Resuming Psychotherapy – Paul: The Catch-Up Sessions

So. I mentioned at the end of my post the other week that I was going to see Paul that evening. I know I’d brought up that fact somewhere before then, but I’m not sure if it was on this blog or elsewhere. Either way, anybody who is a regular reader will probably be aware that Christine, my CPN, and NewVCB, my psychiatrist – not to mention A, and in something of a bizarre juxtaposition, my mother – had been nagging and nagging and nagging me to contact Nexus to follow-up my resumed contact with the organisation at the end of September.

To that end, I emailed Nice Lady That Works for Nexus shortly after Maisie’s funeral (the ‘summary’ ((scare quotes because I don’t do ‘summaries’)) of that is coming, fear not). I’ve always wondered why Nice Lady had a tendency to respond very promptly when I emailed her outside of normal business hours; OK, so I religiously checked and, if necessary, responded to my work emails at 3am, but I’m not exactly normal. Anyway, it seems that it’s because they’re open later on some days of the week to accommodate people that, you know…actually work.

Nice Lady responded to my email by stating that she had put me on the list for “ongoing therapy” with Paul, inferring that a regular slot for same had not yet come up. That seems a little odd to me given that nearly four months had elapsed between my having contacted the organisation about a re-commencement of contact and my later follow-up, since the maximum amount of time allowed for Nexus counselling is six months – but it’s theoretically possible, to be fair. Either way, I didn’t really mind, and in any case it doesn’t matter; she offered me a meeting with Paul to discuss my “present circumstances” for the Tuesday evening. I confirmed that I would attend. It turned out that I saw him twice in the end – the second meeting being exactly a week later – but for the sake of this post I’m going to mash them together. Mainly because I can’t remember what happened in each, rather than the sessions themselves being inherently faulty.

On the afternoon of the first session, I sat in the house in growing discomfiture. I really did not want to go to the appointment, in the everyday, sort of micro sense. Of course, in contrast, I did want to go in a wider, macro sense; therapy helped me before, and things have definitely gone downhill since I left it last summer. The latter compelled me not to call (or, more likely, email) Nice Lady to advise her that I would not be attending, and sheer bloody will-power stopped me ingesting the beautiful anodyne properties of a Diazpeam, my rationale being that if I did not get the dosage exactly right, that I would not be able to converse in any meaningful measure.

I left the house stupidly early, in light of the traditional difficulties of finding a parking space that attending Nexus creates. I suspected that, at this time (6pm or something), things would be a lot quieter – but were they fuck. For once, as I drove around and around for ages, I thanked the twisted cosmos for granting me my time-keeping neurosis. It’s funny; I used to be late for everything. Now it’s rare for me to be anything less than 20 minutes early. I’d say I look forward to seeing how this pans out at my own funeral, but since I’ll be dead I’ll not be seeing too much of it, will I?

Anyway, I found a space. Eventually. I still had a few minutes to kill so I dicked about on my phone, hoping for a meteorite storm or nuclear bomb or some such to suddenly descend on my little town. No such force majeurs came to pass, however, so five minutes prior to the allocated appointment time, I took a deep breath, and got out of the car.

As I waited at the door of the Institute for someone to buzz me in, I wondered what in the name of actual fuck I was going to say to Paul. How did I greet him – this man who knew all my deepest, darkest secrets? How did I justify my return to him (aside from allusions to the badgering persistently quipped out by my psychiatric team)? How could I be sure that I could re-develop our erstwhile rapport?

When I entered, both he and Nice Lady were standing at the reception desk. I was horrified to feel the need to introduce myself; my hair has changed since I last saw them, but beyond that, there was no reason for them not to recognise me. Unless they’d just forgotten.

I don’t know why that surprises me, as I sit here considering the incident retrospectively. I am eminently forgettable. I might well have a not-entirely-pleasant history, but everyone Paul (or any other Nexus therapist) sees is in that boat. It’s what keeps him (them) in work.

Whatever the case, introduce myself I did. When Nice Lady sort of nodded, I went to go to the (hidden) waiting room in anticipation of Paul’s readiness. There sat a young woman. She turned to look at the disturbance I’d created in her quiet world, and our eyes met for a split second. I was struck, again, by how such a simple, brief action can engender a whole barrage of thoughts and questions and assumptions in one’s mind. Yet despite our brief unity, I felt disgusted that by seeing her face, I’d somehow intruded upon her darkest moments and, by dent of that, her privacy.

Apparently I wasn’t the only one. Paul suddenly piped up that “we [could] go in now, Pandora,” so I withdrew from the room, mere seconds after entering it, tripping over something in my rush to free the girl of my rotund self, thus making an even bigger arsehole of myself.

Well. 1,200 words and the session hasn’t even began yet. Is that a record even for me?

It was a different room from the one we’d spent most of our time in during our last stint of meetings together. As if I weren’t unsettled enough, that unnerved me a fair bit. I have no idea why, as I had been in the room at least once in the past – and anyway, I hadn’t even been in the Nexus building in something like nine months, so surely it was all due to be new to me again?

I spent the next 50 minutes garrulously rambling at Paul about fuck knows what, but here’s my best attempt at making some vague coherence of that.

So, how had things been since our last meeting, the man himself queried?

“Things have been…eventful,” I began, trying to sate my agitation by assuming the sardonic tilt of my entire body to which I am used to showing the outside world. I failed.

“Eventful,” I repeated wistfully, before launching into a brief monologue on just how things had been ‘eventful’. “Oddly enough, just last week [Paedo]’s wife dropped dead. A while back, the cat was killed. I took up the [now co-]editorship of a popular mental health blog. I won a major award for my own blog then had a mini-breakdown. I’ve started writing more seriously – I’ve had professional pieces in One in Four and a major non-mentalist magazine. Though the latter is still about being mental, mind. The fucking house was burgled again. Oh, and I started taking a mood stabiliser on top of Quetiapine and Venlafaxine.” The one thing I completely forgot to mention was that my diagnosis – primarily borderline personality disorder when I last saw Paul – has changed. Not that it really matters, I suppose, since Paul is a fully paid-up member of the “EVERYTHING ABOUT PSYCHIATRY IS EVIL!!!!!1!!!eleven!!!11!15932!! GAAAAHHHHH!11!14!!seventeen!!!!” lobby. Indeed, when I mentioned the Lamotrigine, I noticed his characteristic eye-roll, however much he may (or indeed may not) have fought to suppress it.

When I’d finally shut my overactive gob, he sat silently for a minute, regarding me with a nebulous, enigmatic look that I eventually interpreted as curiosity.

I didn’t want to be the one to break the resultant silence, but neither could I meet such a piercing gaze. An old trait of mine when I’m nervous (or tired) is to play with a strand of my hair. I twirl it between my index and middle fingers, then release via a stroke of my thumb. Involuntarily – or at least unconsciously – said behaviour began again at this juncture, whilst my eyes darted from one form of nothing to another. The cheap non-descript carpet, the cracks in the walls, the blandness of the paint – any of it was better than returning his look.

“Why are you back?” he finally queried.

I took this as an accusation that I shouldn’t be back, even though it of course transpired in the course of the discussion that this was not the case. I didn’t admit this, however, and instead – after thinking for a bit – told him that I was sick of being stuck in this cyclical rut of madness. “I still can’t work. Being able to deal with people, losing my anxiety around them – that’s my goal. I believe that I was starting to get to that point when I left therapy with you before, but then it all went to shit.”

He said, “I remember telling you before that in an ideal world, we’d be working together for at least two years.”

I nodded in recollection. “Six months was a good start, but I need to build on that. Get things out of my system, work them out in my mind, delve deep for resolution. I can’t do it alone, and whilst a year isn’t ideal, it’s a damn sight better than nothing.”

