Tag Archives: attachment

The return of the “perfect” therapy client

  

When I was in therapy with DS (Deep Soul) three years ago, one of the insights I gained about our work together was the way in which I tried to make his life easier and pleasant. This behaviour was sometimes at the expense of my own needs, desires and self-expression. I coined this persona Therapy Barbie.

She was always perfectly groomed and pleasant. Bills were always paid on time. Above all, she was considerate and wanted him as the therapist to feel her genuine care and kindness. Any powerful action or conscious thought was placed in a queue, so it could first be scrutinised for its value, effect and repercussion.

As therapy progressed, it became safe enough for the persona to relax… a little at least.

Now that I am in therapy with HH, I am aware that I am repeating this pattern. It hit me like a lightning bolt the other day. I’ll explain more in a bit, but first…

I see now that this striving for perfection originated in childhood. Taking care of others was a really good survival strategy. I perceived myself as useful and worthy if I was “doing”. How glorious to receive your parents’ love and public affection for helping them and being respectful. They glow when other parents tell them how lucky they are to have such an obedient daughter. You feel like you almost fit in. These characteristics can be positive in the right situation. 

But really, you’re just a performing seal.

Put differently, what if being the opposite is forbidden? What if voicing your opinions and trying to have your needs fulfilled is received negatively? It can easily turn toxic. What you’re left with is a little girl who has to stifle her spirit to get some needs met.  She unconsciously becomes a people-pleaser because it creates warm feelings of acceptance and competence. Maybe, just maybe, there is the belief that people will return the same selfless love one day.

Sadly, the legacy of this pattern means that I struggle to feel worthy just “being”. That is, unless I am “being a good girl”.

HH actually used this term to describe childhood me the other day. He likened little me to a “Girl Scout collecting all her badges”. I was a bit gobsmacked at the image but immediately nodded my head at his insight (yes, I know that’s what perfect clients do but this moment legit saw me bobbing my head up and down with wide eyes).

I have just been altogether well-behaved in our therapy. And it’s doing us both a disservice. My fear of bumping into his boundaries and possibly being rejected means I end up completely inhibited. There is little space left for me to do and say whatever pops up. I hold back because I don’t want to hurt him in any way (because then he might leave. Or he might see the cruel, selfish, ugly and worthless idiot that I am afraid I might truly be should everything else be stripped away). While we do good work, this pattern stops us from connecting intimately. A wall of protection will always prevent us from moving deeper. Once he truly sees me, he will better know how to assist or be present. I am aware that him seeing all my attachment behaviours won’t  lead to gratification and an ideal relationship. This is messy territory we are talking about.

If HH is the type of man I think he may be, he won’t run away. I just hope I have the braveness to keep showing up authentically once I lower the wall. 

Playful Jay

What are some of the things I have spontaneously wanted to do in this therapy relationship, but instead killed the thought before it gets me into trouble?

– Take some toys from the containers on the other side of the room so we can play a game.

– Have him listen to the pieces of orchestral/classical music that pierce my soul because I feel like they speak my inner truth.

– Email him when I need to connect or have him hold something for me until our next session (I haven’t once sent an email because of supposed therapy rules).

– Ask him personal questions if the need arises (I am so aware of not wanting to put him in an awkward position with self-disclosure. But I really think there is more space for him to be… Besides the personality traits he reveals, the only things I know are that  he sometimes struggles to be on time, he may be a smoker because there was a lighter on his desk, and he is old school because he doesn’t have a smartphone or a website).

– Challenge him if I don’t think he is “getting” me.

– Have a staring competition and see who cracks first. And then belly laugh the whole session because you’re acting silly and who says you need to be serious all the time? 

