Today’s story is about thoughtlessness, uncertainty, fear, responsibility, and why I probably shouldn’t text with my therapist, even though I would hate to give it up.
Quick backstory, for anyone who has missed it: In the past month or so, I’ve started feeling quite a bit better after a long and painful depression (and not my first). Reducing the chemical toxicity of my brain, long-term therapy, meditation, and body work all came together to give me some relief.
I went away for a long weekend with women in my family and enjoyed it more than I’d expected. I came home feeling good, really good, for the first time in, hm, years I guess. I had some energy! Then I walked straight into a therapy session in which I ended up feeling hurt because my therapist forgot about my abuse as an eight- or nine-year-old, while also becoming triggered when trying to remind her what it was.
For the next few days, I was a little upset but mostly numb. Then as time passed, my sense of hurt that E could forget what my father did to me grew. How could she forget? What I tell her is not important. I am not important. I don’t matter. You know, the usual spiral. I recognize it as untrue but find it hard to stop. I reach out for reassurance from E, but her words, meant so kindly, just become more ammunition to fuel the fire I use (metaphorically) to burn myself.
At the same time, the impact of the trigger also grows, or my awareness of it does. On Saturday, my old “I am bad” thoughts return. I am bad. I am dirty. Slut. Pig. Disgusting. I see they are terrible thoughts and not true, but that doesn’t stop them. (Note: noticing negative thinking patterns and letting them go does work for some things, but it seems like once I’m triggered, I’m beyond being able to observe and release thoughts.)
In therapy yesterday, I try to explain this to E. I manage, awkwardly, to tell her that I am hurt she didn’t remember. She responds with warmth and no defensiveness (okay, maybe the tiniest bit, or that might be me looking nervously to see if I can find any evidence that I’ve done wrong and accused her unjustly). She assures me that she cares for me and at the same time that I have the right to feel hurt. That helps some. The bruise is less tender.
We talk about being triggered. We discuss all the skills I’ve developed and how hard I work to care for my triggered self. Just in the past few days, I can list things I’ve tried: I look for guided meditations to help me accept what is, to reduce my resistance. I use yoga postures to relax into greater openness. I read. I blog, I talk kindly to myself. I allow myself to ask E for reassurance. Just this wider range of coping strategies says I’ve made progress.
But I’m not settled when I leave the session. In the evening, my bodily sense of having been triggered grows. By morning, it’s exploded into overwhelm. I can’t concentrate. Bit by bit, the self-soothing tools slip away. I feel pressure in my vagina and a constriction in my throat. My pelvis is tight. I think about how I am supposed to allow these feelings. Always allow, over and over. But it feels miserable! How many times do I have to allow? Isn’t that enough by now? I don’t want these feelings anymore! I want my good feelings to come back. I want my energy. Do I only get those five days of feeling healthy? It’s not fair!
I want to rip this fucking skin off my body. Can I please have a different one that doesn’t carry all these memories on it?
This is the way I am feeling, lying in bed with no energy to get up, when I text E:
I am so MAD! I feel like shit, skin crawling, pressure in my throat, pressure in my vagina, heavy weight on my heart, brain stuck so it’s hard to concentrate. And I am supposed to allow this, and allow this again and allow this again. Allow it to take up hours, days, weeks, months, even years of my life. Fuck that! I never “allowed” these men to touch me in the first place. They had no right and yet they did whatever, satisfied their lust or their curiosity and moved on. But it’s like I have to keep fucking allowing the impact of this thing I never allowed in the first place. I am sick of allowing it. I can’t tolerate it. It’s simply intolerable.
I stay in bed a few moments longer. Then I think, Ugh, I can’t just be a lump in bed all day long. I get up, throw on some clothes. I put my phone back on the charger and tell myself, Stop obsessing. Stop obsessing for at least a little while. Besides, I hate to hold the phone and wait impatiently for E to respond. She might be busy with something else.
I go into the kitchen, eat my cottage cheese with flaxseed and raspberries. I skim the news and read a few blogs. I try to allow things other than old body memories to occupy my consciousness. Nearly an hour later, I walk back into the bedroom and pick up my phone. In the back of my magical-thinking mind, I am wishing that E will have thought up a brand-new coping strategy that we have never thought of before, one that will haul away all this garbage from my body and my mind. That’s it, the Garbage Collector Solution.
There are nine messages from E. The first several offer empathy and acknowledge how unfair it is. The next one is encouragement to stay in dialogue with the pain. To let myself be angry, as long as I don’t direct the anger at the girl.
A few moments later (as she probably wondered why I didn’t answer), she continued:
Are you in danger of hurting yourself?
Would you like to talk by phone?
Then she left me a phone message, saying she was concerned. Would I please call her back or text her to say I’m okay? But of course I had silenced my phone. I do that most of the time actually, because I hate being available unless I’ve chosen to be.
A bit later, she texts again:
Please respond to my call. I’m worried for you.
I need you to call me. My next move is to call the authorities to come check up on you. You have me really worried.
Then another phone message (which I didn’t listen to until quite a bit later), saying she was in her car, driving to the office to get my address to call the police. If I don’t want her to call the police, I should call or text her right away.
Then the last text:
I just called 911. Someone should be there soon. I care that you make it through all this.