In fact, in marked contrast to a lot of what I’ve written here before, I defended C. Not because C didn’t ultimately behave like a dickhead, but because whilst we were on good terms, I had at least done some groundwork with him. Would I have been able to walk straight into Nexus and own up to everything, had I not at least been able to raise it somewhere first? I doubt it.

“OK,” Paul said. “So you found that useful. Did you find our work together helpful, then?”

“Of course not,” I laughed with nervous sarcasm. “That’s why I’m back.”

He…I don’t know, he sort of guffawed at that. We then had a discussion surrounding the previous bout of therapy, concluding that part of its success had been that it gave me a ‘safe’ place in which to admit to my history of abuse, a circumstance in which that could be properly ‘contained’, which it hadn’t been when it was happening. A place where I was believed and not judged, with someone who was beginning to get past my endless intellectual prevaricating to the point where I might have felt a modicum of compassion for my former self. Remember the baby, for example?

Randomly, then, Paul said, “you told me earlier that things had been ‘eventful’.”

“Yes..?”

“The first three points. You noted that your aunt and cat died with a certain nonchalence, yet when you spoke of the award yon won, you almost spat the words out.”

“Did I?” I replied askance.

He raised his eyebrows in confirmation, forcing me to think back on what I’d said – or, more specifically, how I’d said it. I recalled that I had counted Maisie and Ms Cat’s demises off on my fingers, reducing them to mere footnotes of my life, though that is not how I saw either of the events in question. But of particular surprise was that I spoke of the award in tones of virtual disgust? How could that be?

“I was immensely grateful for and touched by that award,” I told him, puzzled.

He rescued me. “I didn’t think that you weren’t, but your tone suggested to me that…you know, death happens. It sucks, but it’s bad, and only bad things happen to you, right? The notion of something positive befalling you, particularly on a scale outside your immediate social circle, is alien territory.”

“I’ve won awards before,” I mused quietly, still avoiding his gaze (why does he stare so fucking intently? What is it with therapists and that…that device, that stupid, ugly, staring device, that they always employ?!). “This departed only in scale from them, I suppose, but what a scale it was. A ceremony, public recognition and a beautiful, shiny trophy.”

“You’re pleased with yourself,” he observed.

“Isn’t that oxymoronic? A minute ago you were suggesting that I was at best perplexed, at worst repelled, by it.”

“‘Perplexed’, yes, but not ‘repelled’. I think that you’re pleased you won it, but you still struggle with the ‘why’ behind that success.”

I certainly couldn’t argue with that analysis. How many times have I asked the following question of you, readers: “why do you like this blog?” On many occasions. And whilst I understand (and greatly appreciate) the responses you’ve given, I don’t – as Paul put it – understand the ‘whys’ of them.

He asked me a few more questions about it, and I answered honestly, as I had done with Christine (I can’t find any review of that appointment here. That was something of a fail. I can’t remember much about it now, but suffice to say she was thrilled to hear I’d won, and like Paul asked me lots of questions about it. That means that within about three seconds they can have gone from Mind’s website to here and read about themselves from my twisted perspective, which ((especially in light of l’affaire Little Feet)) is not entirely desirable. But anyway, if either of you are reading this, hello! I actually do like you both, if it’s any consolation in lieu of the general misery I spout here. I’m sorry if you dislike your sobriquets, but I had to anonymise you somehow).

Discussion moved on to Paedo – initially in the context of Maisie’s death, though we did discuss more specifics in the second appointment I’m coalescecently (spot the made-up adverb) detailing here. Since I have as yet failed to discuss the funeral on this blog, there’s going to be a spoiler here, and this is it. As we were leaving Hotel California that evening, I hugged Paedo – entirely of my own volition. So much of my own volition, in fact, that Paedo seemed surprised by the gesture.

Paul asked me why I had done this.

“Two reasons: one calculated, one…well, not calculated. In the first instance, I’d hugged most of my cousins and other assorted personnel, and it would have looked out of place had I not engaged in the same practice with him,” I blathered. “The second reason was that, whatever he’s done, the poor sod had just buried his wife of over 50 fucking years.”

“OK,” he replied in a very definite tone. “Fuck the first reason, that’s a load of bullshit [I don’t concur, but whatever]. The second – that’s a very human act. That’s normal in the aftermath of a death, to extend your humanity to grieving individuals, and you’re far more human than you give yourself credit for. But was what he did to you human?”

“Well, the biochemistry of our species dictates that…”

“You know what I mean,” he interrupted witheringly.

I shrugged. “No. I suppose that it wasn’t particularly human.”

***Pointless Tangent(s) Warning – Feel Free to Ignore the Next Paragraph***

[This is an issue I have. ‘Human’, to me, is a biological term, referring to the last surviving species of the homo genus. ‘Humanity’, even in what others regard the “emotional” sense, is, again to me, a reference back to the race of humankind. The traits to which Paul was referring derive from personhood, the qualities of a person (er…obviously, Pan). I think that it’s quite possible to be a human without being a person (and, arguably, vice versa: it’s very easy to anthropomorphise animals); any of you that have ever been on either side of the abortion debate will be familiar with this position, but it’s not confined solely to that arena. This isn’t the time to get into any of that, though, so I’ll say that no, what Paedo did (What Paedo Did. It sounds like a paedophilic version of What Katy Did – though, repugnant as Paedo’s behaviour may have been, the retelling of it is ((hopefully)) nowhere near as boring as the reading Katy’s “adventures” is) wasn’t particularly personable. Call me an abuser of the English language, or a pedant, or whatever if you will].

***End of Pointless Tangent(s)***

***Start of Possible Triggers!***

For some reason, he brought up (a) the gang rape, (b) the related incident wherein someone threatened to cut off my thumb, and (c) the occasion on which I thought I was choking to death.

***Probable End of Possible Triggers, and Hopeful End of Stupid Bolded and Asterisked  Warning Things!***

He was making the point that these three incidents, at least in part, were ones that I remembered clearly. He also alluded to the fact I’d remembered other ostensibly silly details well too.

“But you don’t recall all minutiae of the abuse even now?” he checked.

“No.”

And, lo! A rearrangement of that therapeutic manta and how does that make you feel? came to pass. He said, “how do you feel about the lack of those memories now?”

Once more, I fixated my eyes upon the carpet. “Don’t know,” I mumbled onto my chest, like some sort of surly teenager.

“No False Memory Syndrome, no Munchausen’s Disorder?”

“Well, yeah, obviously. That doesn’t even require a question mark.”

“It’s still better to believe that you’re a liar rather than someone who went through this sadistic abuse.”

“I suppose so. What of it?”

“I’m just trying to gauge where you’re at psychologically. But for what it’s worth, and you probably know this, the timeline of an abused kid isn’t linear. Everything becomes so defragmented that the child has to ‘put together’ bits and pieces of memories, so what happens is – at least in your case – you get a general sense of what happened without it all being eidetic or palpable. It’s a perfectly normal reaction to hideous circumstances, and it means you’re not a liar or a faker. I think that has to be one of our goals in this process – to get you to really believe that heinous things were done to you. Or, at least, to dramatically curtail the strength and frequency of your doubts about it all.”

That seemed reasonable. ‘Reasonable’ in the sense of ‘acceptable’, rather than “yes, I think that’s perfectly obtainable,” so obdurate can my beliefs in my supposed falsifications be at times. However, in a discussion around the abuse that followed the above, I actually used the word ‘rape’ several times. In fact, I think I might even have said ‘gang rape’ at one point. I really couldn’t do that when I first met Paul. I could barely even say it to A. Does this denote progress? That the work I’ve hitherto done with Paul has had some lasting psychological impact, despite the fact my life’s not exactly a barrel of laughs?

