Thursday was the first day back to therapy after C’s Christmas break. It was a successful session in a long-term sort of way, but was nevertheless very traumatic for me, tackling as it did a lot of hurt and vulnerabilities that I don’t want to face nor admit to. There was nothing specific that was so stressful about it, but as I said to C towards the end, I felt very “battered and bruised”.
I was glad to see C again, having missed him and craved his protection over the three weeks since I last saw him. However, he has committed a cardinal sin. He has grown a beard. Not like the goatee, Derren Brown-esque beard he had when we first met, but a full-on, proper beard. I’ve nothing especially against beards, but honestly – he looks like something out of a children’s illustrated Bible. When he came to the waiting room to get me, I was aghast to be greeted by Jesus (or Judas if you prefer, he could be either). It took me a quite a while to stop fixating on this newly arrived hirsute feature.
As has been the case since C has been back in VCB’s stomping ground (as there is building work going on in his office), we opened by taking a few moments to compose ourselves. The waiting room in the place is usually full of people, unlike that for C’s proper office which is always empty. The people unsettle me, and C has realised now that he has to give me a few minutes for this anthropophobic anxiety to abate somewhat.
Of course, I had C anxiety as well. I always feel nervous before I see him, and it was especially strong on Thursday given that I had not seen him for three weeks. To that end, initially I was stubbornly refusing to speak in anything other than one word answers to questions.
Eventually, he asked me how Christmas had been.
“I’m not going to discuss that,” I brattishly declared. I knew, of course, that he would follow that up with a question as to why I was not going to discuss that, so before he got the chance to do so, I changed the subject and told him about the latest troubles with the health service.
The first thing was the whole bullshit about the GP talking down to me, just after I’d last seen C. I told him all about it, going so far as to re-enact some of the mannerisms that Dr Arsehole had employed during his irritable rant towards me. This was before the reply to my complaint had arrived.
“How dare someone earning as much as a GP does behave in that fashion?” I raged. “How dare the jumped-up twat speak to me like that?”
“How were you in the room with him?” asked C.
“Pathetic,” I admitted. “I just sat there and took it. I did try to argue with him at one point, but he just kept on and on, and I backed down. As I was leaving, I even thanked him! A reckons I need to discuss my remarkable ability to be so horribly passive with you.”
The second NHS issue, which I’ve only mentioned in passing here, is that apparently VCB is no longer my consultant psychiatrist. When I last saw her in November, she said she’d see me again in a month, which she didn’t (surprise surprise). Then, when I finally did get a letter inviting me for an appointment with Psychiatry, it merely said that I had an appointment on 20 January with Dr M, not VCB. It made no reference as to the change of individual whatsoever.
C said, “as far as I know there’s been a shake-up in Psychiatry in terms of geographical location. They’ve changed the boundaries that each consultant operates in. Is that what happened?”
“No one told me anything, so I wouldn’t know,” I spat, disgusted.
“I’m not going to lie to you,” I continued, “I’m not VCB’s biggest fan. But at least I had some sort of relationship with her – I knew her, and she was at least in some ways familiar with my case, so this is incredibly frustrating. It strikes me that Psychiatry is possibly the worst branch of medicine in which such nonchalance and disruption should be in evidence, what with issues of trust and attachment being so much a part of certain illnesses.
“But what do I know,” I added bitterly. “I’m just the mental that sits opposite you people.”
“Is that how you see yourself?” C jumped in.
The truthful answer to this is that I don’t know. The comment had been intended as a slight on the Psychiatric “service” and indeed on mental health services on the NHS in general, but of course I exist in a perpetual state of self-loathing and self-disgust, whether im- or explicit, so yes, it probably is – to some extent – how I see myself.
I told him so, adding that I have no right to be mental because what has happened to me is so considerably less serious than that to which many others have been subjected. This came up a couple of times in the session – basically I feel guilty for being a mental when other people who’ve endured worse aren’t or, if they are, then they have more right to be than I.