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , , , , ,

My year without therapy

image

This weekend marked a year since my therapist DS (Deep Soul) and I parted ways. These 365 days offered a chance for reflection, regression and growth. Many a client before me, and many still to come, will be confronted with this situation. Each will react differently. I cannot claim my path was special. It is also not over. I chronicle the journey because of an instinctual need to record and preserve. My wish is that you not be triggered, but rather find comfort and hope. Alternatively, I hope you can learn something. It’s pretty long so grab a cuppa before settling in…

The beginning:

It took a while to grieve his departure for another country, and the loss of our weekly sessions. Old abandonment fears sparked up in a twisted knot of rage, loneliness and despair. “Why was he leaving when he had previously acted as though there was no basis for my fears of being abandoned?” “How could my greatest support system at the time also be the cause of my greatest emotional pain?” “What did this say about my worth and closest relationships?” My husband offered much-needed support. But the despair felt strongest when we were fighting and I didn’t have another safety net. On the days I was more emotionally centered, I felt happy for DS and all the opportunities that awaited him. Hope nestled like a tiny, scruffy Phoenix in a pile of ashes in my chest. I was wary…waiting…wondering how the days, weeks and months ahead would look. As always, vivid dreams offered a colorful, if somewhat cryptic, reflection of my internal landscape. DS featured every now and then. It became a source of amusement as to what form he would take. I found that though he was physically gone, our relationship and tete-a-tete continued and actually developed in my dreams. Obviously, I refer specifically to the part of DS I had incorporated into my own personality. Most would argue that the symbols and people in our dreams reflect different aspects of ourselves. In a dream a few months after he left, I had a Karate Kid moment that left me feeling more supported:

I went to visit the doctor. I entered the office and the doctor looked more like a monk. He had glasses, a beard and kind eyes. I noticed the sign on his door said ‘THERAPIST’. I was confused. We started chatting and he asked how I was. The conversation was stiff at first and I said I was doing well. He stared at me and I felt my defenses breaking down. I laughed and said: “Well, that is what I am supposed to say”. He smiled, nodded slowly, but kept quiet. His presence was zen-like. I started opening up to him. There were suddenly other people in the office and it felt like a playroom for adults. The session became group therapy.

The middle:

Having initially entered therapy because of marital strife a few years ago, I found that my husband and I were progressively making leaps and bounds in our relationship. There was a renewed sense of playfulness, enjoyment in each other and increased ability to share our perceptions and feelings. I was overjoyed. Feeling more secure than I had ever felt in any relationship, I found myself blossoming. I took what I had learnt about intimacy and trust from DS into my marriage and friendships. Never before had I felt more loved and appreciated for who I was. If ever there was a time for an upbeat soundtrack and rolling credits, this was it. But occasionally, I felt fear rising to the surface as I lay in bed at night. “How could this joy last?” I would cling to my husband and pray that he not be taken from me suddenly, through a car accident, illness or some other drama. I had rediscovered what was important to me. And with that brought a feeling of how fragile life was and quickly it could be taken away. This nightly toiling was somewhat of a premonition. A few months down the line, my husband and I were caught up in a drama concocted by a very sick and sad person, that thrust open past fault lines in our relationship.

While it is still very difficult to talk about, and actually makes me feel out of breath and sick to the stomach, I will give an overview of what took place. A woman I had never met before phoned my husband at his office one day. She claimed she was phoning on behalf of her friend, who apparently felt very uncomfortable with an alleged chat her husband and I had on Whatsapp. The husband was a colleague of mine who I had worked with a few times before but did not really know that well. I sometimes liked his work-related photos and once or twice swapped information for assignments. He worked in a different building. The anonymous caller refused to identify herself and asked that my husband not tell me about the phone call. This raised my suspicions. Understandably, he was very distressed when he phoned and relayed to me what she had said. I tried to comfort him and assured that no such thing happened. I wanted him to know he had my absolute loyalty. Confused and shocked, I felt like the world was swirling around me. It felt as though our secure base and growth were being snatched away. There is truly nothing more devastating than being accused of something terrible when you are innocent. I sunk into a familiar pit of emotional despair. I didn’t know what to do or who to turn to. Those moments made me long for DS and his reassuring presence. He knew me. He would believe me.

Through this, I wondered why someone would blatantly lie. Why would they want to tear us apart? What person would willingly cause such chaos? My first step was to email the colleague in question, CC my husband, and tell him about the distressing phone call. I wanted him to clearly state to my husband that we were just colleagues. To be honest, I didn’t even know anything about his personal circumstances to try hatch up theories about who might be behind this. He assured that he and his wife were very much together and in love still, and that someone had been harassing him for a while. He apologised that this person had dragged us into the mess . He asked for the number this woman had phoned from.

