It can be so hard for me to stay open and connected to my therapist.
I think about my Monday evening therapy session ahead of time. I want to strengthen our connection, the one that was so shaken this summer, because it’s my security in the therapeutic relationship allows me to take emotional risks. And it’s the risks, of course, that are essential, if I’m to change old patterns.
I decide I will ask E to sit on the couch with me. Usually she sits in her chair and I sit in a big armchair across from her. I will process my recent letter to a shameful memory, share my reaction to the Trump tapes over the weekend. And I will broach the topic I have been thinking about, namely that it’s not possible for me to be fully not-depressed, and therefore I want to work with her to help me plan a life that is sustainable in light of that reality. I expect her to argue with me some about my chances of recovering from depression, but I know she’ll still work with me on the task.
I walk into her office and start to take my boots off. Right away she says, “You know those circles, with all the affirmations? I need those back from you. I told you that, right?”
My breath catches in my chest for a moment, but I keep my voice even (not looking at her) while I say, “Actually, I’m pretty sure you said I could keep them.” Actually, I am positive she said that. I sit down on the couch, on the furthest corner from her chair. I don’t ask her to join me on the couch.
“I can give you some others, but really I want the ones back that were in that little black velvet bag,” she says. “Those came from [I don’t remember, the creator maybe?]. I have some others, new ones wrapped in plastic; you can have those.”
This feels weird to me, but I write at the top of the page where I take notes during our session, “bring back bag with affirmation circles.”
Before I can say anything she says, “Oh, and I have to ask you something. I hope it won’t cause a conflict. But I’d like to get you into one consistent time slot on Mondays and then give this 6pm time slot to another client who doesn’t have a lot of flexibility in her availability.”
Immediately, I have so many problems for me with this request:
- I have a weekly session with her on Mondays, one week at noon, one week at 6pm. I much prefer the evening session. Meeting at noon disrupts my day both before and after. In the evening, the building is quieter and it feels more private. I am always wishing I had all my sessions in the evening.
- Our rupture this summer was about her wanting to move the time of my session and my feeling of abandonment. I feel like she is testing me by asking me this.
- I hear the “I hope it won’t cause a conflict” as a criticism of my prior reaction.
- I feel like the other client is more important.
- I feel an implied statement that it would be selfish of me not to agree because I am, after all, unemployed and could go at a different time.
- I myself think it would be selfish not to agree.
- I used to have a Wednesday evening session, and when we changed it, she told me that her first loyalty was to me, and that I had that time first, and if I needed it back, she’d do that. Yes, I was employed then, but she made me feel that what I needed was very important to her.
I say, with difficulty, that I prefer evening sessions. She says I don’t have to decide right away (which means that “I prefer evening sessions” is not taken as a decision).
This leaves me unable to talk. There is a long silence. Part of me is so disappointed and wants to pout, wants to make it hard for E. I take a breath. What is the point of making things hard for her? That only hurts me; it is sure to make me sad later over a wasted session. So I decide to try. I talk to her about my letter to my own shameful memory and end up reading part of my blog post about it.
E likes the letter, a lot, and she likes me reading it aloud to her. She mentions the work of Buddhist teacher Cheri Huber (The Depression Book and No Matter What You’ve Been Taught to Believe, There’s Really Nothing Wrong with You). E tells me that Ms. Huber has a new model that encourages us to record affirmations or encouragement and play them back for ourselves multiple times a day, so that we hear our own voices providing compassion to ourselves.
I think, okay I could do that.
E says, “I have been telling a lot of my clients to do this…”
Panic inside. When was it that I stopped being a person she loved to work with, someone she genuinely seemed attached to and concerned about? When did I become a widget? Now I’m just one of a list of people who get the recording recommendation this week. She has grown so detached from me. She must be tired of me. I am asking too much of her. I bet she regrets allowing me to text her. I regret reaching for her. It’s too annoying, too tiring, too repetitive to respond to me over and over again, to see me so many times. Last week she said something about not usually seeing clients for such a long time. It’s overflowing for her, the sense that I am there forever. She’s so ready to move on.
I carry these sad, frightened thoughts home with me. I start to write this post, think of calling it “The Impossibility of Connection” or “Worn Out Therapist” or “The Futility of Therapy,” perhaps or “My Therapist Doesn’t Love Me Anymore.”
I don’t want to repeat all this internal drama. It’s too painful, and more than that, it doesn’t lead me anywhere. I spend the evening trying to right myself. Really, I’m trying, though I don’t know that E understands that. Here are the ways I try:
- I intentionally reconnect to my goal of feeling closer to her, feeling that she’s by my side as I take on feelings I have avoided. I text her and ask her if she would be willing to draw or collage or something with me in a session, instead of me doing it alone between sessions. She agrees, warmly. See, I am trying to identify what I need and advocate for myself.
- I write myself a letter reminding myself that it is not E’s approval, but my own, which will make me feel better. I am using the voice of my wisest self to re-orient myself to what matters.
- I resist impulses to burn myself and instead renew my commitment to being gentle with myself and accept everything, even my hyper-sensitivity to E.
- Monday night, still fretting at bedtime, I tell myself I will let myself call her on Tuesday, if I feel that will help.
- Tuesday morning, I meditate for half on hour, focusing on just being present. I notice my thoughts and how they catch on the idea of mattering to others.
- I practice my TRE skills, letting my body’s tremor release some of the tension I am holding in me.
- I notice my thinking and pause when the words “pathetic,” “needy,” “bothersome,” or “disgusting” come up. My daily meditation practice carries into increased awareness when I’m not meditating. I have some control over whether or not I follow a line of thought or let it go.
That’s real effort, isn’t it? Is there something else I should be doing? I think about quitting therapy (after all, it’s been long enough, and I should be done by now!) but that’s reactive, isn’t it? I want to be thoughtful. I want to be positive. But sometimes I’m just confused.