C mulled it over for a minute or two, then said, “one thing about you is that you’re defined by contradictions. You mentioned earlier about being passive – there is that side, yet there’s another side that can be extremely assertive in the right circumstances. It’s the same with your belief that you are somehow not entitled to be a mentalist [interesting use of that word, I thought]. You hate yourself for being this way, you think you have no right – yet you will fight to the death to get the treatment to which you feel you are entitled.”
“It’s hardly rocket science, though,” I responded. “In some ways, whether or not I’m entitled to be mad is irrelevant; the fact is, I am. Regardless of the reasons for that, I should be entitled to treatment, under the foundations on which this health service was based. If I kicked that wall over there and broke my toe, the stupid manner in which I broke my toe would be irrelvant to those treating me; I would still be entitled to their medical attention. I don’t see why it should be different for one’s mental health.”
“It shouldn’t,” he agreed.
Oh really? OK then, why are you cutting short my fucking therapy? Not that I brought up that issue specifically, because I didn’t want to engage in the pointless navel-gazing that had been the previous session. If our time is limited, it must be used effectively.
Anyhow, I don’t remember how he phrased it, but basically he said that a person’s history and indeed how they respond to it is completely relative. He said that we can only develop from our own experiences and, essentially, that I really shouldn’t beat myself up for being mental. Later on in the session, he almost went so far as to say that I have every right to be, but I’ll come to that later.
Of course, I can rationally accept a lot of this, and indeed I know that certain mental illnesses with which I have been diagnosed are thought to exist in individuals who are biologically predisposed to having them, the symptoms manifesting after some sort of psychosocial trigger. So of course I am not to be blamed for being mental…says Rational Me. In-Control-Irrational-and-Ironically-Mental Me does not agree.
We also discussed how the anger I feel is sometimes misplaced. I contend absolutely that my anger towards the health service is completely just, so that’s not one such example, but I will fly into a genuinely murderous rage at either myself or, say, my mother (particularly my mother) for something ridiculously stupid like dropping a pen – yet I am not angry at my uncle. I am angry at my father, but that miserable sod had the audacity to die, so I’m hardly likely to be able to direct that towards him.
Of course, mention of my uncle in the context of anger was A Very Bad Move. C said, “so, are you going to tell me what happened at Christmas?”
I glared at him. “Did I not already say that I don’t want to talk about that?” I sneered, eventually.
“You did, yes.” He looked at me enigmatically.
Oh, but you can read my mind, can’t you C? Saying that I didn’t want to talk about it is some sort of conspiratorial Newspeak for, “I want to discuss that with you in intimate and excruciating detail”, isn’t it?!
“You don’t want to tell me about your Christmas, do you? No – you don’t. So why should I tell you about mine?” I challenged.
It was meant mainly as a sarcastic and rhetorical question, but he answered anyway. “If we met in other circumstances, that’s probably exactly the conversation we’d be having,” he mused. “But I know that you know that this circumstance has to be one-sided.”
As it happens, I do know, thanks very much – and I don’t like it and it isn’t fair. And yet it protects me from the probable sheer ordinariness of this man that I so pathetically look up to. But that’s another matter. I told him, truthfully, that if we met socially, I would still not be telling him the specifics of what happened at Christmas.
Actually, if I’m 100% honest, of course I wanted to discuss it with him (in his capacity as my psychotherapist) – aspects of it anyway. I was horribly mortified (as well as disturbed) by what ‘They’ wanted me to do on Christmas Night, and didn’t especially want to outline that in specific terms, but I did want to tell him of the fear and anguish that took me to that point. Yet I felt absolutely unable to give myself permission to do so.
We sat in silence for a bit. I knew he would break me sooner or later, but I decided to fight him anyway. I was thinking about the psychoses, which led me to question how I had described them here on WordPress. In doing so, I was reminded that I won an award for this blog on New Year’s Day from the fabulous Mental Nurse blog.