Using all my investigative skills, I eventually uncovered what I believed to be the truth. I linked the mobile number to a woman through a Google search and cross-referencing. This woman, who turned out to be a freelancer for our mother company, had friended me on Facebook a few weeks earlier. Seeing her work details, I figured we had had obviously met before or had seen each other in a professional setting. I accepted and thought no more of it. She then was able to see my husband, where he worked and his department. It would not take much to phone his company and ask to be out through to his landline. While I don’t know for sure, I guess she must have had feelings for my colleague. She may have seen that I asked about his work trip to Dubai. I found that she used to like every post of his. This stopped just before the phone call and I guess he may have spurned her attempts to be closer or have a relationship. They unfriended each other and I later found she unfriended me before all this unfolded. Why she chose us as a target of her fury I will never know. After speaking to colleagues who knew her, I established she was not mentally well and prone to strange behaviour. Her actions angered me but I had better insight and understanding. I blocked her on all social media channels and increased my privacy settings. I then shared these findings with my husband, hoping he would feel more at ease. The attack had brought up old issues. Every day was an ongoing struggle over trust. A budding self-confidence regressed to insecurity. Fear, and not faith, was my foundation. Pretty shaky. Around this time, I had a jarring dream:

I drove to a house and it belonged to an distant school friend. Photos lined her walls. A baby was in some of them and I found out it had died. The house was quite dark and gloomy. I went outside and her husband drove in. He was absolutely devastated, hunching over and crying as he got out the car. Their house was suddenly replaced by a warehouse. I walked over to him because I realised I was there as a therapist. Putting my arm around his shoulder, I held him up and slowly led him to the warehouse. DS stopped in the parking lot and got out. He saw me supporting this guy. I was pleased because I hoped he would see me more as an equal and fellow professional. It felt like he was there to give me a therapy session. We all walked inside and my office was two sets of chairs and a table with a book labelled ‘counsellling psychologist’. The set-up was in the middle of the big warehouse and DS felt close but out of sight. Her husband confided in me that he wanted to commit suicide. It felt very urgent and I tried to comfort, placate and reason with him but he got increasingly violent. He jumped up from his chair and stormed toward me. DS appeared, whipped out a gun and shot him to protect me. The man collapsed to the floor. I was shocked and woke up highly unsettled.

The end and beginning:

As the dust settled, it was possible to reflect on where I stood and what therapy had cracked open. I had been here before. There was only so much I could say and do. Others were responsible for their actions and reactions. Trying to convince someone and, in a sense control the outcome, was futile. Relationships, life and people were messy, unpredictable and not always fair. As an idealist, I saw the potential of “what could be” instead of what was staring at me. Relentlessly pursuing the unattainable had caused me a lot of unnecessary grief. While there was some merit in believing in others, nobody could live up to these expectations, least of all me. I could not hope to heal old wounds by transforming a so-called bad object into a good object. Martha Stark described this phenomenon clearly and sensitively in her book, Psychotherapeutic Moments: Putting the Words to Music (available from freepsychotherapybooks.org). She explained how relentless hope was a defence to which people clung to in order to avoid grieving and feeling the pain of disappointment in the ‘object’. For me, this was the pain of parents who were not always responsive or available to the infant me. Fairbairn said: “A bad object is infinitely better than no object at all.” Cue a repetitive compulsion and a cycle of disappointing and infuriating intense attachments. If I think about it, I had transferred early and unresolved attachment onto DS. I so desperately clung to the hope that he would return to the country or somehow complete the incomplete. All of this sounds rather intellectual. But it sunk in on an emotional level as I read Stark’s book on a bus. Tears freely rolled down my cheeks with every bump in the road and every paragraph I read. I allowed myself to start feeling the “unbearable” pain buried deep inside. A therapist’s role here was to alternatively challenge and support. Without DS, but with some of his internalised good, I try to do the same. This is a long journey, maybe a lifelong one to make peace with reality. Or, as Stark says, “transformation of the need to hold on into the capacity to let go”. I dreamt this on the anniversary of his departure:

I drove to DS for therapy. It was in a different house and there were quite s few cars parked in the front yard. It took some maneuvering to find a spot. Once parked, I sat still for a bit. Excitement rose at seeing him again. In my rear view mirror, I saw a family leaving his office and wondered what their situation was. It struck me that I hadn’t been in therapy for a year. Maybe it was not necessary for me to go back.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Cold comfort

image

In the weeks since DS announced he is closing his therapy practice and moving to another country, I’ve been trying my best to keep things together. Like a mantra, I tell myself it will be okay after August and that this is for the best. My husband, family and friends have been very supportive and collectively tell me everything happens for a reason and I will get over it. It feels like there is this expectation that I should be over it now because they have said their kind words and allowed me to vent. The publicly acceptable gap for mourning is closing.