There was a discussion of self-harm, felicitously catalysed by Paul’s opinion that “every scar on [my] body is inflicted by [Paedo]” (which belies the fact that I used to fall in the playground every day at primary school, despite the fact that on such occasions Paedo was, usually, over 30 miles away – but I’ll let that slide). I admitted to having tried to slit my wrists since I’d last seen him; I didn’t raise it here because it was an irrelevance, an idiotic act done on the spur of the moment to see how far I could go (this was the week before Maisie’s death). The intent was not suicidal, but borne out of an existential boredom – and beyond it, I’ve engaged in very little self-injury since I last saw Paul, if any at all.

So, then, Maisie’s death. Would it have been better had it been Paedo that died? Or would that have been worse?

“Who knows?” I shrugged. “I’m ambivalent towards the man, so my perception is that I’d probably not give a shit – but the mind’s a curious phenomenon, isn’t it? It could so happen that when he croaks it – and we think he will soon, given his formerly symbiotic relationship with my aunt – I regret the ‘words left unsaid’ or something twattish like that, and it screws me up a little more. I think it unlikely, but it’s possible. It’s hard to predict.”

Paul nodded thoughtfully at my assessment, whilst I remembered something that had previously been said on this blog.

I wrote in a recent post about how Maisie had always, for reasons seeminlgy unknown, had a grudge against her daughter Sarah. In the comments section, the very lovely CimmerianInk postulated this hypothesis on that relationship:

I have seen in past stories that if a daughter is being abused by her father, if the mother is more concerned with appearances etc., she ends up hating the daughter or at least they end up having a strained relationship with a lot of complicated layers. So, I wonder if Paedo ever did anything to Sarah. (I’m assuming that I remember correctly and Sarah was at home all her life with him).

You did remember correctly, CI. I actually think this is a very possible scenario, and it would explain a lot.

A brief piece of context: years ago, A and I were at the McFaul’s for some reason, and had been drinking. I became ensconced in the dining area with my mother and Sarah, presumably as that was the only room in the house in which one was allowed to smoke. Anyhow, the alcohol must have in some way ignited a spark of bitterness in me, because – in talking about my mental illness – I said something like, “you know, many people go doolally because they were sexually abused.” If I recall correctly, I raised my eyebrows at the two of them in a gesture of smug fuck you.

Sarah, without missing a beat, and without any hint of horror or surprise in her voice, replied, “there’s something there, isn’t there?”, at which point I realised my mistake in even raising the issue and wisely changed the subject.

I have often wondered in passing about her blasé attitude to my loaded comment. A and I had already discussed the possibility that Paedo may have abused her too (she was the only daughter, if that’s even relevant in paedophilia), but always in the context of “what if?” rather than in terms of Maisie’s relentlessly negative attitude towards her. But CI’s comment seemed to really ‘fit’ the situation. I told Paul about it.

Essentially, he concurred that this was a distinct possibility. He said, “she didn’t spot what was under her nose when all of this was happening to you. How could she not have done so? You would have walked strangely, you would have been withdrawn, you may even have been dirty and bleeding. And your aunt just didn’t notice? Or, could it be, that she didn’t want to notice – possibly, as your friend says, because she’s seen it all before?”

I felt a chill run down my spine.

“I feel uncomfortable with the notion that my aunt was somehow complicit in her husband’s behaviour,” I said carefully.

“Don’t you think they all were? Everyone in that house?”

“Well…not consciously…”

“Maybe not. It could have been entirely unwitting [though I have to say, he sounded distinctly uncertain about this]. But a child doesn’t know that. All she knows is that nobody’s protecting her from these horrors.”

“Well, OK – but if my cousin was abused, would my aunt not have noticed all the factors to which you’ve alluded in her? I know she wasn’t a perfect woman, but even I can’t believe she’d willingly let her kid be raped by anyone, never mind its father.”

He was evidently going to say something like, “you’d be surprised” – and actually, I wouldn’t have been, because I’ve heard of many mothers deliberately, and thus unforgivably, overlooking these things – but he thought better of it. As he himself would agree, he didn’t know Maisie, so could not know what she was or wasn’t capable of.

“Well, they could have been ostensibly unaware. The evidence does seem to support that the mother had an inkling, if her daughter was being hurt, but it may not have been conscious. It’s clear from what you said though that she resented [Sarah] greatly, and what you sometimes see is a parent somehow ‘knowing’ what’s going on, and then transferring their disgust and rage onto the child, under the almost psychotic justification that that child has ‘seduced’ their spouse or something. It’s actually not uncommon.”

It’s a frightening idea, but I have to say – it would explain a lot of the problems that have been inherent in Hotel California throughout my living memory.

Further conversations arose, but were not particularly consequential. I felt that I’d rambled like a fucking eejit throughout both sessions, but Paul assured me that my discourse had enabled him to further ascertain the current nature of my psychology. He thinks that, although for the most part I’m able to suppress it in every day life (not that he thinks that that’s a good thing), there is still a lot of raw, visceral, deep hurt inside me.

Indeed, that was probably the image I projected: even just being in Nexus made me feel…I don’t know what the word is. Headfucked. Filled with ominous dread. Anxious. Not scared, but…well, more than apprehensive. All of those things, but much more besides. I did admit this to him when he asked about it.

He said that it actually must have taken “a hell of a lot” of courage to make myself go there that day, at which point I intimated to him that I had seriously considered calling the meeting off.

“But you didn’t,” he (rather pointlessly) noted. “Don’t you think that’s courageous? That you want to fight this shit?”

I mulled that over for a few minutes – and honestly, readers, I think that it was. I felt a small slither of pride in myself for a few teeny-weeny seconds.

Our agreed goal, apart from that of trying to believe myself about the abuse, is to overcome my constant need to intellectualise and rationalise, thus continuing to develop empathy and compassion for Aurora/child me. He thinks that, at an intellectual level, I sympathise with her – but that, apparently, is quite a different thing. He is of the view that should this be successful, Aurora “will stop ruining [my] life, to use what would no doubt be [my] parlance.”

His parting line, before goodbyes, was that he’s “really, really looking forward to working with [me] again.” Although I was a bit of a wreck following the first meeting, I was at least reassured by the enthusiastic tone and sentiment of this final statement.

We’ll see. My psychotherapy with Paul should recommence properly in three to four weeks, which will certainly make for some interesting times ahead – but I know I’m with the right person for the job.

PS. I deleted that stupid ‘Fail’ post. You know I’m alive now, right?

Ending Therapy: How To (Mostly But Not Entirely) Do It Properly – Paul: Week 25, Part II

This post is continued from here. What follows will not make a great deal of sense unless you’ve read that first; however, it mostly likely won’t make a great deal of sense if you have. I disclaim any culpability for the boredom, confusion and irritation at the mammoth self-indulgence that you will find in the forthcoming. If you want to ruin 20 minutes of your day by continuing to tolerate this complete and utter nonsense, then you do so at YOUR OWN RISK. Now, rather than bother with this bullshit, why don’t you have yourself a nice pint instead?

After a contemplative silence, Paul moved back to discussing my writing projects; he wanted to know what they were about. I was forced to admit that everything I have been doing in this sphere has been about mentalism. Even my proposed novel is going to be about mental health issues.

I defended the piece for Rethink on the grounds that it is about my recovery from borderline personality disorder. As I stated to Paul, there is a false perception that BPD is incurable and that, furthermore, there are a billion myths out there about how people with the disorder can’t have loving relationships, or that they’re abusive, etc etc, ad infinitum (Zarathustra noted that I’d debunked some of this bullwank in my writing of this blog, which I hope is true). In that way, I think that article was a very important one to write, because these fallacies need to be corrected, and people afflicted with BPD deserve to have some genuine hope of recovery.

