For the most part, therapy has been different recently – in a good way. Before I moved onto my boat, I wrote about how scared I was that therapy wouldn’t feel the same. I was scared that the literal distance would put more emotional distance between J and I. It was distressing to think of losing time in physical proximity and replacing it with Skype.
It’s been a big surprise how moving so far away has enabled me to feel closer to and more secure with J. Perhaps that’s something to do with how much effort she has made to ease the transition for me. Just before the move, she gave me a box of transitional objects. They were all things that belonged to her, and it was so thoughtful and meaningful. My favourite is a scarf she gave me. I’ve worn it every time I’ve had to find the courage to drive the boat. It’s terrifying moving something so huge and wearing the scarf makes me feel like she’s nearby. Like she is somehow there with me, encouraging me and telling me she believes in me.
We’ve also had a lot of email contact in the past few months. Prior to moving, J had always said I could contact her between sessions if I needed to. But I didn’t feel OK with this. I was scared of overstepping a boundary, asking too much, and ultimately pissing her off. I already felt massively needy, and I never wanted to risk being so needy she got sick of me. I only ever emailed or text her in a crisis. I’d have to feel suicidal before I felt it was acceptable to interrupt her time off.
I don’t know exactly why that’s shifted, I guess it’s because she continued to encourage me to reach out. She reassured me that she doesn’t dread hearing from me. Maybe she repeated that so much that it finally sank in. She did also explain that my move would be challenging for her too. She said she wanted to know where I was and have a sense of my surroundings. Perhaps that helped me believe that she wouldn’t get a sinking feeling when my name popped up in her inbox. I don’t know.
For whatever reason, it’s been easier for me to make contact between sessions since I moved. That’s been helpful when I’ve had my usual delayed response to what’s come up in our sessions. I’ve been able to email her about stuff that I otherwise would’ve struggled to sit with for a week. Plus, some of the parts that don’t get a voice during our sessions have managed to communicate with her this way. I’ve let them write how they feel and what they think about therapy and I’ve sent that writing to her. She seems to think it’s a useful thing to do.
What I really didn’t anticipate was how much I would like our Skype sessions. Beforehand, I was anxious about how talking on Skype would feel. How it would be horrible to see her but not be with her. I thought it would feel really uncontained.
But that just isn’t the case. I love being able to talk to J from the comfort of my home, with my things around me. In our face to face sessions, I can hardly ever look at her. On Skype I find it easy to really look at her face and be engaged with her. I feel more in contact with my adult part and more able to explain my thoughts. I don’t dissociate so much. And I love feeling like she’s kind of visiting my boat.
But in the past week, I’ve had this huge backlash of what I can only describe as ‘anti-attachment’ feelings. I honestly don’t know where they came from. I had a very difficult session last week that brought up a load of anger and sadness about how rejected my family makes me feel. During that session, I retreated and cut off a few times.
In fact, I had this extremely disturbing dissociative experience, in which all I could see or think about was cutting myself. I knew J was sat opposite me, but the urge to harm myself was huge. I was stuck in a movie reel of images of times I’ve cut myself badly. It terrified and excited me. If there had been something sharp close by, I think I’d have attacked myself with it – even with J there. That compulsion has never come up in a therapy session before.
Although it was hard, because I felt so ashamed, I managed to tell J about it. She responded in the normal therapisty way. No shock or horror, just curiosity.
When I’d pulled back from that place, all I wanted was to have some physical contact with her. It was a deep craving. I wanted her to sit closer to me. I wanted her to put a hand on me, so I could really feel a physical connection between us. I wanted that solid, real, genuine sensation of care. As I left, I fought down the desire to ask her for a hug. I knew that if I’d asked, she would most likely have given me one, it just felt too difficult to express that need.
I felt terrible driving home. There was a major crash on the motorway, which was distressing to see and extended my journey by hours. The longer I sat in my car, the deeper I went into angry, hopeless, suicidal thinking. By the time I got home, I was a mess. I wanted that hug more than ever.
On Wednesday, I had my usual Skype session with J, but I felt so different to the previous day. Another part had activated. A defensive, resistant, resentful part. I think that part blamed her for how I’d felt after the session. I think it also blames her for my neediness. Like she somehow created that, or forced me into this state in which a part of me feels it can’t cope without her. Whatever it was, by the end of the Skype call I felt like I never wanted to speak to her again.
Those kind of feelings emerge from time to time, and I have learned not to act impulsively when they do. I told myself to give it a few days and see what might change. But all that happened was that a sense of fear and confusion developed. It was like a paranoia. I convinced myself J was fake, inauthentic, and I shouldn’t trust her. I told myself I don’t know her, and I never will, because all she is with me is what she thinks I need her to be – and of course that isn’t at all real. That line of thinking led me to the conclusion that my whole relationship with her is a lie.
That all cycled around for days, until I emailed her at the weekend to cancel my session. She suggested we Skype instead and I pushed that back too. My mood got progressively worse and I spent the following days dosing myself with Benzos and sleeping. I didn’t want to be with my thoughts. And those thoughts were familiar. They were the ones that led me to try to end my life in November. Thinking I was an idiot to trust J, that I am beyond help, that nobody cares about me or truly knows me.
Most painful of all is the sense of not being able to trust, or that it isn’t safe to. I don’t want to trust J and be vulnerable, because it comes with the massive risk of being hurt again. And maybe the hurt over my family is so overwhelming at the moment that I just don’t want to do anything that invites more.
Despite all this, I managed to uncancel talking to J at the very last minute today. It was literally half an hour before I should’ve been at her house. She kindly agreed to Skype, and it did help a bit. I felt so small and broken down that I couldn’t say a lot, but I could look at her and I let myself see her compassion. I allowed myself to feel her being there for me.
At the same time, she unsettled me by talking about changing therapy. I know she’s just trying to do what’s right for me, but it scared me to hear her say that if our therapy is destabilising me this much then we need to do something different. She wants us to talk about that when we’re together, but the thought makes me feel sick. While she made an effort to reassure me she’s there for me (which made me feel really sad and tearful), I partly heard another message. Part of me interpreted her words as a suggestion that maybe I need to find myself a new therapist, or I’m not trying hard enough and should be doing better.
While I am glad I didn’t cut myself off completely from J this week, I’m now sat here feeling stirred up because of our conversation. That’s what therapy does. I’ve heard that for other people, it can bring some kind of relief or make them feel better, but it almost always makes me feel worse. Or just a different kind of crappy.
Perhaps that’s why I go through these phases of feeling like I should quit; because in the act of trying to alleviate my pain I seem to only find more. That leaves me feeling like I’m pouring my very limited reserves of energy and money into pursuing an unachievable goal.
Ironically, if you asked me what that goal was (and yes, I have spent countless hours thinking about it), I wouldn’t have a clue.
Image credit: Marc Falardeau, Creative Commons.