And yet the pain is so fresh. I don’t WANT to lose DS. I don’t WANT him to be so far away and very possibly never see him again.

When the lights are out and the night silence opens the space for terror and isolation, I cling to my cow Daisy for dear life and wish all the pain inside away. I try to find sleep in the fetal position and wedge Daisy’s head between my chin and shoulder. Sometimes, the softness against my bare skin seems to work and I find myself calming down. Other times, I lay curled in the dark with my racing thoughts and sleeping husband, at times wiggling closer to his warm skin for comfort and desperately wishing I could share in his utter surrender to the world around our bed.

If DS knew how much this was affecting me, I wonder whether he would think it’s all because of the transference and therefore not as valid or real? It’s real to me but I still question my own experiences and perception. It feels like his departure is more than just a re-activation of abandonment and safety fears from my childhood. I’ve connected with him on a very mature level. I will miss the relationship we built together, his listening and empathy skills, and especially the small bits of “non-therapist him” that shone through.

Our session on Wednesday was so disjointed and I feel like such a loser. I so desperately want to connect with him and enjoy our sessions while we still have them. But instead I just felt so sad. Having him in front of me was the most painful reminder of everything that I am going to be missing.

I saw blue wrapping paper, or what looked like it, in his bin as I was throwing my tissues away. For all I know, it could have been an envelope but I imagined another client giving DS a parting gift and I felt so excluded. Other clients are merrily sharing happy, intimate, nostalgic or healing moments with him, processing things, and here I am, weak and unable to connect.

It feels impossible to show myself compassion right now. Instead, all I hear is: you are pathetic.

Tagged , , , , , ,

Goodbye DS

image

My heart has not felt this much pain in a long time. My most wonderful, kind and helpful therapist DS is leaving. I am in shock.

He broke the news when I walked into our session on Wednesday night. I entered in the best mood he’s probably seen me in the last two years. We sat down and he said he had something big to share.

“I am going to be closing my practice in August and I am moving overseas for training and study opportunities.” (Or at least this is what I remember hearing. And it was probably said in a much gentler way). I felt like I was dreaming. Surely he couldn’t be leaving. Could this be another of my common abandonment dreams that I hadn’t yet woken from? There I sat on the couch, trying to process what he had just said. I was too shocked to cry immediately.

And then the emotions rose to the surface… joy, pride, sadness, despair, confusion and to a lesser degree, anger. The tears started pouring down my face as I opened up to him.

“I am so proud of you DS. What an amazing opportunity. Wow,” I said, meaning every single word. I felt like a proud parent. It was a courageous move to leave behind the familiar and his friends and family. At this, his eyes welled up and he broke out into a beautiful, genuine smile. I sensed this was extremely difficult for him and I told him I wouldn’t like to be the one to have to break the news to all his clients. It would suck to be in his position, knowing his move would hurt some people.

I had a ton of questions.

– Will you start a private practice over there? [yes]

– Are you taking your dog with? [yes]

– When do we begin termination? [when would you like to start, he asks. I tell him I honestly hadn’t thought about it and surely he knows more than I do]

And then the implications of the move hit me and I crumpled into my lap. We would have to say goodbye to each other. Not only was he leaving us but leaving the country too. He would be very far away, with no chance of bumping into him. He would be as good as dead. My whole body hurt at the realisation. It made me feel less alone that DS also seemed sad and had tears in his eyes.

How is possible to feel so happy for him and yet so sad and lost? Perhaps the adult and child part of me feel differently about this? I haven’t slept well since the news (just when sleep was getting better) and I find myself weeping at random moments of the day.

This sucks so bad.