However, as I’m sure many of you will agree, living a life narrative entirely dictated by one’s mental illness is a potentially dangerous idea. I should, at least sometimes, write about normal stuff (insofar as anything is ‘normal’). I told him that I was considering resurrecting the Not as Smart as Pandora Braithwaite blog, which had once been my haven to bang on about telly, the arseholery of Facebook, gaming – normal things in which I take an interest, rather than being devoted to the exclusive domain of mental health or the lack thereof.

Indeed, at about the time of this session, when I was feeling so much better, my prolific posting here on Confessions went notably down. This was because I was living in that fabled place called real life and, y’know…doing stuff.

“Well,” he said, looking piercingly over his glasses at me, “I take what you’re saying, and mostly agree. But you don’t want to be too sane in your writing. That would see you suppressing that pained part of yourself yet again.”

Ha. Would it really. I don’t often use this blog to ‘let loose’ with feeling and emotion, and I am certainly not going to do that with any published pieces. That is just not me.

Rather than labour the point, though, I returned to my old favourite Freudian dictum about the transition from “hysteria” to “ordinary unhappiness.”

To my considerable consternation, Paul started quoting that arsehole R.D. Laing whose tolchock, were he still alive, I would take pleasure in punching. Paul claims that, as per Laing’s advice, he suspends his concept of normality when working with clients. At some point or another, he also alluded to Adam Philips and his book Going Sane. In short, he was blathering about how we are all mad in our own way. Laing-hatred notwithstanding, I did have to concede that point to him.

“The problem I face,” I sighed, “is that I have been out of work for so long now that all I know is mentalness and the pertinent issues surrounding it. It has entirely become my life, yet people in the real world don’t care. They don’t spend their days talking about psychosis or manic depression or borderline personality disorder. They talk about the weather, last night’s shit TV, politics and salary cuts. They don’t care.” I briefly (and anonymously) alluded to a post that Seaneen had written on this subject (a second excellent article she wrote on the issue for One in Four can be found here).

Seaneen is still highly involved with organisations like Rethink, but her own mental health is not the sole kaleidoscope through which she sees life these days; her life is about her boyfriend, her family and friends, and her mental health nursing course, which is an amazing thing, and something to which to aspire. Could it ever be that way for me, though? I have no idea, but one thing I do know is that I have a right gob on me, and whether normals care or not, I will end up talking about mentalism. I mean, I just won’t walk into a room and go, “hi, my name’s Pandora. Yours? … Nice name, I like that. Anyway, I’m mental. … No, I mean really mental. I had borderline personality disorder and still have manic depression and complex PTSD with psychotic and dissociative features. … Hey! Where are you going? … What did I say?!” No, obviously not like that. But if someone says, “where did you get that scar from?” or “so, what were you doing before I met you?” I am going to tell them the truth (see my posts on speaking up here and here).

Having babbled all that out, I concluded my monologue to Paul by saying that although I’m not sure about the accuracy of the perennial ‘one in four’ statistic, that at least it serves as a sort of motif to highlight the prevalence of mental health difficulties in society. “So why not speak up?” I pondered. “Fuck stigma. Fighting it is my cause célèbre.”

He said, “I work five days a week, and I’m off for two – so I get a break from the intensity that inevitably comes with my job. You, however, never get a break from your mind.”

I nodded pointlessly.

He went on, “so wouldn’t it be nice if you could not be mental for, say, two days a week?”

I nodded pointlessly again.

“So…could you take a break from your cause célèbre for a couple of days a week?”

Of course I can. I already do. I don’t spend every single sodding day trying to play some sort of omnipotent mental health warrior advocate. However, that does not mean that I can somehow turn off my mind during those non-advocacy periods, as his penultimate comment had insinuated. If it were that simple, I would have no mental health problems at all, would I?!

Nevertheless, he asked me in what activities I could engage that did not pertain to madness. I monotoned out the usual list you might expect to see on the ‘what are your interests’ section of a social network or dating profile. For some reason, that led to a short discussion around my frequent disconnections from the world at large – how I push this laptop away, religiously ignore my phone, and hide alone in my living room, pretending that no one else exists.

I shrugged. “That’s not healthy, is it?”

“There’s a fine line there,” Paul replied, cocking his head in muse. “Overall I think that whether or not it’s healthy, it’s more normal than not – but I suppose it depends on the extent of it.”

“You see, I struggle with this a lot,” I complained. “If you will permit my use of psychiatric parlance for once, where does pathology end and idiosyncrasy begin? Or, indeed, vice versa.”

As you know, most darling readers, I’ve been grateful for my diagnoses, and have found having a name for the various aspects of my insanity to be helpful in several ways. However, I still think this issue is a very valid criticism of the practice and more general discipline of psychiatry. I suppose the line is where the ‘idiosyncrasy’ becomes distressing to the ‘idiosyncrasist’ (indeed, for this reason, there is an ongoing debate about the validity of schizoid personality disorder as a discrete condition), but even that line can be blurred.

“My wife has a great-uncle that the family frequently describe as ‘eccentric’,” Paul told me. “When they mentioned it in front of me, I responded by saying that that simply meant that he was mad, but with money.”

I laughed. A fair enough assessment – most people I’ve heard described as ‘eccentric’ would broadly fit within that bracket.

Anyway, he had reminded me of a conversation I’d once had with Mike, my erstwhile teacher. For some reason Mike and I had been talking about how well (or indeed badly) we fitted in with social norms, and I characterised myself as, indeed, “eccentric.”

“No, Pandora,” he’d responded. “Not ‘eccentric’. You’re individual.”

Paul liked this little anecdote. Apparently Mike’s “eloquent” distinction had touched upon Paul’s perceived truth that psychiatry involves a certain amount of repression of one’s individuality. He banged on that sanity and insanity are concepts created by times and places.

He’s right – to a point. Psychiatry is an imperfect science, if indeed it can be said to be a science at all, and if we consider the inclusion of homosexuality as a mental illness as recently as the DSM-III, I can agree that some supposed diagnoses are societally constructed. Despite my general support for this field, I do accept those criticisms of it, and have never denied them. But, as I said, there’s a point, surely, when that can no longer be true. I’m told, reliably so, that hallucinating gnomes and being so severely depressed that all you can think about is killing yourself on a chronic basis are not normal states in which to exist…and I would believe that that, at least, transcends times and places.

Not that I had the balls to say any of that to Paul. I sat there, nodding pathetically compliantly. What the fuck, Pandora? Am I afraid of him unwitting me or something? Of looking less intelligent than him (which, frankly, I probably am)? Why can I debate my points intelligently and coherently online or even in the fucking pub, but not do it with Paul? What a stupid bitch.

As I allowed his anti-psychiatry rhetoric to progress, I found myself becoming vaguely irritated with him again. Not because of his opposition to that field per se, but because of how he related it back to me. One thing that had apparently been “big” in his engagement with me had been “peeling back the layers” that were “enforced upon” me: diagnoses, medical examinations, medication.

“It’s like it’s been forgotten,” he intoned with an infuriating earnestness, “that somewhere in there is an abused little girl.” [Emphasis mine. I am SO unutterably fucking sick of that fucking fucking fucking term. Jesus hot jumping Christ sliding down a shit-stick. Just. Fucking. Stop. Fucking. Calling. Her. Fucking. That. GAH!]

(Hypocritical) Ranting about terminology aside, this assessment of my situation was not fair. NewVCB has been really good about the abuse bullshit; she usually asks me at some point during each appointment how things are in my head in relation to that subject. She doesn’t just wank endlessly on about my current symptoms, blindly throwing medication at me as a result. OK, so she doesn’t go into intimate, cringe-worthy detail about the whole sordid mess when I’m with her – but guess what, Paul? She isn’t fucking meant to. That’s your job. You’re the therapist, she’s the the psychiatrist. Simple.

