I get to therapy 10 minutes early, and wait in the car as long as possible. Last week, Thursday’s session wasn’t good. Things felt off, disconnected. Monday’s session was a disaster; I left upset, dissociated and feeling like I needed to get away. So I am in no hurry to go back into Bea’s office.
When I do finally leave the car, and walk in the door and up the stairs, I breathe a sigh of relief that her office door is shut. I sit in the waiting room, wondering if I can still sneak out. Just as soon as I have decided to leave, Bea opens the door. The client she was with says good bye, and Bea walks into the waiting room.
“Hi, good morning,” she greets me.
“Hi.” I say it softly, already feeling like I want to cry.
“I’m just going to heat up some more tea, okay?” She says.
I nod, and we make small talk. When her tea is heated, I follow her to her office and sit down.
“No Hagrid today?” She asks.
“I might have to go from here to Kat’s class field trip and relieve hubby of field trip duty.” I explain how Hubby was taking Kat to the field trip because Kat was very unsure of going and needed that extra support. I tell her how I had asked hubby to take her because he is better at stepping back from her, and because I had therapy. “And then, after doing as much as I could to make this easy for him, I realized I was feeling guilty, or something, like he was doing me this huge favor, but really, she’s his daughter, too. It’s not a favor. But I was acting like it was.”
“Isn’t it funny how we can act like that and not realize it? But you realized it.” Bea says. She maybe says more, but I’m in that weird headspace of being present but not really. It’s that place of appearing very engaged, but not really being there at all.
We talk about school and Kat, and other random things. And then we both fall silent. Bea is maybe waiting for me to say something, but I don’t.
She breaks the silence, picking up some papers and holding them so I can see. “I wanted to talk about this idea of keeping you in this window of tolerance.” Bea is taking classes about trauma therapy, for to learn somatic therapy techniques. She talked about it on Monday, and I shut down. All it felt like was her changing everything. I didn’t like it. She seemed more shrinky and not safe. It wasn’t good. And now she is talking about it again. She claims that this is good, and it is a safer way to do therapy. She claims that it’s about helping me recognize and state when I’ve gone too far away, to learn ways to control it better. But all I hear is she is changing all the rules, and this is not okay.
Bea puts her papers down. “I think we need to go back to talking, just talking about anything at all because you’ve gone away.”
I’ve been staring at the floor, at my hands, at my black boots. Now I stare at the papers on the floor.
“We could start with talking about if you feel like you go between hyperarousal and hypoarousal. I don’t see the hyperarousal here, but I’ve maybe heard you talk about it. I have seen you startle, but mostly I see you dissociating. Anger, anxiety, feeling on edge, those are all examples of hyperarousal.”
I want to say the times I am scared out of my mimd and can’t breathe, or if I am in a crowd, or when my schedule isn’t followed. I want to say that numb and gone is safer, and I pretty much do whatever I have to in order to avoid the hyperarousal feelings. I want to explain that as soon as the panic or fear or mad are there, I do whatever I have to to go away and be numb again. Because numb is safe. But I don’t say anything.
“They say it’s harder to bring someone back to the window of tolerance when they are dissociative. It’s easier to calm someone down…..” Bea is still talking, explaining.
I want to cry. I want to hide. I’m afraid to do anything, though, for fear she will comment, analyze, shrink me.
Bea switches to talking about normal things. I can’t take it; I pull my knees to my chest and bury my face. “It really looks like all of this feels unsafe. Like you feel very little and alone, like you are the only one you can count on. You aren’t alone, though. I’m here.”
Except you aren’t really here, you are changing everything, I think but don’t say it out loud.
“Did you by any chance bring me something to read?” She finally asks. “I ask because I see a notebook peeking out of your bag.”
I don’t respond. I have something, but I’m not sure.
Bea keeps talking to me. She tells me about everyday things, random chit chat. She says how she realizes it must feel like she is changing things and how it parallels my mom changing things and how that must suck. She talks about how she really does feel like this will be good, how nothing has to change until I am okay with it.
I think about giving her the email I didn’t send. She’s saying things I wrote about, so she already knows most of it. Instead, I talk about random things. I don’t remember all of what we talk about. I simply join in the conversation that Bea has been attempting to get me to engage in. We talk about names, and the name I had originally chosen for Kat. I share that our boy name was Oliver. Bea says how that is cute, and mentions how we never have discussed my choice to not have more children.
“I guess it’s because it was something you had already decided, before we were working together. But its not something we have discussed.” She says.
