Well, I’m back from my travels around our little island, having somehow survived the unforgivable state of 900 miles’ worth of the Irish road system. Thanks for all your good wishes: we had a really nice time exploring the country, and I will at some point bung some of the photos up on the other blog.
This review is of my session with Paul on 10 January, which was the first one after Christmas and the New Year. Until Monday of this week, I hadn’t seen him since; obviously last week I was on holiday, and the week before, I had what I thought was going to become ‘flu, so I cancelled the session. Apparently, it was “lovely to see me again” the other day, but as you might expect after another two week gap so soon after the Christmas break, Paul felt a notable disconnect from me. Anyhow, that was week 12 and therefore is a matter for the next review.
What a strange and demanding session week 11 was. The thing about Paul is that nothing is an accident to him; everything is related. As noted here previously, he is very much of an psychoanalytic bent, at least in his thinking; traditional analysis, of course, involves almost no input from the therapist, whereas Paul is very vocal in session. Still, his thinking is clearly Freudian, which suits me fine. My contempt for newer types of therapy has rarely been hidden on this blog, and even if in textbook terms this style of dyad is not recommended for my conditions, I know innately that it is nonetheless suitable for me. I remember C once saying that a structured type of psychoanalysis would be great for me. What a shame that he was unwilling to employ it.
Anyway. I bring this up (again) because of the stuff he quizzed me on in the meeting; stuff that I just thought was stuff, but that he thinks is all a consequence of Thing A, which itself is a consequence of Thing B, and so on and so forth.
Matters commenced in the way you might expect after the Christmas break. I told him about my father-in-law, Ivan’s, utter cuntitude on Boxing Day, and he told he that he had had a relaxing time. This reminded me of my asking C last year how his Christmas had been, and his typical dodging of an answer. Maybe he knew I was obsessed with him and thought answering would be destructive – who knows? I am not obsessed with Paul, and hearing him discuss his own life – however in passing that is – is a breath of fresh air. It makes the dyad seem less asymmetrical, even though there is still an inevitable imbalance, which is just the nature of the therapeutic relationship unfortunately. Anyway, Paul reminded me that the last time I had seen him we had discussed the then-impending appointment with NewVCB, and the fact that I had effectively gone to Nexus against her express wishes – how had she reacted, he wondered? Well, surprisingly well was the answer: she is happy for me to keep on seeing him and was, indeed, looking forward to talking to him. Result.
There was a lull. Not unusually, I could think of nothing to say to him. Even though the point of this therapy is dealing with mentalism resultant of sexual abuse, it seems bizarre to just start a conversation with, “so yeah, remember that time I was gang-raped or the one where I was fucked in the throat? Well…”
So I just sat there and stared at the carpet. To flick back to my former encounters with C – again – well, I usually looked at him. Even on the occasions when I was spouting the most offensive insults and bile at him, I still looked him in the eye. The only time I look at Paul is when he analyses something, or when he permits me to do so.
Eventually he broke the silence by asking how I felt we were getting on.
“With what?” I stupidly asked, catalysing the unsurprising response of, “how are we getting on with what brought you here?
“Is it a slow fight?” he continued. “Or do you think we’re moving forward?”
“Both,” I responded, perhaps slightly abruptly. “I feel that we are making progress; I tell you things that I’ve never really discussed in any depth with anyone. On the other hand, I feel that I’m encased in a block of concrete, and you have to slowly chisel away, bit by bit, at that.”
“What’s inside the block?” he queried. I resisted the urge to remind him that I had just said that I was inside; I knew what he meant, and to bring such pedantry into the room seemed inappropriate.
I thought about it. What is it that I’m so fucking scared of? I know the vague answer; I’m a product of some nasty abuse, some shit from other sources, and that lies there inside me, the sometime outside character managing to belie the reality quite capably. But…I don’t know. It’s more than just experiences, isn’t it? I’m internally terrified of something. Perhaps of fear itself?
Not that I managed this level of analysis in this meeting. My eventual pathetic comeback to Paul’s question was that I had “no clear answer”.