Like it or not, DS is re-enacting what my dad did when I was four. My parents divorced, he left the house without much warning and I didn’t see him often after that. I need to find a way in the time we have left to re-frame this departure so it doesn’t scar me in future. I don’t know how but I remain optimistic.

I have to admit that a small part of me was relieved when DS told me he was leaving. It made me feel less crazy. I just KNEW something big was happening in his life and that he would be leaving. Call it intuition. I’ve felt that way for at least six months. Every time I shared my feeling that DS was going to leave, he acted surprised or calm. Either I sensed something before he did or he knew and was still deciding whether to move. My gut tells me he has been planning this for at least a  year. One doesn’t just decide on the spur of the moment to move your entire life to another country. My gut also tells me he is moving for love, and not just for his career. But I have absolutely no way of knowing this for sure. It’s just something I feel. I think growing up in a house where I was on alert all the time honed my super-sensory skills. I just wish I could call on those skills at will.

The next four months are going to be quite tough. All I know is that I don’t want to see another therapist after DS leaves. He was my first therapist and I honestly can’t imagine sharing that private space with anyone else. It would feel tainted.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Am I overreacting?

image

Please tell me whether I am overreacting. I need outside perspective from those who are familiar with the therapy process.

DS informed me at the end of last year that we would need to change our session from a Monday evening to a Wednesday evening because he was taking on new commitments. In our first session this year, he said we could keep the same day and time for now but that Wednesday would be a possibility in the near future. A few weeks ago, he confirmed it would be changing and we met yesterday in our new session time. I shuffled things around a bit to make it happen, knowing that the sacrifices were worth it because I really valued what I was getting from therapy and that it was important enough to me. I am more sensitive to change than normal and it takes me a while to digest how things might be different.

I arrive at our new session slot last night and DS poses himself in such a way on the chair that I know he is going to announce something. He tells me that he is phasing out his evening sessions and asks whether I will be available sometime during the day or just after 5pm. He knows from our previous negotiations with session days and times (we’ve been through this three times in the last 22 months), that it’s almost impossible to meet during the day or just after 5pm because my job is hectic and unpredictable.

I was shocked that he was changing things up as soon as in our first new session. It made no sense why he would prepare me to meet on a Wednesday evening and then tell me in that first new slot that actually he doesn’t want to work evenings anymore. It seems like an unnecessary disturbance.

The phasing out of his evening session seems unfair to me given that he suggested it in the first place. Once we changed from a weekend slot to a weekday slot, he created a reasonable assumption that that would be available to me for as long as I needed it. To me, removing his evening slot is based entirely on his needs, not on mine. Don’t get me wrong… I cannot overstate how much I imagine he has to deal with and how he may need more time outside of his therapy role to remain healthy.

But for once, I don’t want to have to think about his needs before mine, something which already happens in our alliance. I am dealing with the grief of losing my job, the huge anticipation and nerves around a new job, trying to finish up my Masters thesis, awaiting the outcome of a serious professional issue that arose from a genuine mistake and could threaten my reputation, and worrying about my dad’s health. To be honest, I don’t feel like myself at all and am finding it a challenge to cope. I feel very vulnerable.

Given that he knows how much I am going through, is it harmless to shake up the therapeutic frame and take away that secure base? And is it fair to put the spotlight back on the therapy process when he recently noted that he wonders what has been happening for me in daily life because we’ve talked so much about the alliance lately?

I understand that it could very well be an overreaction given my present fragile state. It just feels scary and real that I could lose DS and my therapy space if he does not budge. I know I need to be assertive and tell him what I need. With a head alternating between racing thoughts and big, empty expanse, it is hard to think clearly.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

What do I do now? (and why does DS feel so far away)

image

For the last few months, my colleagues and I have been dealing with a highly uncertain situation in which our company was considering closing down. There were meetings in which very little was actually said. Most of us went on holiday in December without knowing for sure whether we would have some form of job security in the New Year. The most horrible part was the rumours. People in the industry seemed to know more about what was going to happen than we did. It was humiliating.

We eventually had a staff meeting on Thursday. A few of my colleagues and I tuned in via conference call after a stressful two hour delay. Our boss confirmed that our company was being liquidated and would shut its doors at the end of next month. It was like a punch to the gut. My belly twisted and turned as I heard the fear and anger in my colleagues’ questions.

