It’s Monday morning and I’m in Bea’s office, snuggled with Hagrid on her couch.
“So,” Bea takes a breath, and then continues, “I think it is interesting that you describe Kat’s grumpy mouse (this mini mouse puppet who has the grumpiest personality on the planet and only likes rude, gross, mean things. It’s sort of a representation of the parts of ourselves we find unacceptable and fear being rejected) as having to become ‘real’ if it is going to school with her. Because that’s what we are working on with you, right? Integrating all the parts and feelings, so that you are whole, and not just grumpy or just perfect. So it’s not this or that, but this and that.”
I stop looking at her, and look down at the blue rug her chair in on. We’ve apparently come to the end of small talk….of being on the surface. And, part of me knows it has to be over with. I can’t maintain being on the surface, I can’t keep stuffing feelings down, or distancing myself from reality. But…I don’t want to be in this room. I don’t want to have this conversation. It’s funny how even in the spring, Bea’s office was one of the safest places on earth to me. Even through the summer, no matter how much I stayed on the surface, I needed to see her twice a week, to know she was there. It felt safe. Now, it feels anything but. Everything in me is screaming that it is dangerous to be here, that I need to leave.
When it’s fairly obvious that I’m not going to respond, she continues, “I think it would have been very cruel to ask about things a few weeks ago; I know you needed that distance. But now, it’s all past. You got through it, and it feels like things are becoming more settled. Now, we can pick at the scab a little bit.”
I shake my head. I don’t know what to say. I get it; I have held it together all summer, but I’m not so sure I can contain it all much longer.
“You’ve helped Kat through a lot of transitions. You helped your nanny through a really hard time; one that could have been been triggering for you. Your parents separated for a few weeks and are in therapy. Your hubby and his mother had a huge fight, she said terrible things about you. You’ve got Kat settled with her ABA techs, and you even have managed to provide some safety and connection for the one tech who was a challenge. You have worked with the school, and been very organized, to get Kat settled there. You’ve been on top of things all summer. You’ve done some really amazing things summer. But what happens when you can take Kat to school that first day, and leave her crying in the classroom, and then drive home without crying? Those feelings are there somewhere.” Bea says softly. She’s spoken about this before, how kids starting school is a big change, kind of the end of that baby and toddlerhood. That is is normal to feel nostalgic and have tears. I want to shout at her, ‘and what if I don’t? What if I am just detached and fine? Then what?’ But I don’t. I don’t say anything. So Bea continues, “You needed this break, this time to be detached. I knew that. And I think that this summer showed us a lot about therapy………”
And that’s where I really just go away. I think she says the summer showed us a lot about therapy and our relationship and how strong I am. I don’t know. All I can think about is that I am not doing this, this conversation is bad. And that now she expects me to always be okay. She expects me to never fall apart. To hold it together. The one person I thought it was safe to be real with now has expectations that I can get through hard stuff and function and be just fine. I don’t know. I can’t think, everything is fuzzy and hazy and Bea’s voice is far away and nothing feels very real right now, and my body feels numb, almost separate from me.
“…….so maybe we could start there,” Bea says.
I lift my head and stare at her. “I don’t know what you want me to say,” I tell her blankly. I’m lost.
“Well, think of it like we are taking your internal weather report,” she suggests.
“I’m fine. I don’t know.” I shrug. What the hell does she want from me?
“I’m sensing that you are pretty far away right now. Has it felt like that this summer? It felt like to me that you were staying on the surface, but that you were aware of things going on deeper, at least at times.” Bea takes a drink of tea, and focuses on me.
I’m not sure. This summer was weird. I was aware of keeping things locked away, because I couldn’t deal with them then. But it’s like part of me was…gone. But part of me was aware and here even if only on the surface and detached from emotions. “I don’t know. I just don’t know.” I shake my head. I feel….confused. I’m not sure how to explain this.
“In the past, you’ve described being in the bubble almost as a negative thing. This felt different to me.”
“No….it wasn’t the bubble.” I pick at my fingers, hiding my hands in the sleeves of my oversized sweater. “It was….here…but not. Both?”