“No. I have no response,” I added, unhelpful as ever.
“Perhaps no response is the response,” he said, tilting his head slightly in thought. “One thing I’ve noticed consistently about you is that you’re articulate, intelligent, you postulate, you analyse – but when it comes to the nitty-gritty of this material, words stick in your throat. You cough. You splutter [sweet fuck, how embarrassing]. You’re almost rendered mute when it comes to certain terms and words.”
This reminded me of something, which may or may not be related, but which has not yet been noted here as far as memory serves me. In the last few months, I’ve noticed myself falling into what could be considered a mild case of ‘word salad‘. You know: nonsense speech. I might be attempting to say, yesterday I was at the park and it rained, but instead I would often – completely unintentionally – say something like, yesterday I was fireplace and it refereered. “So now,” I said to Paul, “I’ve been going around thinking I’m in the early stages of schizophrenia. Though it’s probably nothing more than a medication side-effect.”
He considered this for a minute, then said, “I’m concerned that we’re talking around things here.”
Well, excuse me for fucking breathing, Paul. Granted, there’s fuck all he can do about my tablets, there’s fuck all he can do if I am in the early stages of schizophrenia, there’s fuck all he can do about my incoherence at such times. But I thought it was worth bringing up, and was surprised to have him respond like that.
Of course, my response on hearing he wanted to get right into the minutiae of everything sent me into lockdown. So Paul took it upon himself to bring up the gruesome details.
The first thing to which he alluded was oral rape, and how I had genuinely thought I was going to choke to death on at least one such occasion. The mere reference sent my mind to work in its usual dichotomous way – you made that all up, Pan versus God, yeah, that was pretty horrible. When I told him this, he asked why a five or six year old kid would make such a story up. Indeed, he queried, how would a child of that age even be able to make such a story up?
“As we’ve noted before,” he said, “you’d prefer it to be made up. You mentioned schizophrenia earlier. You’d find what I think you think is the organic nature of that syndrome easier to deal with [he reminded me of this post, saying almost exactly that, in his little soliloquy].”
“That doesn’t make sense, though,” I protested. “Why would I want it to be reasonless?”
“It makes perfect sense. You don’t want to have been sexually abused, to have been so horrified and traumatised. The thing is, to my mind, schizophrenia is simply another response to trauma. My impression is that you think in terms of the medical model. If we can just correct these neural pathways. If we can only correct that blasted chemical imbalance.”
Actually, I do support the medical model, as it happens. Remember my vaguely controversial anti-anti-psychiatry post, for example? But rather than turn the session into a debate about my beliefs that mental illnesses are biopsychosocial versus his that they are merely psychosocial, I just looked blankly at him.
He took the bait and continued. “As you may have gathered, I don’t buy into the medical model [he chuckled slightly, which I assume was meant to lighten the tone]. Blaming it all on chemicals is, to me, the ultimate dissociation. You can claim you have some biological brain disease all you like, but it doesn’t change the fact that what happened to you was real.”
“No,” I said, as if I were some sort of defiant child. “I’m pretty sure I made it up.”
Paul shook his head, in his own determined act of defiance.
I tried to be rational. “Why would I make it up, though? What function would that serve? If I wanted to get attention, surely there would be 100,000 easier ways of doing so.”
“Look,” he began. “What you’ve described…it’s like some sort of constructed narrative. It’s plausible, consistent, believable. It doesn’t alter. Your mental health may be all over the place at times, but your descriptions of child sex abuse are like a solid core. Real and unchanging.”
This reminded me of a comment left by one of my readers when I first decided I had False Memory Syndrome (you see, I do pay attention to you :)). “OK,” I conceded, “but – whilst intellectually understanding the psychological function of dissociation – I just don’t get how I could have just forgotten so many serious things.”
“How could you bare to remember?”
It was an obvious question given our previous interactions, but for some reason it caught me off guard. Perhaps it was the quiet, demanding intensity in his voice, or perhaps it was that in not wanting to remember, I actually did (traitorous brain!). I shrugged and stared at the plug on the wall on my left. I’m becoming quite intimately acquainted with it.