“My blog won an award,” I randomly blurted out at him, with thinly-disguised pride.
C seemed quite excited by this news and congratulated me, then paused. “I really want to ask you more about this,” he began, “But I’m wondering if we shouldn’t leave it until later – I don’t want to avoid the issue of Christmas.”
I wanted to avoid the issue of Christmas. It’s my fucking therapy, can’t I talk about what I like?
But I gave up the fight, and gave the man what he wanted. “There were issues with the voices,” I admitted finally, tapping my head (as if he didn’t know what voices I damn well meant).
“OK,” he started. “What sort of ‘issues’?”
“No, no, no, we’re not going down that road. It’s enough that you know that the day was stressful and I went doolally in the evening, though mercifully not in front of the 3,820,691 people with whom I was forced to spend the whole sorry day.”
“But how could it not have been traumatic?” C asked. “I really fail to see how it could not have been, what with you having to see and interact with your uncle.”
“You’ve built it to be all about him,” I replied. “It’s not – not entirely. To say my family is a freakshow is to insult freakshows. I just cannot put into words how fucked up and weird they all are, and how much I have nothing in common with them.”
“I remember you saying before that their ‘weirdness’ was difficult to convey, but I do have some sense of that.”
“They’re worse in a collective,” I continued. “As individuals – well, I can’t pretend I’m their biggest fans, but they’re more tolerable. But their group dynamic is seriously – epically [not that that's a word] – bizarre.”
Moving away from this slightly, C went back to the voices. I told him that I had already said I was not going into that and requested that he left it be.
“I’m not really so concerned about what they actually said,” he told me. “At present I’m more interested in why you don’t want to tell me about it.”
I should have been expecting such a question, but I hadn’t been. I thought about it for a moment.
“I’m very aware that we’re sitting in Psychiatric Outpatients and that the bin’s over there,” I said, leaving him to infer the rest. “I can’t get away quickly here. At least in your normal office I have time to flee before you all catch me.”
I got the usual spiel of crap about how he would only call a psychiatrist or my GP if I was at a serious and imminent risk of harming myself. Or others, he added, almost as an afterthought. I laughed bitterly.
I don’t remember the exact discussion that followed, but he seemed to have established that on Christmas Night it was ‘others’ that ‘They’ were trying to get me to hurt. He never said it straight out, and I never confirmed it, but there seemed to be a shared, implicit understanding that this was what had occurred. He sought to reassure me in as strong terms as he’s allowed to that he would not call anyone to have me sectioned unless he thought that such harm was absolutely imminent.
“I don’t believe you,” I told him.
Ouch. I think that one cut him a little (no pun intended, not that I’ve been too bad vis-a-vis self-harm of late). He asked why I doubted him.
In part, it is because I feel that some of the trust has been broken between us, owing to the whole uncertainty over the continuation of treatment – though in fairness, he was good in this session and I feel it might have been built up a little again. Other reasons are just how terrible the episode was – I mean, I was told to kill a fucking not-quite-two year old, how much worse does it get? – and the fact that I’m preposterously paranoid. Probably the simplest reason is that I often genuinely feel that I should be fucking sectioned, though I really, really don’t want to be.
In any case, I do believe that C wouldn’t section me unless he felt it absolutely imperative, yet I don’t believe it at the same time. I believe two absolutely polar opposite things simultaneously – not an unknown state for me. I told him so, and he seemed to understand that.
For some reason, presumably relating to all the discussion about Paedo and the multitudinous weirdness of the McF dynasty, C and I ended up discussing how my mother didn’t believe me about the sexual abuse, and about how she seems to go out of her way sometimes to put me down, or to compare me (negatively) to others (particularly Suzanne, who she seems to fucking idolise).