“Well, Kat is enough child for me. She keeps me busy.” I say it in a light tone, a little jokingly, the words and tone perfectly perfected because this is my standard answer when asked about my ‘one and done’ decision. I should say that I can’t go through fertility treatments again. I should say that the idea of another c-section terrifies me. I should say that I am afraid I don’t have enough love, or patience to be mom to two kids. I should say I can’t go through another three years of crying and not sleeping.
When the conversation stops, I say, “I wrote something. I just don’t know if I can give it to you.”
“That’s understandable. You don’t know if it’s safe to be vulnerable. I’ll do whatever feels right to you. If you want to have an email conversation…..You remember I’ll be gone on Monday?” I nod, and she continues, “I think emailing this week would be good, and I am happy to email with you. I’ll be busier during the day, but in the evenings, I will be able to email. I’d like for us to email this week, so if you want to wait and send it when you are ready, thats okay.”
I shake my head. I don’t want to email it. I start to read over what I wrote.
“Don’t read that now. You will psych yourself out and never give it to me,” Bea tells me.
“I just….I wrote it Monday…so I thought….I don’t know, just to make sure there isn’t anything….” As I am talking, I realize she’s right. I hold out the ipad.
“I forgot you always write on the ipad now. I don’t have one, so I am way behind.” Bea laughs.
“Tell your husband to get you one for Christmas,” I tell her.
“Well….I actually want a rock polisher,” she says.
I laugh. “My grandpa had a rock polisher. He would always polish rocks for us. We thought it was so cool. My grandma gave it to my brother.”
“That’s really sweet that your brother has it now.”
“Why do you want a rock polisher?” I ask.
“Well, I always collect rocks on the beach up north, and sometimes just when I am walking here.”
I nod. “That makes sense. It’s funny to me that you want a rock polisher and we are talking about it now. His birthday is tomorrow.”
“It is funny that it came up now.” She agrees, and then starts to read.
So. I’m not sure what to write. I’m not sure how to explain what is going on in my head. I’m not sure I want to share that, or talk about it. I’m not sure I will be able to email this.
I don’t like that you are changing things. I don’t like it at all. But then, I feel guilty; you are taking these classes to help your trauma clients, to help me, and you are excited about them, and I know I am lucky to have a therapist who is willing to keep learning and trying things to help me. The “right” thing to do, in my mind, is to be excited with you about what you are learning, and to try the new things, to go along with you on this.
But I don’t want to. It feels like you are changing everything, and I don’t like it. I do not want to talk about what my body is doing, or what I am feeling. I don’t want you to point out how I am sitting, or that I changed how I am sitting. I don’t want you to stop me from talking about something if I’ve dissociated. I don’t want to be told that I’m not present enough to talk about certain things.
“This is what I was saying….everything you wrote is what I was saying. It’s okay to not want things to change, and we don’t have to change anything right now.”
We didn’t do the focus on my body thing, on what I am feeling thing before when you wanted to because it gave me anxiety and flashbacks and didn’t feel safe. That hasn’t changed. Just you talking about it on Monday was enough to make me feel like throwing up and dissociate it away. And now I feel so very self conscious of every movement I make in therapy. It’s that feeling of being placed under the microscope, of being studied. And its very nervous-making. I don’t like it.
“I know it feels like I am studying everything, and I totally get why you feel under the microscope. You aren’t. I know it doesn’t feel safe right now. I’m not paying more attention to your body or your movements. I know I was all gung-ho on Monday, and jumped right in, but you are in control of this. Nothing has to change. You can decide that you don’t want me to bring it up at all right now.” Bea tells me gently.
My parents have changed everything. All the rules, the way they do things. I have never lived in a world where it made sense to tell my mom the truth about my feelings. I never believed that would ever happen. Yet now I do live in a world where I can’t claim the reason I won’t talk to my mom about “real” stuff or feelings, is because she would shut it down or refuse to hear it. Because all of a sudden, I live in this world where my mom talks. I used to live in a world where I could always tell myself I was the crazy one, that nothing that bad ever happened to me. But now, my parents are talking, and they have changed the story they always told. So now, I can’t claim I am the crazy one. It means that it was all real, it all happened. So everything has changed.
“This is what I was saying. I know it’s sucky to have your therapist change things on you when everything else feels like it is changing. I know things don’t feel right, it’s like you have lost your safety net. I get this, I do.” She sounds very much like she gets it.
Hubby doesn’t stick to his word, he changes it based on who he is around. He changes it based on what will keep the most people happy. He says one thing, but if another is easier, or will keep more peace, he does that. And I get that, I do. But for me, it means he is always changing things and I can’t trust what he says he will do or what will happen. And he has not been sticking to his word at all lately.
