Putting Feelings Into Words

I am not someone who commonly contacts my therapist between sessions; the resentment I always felt towards those of my father’s clients who did so has heavily enhanced my desire to not be That Client. In fact, I have only done so twice before. Once after a friend of mine killed herself right before a final session before a break, and once, earlier this year, after a session where I was simply overcome with anxiety about having broken A. and feeling sure that I had finally become too much for her, because something in session had made it seem she wasn’t really coping. But, following the session I described in my previous post, in which A. had told me that she couldn’t work with me under the threat of suicide I made a very conscious decision to write her. Below is that email.

 

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Dear A.,

It’s late Saturday evening and I find myself feeling like my head is still spinning from trying to make sense of what happened in our last session. I decided already yesterday that I would sit down and try to write down my thoughts over the next few days and send them to you on Sunday; I felt it wouldn’t be a very wise thing to do, sending off a rash email before I have had time to sit with all of this for a little bit. Also, I figure sending it on Sunday gives you two days to think about what I’m saying, should you want me to come for session on Wednesday, so it’s fair on you too.

This is what you said on Friday: ‘I can’t work with you under the threat of suicide’. This is what I heard you saying: ‘I won’t work with you if your level of distress passes a certain point. It’s now got to that stage, and I can’t handle it.’ If I allow my mind to wander a step further it would go something like this: ‘This is too much, too scary, and I don’t want the responsibility. She has become too much for me. I’m out of my depth and I don’t know what to do. I want out, but I don’t want to be the one to end therapy, so I’ll give her a ‘choice’ which is almost impossible to go along with. ‘

I know you said in session that you didn’t know how I might react to what you had to say, but you’re an intelligent person, and it seems reasonable to assume that you must have realised both that this would have a really big impact on me, and have thought of at least one or two scenarios of how I might interpret it. Considering how fear of being ‘too much’ for people and the constant worry about breaking people have been major themes running through the last four years of therapy, it doesn’t take a particularly big leap of the imagination to see that this statement of yours would be experienced as direct proof that I have once again managed to become too much for someone..

Like I said to you in session, this does feel incredibly unfair. In the last four years I have been trying to open up, to stop holding back and to overcome this fear of breaking people – to trust that you can cope, even – and now that I have taken this step, you tell me you can’t work with me. When I have asked you ‘Are you OK? Can you cope [with what I bring to session]?’ you’ve consistently opted to not answer, and then suddenly you give me what you present as a choice, but which to me feels increasingly more and more like a black or white ultimatum. ‘Either you stop being suicidal, or therapy stops’.

I do understand that you are in a very difficult situation and I can easily imagine how very stressful it must be to work with me, especially when I’m dipping like this, I really can. However, I’m not sure exactly what prompted you to make the decision to give me this ultimatum now, because I honestly can’t recall having said anything in the previous session that I haven’t said before. I remember saying that ‘it feels like everyone knows how this is going to end’, but that is something I have said many times in the past.

Were I to venture a guess I would say that it may have been my arriving late for the first session after the break that was the trigger. The fact that you commented on it, makes me think that this was possibly (and, if so, understandably) quite frightening for you, seeing as I had previously made it clear that if I ever don’t show up for a session you’d have good reason to think I’ve taken drastic action. I’m not sure if you believed me when I said that the reason for my lateness was that I used a different route (since I was staying at Drayton Park), and I simply miscalculated how long it would take to get to your place, but that really is the truth. I wouldn’t be so cruel as to be late on purpose solely to test how you’d react, and I would never play games like that with you; I have too much respect both for you as a person and for the work that we do, to do that.

I have to admit that I feel upset about your decision to tell me this on a Friday, knowing that it’s the longest possible time before the next session. I also cannot for the life of me understand why you would wait until after I had been discharged from Drayton Park to have this discussion with me, rather than doing it while I was still there, taking advantage of the fact that I wouldn’t be going home to try to deal with this on my own, but would have people around me who could offer support. This seems especially strange, seeing as I told you that my stay at Drayton Park had been extended until Monday because I knew that the first session back might leave me feeling vulnerable and unstable, since things between you and I had seemed rocky before you went on leave.

As I said before, I can absolutely understand that it must be really hard to deal with me, and it may well have left you feeling you couldn’t cope working under those circumstances, but surely there must have been other ways of doing this? Rather than, for example, making it clear that ‘If you tell me that you are intending to kill yourself, I will have to contact your GP/crisis team/have you sectioned etc..’ (thereby taking some steam off of you), you went straight to ‘If you’re suicidal, I can’t work with you’.