“The time they threatened to cut your fingers off,” he eventually went on. “How could you bare to remember that? What must that little girl have felt?”
I still hate him calling her that little girl. She’s a venomous piece of shit, not some sort of angelic innocent. (Yeah, yeah, I know – she was innocent, blah blah blah. I know it logically. But I still heartily despise her. The fact that I continue to write about Aurora/my child self in the third person is, to Paul at least, the ultimate insult to her. Boo-fucking-hoo). Anyway, I told him that I had recently read this book, in which an almost-identical incident took place.
“When I read that,” I said, “I felt horror, absolute in-your-fucking-gut-with-the-hairs-standing-on-the-back-of-your-neck horror. I felt sick. Remnants of terror, perhaps. It was partly bringing back my own recollection, but it was more for the woman in the book.”
“You’re trying to intellectualise this again…”
I didn’t think I was, but I apologised anyway.
“…I want you to experience it. In your experience, was the little girl terrified?”
“To what extent?”
“It’s beyond words. I can’t describe it.”
“Right. She was so terrified – you were so terrified – that you had to find a way out. So you…put it in a box in a corner of your head. You forgot some of it. You forgot it to survive.”
Maybe so. “But it’s so shit,” I whined in frustration. “I get it, I really get it, but why can’t I just fucking remember now so as I can process it all, resolve it, and get on with my fucking life?!”
“This is why you hate her,” Paul said, a touch of sympathetic drama in his voice. “What happened to her – you – has caused you years of searing depression, psychosis, anxiety, and much more. You blame her for that, and you hate her for it.”
“I keep seeing images of a young girl who’s currently going through this, sitting in a corner weeping inconsolably. Lonely. So, so lonely. And I feel such pity and great sadness for her,” I admitted. I paused, perhaps to create my own sense of drama, which on reflection seems wholly inappropriate. “But she isn’t me. Whenever I substitute that girl for the five year old me, the image just leaves me cold.”
“You see her as someone to blame for your mental health problems. I see her as someone brilliant. It is amazing that she survived all that.”
At the risk of annoying virtually everyone who reads this, what else do you do but survive it? You survive something life-threatening. Whether or not I knew it at the time, my life was never really in serious danger (unless you include the danger I presented myself from about the age of nine onwards). So how did I ‘survive’ the abuse? Didn’t I just live through it and muddle along as best I could?
I said so to him, but he pointed to the incidents of forced fellatio. “You came close to dying a couple of times, if that’s how you want to define survival. I look at you sitting over there and I think, ‘fair play to you, girl. You did alright’. You function, you cope. You’re not locked up permanently in some psychiatric institution on ridiculous doses of Haloperidol. I’d really love you to see the positives of what you have done, and are doing.”
“Paul, I have a not-insubstantial IQ and I’m very well-educated. But here I am, jobless, scrounging fucking benefits to try to keep me alive.”
“Does that matter?”
“In the grand scheme of space-time and the entire history of the planet, no. But it matters to me.”
“Of course it does, and that’s why it’s a target to work towards.” For the first time in the session, I nodded. It is what I am working towards, I think. Not in isolation of course – I don’t want to return to work before I am sufficiently well, as that would do neither me nor any prospective employer any good – but it will be a measure of how far I have come when I feel ready for it. If I’m not forced back into it prematurely, that is, but I’ll leave the rant on that subject until tomorrow.
I sighed. “When other kids were dreaming of marriage and babies, I was fantasising about having a high-flying career. Fuck my life.”
“Sounds like a coping mechanism to me,” he opined. “You know, to separate yourself from other children. You had to fantasise about something grown-up, because you had to grow up.”
This is what I meant at the start of the post about everything connecting, in his mind, with everything else. I simply saw myself as a kid a little different from the others and didn’t, and don’t, see why that should be considered a necessary side-effect of my chequered past. It just was. Or so I think.
“Do you want children?” he asked me, out of the blue.
Readers, you know my views on this. Children + Pandora = disaster. But I was so thrown by the question that I spent a few minutes just frowning at him in a sort of horrified surprise. The very notion of me procreating is laughable.