C said, “it seems to me that your mother has been severely traumatised by her relationship with your father.” Now, I genuinely don’t recall what he said next, but I think it was something along the lines that she therefore seeks solace in the McFs and, despite what she may say, finds it hard to believe that they are capable of fault – even when it’s rape of her daughter. I don’t want to put words in C’s mouth, though, so don’t take that as gospel. Of course, whilst I cannot disagree with the aforesaid conjecture, my own take on things is that she will always remember that I am my father’s daughter (she will even say it from time to time when she wants to hurt me). In any case, I am certainly not the daughter that she would have wanted.
I agree with C that she is completely traumatised (not that she’d admit it herself), but was surprised by him coming out and telling me that was his view in such forthright terms. In any event, this tangent didn’t especially add much to the session, except to exacerbate the rawness of the hurt I was already feeling.
So that was his next tactic – the perennial, “how are you feeling?”
I couldn’t verbalise it at first. I just felt so something, so indefinably sad and upset and low. He quietly encouraged me to try harder to express it more exactly.
Eventually, through gritted teeth, I seethed, “I feel hurt and sorry for myself and vulnerable, are you happy now?”
Unfortunately he thought this comment was sarcastic, intended as a snide take on what he wanted to hear. Admittedly, the manner in which I had said it could easily have been taken that way, though it was meant to have come across as a dramatic, “there! I’m finally admitting the truth! I’m deflated but this is progress, isn’t that fantabulous?” kind of gesture (fail!). I apologised, and advised him that the content of my comment was serious.
Yes, I admitted to being vulnerable. What I didn’t admit, of course, is that I want C to protect me from all that which makes me vulnerable. I want him to put his arms around me, stroke my hair, tell me in his gentle voice I will be OK, and protect me from all the bad that exists in the world. Of course I didn’t tell him that, but admitting to this hideous vulnerability that I’ve been repressing for I don’t-know-how-long was a start.
“Unwillingness to feel or express feeling of these things is very common in people who’ve been brought up in abusive and traumatic backgrounds,” he told he, tilting his head to gauge my reaction.
“‘Abused’,” I repeated wistfully, looking away. The branches of the trees outside were blowing back and forth in the wind, stripped bare of their leaves. I felt as emotionally naked in front of C as they looked.
“You don’t think you’ve been abused?” he checked, apparently confused.
“No,” I replied quietly.
“You were sexually abused by your uncle!” C said, determinedly.
“And I responded to that and other things by dissociating and emotionally numbing myself. Fat lot of good it’s done me.”
“It probably did at the time, though. It was a means of self-preservation during those times.”
There was a pause, then I randomly spat out, “I disgust myself. My vulnerability disgusts me. I disgust me. Fucking schizo bitch!”
“You’re one of the most self-critical people I’ve ever known,” C told me, taking a very slight tone of authority. “My worry is that this is a major stumbling block. I really think if we can develop some self-compassion in you, it will help a lot.”
“You said a moment ago that dissociation etc was a means of self-preservation. It ties in with the psychology discussed in a book I’ve been reading. It is, shock horror, a self-help book, one designed to teach you strategies to soothe yourself when you go mental.”
C was delighted by this. He asked me if it was any good, my response being that a lot of it (as with any such text) was “wank”, but that despite this, there were some good, and vaguely intelligently written, parts to it.
The thing is, I’m not always as critical of myself as I seem to be in psychotherapy. I can only surmise that that is when the truth really comes out. The raw, visceral nature of everything that’s gone or is wrong with my life is so palpable and explicit in those 50 minutes, and the true depth of my self-hate is exposed. Eugh.
He went on to say that it was not desirable to rid me of my “sarcasm and [my] wit” (he said I was witty!!! Smiley me!), but that he thought aspects of that fed into my lack of self-compassion, and that we needed to strike a balance.
“And I’m encouraged by the fact that you’re trying,” he concluded.
I left feeling psychologically battered and bruised, even so much as allowing myself a tear as I drove home (how self-compassionate), but I was also quietly encouraged and reassured.