More irritably than I’d intended, I retorted that I had not been a “nice little girl,” as he appeared to opine. As I said, “I was precocious, and because of that I was haughty and arrogant at times. In that way my current predilections toward so-called intellectualising are entirely in keeping with my child self.” My point in saying so had been to infer to him that this constant bollocking on about me v my repressed self was not as clear-cut as he might like to think.

He hammered on for a bit with a story he’d told me before. Little boy falls in the playground, maintains a stiff upper lip all day long, eventually sees his mother and then bursts into tears. Containment, blah de blah, yadda yadda.

“It’s a harsh judgement to describe yourself as precocious. You had to be precocious to survive,” he declared.

Oh really? I mean, seriously?

  1. This particular elucidation implicitly suggests that being precocious is an inherently bad thing. Why the fuck should that be the case? Surely being an intelligent child is something to be welcomed, something that both that child and those around it should find gratifying?
  2. I can’t prove anything, but I’d be stunned if precociousness and abuse are directly correlated. I’m all but certain that not every smart child has been/is being abused, and I’m equally sure that not every abused child is demonstrably highly intelligent.
  3. On a related note, why does everything have to come back to abuse and spurious psychodynamic interpretation? Can’t some things just fucking be?

Palpably uncomfortable with the direction in which this conversation was headed, I tried to shift the subject – but I did it subtly, so that it was still ostensibly related to what he’d said. I said that, in a non-literal sense, from what I could remember I had been a Jekyll and Hyde type of kid. The weird, insular one that despite her then-popularity couldn’t relate to her peers – and then the ordinary, outgoing person that most of the world saw.

“I don’t recall having any distressing examples of mental illness until at least my late childhood,” I told him, though now that I think about it, that can’t be true. I tried to strangle myself when I was nine, and I had that constant, horrid somatic feature of itchy feet with such sickening frequency – so evidently some shit was definitely hitting some fans there. But then, I have so many anamnestic gaps when it comes to my brathood that I can’t easily tell you what the conditions generally were.

“In retrospect,” I continued, “obviously I was a bit barmy – I mean, I lived nightly with pseudo-hallucinations and a delusion that a terrorist was right outside my door, every single night. But I don’t recall being chronically unhappy.”

Paul jumped on the terrorist comment with a force that could turn this metaphor literal. He said, “‘terrorised’ is a pretty good word to describe what you must have felt about the abuse, isn’t it?”

It depends whether you subscribe to the etymological or legal definition of the word ‘terrorism’, I suppose. Me, I tend to view terrorism as a macro phenomenon, ostensibly carried out for political or religious reasons (but really carried out simply because you’re a fucking cunt). It’s all very well for Paul to draw parallels between Paedo and my horrified dread each night that I was about to be murdered, but perhaps he forgets my age and my origin. I grew up in Northern Ireland in the ’80s and early ’90s. Terrorism was a very real issue here and then. Could there not be some connection to that, rather than everything always being about being a paedophile’s plaything?

“I’m reminded of a client I used to work with,” he said, as I sat there wondering silently when he might realise that not everything should be narrowed down to Freudian analysis. “When he first properly started communicating with me, he said, ‘I’ve put a bomb under your car’.”

I regarded Paul with an expression of complete revulsion. What a vile thing to say – especially to someone who’s meant to be helping you!

“It was his way of saying, ‘how would you feel if your life were threatened?'” Paul explained. “He had to find some way of expressing how his deepest fears affected him, and that was it.”

Maybe so; I can understand the context of the remark, I suppose, but it feels re-abusive to me – and much as I sympathise and empathise with any abuse victim, re-enacting what happened to you by abusing another is not on in my book (there’s a lot I could say on that, but this post ((and its predecessor)) is ((are)) already stupidly long and way too introspective vis a vis what it’s ((they’re)) meant to actually be discussing).

“In the same way, your most buried terror was expressed – perfectly appropriately – as fear of a terrorist,” Paul was continuing. “Do you remember when we first commenced this therapy that I told you that all clients are geniuses? Well, there’s a perfect example of it. That was a genius thing to do.”

Whilst there can be no doubt that the human mind is capable of great things, I’ve always been slightly uncomfortable with the assertion that it simply doing its unconscious job is something worthy of being considered ‘genius’. Surely genius involves intellect, which involves thinking, which surely involves conscious consideration? Still, I’m not a psychologist. A widely-read layperson, maybe, but by no means an expert.

“I firmly believe,” Paul continued, “that all delusional stuff is based in reason.”

I can see what he’s saying, to be fair, and I acknowledged that. The connection he was making in my case is at least arguable. However, what about the cases where a person believes that he or she is Jesus Christ or something? That’s not me rejecting Paul’s claims outright, by the way. It’s a genuine query; in all seriousness, where does that come from, and in what way would it be functional?

In any case, I went on to tell him that I’d gone through very little psychotic experiences in the couple of months that had led up to this session – a few whispers from fringe facets of the odious ‘They‘, but nothing more than that. Rather than simply be glad of it, though, he irked me a little by stating that he was sure that NewVCB would “chalk that up to the wonders of Seroquel.”

Again, this was unfair. As she had openly stated to me once, she only cares about ‘what works’ – and for me, that seems to have been a combination of therapy and psychopharmacology. Moreover, I would chalk my lack of psychosis up to Seroquel myself in many ways – but I’m willing to acknowledge that therapy has also played its part. What’s so terrible about a dual approach?!

He ranted a bit about how Seroquel in particular was being “handed out like sweeties” these days (first I’ve heard of it), but when I actually went to defend both it and psychiatric diagnoses – as useful adjuncts and guidance in the treatment of mentalness respectively – he curiously backed down.

And this is why he’s not a dick. We may disagree, and I may rant here about issues over which there could have been minor conflicts, but he’s not a dick. Ultimately, despite some of his more sarky reactions to my defence of psychiatry in the past, he is willing to respect me as an individual, with individual views. And while, in another time and place, the disagreements we have may have merited longer discussion, that was not possible here, and it was of the upmost importance to him – and me – that we parted on a convivial note.

And suddenly, that note of departure was finally realised. Paul said, his voice deep with regret,”we’ve come to the end.”

As I stood, he told me that it had “really been a pleasure” working with me, and that he would “truly miss” our sessions. I advised him that the feeling was entirely mutual, and went on to tell him that I intended to re-refer myself to the organisation come September or October (as I now have done). I asked if that was too soon, but he said that it wasn’t – as long as I was comfortable with that timeframe, then he was too.

“I look forward to working with you again,” he assured me, as he opened and held the door for me for the final time.

The last bits of these things are always the most awkward. How do you say ‘goodbye’ in a professional but affectionate manner? Rarely have I felt so horribly exposed as the socially awkward knob that I am. After handing him his pound of flesh, I suddenly grabbed his hand, shook it and said that it had “been a pleasure” working with him. Almost before he could respond, I smiled idiotically at him and told him to take care.

“You too,” he said unsurely, but with palpable warmth.

We said our goodbyes, and I left hurriedly. My car was close, and as I had done when things ended with C, I sat in the driver’s seat for quite a while ruminating on the ramifications of the (thankfully temporary) cessation of the relationship. Rather than bawl my eyes out though, I allowed myself to shed one single tear of mourning, then wiped my eyes, shot myself a reassuring grin in the rear-view mirror, and drove away.

Ending Therapy: How To (Mostly) Do It Properly – Paul: Week 25, Part I

“So this is it,” he declared, his tone swathed in unwitting drama.

“Yes,” I pointlessly confirmed.

Paul and I looked at each other – what does one say when one comes to the end of a relationship? If the relationship is romantic, although the words are difficult, they’re clear (mostly). If you’re ending a friendship, you generally let it peter out without any particular show-down. But when you’re ending a relationship whose very point is its ending – so as you can live a better life without it – what do you say?