The last few days have been weird. I have only cried for a few minutes. This is highly unusual as its usually the first thing that happens to ease internal pressure. I’ve felt lost, sad, angry, confused, tired, numb and sick. I’ve had blurry nightmares where I wake up without remembering what happened but feeling horrible and tired. Last night, my eyes shot open at 3.30am and I couldn’t fall asleep again. I usually sleep pretty well. My husband has been amazing and I don’t think it would have been possible to get out of bed if it weren’t for him.

The retrenchment has brought up all sorts of issues and questions. I am extremely sensitive to changes in my life and threats to security (You may say: well that’s life…full of surprises! While I realise that, I can’t change my fundamental sensitivity. I can only hope to work with it rather than against it). I don’t want to be a burden to my husband by relying on him if I can’t find a job. I loved my job and it was a big part of my identity and sense of accomplishment in life. How do I find a job that offers the same challenge and is also in line with my ideals and ethics? I guess I will have to find out.

The timing of the retrenchment coincides with confusing feelings about the therapeutic relationship. DS and I had a really weird session a week ago. I drew quite a few parallels between the transference and not feeling I was “good enough” for my dad. There were moments of insight and clarity as we chatted but the session was also painful. I can’t really remember the whole hour. It feels as though someone took an eraser and haphazardly worked on parts of my memory. What I can recall is sitting at the end of our session, feeling very out of sorts. Things felt fuzzy and I sunk into his couch, staring up at the ceiling. My whole body felt tingly and I floated about. I think I remember DS asking me a few times about what I was feeling in my body. It took a lot of effort to answer him. I just wanted to escape into the fuzziness. It felt so relaxing and inviting. Not sure what it was. And then I snapped back into my body when I realised I was running past our time. I am always very conscientious about keeping to time. I felt disorientated but told DS I was “fine” and got up. He said he would see me next week and I walked slowly out of there, putting my hand on the door frame to steady myself.

That bodily experience has never happened to me in therapy and I felt vulnerable and confused afterwards. I desperately hoped DS would e-mail or text to check in and see whether I was okay. He didn’t. That, and the fact that he let me walk out of his office in that state, makes me feel like he doesn’t really care. Like it’s just an illusion. I know therapists sometimes don’t make contact in these types of instances because they want the client to know they have faith in their self-soothing and coping capabilities. But I feel more alienated now. I don’t feel stronger.

As if that weren’t confusing enough, he said he would not be able to meet with me for our session next week because he is away. It was me who noted it was after the Valentines weekend. I immediately assumed that he must be in a relationship and going away with the one he loves. Not good for the transference feelings, especially abandonment, pining, anger and loss.

I guess it just feels like I have to do this alone because he won’t really be here for me during this very stressful time. Yes, he may meet with me an hour a week but whose to know if it really means anything.

Everything must eventually pass and on some level, I know this will be an opportunity for growth. It just feels so overwhelming.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Being held (and the promise of a transitional object)

image

I sit wide-eyed and stiff on the therapy couch, anxious at our imminent separation over the holidays. My body plays “statue statue” and attempts to remain as inconspicuous as possible. I feel very young in this session. While I am sure I’ve shown my young side to DS before, this is the first time I am aware of it. It is the strangest sensation. My mind peeks at my arms and legs and they seem fully-grown. My feet can easily reach the floor if they want to. And yet, I feel small. My lips pout like a toddler. My throat emits a slow, somewhat babyish and unsure voice. Me, but not me.

DS, on the other hand, is exactly the same. He wears one of his checked shirts, unbuttoned over a soft cotton top, jeans, and sandals. His feet are nice. Soft and squishy toes like mine. Re-assuring.