It must have been just moments afterward that I walked back in my bedroom and picked up my phone. I read the texts and my jaw dropped. Oh no.
No, no, don’t call 911. I’m not in danger.
I’m sorry. I didn’t have my phone w me.
Sorry I already did. I was VERY worried. Now I’m feeling a bit better except you’ll be pissed I called.
Oh no, I’m an idiot on top of everything.
Not my experience of you.
I want you to be safe.
What do I tell them when they come. Fuck.
I’m sorry I worried you. I feel horrible but I’m not in danger, just overwhelmed.
The truth will be fine. Let them know I overreacted based on our texts and your lack of response.
And then, of course, the knock on the door. I open the front door to a young policewoman, and behind her, a tall, older policeman. My dogs push past me to greet the guests.
“Wait, come back guys!” I say, as the dogs run out, but the policeman laughs and says he loves dogs. He greets them back with the same enthusiasm they display toward him.
“Are you Q?” the policewoman asks.
Yes, that’s me, the mental case, I think. But I say only “yes.”
She looks at me expectantly, without speaking.
I start blathering, “Uh, I just found out my therapist called you. But I’m fine, I’m fine. It was a misunderstanding. I didn’t have my phone with me, and she rushed to conclusions–“
My heart beats fast, and I’m sure I’m blushing. Then my husband, who has zero idea of anything that’s been happening, walks in to the living room, curious.
Meanwhile, my pitbull and the policeman are falling in love with each other on the porch steps, while my rottie-lab mix is cavorting joyfully on the front lawn. We never let them loose in the front yard.
I’m worrying the dogs will run into the street, and my husband will come up and say, “What’s going on?” and the policewoman will say, “Sir, why the hell don’t you know you have a lunatic wife here? And why aren’t you taking care of her before she kills herself?” I’m aware that I haven’t brushed my hair or washed my face. I’m in dirty yoga pants and suppose I look the part of the woman about to be sent to the psych hospital, whatever stereotype that draws on. It’s all quite overwhelming and seems to be happening at accelerated speed.
But it’s okay. I apologize to the policewoman for the bother. She smiles and reassures me that a large part of their job just involves driving around and making sure people are okay. The policeman bids both dogs a reluctant farewell. They both wish me well and take off.
I rush to explain to my husband, the only one not worked up about the situation. He gives me a hug and then leaves to do the grocery shopping, as planned (calm? or oblivious? I’m not sure.)
I text E that they have come by and just left. Then we talk on the phone. I explain how I’d tried to put the phone aside and move into my day. I am sorry I frightened her, I say. She says she is relieved I am okay. She was so worried, she tells me; she got this story going, and once it was off and playing out in her head, she says, she had no choice but to call the police. And then she cries.
Don’t let me ever say she doesn’t care, that I’m a cog in her therapy business wheel. It isn’t true.
We talk a little about times she’d thought her son might be kidnapped when he was playing in the neighbor’s basement or I thought my son might have died in a car accident when in high school he didn’t come home at all one night. How frightened we get, and how, when we see they are safe, there is such a rush of intense and conflicting emotion. She says we can process it more tomorrow afternoon. And we can talk about how to help that girl who is so triggered. Clearly that girl needs something more than what we’ve been doing so far.
I give her my home phone number as a backup, in case, heaven forbid, we ever cross wires like that again. If she had called our home phone, I would have heard the phone ring and would have answered. We say goodbye and hang up.
How did this happen? I re-read my original text to her. It didn’t threaten suicide, but I did say it’s “intolerable.” What does that mean to her? Of course she wonders. And then I don’t respond. And she feels a professional responsibility as well as, I know, a personal concern. I feel I haven’t properly apologized for what I put her through, so I send one more text.
It was thoughtless of me to send that text and then leave it. I’d be distressed to get a text like that too. You’re so good to me, and though I didn’t set out to freak you out, I did end up doing that. Thank you for caring. I love you and am terribly sorry to cause you that kind of worry.
And now I’ll stop texting, and I’ll be fine, and I’ll see you tomorrow.
Thanks for your kind words. I care deeply for you.
And there we are. I don’t mind that I said I love her and she said she “cares deeply.” Maybe that’s the same thing, and maybe it isn’t. Therapy is a weirdly unbalanced relationship, so it probably isn’t the same. But it’s true that I love her.
And it’s true that I caused her a lot of pain this morning. At first that feels so bad, especially on top of being triggered and the shock of the police visit (pleasant though they were), that I think I can’t cope, and I burn my arm for the first time in a couple of months. It’s part punishment and part a way to collect the emotional fragments of myself that feel scattered all over the place. It’s not a good thing to do to myself, but I control it, and it’s not a serious burn.
This makes me think that maybe it’s not good for us to text. So much room for misunderstanding. First I experience unintended hurt, and then she experiences unnecessary fear. And we both suffer needlessly. But at the same time, I’d be so sad to give up a support like that. Maybe we need to make some rules about texting, some real rules, like if I text about feeling overwhelmed, I have to say if there is any danger. I don’t know. I’m nervous now about tomorrow’s session. I’m confused by all this drama. I’m remorseful. I’m fine. I’m an idiot. It’s one in the afternoon, and I’m going to bed.