I have no problem with you looking after yourself; if you feel you can’t work with me when things are like this, then – absolutely – you should raise that point. Of course a therapist both needs to and should look after herself, I take no issue with that at all. But, what I do feel has been done quite poorly is the fact that you drop this bomb in my lap without doing anything at all to ensure that I am as safe as possible with it. You could have said ‘If you don’t feel you can make a promise to not kill yourself, I’m really sorry, but I won’t be able to work with you. It would be impossible to do this work. I know this will probably feel like a rejection and I am sorry about that. It’s not my intention to leave you feeling that you have become too much for me, but I do realise that it may have this effect. I may be able to refer you to a colleague, if that is something you would want.’ Or even something so simple as to pick up the phone, call the crisis team, who you knew I was still under, to let them know that you have just had a really difficult conversation with me and you want them to be aware of this as I may need extra support over the weekend.

I really don’t want our work together to end like this, and I certainly don’t want the take away message after four years to be that I’m too much even for the professionals, and that is what it would be, should we terminate therapy at this point. I know you would soon find someone else to take my slot, you’d move on and I would eventually fade and end up being a learning experience for you. I, on the other hand, would be left with the incredibly painful knowledge that I am too much even for professionals, and, really, if even my therapist can’t cope with me, what hope is there..?

I know that some of the things I am writing in this email will inevitably come across as wholly unfair, and I recognise that my assumptions of what is going on for you may well be entirely wrong, but at the end of the day, this is how I have experienced all of this.

You mentioned that I may need some time to think about what you have said and what choice I want to make, and I feel unsure of what the timescale for this is, and whether or not you are expecting me to come to session while I work it out for myself.. I don’t even know if I’m meant to show up on Wednesday or not.

I really do hope that we can talk about this soon and find a way forward, whichever direction that path takes.

xx

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I Solemnly Swear Never To Be Suicidal Again? – An Entry About Fears, Promises & Honesty

When I uploaded the previous post twenty days ago, I was fully intent on posting the next one the following day. As you can see, this didn’t happen. Instead I have been telling myself every day since then that ‘You really must get around to writing That Post today’, each day finding conscious and unconscious reasons not to do so.

I’m not always good with feelings, with dealing with them, I mean. Especially pain. I have a tendency to shut down, to frantically try and get away from anything that may make me experience emotional pain. And I do this even more so if I perceive that the pain is being inflicted by someone I respect and care about. In some ways I suppose this behaviour makes perfect sense. Who wants to feel pain? Who wants to feel hurt by someone they hold important in their lives? And, yet, looking at it from another angle, it is sort of strange, particularly from someone who has spent so much time doing therapy, where much of the work centres around exploring and examining pain, past and present, often inflicted by those we find hardest to blame.

So.. this will be a hard one to write. But, I felt that I owed it to myself to be brave, to not hold back, to be honest and let it all out. After all, that is why I have this blog..

The week I had been discharged from Drayton Park I arrived for my usual Friday session with A. I had a very specific question on my mind, one which had been eating at me for a while, and I felt I really needed to pluck up the courage to ask A. about it, in light of what had been going on both with me separately and in our mutual relationship lately. I never got a chance to ask the question, because once I had sat down, A. turned to me and said ‘There is something I need to say to you.’ Alarm bells went off all around my body. Last time she started a session that way was when she told me she was pregnant, and I could tell that this time it would be something possibly even harder to deal with.

‘I can’t work with you under the threat of suicide.’

Ten words. Like bullets to my heart.

I must have sat quiet for ten minutes, my world stopping in its tracks. I felt cold, nauseous, struggling to breathe. Thoughts were spinning in my head so fast it was impossible for me to grasp any of them for what seemed like forever. For a second I contemplated just getting up and leaving, something I have never done in my life, to anyone. But, the pain was excruciating, and I felt that I couldn’t take it.

When I finally spoke, the words that came out, as I was trying to blink away tears that weren’t even there, were a mere whisper; ‘I guess that makes one more person who can’t cope with me, one more person who I’ve become too much for, who I have pushed too far’. I couldn’t look at A. as I said it, because I was too scared of the force of my own emotions.

This fear of becoming too much for people, it’s been central to my therapy from day one. It’s been a ridiculously regularly recurring theme, something many hours have been spent turning inside out. I know where it stems from: that pivotal moment when I was seven and told my mother about what my brother was making me do, when I broke her, when I discovered that there was no one who could help, no one I could tell without running the risk of breaking. And ever since then, that fear has remained, has evolved into this enormous ball of anxiety that now encompasses a million different things that I believe I do, which ultimately drive people away.