But therapy, I thought you weren’t going to change everything on me. I never expected you to go and change everything, too. I don’t know. I’m not sure how to explain it. But it feels like everyone is changing the rules on me, including you. It doesn’t feel okay.
“Nothing has to change. This is all up to you. I’m still here. I know it felt like I wasn’t attuned to you on Monday, that I was more in teacher mode. I know that does not feel safe to you. Things didn’t feel good to me on Monday, either.”
I am having a hard time really paying attention to what she is saying. But I’m relieved to hear Monday felt bad to her, too.
“The parallel with your mom, with things changing, that is on my radar, and has been. I just wasn’t focusing on it. There is always much more on my radar than what I might say, but how do you know that if I don’t tell you? You don’t know what is in my head. I’m sorry this all feels bad. Change is scary. But think how much you have changed from where you started. Think how much more language you have now, and how you are able to speak those words. Therapy deals with thoughts and feelings, and teaches people words for those feelings. This new stuff is the same, it gives us more language for what we are feeling in our bodies. It’s learning not only to say we feel anxious, but that we have butterflies, or whatever.”
“This change feels different,” I whisper.
“Well…the other changes happened organically, this feels like it is being forced on you.”
I nod. That makes sense.
Last week, Thursday, I felt like we were on different pages, like you weren’t seeing me at all. I don’t remember why, or what we talked about. But I do remember feeling very disconnected. Over the weekend, I was thinking about this, and I realized that last year, in the fall, I think it might have even been in October, I felt the same way. All alone, like no one is seeing me, like no one will ever understand, like I am confused and sad and scared, like everyone around me needs me to be ok, like no matter what someone says, its the wrong thing and they don’t get it and I am alone. It’s like the only way I can be okay is to be numb, separated, disconnected, dissociated enough that things don’t feel real.
I wondered if it were possible for feelings to be memories. Because if I feel this same way every fall, and I can remember feeling this way during all those yucky anniversaries– overdosing, telling the boyfriend that having sex was a mistake, the night i finally left the boyfriend, the abortion. All those times i felt alone, like no one was safe to talk to, like i had no control, like no one would understand, like i had to go far away– dissociate– to be okay, like I have to be okay for everyone else, like people expect me to be okay. So I go away to this room in my head, where I can see and hear everything that goes on but its not like those things are happening to me, nothing seems quite real.
“Mhmmm. Feelings can be memories. Emotional flashbacks. This makes sense. You aren’t alone now. You are in my office, and you are safe. And I hope you can feel that I understand. I really do.”
“This is very bad timing, I agree. I wish I had known. I’m sorry things have felt so bad, that you have been feeling so alone. I certainly didn’t want to hurt you. I feel very bad that I hurt you.” I hear tears in Bea’s voice, and I feel equally guilty that I have made her feel bad and grateful that she is really getting it.
“I’m sorry,” I whisper. “I didn’t want you to feel bad.”
“You don’t need to be sorry for my sadness. I should be sorry to you for hurting you.” She says softly.
“I guess we can be sorry together then,” I say, knowing I won’t win this argument, and unsure how to explain that it doesn’t feel right that my hurt is making someone else feel bad.
“What you just said, that’s it. That’s what this is about. Working together. This is about the relationship. About us, together. I don’t think I was focusing on the relationship on Monday. The class teacher was saying how being aware of the window of tolerance and working to stay there is the focus, that its not about the relationship at this point. I may have internalized that….but this is about the relationship. Maybe for a new client, that’s right, but we already have an established relationship. And we have done really good work together. These tools — when you decide–can just help us do more good work.”
I like how she is transparent, and honest. That she will say when she missed the mark.
I can step outside of all this enough, be rational enough to tell myself that these feelings aren’t present day feelings, that they are memories, that you are safe and trustworthy. I can logically put all the pieces together to be able to see that because of how I am feeling, it probably doesn’t matter what someone does or says, my mind will find a way to twist it and make me feel alone.
I was going to try to bring this up on Monday. I had written about the idea that these feelings could be memories. But then it felt like you were changing everything, and I felt alone and uncomfortable, I felt scared and like I was “just supposed to be okay”– it was that very strong feeling of “nothing will be okay if I don’t act like I am okay.” I don’t know how to explain it. But everything felt wrong. So I couldn’t bring it up. I only wanted to go and hide in the closet and cry. All I have wanted to do since is hide. I don’t know.