I never did write in detail about my final session with C in August 2010. In short, I sat there defiantly, refusing to tell him my future plans. He whinged a bit about not knowing what would happen to me (something that NewVCB, much to my chagrin, revealed to him – bloody bitch!), and I took satisfaction in his ignorance. When it was over, instead of the normal, “we’ll have to leave it there for today,” he said, “we’ll have to leave it all there.” I stood up, with dignity I think, reluctantly shook his outstretched hand, bade him goodbye, and walked down the corridor with my head held high.

When I got into my car, however, I sat and cried for 20 minutes before finally driving away, but – unless he’s been reading this bilge, which (given the Mind Award nomination and a piece I had in a national publication that I know he reads a few months ago) is actually not impossible – he doesn’t know that.

Anyway, the End of Times with Paul was much more amiable and respectful (as if you couldn’t have guessed that!), excepting a few niggles that I’ll play up later for the purposes of rant material (I’ve noted from my archives that my bitching about C was far more entertaining than my appreciation of Paul, so…). I didn’t piss about trying to keep my future plans secret; Paul made it very clear that he had found working with me to be a challenging but fascinating (!) and enriching (!!) experience; I concluded that ultimately, psychotherapy with him had been greatly beneficial to me. 25 weeks with him compared to 63 with C, the latter having left me in a worst psychological position than when I’d first met him (though the extent to which C is to blame for that is, of course, debatable).

I hope you don’t think I’m employing some sort of apotheosis in the regard I hold for Paul. As the last session (and, to an extent, this one) demonstrate(d), he is not perfect for me; but our differences and any potential conflict points are minor enough that they can be mostly overlooked, and although I still view the concept of therapeutic transference as a beneficial phenomenon in terms of long-term therapy, in terms of a short-term interaction, I think that I shared a healthier relationship with Paul than I did with C. Time has numbed the agony of the bitter wounds I felt so profoundly regarding the latter, to the extent where I feel a bit bad saying that, but overall I can only speak my truth, and that’s it.

Anyhow, in an entirely predictable twist of fate, Paul finally asked me how I felt about the end of the process. “And how well have we done?” he added.

“Fairly well,” I concluded. “I mean, I don’t think 25 weeks is an adequate timeframe for any psychological therapy, but that said, within the weeks that we’ve had, I think a lot of progress has been made – at the very least, we’ve made a good start.”

I also observed that the fact that I was able to return to Nexus in future was a reassurance and, further, that perhaps a break was actually a good thing, given how intense the process had at times been.

He reported (and I concurred) that in his view we had had a “really healthy” relationship, and he stated how much he’d enjoyed working with me. The experience was “very powerful”, apparently. An intriguing comment, I felt; what is even remotely ‘powerful’ about talking to an intellectual snob that loathes the child she used to be and is ambivalent towards the person that abused that child? I personally think it’s fucked up, but who am I to question the judgement of others?

Paul broke into this internal train of rumination. “It’s always great when you’re able to strip away layers, and meet the real person,” he was saying. “And when you get there, you see that there’s a really nice person sitting there.”

I winced at this, and it must have been visible to him, because he laughed at the implied self-invective inherent in my expression.

“You know I have an aversion to compliments,” I hissed, almost spitting the final word out of my mouth.

He laughed again and said, “yes, that’s why I said it!”

Cheeky sod. I am so not ‘really nice’. I mean, even if I were likable – and I don’t necessarily believe that I am – ‘nice’ is such a pathetic word. Paul meant well in his employment of it, I know, but seriously. Before I met A, I went on a few dates that would never have led anywhere. Through same, I met one bloke in particular who seemed genuinely interested in me: the reason that it would never have worked, though, was because he was just so nice. There was no passion, no fire. Just…niceness. I wouldn’t even describe my best mates as ‘nice’. My best friends are smart, funny, witty, irreverent, yadda yadda. They’re not nice. ‘Nice’ is not a ‘nice’ word (as a general rule. There are exceptions – how else would you prove the rule?).

Anyway, that was a pointlessly stupid tangent. I eventually responded to Paul by saying that I had been at a stage in my life for a wee bit where I could accept compliments by saying “thank you,” as opposed to my previous automatic responses of, “oh, you can’t be serious – have you not seen how ugly/fat/boring/stupid/inept at cutting hedges/unable to operate a unicycle using only my tongue/whatever I am?!” Nevertheless, despite my newly found skills in using the words ‘thank you’, being complimented still leaves me squirming.

I exemplified by talking about a mate of ours, who has made no particular secret of the fact that he has something of a crush on me (something I don’t get in itself, mais oui). After imbibing a few too many on-offer pints in his company one evening, I made a thinly veiled reference to the sexual abuse to him. He started wanking on and on and on about how ‘brave’ and ‘courageous’ and ‘intelligent’ and ‘charismatic’ etc I supposedly am. Despite the lowering of inhibitions contingent upon the consumption of alcohol, I still felt horrified by all his gushing. Yeah, there was a part of me that was intimidated by the fact that he has an attraction to me – but it was more than that. It was the praise itself that perturbed me; had it come from someone without an ostensible ‘thing’ for me, I’d have felt the same.

Paul – for the second time, I think – alluded to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo novels. Apparently, the protagonist interprets all support as having an ulterior motive or as being a trick. This led to her being viewed by others as paranoid, but Paul contended that she was responding contextually appropriately in light of her previous relationships, which had been used to manipulate and deceive her.

I empathised entirely with this position; as I told him, one of the rules I’ve lived by for pretty much as long as I can remember is that “everyone is a {insert expletive noun of your choice here} until they prove otherwise.”

“Is that as bad as it was?” he asked.

“No,” I replied – and I am surprised by how genuinely I felt (and, I think, feel) that. “And things in general aren’t as bad as they were.” I told him about the non-Confessions writing projects I’d taken on. An article for Rethink’s Your Voice magazine, for example (not sure when that’s being published, but as and when I know, I’ll advise any readers that care). Latterly some articles for Mind’s blog. Being able to do these things was testament to my improved psychological condition.

“But I think the best measurement of my recovery is exemplified by A’s experience of things,” I mused. “I can’t externally assess my condition, whereas he can. We went from my intention to poison myself with helium to going out geocaching, writing articles and even considering voluntary work.”

As I told Paul, A had also considered my ability to drive in Fuerteventura as an almost perfect metaphor of how far I had come.

[Incidentally, in an entirely predictable reversal of fortune, it’s a measure of relapse that I haven’t been geocaching for months, have only done a little writing and have not applied for the proposed voluntary position. But at the time of this session – June – I was feeling positive and was looking forward.]

There was a silence for a minute or two, then Paul asked what I was doing for me. Apparently that which I had detailed previously, with the exception of geocaching, was about stuff I was doing for others.

“There’s a certain amount of self-interest in the writing,” I admitted. “It all builds into a portfolio, whether it’s under my real name or my pseudonym, and as I’ve been told I have some talent [!], that might be useful in terms of securing some ‘proper’, paid writing jobs. I’m not delusional about it – I’m never going to make a fortune out of the pursuit, nor do I think it’s a viable full-time job – but you never know; it could be a potential supplementary income.”

“Beyond that? Any other things you’re doing for you?” he queried. Humph. I was ever so slightly miffed – I had that thought the whole writing thing was really rather good!

When I didn’t immediately answer he spoke for me, saying, “well, at least you’re not self-harming. That’s a good thing not to be doing for yourself.”

I shrugged non-committally. I wasn’t self-harming at the time, but even now I just can’t view it with the same horror that he seems to.

He decided to pursue a different vein. “Have we got the balance right? You know, discussing your abusive experiences but also including the whole mental health and psychosis stuff.”