When we started the session, I’d shared another dream I had about him. I was with my mom and sister in his waiting room, and my mom was asking about him. I looked through all his client folders and pulled out one with his information. It was in my handwriting and we looked through it. Out of all the text there, all I could recall seeing was his name and surname. The next folder I pulled out contained a drawing of a bunny rabbit. We found this peculiar and laughed. The scene changed and we sat under a tree in a lane. DS walked past with a bottle of red wine or champagne in his hand. He was on his way to a party and he stopped to greet. I was dressed in a lilac and silver dress with revealing cleavage. He seemed taken aback by my appearance in a good way. I introduced him to my mom and then we chatted while my mom and sister chatted. DS was so relaxed. He seemed spontaneous and uninhibited. I was in awe that he could speak so much! The scene changed again and I was walking into a cottage, with DS leading the way. I was telling him how much I needed him and how scared I was. I sensed he was trying to let me down gently without upsetting me. Not wanting to be confronted for my neediness or held accountable for my behaviour, I pretended to sleepwalk while talking to him. My eyes were closed at times and I held out my hands to guide the way. He stopped in the bathroom with his back to me and said “We  have reached a really important stage in your therapy”. DS seemed to be very conflicted and weighing up the best course of action. Eventually, he invited me to wrap his arms around him from behind. It felt surreal and warm. Then he turned around to face me and brought me closer to his chest, like a parent would with their child. We gazed into each other’s eyes. I felt truly held and safe in that moment.

Tears fall down my cheek and he asks what I am feeling. I am sad and he wants to know why. I figure out that it’s because I know he can never hold me like that. From the dream, the session unfolds into memories of pretending to sleepwalk as a small child so I can spend time with my parents instead of being alone and scared in a dark bedroom. I have a bedtime and am supposed to leave my parents alone after that. I make myself as inconspicuous as possible in front of the television and hope they notice but don’t notice me. Sometimes it works.

“So you were supposed to disappear after 7pm? You were not supposed to exist after that,” DS says gently, more as a statement than a question. I nod and feel the pain of these weighty words. He draws a parallel between me then and the me sitting before him now, present but not able to be fully present.

He doesn’t know that for the last month or so, I’ve been sleeping with a soft toy cow my mom gave me a few years ago. I want to ask him about transitional objects but also fear that if he knows about the cow, he will deem that sufficient. Then I think that obviously it’s not the same because it’s not his. With my mind made up, I shyly ask him if he ever gives his clients something to hold onto during breaks.

“Yes I do. Actually I had been thinking about that for you,” he responds. My eyes widen even further and my heart skips a few beats. He understands. The mood changes in the room and although I am still reserved, excitement pops its head out.

I ask if he has chosen an object and he says yes, a book. The corners of my mouth shoot outwards. Books are special. We often talk about them and I sometimes share with him what I am reading. Has he chosen a specific book yet?

“I have a few in mind,” he says, adding that he is still deciding between fiction or non-fiction and what do I think?

I want to bounce around in my seat in anticipation. “Fiction”. Fiction is personal. I imagine reading the words that his eyes have already sealed onto the page and imbued with meaning just waiting for me to discover. While a book is not soft, it can still be held and even better, loved in words and thought.

It becomes clear he has spotted the ‘Haruki Murakami’ book lying next to me, which I’d bought along to read beforehand. He asks whether I’ve read Murakami’s “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle” and I reply that it’s my favourite book.

“I would like to read something I haven’t read before. Surprise me.” The kid is feeling cheeky and brave. He takes it well and we agree that he will think about it.

The session comes to a close quietly. I feel shy again but content. My eyes slowly gaze upwards at DS and he smiles. I smile and quickly look down again. A few seconds pass and I look at him again. His eyes radiate and he smiles again. A fun game. For a moment, I am held in mind.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Do not abandon me…

image

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.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Showing up

image

I told DS last night about my end-of-year ballet show. It’s a lifelong dream to be a ballerina on stage and I have been rehearsing A LOT. Two weeks ago, I sent an e-mail out to my family with the dates and advised them to get back to me as soon as possible so I could book tickets. My dad said he had a business trip and wouldn’t be able to make it. I was bummed because he had known about the trip for a while and never said anything despite giving him dates ages ago. I know he didn’t raise it earlier though because he hates conflict.

I worked through the anger and sadness around this with DS and then remarked that it was funny because I’d also been meaning to invite him to the show for the last 5 or so sessions. I had been putting it off because I expected he would say it was not his policy to attend client functions. Who wants to feel disappointment and rejection around that anyway?! And yet, I knew on some level that if I felt disappointment early enough, it would be easier WHEN my dad ended up disappointing me (I am clearly psychic). Nonetheless, I’ve made peace with the dad issue. I told DS what my husband had joked about when I told him I wanted to invite my therapist to come and see me.