“The short answer is ‘no’,” I responded carefully, after several minutes.
“What’s the long answer?” he batted back.
Fuck. FUCK! What sort of stupid fucking question is this anyway?!
“A’s half blind, I’m full mental. A’s issues are partly congenital, and even if you don’t think mine are, children are perceptive. Mentally ill parents often have mentally ill children. What kind of start in life would that fucking be?”
“I didn’t ask you if you thought having children was a good idea,” he noted wryly. “I asked if you wanted any.”
“Right,” I started through grated teeth, “again, in short, no. My levels of abhorrence of the idea vary, I’ll admit, but as a general rule I find children annoying, loud and intrusive.”
“Like [Aurora] intrudes on your mind?” he mused.
I ignored that, and went on to tell him that despite my general hatred of kids, I’ve generally found Marcus and Sean to be OK. “But you can hand them back,” I said. “I’m glad Suzanne takes them away at the end of the day, and even if I wasn’t, I’d be a terrible mother.”
“My offspring would have to live up to my precocious expectations, which is unfair…”
“Ah,” Paul interjected. “Precocious. You’d be completely incapable of dissociating from a precocious child, wouldn’t you?”
Again, I ignored this irritating (if true) statement, and continued by pointing out that I am “…inherently selfish.”
He looked enigmatically at me.
“What?” I demanded.
“I’m wondering if you would see yourself in your children,” he shared.
I did genuinely try to think of a prudent answer to this, but quite typically came up blank. “It’s one of those things you can’t know until you’re in the circumstance,” I babbled. “My best guess is that it’s possible. Certainly, when [Aurora] takes over my head or otherwise invades, I judge her by my ‘now’ standards, rather than those of a child.”
“Takes over your head?”
I felt ridiculously sheepish. I still don’t feel comfortable with the idea of having an alter, however much part of me she is.
“I hate her and her stupid voice,” I scathed, defensively. “I hate the way she invades my mind!”
“Perhaps it’s the only way she can even have a voice,” he suggested.
I shrugged. “Well, this is what I mean. It’s difficult enough [for example, here’s A’s take on encountering Aurora] for anyone to have to tolerate this, never mind my bringing children in to see it!”
After a brief lull, I decided to admit to something that I consider very weird. The previous night A and I had been listening to The Shipping Forecast, as we now do every night. The cadence and repetition of the words is relaxing, and is the perfect way to attempt to wind down (Zopiclone is possibly more perfect, but you know what I mean). In an unusually relaxed state, a memory came to me. I was about three or four and in my mother’s bed, crying my eyes out. My father was there, trying to comfort me – yep, readers, you read that correctly. My father was trying to do something that wasn’t utterly shit. I recall that I cried myself to sleep.
The problem was that I could not for the life of me remember why I was so upset. So, in a move unprecedented, I attempted to ask her why. (Internally, mind you. Doing so audibly, even in front of A with whom I am as comfortable as I can be, is still a step too far).
I relayed this idiocy to Paul, deriding myself at every juncture, but perhaps unsurprisingly, he felt that asking her why she was sad was a good thing. “Did you get an answer?” he questioned.
“I felt what I can only describe as a ‘force’ – it’s what I’ve felt when she’s tried to ‘come through’ before. The beginnings of dissociation, I suppose. It was like she wanted to get through – but she was unsuccessful. I stopped her, I suppose.”
He said he liked the idea that I had at least tried to connect with her, and I asked him if that was the beginning of the fabled state of ’empathy’. He said that he felt that I was possibly confusing ’empathy’ with ‘sympathy’, and that the two weren’t mutually exclusive.
My mind drifted a little. “I don’t think I’m capable of empathy,” I murmured, almost to myself. Then, when I had thought about that, I declared that, “I must be a sociopath.”
Paul was shocked to the point of astonishment by this comment – his reaction was strong enough to surprise me in return. “Where did that come from?!” he asked me.
Paul laughed. “If the definition were as simple as that, thousands of people in Northern Ireland alone would be certified sociopaths.