I responded, truthfully, in the affirmative. “I see why we need to focus on the former at times, obviously,” I opined, “but the two aren’t mutually exclusive, are they? My mental health issues have more origins than just those of the abuse, and I think it’s helpful to examine those as well. In terms specifically of psychotic presentations, well – those can’t go unaddressed, can they? So yeah, the balance is good.”

Paul nodded, but went on to say that “when we’re touching on the abuse and feelings related to that, there’s lots of you ‘keeping a lid’ on everything. You have a lot of uncapped pain there, that we’ve only really started to get close to.”

He mentioned the concept of ego-splitting again (ie. the more functional me versus the pained, dissociated mess that Aurora is and that I, myself, often am too), and stated that when dealing with the dissociated part, we had had to tread very carefully during our work together. He seemed to be wondering if he’d pushed too hard at times, or if he hadn’t pushed enough at others. Personally, I think he judged each incidence of this really very well.

He went on to say that he’d experienced the full force of repressed rage projected onto him by other clients – never me – and that it was “pretty horrendous” (though ultimately beneficial). He wondered aloud why I’d never done that; was it to protect myself – or was it to protect others?

The latter is, by and large, the reality. Now, this is an odd one. I have a bolshy, extremely stubborn streak in me when I’m being treated unreasonably, viz the Health Trust saga – but by and large, anger and I are not intimate acquaintances. It lies dormant within me, I know, but it’s only rarely expressed in its rawest form. I will almost never get properly angry without an obvious, here-and-now reason, such as how the Trust failed me, or being falsely charged for something, whatever. Of course, Paul would argue that I have every right to be angry in terms of that to which Paedo subjected me. Rationally, of course, this is a perfectly reasonable position to hold, but I can’t seem to agree. That was 20 fucking years ago, you know? I am calm and collected and calculated. I am zen. *practices mindfulness*

…..

Nah, you guessed it – mindfulness is one thing that could actually wake that hibernating anger, so it can get away to fuck. Anyway, yeah; I rarely feel that visceral sort of fury, and even when I do, I actively attempt to suppress it for, in the main, the sake of those around me. I pointed out to Paul that the (very few) people with whom I deal in everyday life have nothing to do with Paedo’s sexual fascination with little people – so why on Earth would I want to subject them to anything even vaguely relating to it? Besides. I simply don’t feel anything other than a sneering disdain for the man. Bizarre and substantially fucked up? Probably. But true, despite it all. In my conscious mind at least, it just isn’t there.

What I did admit to, though, was my penchant for being very easily irritated. For instance, I drop a pen. I yell expletives at the poor inanimate thing, then kick it across the room in a fit of pathetically infantile pique (oh and then I feel guilty for being so irrationally nasty, catalysing me into – yeah, wait for this one, folks – apologising to the pen. Sane? No. I shouldn’t imagine so).

“Perhaps,” I psycho-babbly posited, “what should come out as a kind of righteous anger towards my uncle instead reveals itself as acute but in-the-moment strong annoyance at very silly little things. I mean, I’d never thought of that potential connection before, but I can see that in context it might be some sort of projection of more profound issues.”

I paused, then decreed that my previous assertions had been “nothing more than pseudo-psychological straw-clutching” because “everyone gets outrageously pissed off when they drop a pen, don’t they?” Well, readers – don’t they? You know it’s true. You know!

This post has (unsurprisingly) got out of hand. It shall ergo contineth on the morrow (or rather, later on, given that this is after midnight, but let’s not quibble over niceties). Nighty night, loveliest people! x

Continued here.

Semantics, Psychosis and Severance – Paul: Week 24

As any of you who have followed my accounts of my sessions with Paul will know, I have a lot of time for the man. I both like and respect him. However, there are a few criticisms that could be justifiably levied in his direction:

  • He almost always reads something into everything. I appreciate Dr Freud’s input into therapeutic theory and practice, but some stuff – just some – is just that: stuff.
  • He is a vehement opponent of the medical model of mental illness (presumably the term ‘mental illness’ would in itself offend him. I’d actually prepared a post ages ago, in which I confoundedly asked why this description is so offensive to some people – I just don’t get it. But I’ve gone and lost my bloody notebook, so that’ll have to wait. Well done, Pan!).
  • He keeps blaming people around me for not ‘noticing’ my abuse. Yeah, because it’s fucking standard for each family in the entire universe to be intimately acquainted with the warning signs, isn’t it?
  • His constant use of the phrase, that little girl. So saying that I have a mental illness offends Paul? Well, saying that I have a ‘little girl’ inside me offends me.

I think the palpable irritation of the foregoing probably sets the tone of this session quite well. Indeed, it makes me think that perhaps I was being slightly disingenuous in recently so vocally applauding Paul in comparison to C (though, that said, I stand by my assertion that the former has been more help to me than the latter – I spent many sessions in C’s company wanting to punch him, and only a few such occasions arose with Paul). At any rate, from the offset in this appointment, he irritated the hell out of me. Also, although towards the end there was finally some useful work being done, I felt a bit out of it for most of the session (I had been up to 3am the previous night trying to stop a good friend of mine from killing herself, and had not slept for ages after retiring either) and the whole thing felt a bit disjointed. So, I’m going to go through it in bullet points. Of course, my version of bullet points is everyone else’s version of a protracted essay with a few random, indented dots thrown in for no clear reason, but what else would you have come to expect? Beware of triggers for self-harm and child sex abuse, though the latter is not especially graphic.