Husband: “You should tell DS that there’ll be a special therapist box in the concert hall. It would be slightly separated from the rest of the audience and have one-way glass so he can see out but no one can see in. Complete anonymity guaranteed. And he can chat with all the other ballerinas’ therapists and swap notes!”

DS and I had a good chuckle about this.  He then asked me what it would feel like if he came to see me.

My legs were crossed on the couch like a child and I rested my elbows on my legs in thought. When he asked the question, my whole chest filled with energy and my eyes welled up. It was overwhelming. I was trying to pinpoint the emotions. For a short while, I sat there not knowing what to do with the sensory overload.

Eventually I stammered: “It feels like you have touched my heart. Not literally. But metaphorically. I would be touched. And I guess I would feel pride. Yes, I would feel so proud if you were there!”

I explained that being on stage and being “SEEN” was one of the most anxiety-producing situations I could think of. And yet I was finding ways to cope with the anxiety to achieve a dream. He said it took courage to be up there. We chatted about my roles in two of the dances and the costumes I was making with my friend. The one is a glamorous burlesque-style costume, which I described as very revealing. DS said “and powerful”. That made me laugh inside. Note to self to chat to him about why it’s so difficult to see my sexuality as being powerful.

He wrote down the dates of the show and wished me well with the rehearsals. The session felt like it ended on a high note. Thinking about our session afterwards, it dawned on me that I had not actually ended up inviting him. I felt buoyed by our chat and decided to sleep on it. This morning I sent him a very short mail:

Hey DS,

Following on from our chat last night, I have decided I would like to formally invite you to my show. Here are the details:

[I attached the poster]

See you next week,

Jay

——

This is the first non-admin email I have sent DS in the 1.5 years we have been working together. I went with what I was feeling this morning, which was absolute trust in the therapy process. This is my big leap in increasing the intimacy between us. I am letting him into my life. I don’t have expectations about him attending. It would be lovely if he did and that is why I invited him. But if he doesn’t… it feels like I tried. Yes, the childlike parts of me are very twitchy and scared at what is going to happen. But the adult part of me feels good to have initiated something.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Ending each therapy session

image**

I had an interesting experience in therapy with DS (Deep Soul) on Monday. Our time was drawing to a close and I had discussed for the first time how anxious I feel around other people and how fearful I am of the anxiety’s effect on my relationships. As usual, he asked how I was feeling as we were wrapping up.

Most often, there’s just a deep sadness that time has gone by so quickly and that I will have to wait another week to feel his presence. I feel ashamed for feeling sad when he has been so kind. It’s like I am ungrateful and greedy. As a result, I find myself withdrawing the closer it comes to saying goodbye. It’s not entirely of my will. I just feel myself distancing, becoming really formal and speaking monotonously and without affect. This is most likely something I use to protect myself from feeling the pain at departing. DS raised his observations about my departures a while back and I have been trying to remain more present as a result.

So when he asked how I was feeling last time, I opened up about my sadness and tried to remain with him emotionally in the room. It was hard fighting against habit. I told him it was difficult. As I type this now, I think the difficulty is that I have to feel whatever is real for me in that moment instead of being numb. Feeling touched that he was being empathetic as we sat there, I said:

“It’s difficult but I am willing to do this [try be more present] for those I care about.”

Scared at the silence and that he might interpret the words as me coming on too strong, I added: “like you, my husband and perhaps a few of my closest friends”.

My intention with those words was to show him that I appreciate him sticking around and that I am ready to do the work I need to in order to strengthen my emotional regulation and intimacy skills.

Instead, he said it felt like I needed to reassure him or give up my own feelings and needs to maintain the relationship. I said he was reading too much into it. Oh boy, did I feel a need to distance myself from the rising rejection in my body then! “It feels like I am rejecting you?” he enquired gently. I said it sure did but that I understood what he was trying to say. He added that there was obviously a lot going on with me trying to stay present and he was curious to know what that experience was like for me. He didn’t want me to cut off certain feelings or leave things unsaid.

“I understand,” I said in a soft, somewhat monotous voice. “You’re trying to look out for my needs as a client.”

“As a person,” he replied.

——–

** “Friendship” by Pablo Picasso. 1908.

Tagged , , , , , , ,