Having said that first thing, suddenly there were lots of other things I wanted to say, thoughts I wanted to share, because apart from fear and pain a plethora of other emotions were descending on me at breakneck speed. I took a minute or two to try to pick them out, to separate them. The most urgent one was the feeling that this was incredibly unfair, because in the past several months I had more than once felt unsure of whether or not A. could truly cope with what I was bringing to session, and more than once had I openly asked her if she could. And each time she had opted not to answer. So I said exactly that, adding that it felt like she was going from zero to a hundred with no steps in between. Silence, silence, silence and then ‘I can’t work with you’.

After a few more moments of silence, from both of us, I asked her how she had imagined I might respond to what she had just told me. A. said that she didn’t know how I would respond. In frustration I said that that wasn’t what I asked, I asked how she had imagined I might respond, because in my mind, she is an intelligent person, and it didn’t seem that far-fetched that she might have pictured me hearing what she said as a form of rejection and as further proof that there is no-one who can cope with me, and that it would take me down the path of ‘If even my therapist can’t cope with me, then what hope is there..?’

Later she said, in her very gentlest voice ‘I’m giving you a choice’ and because I wanted to be fair to her and to the reality of the situation, I said that I could see that, and that I can absolutely understand that it must be incredibly difficult – frightening, even – to work with me when I am suicidal. Especially in light of what had happened only a few short weeks ago. And, yet, at the same time I couldn’t help thinking How is this a choice?’ She was saying that she couldn’t work with me under the threat of suicide, but how could I possibly promise to not be suicidal? It’s not something which can be switched on and off with the push of a button. It felt more like an ultimatum; ‘Either you stop being suicidal, or therapy stops’. I was going through the options in my head, thinking that I would be willing to say almost anything – even if it was a lie – if only she would carry on working with me. But, I also knew that I really didn’t want to have to go down that road, because it’s perilous in nature; one which would inevitable and seriously impact whatever work we might do in the future.

I said to A. that if I did make a promise like that, wouldn’t that by default make the whole subject of suicide and suicidal feelings taboo? Because, how could I ever trust that I wouldn’t accidentally step over the line of what A. felt was too much, now that she had shown me that such a line did exist, not only in the realm of my fears, but tangibly right there in that room? Wasn’t it exceedingly likely to have the effect that if things got to the stage where suicide felt like an option, I might not be honest with her, might not share these feelings, for fear of what the consequences might be for my therapy? To this A. said that of course I would also need to think about whether or not I could work with her. This may have been meant to make me feel that this was a two-way street, but it only left me with the feeling that perhaps she was hoping that I would come to the conclusion that I couldn’t, thereby giving her an ‘out’. So, I said exactly what I was thinking: ‘I feel like I am being pushed towards terminating this therapy. And that is not what I want.’ To which A. said that I may need to take some time to think about all of this.

I was silent for a while, trying to come up with something – anything – that may be used to bridge the gap between what I felt A. was asking of me and where I felt I was truly at, and suddenly I remembered something D. – the counsellor I worked with before I started seeing A. – and I used to do when things were very difficult. We would make an agreement that I wouldn’t act out in any way between sessions, that I would always come to the next session to talk things through with her. And, because I had a huge amount of respect for her, I knew that if I did make that promise, there was no way I would break it. It’s just how I am. And, if I felt that I couldn’t make an honest promise, it wasn’t a case of ‘Well, then I can’t work with you’ but we would instead find some sort of middle ground, acceptable to both, and which, crucially, didn’t entail making false promises. I might admit that I felt unable to promise that I wouldn’t act out, but that I could promise that before acting out I would do X, Y and Z (ie call the Samaritans, speak to three different friends, do my nails, make a painting, write a chapter on my book, contact the crisis team etc).

Having explained this set-up to A. she initially wanted to know how that had made me feel and I told her that it made me feel contained, that it was a positive thing, this process of coming to a reasonable agreement, because it made me feel that I had some control. And also, that not only did I know that I wouldn’t break a promise I had made to D., I also felt confident that she knew I wouldn’t.

After a short pause A. said that she felt she had made her position very clear and that any promise would have to be for as long as we worked together, however long that may be.

It felt like she was pulling the rug from under my feet, like she was responding to my tentative suggestion of a possible solution, by immediately raising the bar, to make it impossible for me to make the promise she was after.

So, I left that session in a daze, feeling unsure if that was it, if that was the end of the road for our work together, not at all knowing whether her earlier ‘You may need to take some time to think about this’ extended only to this particular session, if she was expecting me to show up for session the following Wednesday, or if she wanted me to do my thinking at home, so she wouldn’t have to deal with my suicidality, which clearly could not be dissolved from one session to the next.

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I am not meaning to make this storyline of my life into any sort of cliff-hanger, but I am exhausted and I need a break. There is a lot more to say about what has been going on in my relationship with A. and what has happened since this session, and I hope that in the next few days, I will be able to post an update of some sort.

Until then,

Be kind to your Selves,

xx