“Mmmhm,” Bea gives me one of her ‘verbal nods’, encouraging me to keep talking.
“Like….I don’t know….” It’s so very hard to find the words to describe this. It’s like even pulling the experience from my memory is difficult. I fight my way through the fogginess, and come up with only a few words. “Maybe it was like……maybe being just gone enough?” It comes out as a question, and in a way, I am asking Bea if I’m right. If that makes sense, if that is explaining anything to her.
“To stay detached from all the feelings? And to stay right on the surface?”
I nod. That’s it. But not. I don’t know. “Yeah…I think…I don’t know.”
“Have you ever felt so unreal that you are surprised when someone talks to you? Like it’s surprising that they can see you?” Bea’s voice is conversational; if a person were to her tone but not her words, they would never guess the crazy making question she is asking me.
I shake my head, slowly. That’s not it. It’s more annoyance when people talk to me, because they pull me back from being away. It’s tiring to keep this balance of here, but not here, of just on the surface but detached from feelings, and having to interact with people and act normal is tiring and hard. I stutter, and repeat myself, and lose words, and leave big gaps in between thoughts sometimes. But I’m way too hyper-aware of my surroundings to ever be surprised when people talk to me. I don’t say any of that though, how does one explain that crazy to another person? “No. Not like that,” I tell her. Then, after a moment of silence, I say, “I’ve held it together, and stayed on the surface. But I’m not….”
“Not what?” She prompts when I stop myself from speaking. My crazy fast and amazing filter is back in place.
“Not sure…” I start and stop a few times. I finally bury my face in Hagrid’s fur, and take a deep breath. “I’m not sure how much longer…I can…I mean, how much longer….”
“How much longer you can contain it all?”
I nod. Yes.
“That’s what I was starting to get at. We need to talk about the cost of being okay, functioning on the surface,” Bea says slowly. I have a feeling she has been planning this for a few weeks; that when things settled down, we would talk and pick at the scab. I feel a little betrayed, even though I knew we had to talk about everything, so many things, eventually. The feeling makes no sense to me.
“I don’t know. It is what it is. I don’t know the answer,” I tell her. Nothing feels quite right. Even far away, I still feel like I need to leave, like this is not safe.
“Let’s start with the basics. Sleep. Eating.” Bea’s voice is neutral, but it still incites panic in me. I squash it down.
I shrug. “I don’t sleep. I don’t know. It’s….up and down, restless. Even when I do sleep, I don’t feel like I did.” I don’t mention the doctor or the sleeping meds. I’ve given up on them anyway, they don’t work. “I just…I don’t know. Some nightmares, some waking up feeling scared but no dreams to remember, I don’t know.”
“I wonder if the nightmares are better when we aren’t digging everything up. Stirring the waters.”
I shake my head.”Yes and no. Sometimes, I think so. But then…like camping and the Ferris wheel. I think they were worse. The worst they had been in a long time, because I wasn’t talking. But I couldn’t. I don’t know.”
“That’s good information for us to have.” I think she says more, but I can’t focus on what she is saying.
“It’s my fault I don’t sleep. I don’t….I just..” I shrug.
“Why do you say that?” Bea is curious.
“Because I fight sleep. I can be so, so tired, and I will fight falling asleep. It doesn’t matter.”
“That makes sense. You’ve had a lot of bad things associated with sleep.” She tries to normalize to for me. But it doesn’t really help. Not right now. I need to be able to sleep, and knowing my fighting sleep makes sense doesn’t fix anything. I just want to be normal.
“Does Hagrid help?” She asks me.
I nod. I want to tell her that he is safe and helps so much more than I ever thought possible. I want to explain that having him to hug after a bad dream is priceless. I want to say so much about how magical he is in my life. “After bad dreams, it helps to hug him.” I finally say. It seems too vulnerable making to say more.
“There is nothing more grounding than cuddling a dog.” She agrees. “I’m glad you have him.”
I stop talking after that. I’m not talking about eating. Not today. Maybe not ever.
“What about eating?” Bea asks. She’s not going to let me escape that one.
