed and it felt like I was truly seeing him for the first time in his chair. Cue all sorts of attachment fun.

      Thanks for sharing your experience with your T. I am glad to hear that the trust increased. Did you get to choose your transitional object or were they offered to you? Xx

      • Ellen says:

        As to objects – definitely not offered. I asked if I could take. My T has lots of books, and I’m interested, so I asked if I could borrow one, and he said anytime. So then I felt fairly comfortable asking, though usually before a break or other stress. Problem was, I lightly damaged two books, due to leaving out on my balcony. But he was understanding.

        He also has a bowl of shells and rocks, so one time, a kid part asked if she could have one, and he said yes, much to her delight. So now I borrow little stones – seems safest.

        Talking about attachment is hard but pays off I think. I still have so much other stuff, it mostly is not in the foreground for me though.

      • Jay says:

        Really brave of you to ask! And it paid off. I think it is a big step to ask for something in this setting because it means we are starting to assert our needs. In other words, we give the need more importance in that moment than the fear and possible rejection.

  7. drgeraldstein says:

    As a therapist, I think I was myself taken off guard the very first time I asked a long standing patient to switch to a new time — the sense of threat and loss it held. Of course, I had not intended it in that way and it did need to be talked about. There is some suggestion in recent literature that the computer, to the extent that it is consulted by the therapist in the session, can reduce the sense of contact and involvement (and not just for therapists, but any other health care professional). Holidays too are enormously difficult, but the therapists own external life needs to be cared for, lest he gets so “used up” and burned out that he has nothing left to give his clients. I’m sure you know this intellectually. In any case, good luck with this. It certainly sounds as though he will be there in January and that this is a problem the two of you will surmount.

    • Jay says:

      Thanks for your thoughtful reply “from the other side”, so to speak. I had never really thought about how therapists might too feel a sense of threat and loss in making these requests. It makes sense though. After all, aren’t we all just human 😉 I agree with you intellectually that holidays are much needed in your profession. I even told DS that a part of me was really pleased he was taking time out for himself because I don’t want him to be depleted or get ill. I think that is the natural care-taker in me. Normally, he gently highlights when it feels like I am trying to take care of him. Keep well!

  8. Jay, how did I miss this post? I am on my way out with the kids, but I am sending you so much love and warmth and empathy. Is it really 3 weeks or 4? Their absence is so hard to bear. I feel for you. *hugs from afar*

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