But it’s fine. I’m fine. I can hide in the room in my head and be far enough away to feel like nothing is real. And Ive dissociated enough in my life that I can appear very present and here, but not really. It’s the here but not here feeling. I think I spent most of my life like that, so its easy to go back to. Safe. If I’m not here enough for things to feel real then I don’t have to feel anxious or sad or scared or upset or whatever else. I can appear animated and present, but I don’t have to feel everything. Its like I know what I am supposed to feel, but don’t really feel it.
If I stop and really think about things, my whole world feels like it is imploding. So I try not to think. I know you said this is true of most people; that they are fine until they think about things. But I don’t want to spend my life not thinking, walking around in this hazy fog.
I know you said to email if I wanted. And I did think about emailing this on Monday night. But I just couldn’t. I don’t want to feel more alone, more separated and disconnected. And I was afraid if I emailed, and you didn’t respond, or you responded but not to the parts I needed a response to (I’m not sure I even know what parts I need or want a response to, but I have a feeling nothing you wrote would have been “right”), then I would feel rejected and more alone and even more afraid of talking about all this. And I don’t want to be afraid to talk to you. So I couldn’t email, because I was afraid of what could happen.
“I was wondering about emails. Monday felt bad to me, I knew things didn’t feel okay. I know you have felt alone, like no one gets it. I really feel like I get that, and you aren’t alone. And I am happy to email with you.” Bea says. After pausing a moment, she says, “It’s ironic to me that all of this is about not being okay, yet that feeling of having to be okay or nothing will be okay is so ingrained it always is there.”
“Its because it’s okay to not be okay here.” I say.
“It is absolutely okay to not be okay.”
“But…this is okay?” I ask. I want to ask if we are okay, but I can’t so I say ‘this’ meaning the therapy relationship.
“Yes. This is okay. Are you feeling better about me?” She sounds a little cautious– directly speaking about therapy relationship has proven to be bad in the past.
I nod. This makes me nervous to feel this vulnerable. “Yeah.”
“I’m glad,” she says.
“I think……I think I am oversensitive….to…..ugh. I’m thinking how to explain.” I stumble through, and it’s messy, but I get the words out. “If I feel bad, and someone is trying to make me feel better by pointing out good things, it feels like I’m being told I can’t feel like that. Because my mom always used distraction, if I was upset, she would name good things, like I had to be okay.”
“Yes, that makes sense. It’s like being told you weren’t allowed your feelings. You weren’t seen. You are allowed all your feelings now.” She gets it. It’s the reason I felt like she wasn’t getting it last week.
“I know that people don’t mean I can’t be okay….it’s just so much the same. I don’t know.” I still have my face buried.
“Well, it is like this whole other part of you wasn’t allowed to exist. It really was terrible, and of course you would be sensitive to it. I know you don’t always feel okay, and that things feel very scary right now. I know you feel alone and like no one gets it, like no one sees you. I am seeing you. I get it, and I really want you to feel that today. To know you aren’t alone.” Bea still sounds sad.
I look up at her slowly, and nod my head at her. “It’s okay now.”
Bea says she wants to get me more present and grounded before I leave. “Is that a new purse?” She asks me.
I shake my head. “No. It’s an old bag. I just was cleaning out the storage ottoman thing at the end of my bed. This was the bag I used when Kat was a toddler.”
“It looks nice and big for that.” She agrees. It’s quiet for a minute, and then Bea says, “I was thinking about your birthday this weekend. With the kids I see, we usually have a treat, go get ice cream, something. I don’t usually do anything with adults, but I felt like I wanted to do something for you. I didn’t bring anything, though because I was afraid it would be weird. I just wanted you to know I was thinking about it.” It only strikes me now, writing this, how honest she really is, and that she makes herself vulnerable in therapy, too. Maybe not in the big scary way I do, but still.
I smile. “It might have been weird….” Mostly it would have been weird because I would have felt very in the spotlight if I was eating with her. “But thank you for thinking about me.” It really does mean a lot to me that she thought about my birthday.
We wrap up, Bea assuring me that we are okay and that I can email this week. She walks out with me, and I wish her a good trip.
“I’ll see you tomorrow, with Kat, still.” She reminds me.
“Oh yeah. I kinda forgot.” I say. We wave goodbye and she heads back inside. I’m unsure if things feel okay or not, if I am fine or not, but at least I know Bea is here and even though she may be changing some of the tools she uses in therapy, she hasn’t changed– she is still Bea, and she is aware of much more than I think she is.