“I don’t….I don’t want to talk about it.” I hug Hagrid, like he can help convince Bea to leave it alone.
“That tells me it’s something we should talk about. Is it more control or less control?” Bea’s statement isn’t really clear, I’m really far now. This is not okay, not a safe topic. The gist of it comes through anyways, though.
“I don’t know. It’s fine. I just….I don’t want to talk about it.” My voice is hollow, wooden.
“When I say we should look at the basics of sleep and eating, those are two things anyone should monitor in times of stress. They are two things we all need to survive.”
I shake my head. What am I to even tell her? That I’m eating a limited list of ‘safe’ foods? That it’s the shortest list I’ve had in years? That I screw up and eat something off the list at least once every few days, and so then I full on binge and purge? That I’m back to my old purging rituals? No thank you. I don’t want to talk about it, I don’t want to have that part of me be seen.
“What about your feelings? Do you know where they are?”
A year ago I would have thought she was nuts. Now, I shake my head. “I don’t know. I couldn’t…they just had to be….detached. I don’t know.” I shrug.
“And that’s what our work is right now. Finding those feelings; reconnecting to them.” She says this softly, like she is trying to reassure me it’s okay.
“I don’t know how anymore.” I’m too overwhelmed. It’s all too much.
“I think we start with this summer. One small thing at a time,” she tells me.
“I have a list….notes, journal entries, I don’t know. All from the summer. Things I couldn’t talk about at the time. ”
“Should we look at it?” Bea asks.
I pause. “I don’t know…………I’m not sure what is on it now, I don’t really remember.” I want to check the list before I hand it over. Maybe I don’t want to give it all to her right now. I’m not sure how much I trust right now.
“When you’re ready,” Bea says simply.
I can’t hold everything together anymore, and this feeling of panic over the conversation is too much, and the idea of letting it all back in is too much. “I’m scared,” I admit. And then the tears come. Single tears that quickly turn into sobs that I can not stop, no matter how hard I try, or how fast I scramble to shove all the feelings away.
Hagrid anxiously licks my hands and my face, curling himself into a ball; half on my chest and half on my lap. “Hagrid says ‘I think you found your feelings, mom’.” Bea says this calmly; it’s okay to cry and to have feelings.
I finally, and fairly quickly, win the fight to lock everything back down. I wipe my face with my hands, and look at Bea. It’s like I’m trying to prove I’m okay, but I think a part of me is almost silently begging her to see how scared and messed up I really am right now. “I can’t do this. I don’t know how.” I make the statement with almost no emotion attached.
“A little at time. We do this very carefully. We don’t need to go so deep, or so quickly that you are having dissociated days, or struggling so much. We control it. This summer showed us that, at times you can be aware of things under the surface and control it. We wade in, slowly. Before, last year, we dove in, fast. Everything was new and coming up for you so quickly, and it was really hard. You needed space to talk and help containing it, and it all needed to be brought up and talked about. But now, we slow down. We don’t need to rush things. You shouldn’t have days where you are in a terrible funk; maybe the day of therapy, that icky after therapy feeling sometimes, but not all the time.”
Bea is talking, and I know this is going back to the beginning. To what she told me last year, about taking the time to get our garden ready for planting, before we look at our plants. But all I hear is that I screwed up and she is unhappy with me, and now things are going to change. I think I nod my head, mumble some agreement. I don’t even know. This doesn’t feel real. It feels all wrong.
Somehow, the sessions ends. I don’t know. I manage to convince Bea that I’m fine, and Hagrid and I leave. I talk to the parking attendant; pleasant chit chat, social niceties. And in a fog, I drive to one of my favorite walking spots. I don’t want to walk downtown today; I don’t want to stop and chat with people, or smile and say hi. I want to be alone.
I want to be alone because Bea picked the scab, and nothing feels right. I want to be alone because I feel vulnerable and afraid. I want to be alone because I need to think, and sort out some of the things said in session. I want to be alone because nothing feels more lonely to to be all alone, even in a crowded place. I want to be alone because the scab has been picked, and I need to decide if I can keep picking at it, or if I need to let it scab back over and ignore it.