“Look,” he continued. “There is an unempathetic part of you – the part that’s been beaten down. But you’re not like that all the time. It’s very selective.”
I awkwardly avoided his gaze.
“In a sense you remind of Margaret Thatcher,” he said, chuckling. My eyes went wide at the comparison.
“The Iron Lady. You sit there and try to be all hard and tough. You don’t ‘do’ all the touchy-feely stuff – understanding, emotion, blah blah. Do you know what I think? I think that’s total bullshit. I think that in there is a really nice person, and you don’t want me to know that.”
Red alert! A fucking compliment! No. Can’t deal with that. Change the subject, Pan!
So I went on a mega-rant about women crying – even at justifiable events such as funerals – and how their behaviour made my skin crawl. I exemplified by referencing the circumstances of my step-father’s death (more fun and games on that one for week 12’s post) and how my mother would love me to “emotionally engage” with her in terms of being tactile and loving.
“It’s just not in my nature,” I concluded.
“When you were a child, you learned that crying was useless. It’s the typical type of attachment issue seen in a neglected kid; over time, the child doesn’t get what it needs, so it doesn’t waste its time bothering any more – in fact, it’s possible that crying can only do more damage. Now that you are not a child, though, the only danger is showing vulnerability, which you obviously don’t want to do. You’ve learnt to protect yourself, and you do it very, very well. But the time for protecting is over, Pandora. It’s just that your systems don’t buy that.”
I felt deflated, even defeated. “How do I stop it?” I asked, imploringly.
“The first step is to realise that it’s not your fault,” he said. “You’re not bad for not being emotional; you just have coping mechanisms. They’re healthy, in the sense that you did the best you could do. And on that point, you don’t have a ‘disorder’ [hmm]. You’re not accountable to DSM-IV. Let’s wait for DSM-X; hopefully it’ll be two blank pages, when they’ve realised that mental problems are social problems [double hmm].”
He pointed out, reasonably enough, that former editions of the DSM had included homosexuality as a disorder, with which I couldn’t argue. In that sense, yes; I concede that the bloody thing does represent social issues of the time in which it’s published. I still don’t necessarily think that invalidates conceptualising symptoms into rough diagnoses as seen in the book, but I suppose Paul and I aren’t going to agree on this. That’s fine, though; we still want the same goal. Disagreement on this issue is not a major disability to that.
“So let’s throw the DSM out of the window,” he went on. “You don’t have a disorder; you have coping mechanisms. Are they extreme? Yes – but what you went through was extreme. It’s entirely proportional.”
By this point I was feeling distinctly uncomfortable. It was a nebulous sensation, but I suppose I might say it was a crude combination of vulnerability, resignation, hopelessness, self-doubt and of being lost.
“I don’t know if I can do this,” I cried, exasperated.
“I’m asking a lot of you,” Paul admitted. “I’m asking you to abandon something that’s been key to your survival. It’s like the trenches in World War I; you’ve been there for ages and it’s horrible, but it’s what you know. But now I’m asking you to trust me to climb out of those trenches, and to believe me when I say that the gunfire has stopped.”
It was quite a nice simile-metaphor, if perhaps a little melodramatic. But I still despaired. “I know that rationally, but how do I really feel it?”
“Let’s just start with in here,” he answered. “You don’t have to even attempt it outside these 50 minutes each week; I can see why that would be too risky for you right now. But for next week, can we try to just sit here with what’s in the room? Because, you know, there’s a lovely person in you behind all this, and I think we can get to her.”
I was mortified about being called ‘lovely’, and he picked up on it. I admitted to not being able to handle compliments – he wasn’t surprised – but agreed to try to just go with the flow in the room at the next session.
Just before I left he said, “you know, I look forward to your company each week. You know all about transference, and mine towards you is positive. Given that it’s an unconscious mechanism, I think it underlines the fact that there really is a lovely woman in you.”
And then it was over. Paul noted that my relief was palpable.
I have absolutely no idea how to conclude this post. But it’s ridiculously long as usual, so I will. Now. Until next time, then…