  • We discussed our relationship briefly at the start of the session. He proffered the view that one thing that had not really occurred during our time together was any trace of him trying to “rescue me”. Apparently, he’d seen some “scary stuff”, mainly in relation to my erstwhile tendencies towards self-harm (‘normal’ cutting did not, I think, faze him especially. However, my particular modus operandi was often to carve words into my flesh or, latterly, to stab myself with a scalpel. I’m actually shrugging as I type this – such actions really are no big deal to me. They must be to him, though). I opined that his reactions were “refreshing”: C, for example, would often have seemed perplexed by and disdainful of my self-injurious behaviour; A would groan every day it happened; Mum was abjectly horrified. Paul’s dislike of the activity was certainly evident, to be fair, but he never tried to actively stop me from engaging in it, knowing that destructive as it was, it was an important coping mechanism for me at the time. Anyhow, as I noted to him on this occasion, I hadn’t self-harmed for ages. Medication was partly to blame – not that I dared to tell him that – but, to his credit, so I think was therapy.
  • You may recall that around the time of our holiday, A and I had been invited to ScumFan McFaul’s 21st birthday bash. I’d had this out with Paul before – A and I were making excuses to avoid the event, whereas Paul’s stroke-of-genius solution was to say, “well, I don’t want to go because [Paedo] used to rape me all the time.” He reiterated this point in this meeting, which annoyed me intensely. The McFauls, for the most part, and my mother, definitely, do not deserve to have their lives ruined by this information. Does no one give a shit about altruistic utilitarianism any more?!
  • I added, in relation to same, that even if I did confess, that no one would believe me anyway (which is probably true). They’d probably think I was making it all up for attention or something, but the most flattering scenario would be if they held the view that my beliefs and recollections pertaining to Paedo were psychotically inspired. “In other words,” as I said to Paul, “they’d think the mental illness causes the idea of abuse rather than the abuse causing [in part, I’d stress, not in its entirety – not that Paul would agree with that] the mental illness.”
  • He said that in his view I didn’t have mental health problems. Apparently, insanity is where nothing makes sense. He claims that everything I experience and do makes complete sense when considered in context. That’s all very well – I do concur to a large degree – but Paul is a trained psychotherapist, and I am a mentalist that has become very well informed about all the issues surrounding my conditions. The McFauls are laypersons; they aren’t going to know any of the psychosocial connections at play here. If someone tried to explain it to most of them (Suzanne and StudentMcF possibly excepted), it would rush right over their heads and vanish like Willow the Wisp. In any case, “coping mechanisms” versus “mental health problems” is a purely semantic debate, to my mind. You could call it Bouncy Fluffy Bunniness and the nett effects would be identical, so why do the fucking words matter so much to him?
  • Paul wondered why I’d never demonstrated any overt psychosis in session with him (query: why is it OK to use the word ‘psychosis’, but both ‘mental health problems’ and ‘mental illness’ are teh sux0rz?). He was distinctly unimpressed when I made a reference to Seroquel, which further irritated me. Regardless of what he thinks, I think Seroquel has helped me immensely – and surely, when it comes to one’s health concerns, one’s own observations are of pivotal importance? Anyway, he instead ventured that perhaps that particular brand of mentalism hadn’t been “needed” in the room with him. Was it that I was safe there, he mused? I was willing to entertain that notion, but added that although I felt safe with him, that I didn’t necessarily feel ‘safe’ psychologically. A lot of the work had been challenging and extremely intense. He agreed, then said that, based on my previous experiences, that perhaps I unconsciously feared that I would be judged.
  • This led to a conversation around my mother and her refusal to believe my claims about Paedo, when I tried to bring them up at the ages of 14 and 17 (or thereabouts). I defended her, however, on the grounds that she was engaging in “a quintessential pattern of psychological avoidance.” Paul sighed, and asked me for the non-intellectualised version, and I (rather reluctantly, because I felt my first answer had been fine) declared that I was perhaps insulted. My mother had, on the second occasion I think, accused me of making up my allegations of rape because I didn’t want to go to Hotel California. (Of course I didn’t want to go to Hotel California – rape was why!). I was insulted because I find women who make up stories of rape and/or domestic violence to be abhorrent individuals; not only do they dilute the genuine pain and trustworthiness of actual victims, they also make (generally) men look worse than the poor sods really are. I don’t want to be seen by anyone, least of all my fucking mother, as such a person.
  • Apparently Paul detected anger in my voice, which surprised me as I had deliberately feigned nonchalance. The problem is that if I express – or even if I just am – anger/angry with my mother, then she will die and it will be my fault. I said so to him, then launched an invective against myself for thinking and feeling something so patently fantastical. He leapt to my defence, saying that this was another thing that made sense in context – apparently, because I became the vehicle for so many heinous things, I (to my subconscious self) became a walking nuclear reactor, capable of bringing great evil and destruction to all. A reasonably fair assessment, to give him his dues.
  • At one point, for some reason (I think I must have been defending my mother again), there arose a comparison between my father, V, and Paedo. V was a complete twat, and everyone knows/knew it (apart from Aunt of Evil and her cunts). Paedo, ostensibly, is a nice enough old bloke (though in my view he’s a supremely boring imbecile, but when I have said similar to my mother she accuses me of intellectual snobbery, which I suppose is a reasonably fair charge). I exemplified the surface differences by stating that Paedo had never knocked seven bells out of Maisie. Then, to my eternal disgust, I muttered, “though I don’t know how he hasn’t, I’d have gone for her countless times.” Unsurprisingly this led to more self-castigation. Naturally, he defended me again, asking why every caustic comment I made had to be retracted. I responded by saying that I had just condoned domestic violence, which was repulsive. Apparently not, though – the issue of my taking the remark back was “much more complex” and I was using a reference to domestic violence as “an excuse” to “withdraw at the first sign of feeling”. “So,” I mocked gaudily, “I’m brimming over with resentment about Maisie’s failure to protect me and that comes out in throwaway bitchy comments?” His response? “Yes. Exactly.” Whatever. What-the-fuck-ever, Paul.
  • He monologued about how bad the abuse had been and how Maisie had “stood by [Paedo]”, not exercising a due duty of care towards me (and, he through in as an addendum, neither had she acted out of the unconditional love she is for some reason meant to have felt for me). As I witheringly picked my nails, bored of this endless psychobabble, he asked me to see it from that [fucking fucking fucking] little girl‘s point of view. Children don’t analyse and rationalise, apparently (wrong. I may not have a clear, linear recollection of my childhood, but I do remember doing just that), so my reaction to the family’s non-reaction was purely visceral. For instance, “I’m in pain, waaah waaah waaah, please help me, waaah waaah waaah…oh, look you’re not helping me, waaah waaah waaah waaah waaah.”
  • The conversation meandered towards an incident in Fuerteventura. A and I had been sitting at this lovely beach bar, looking out over the bay and enjoying a cool beer. All these little kids were running around mad, splashing in the water or jumping about in that pointless, irritating way that only children do. Aloud, I randomly mused, “I wish I’d had a happy childhood.” After a second or two, I was completely aghast at this out-of-the-blue, out-of-character remark. A seemed – I don’t know, moved? – by it, and when it was duly relayed to Paul, he in turn pronounced it “very poignant”. I was reminded of another occasion in Fuerteventura when yet more children were running around on the beach. Some of them were naked. I am not joking, readers, but this horrified me. Part of me was so disturbed that she could barely look away, thus cementing my belief in that old theory of the compelling car crash; part of me then forced myself to look away, because I felt like a paedophilic voyeur even noticing these youngsters. He said, “most people have a happy ignorance about child sexuality, and therefore have no issues with child nakedness. Unfortunately, you’re not one of them.”
  • He said that I have a lot to grieve vis a vis my childhood and that in conducting my mourning, I turned everything upon myself. I was told that when cutting is not enough, I “degrade” myself. In response, I rearranged my features to reflect bewilderment. Degrade? “Yes,” said Paul. “You sometimes write words when you cut, degrading words like ‘whore’, ‘slut’, ‘bitch’ and so on. None of which you are.” I shrugged, reluctantly but truthfully stating that “they’re not normal terms applied to a child.”
  • Paul raised the subject of the photo of the baby. He proclaimed my reaction to it to be a “wonderful moment”, it having been a single image that cut through all my defence mechanisms and psychological barriers and yadda, blah, and meh. “I saw real sadness in you that day,” he said, “and moreover, you didn’t push it away. It’s hard to pin all that hate and blame on a baby, isn’t it?”
  • This was true. However, as I pointed out, pictures of myself as a five or six year old don’t only not have this effect, they have the opposite. Young Me leaves me nauseous.
  • Blah blah blah, twaddle and waffle for a bit.
  • Eventually he came back to the subject of words like ‘slut’ or ‘bitch’ and remarked that those were Paedo’s words. Although as I said I don’t remember Paedo saying anything much at the time, I reflected that he wouldn’t have had to. Paul agreed, stating that his actions and attitudes spoke louder and intimated the same.
  • Ever defiant, I insisted that I still didn’t like the child, regardless of who actually proscribed her a whore. “Not liking her doesn’t mean I can’t absolve her of blame, though,” I added thoughtfully. And I don’t think it does either. He replied by stating that that was a good start, and that eventually, as he helped me build bridges between her (Aurora, let’s just say again) and me, I would “grow to” like her. (This is complete bollocks. I really, really don’t like children and, in fact, am generally rather scared of them. Of course, he thinks I don’t like children because I specifically hate Aurora and the legacy of madness she’s left me. I do not concur. I think that I don’t like children because I fucking don’t like children).
  • I disputed his assertion that I would like her, but not on the aforementioned grounds, valid as they are in my view. What I told him instead was that (as noted elsewhere) I don’t have a linear path of memories of my childhood. So, if I cannot access Aurora’s personality in the form of her thoughts, feelings, ideas, experiences and so on, how can I ever get to know her? Without those she is, in effect, dead (occasions of which she tries to invade my mind notwithstanding). I am not her, even though I occupy a body into which she grew.
  • For what I’m pretty sure was the first time, Paul deflected the point away (C did this infuriatingly frequently, but familiarity breeds contempt, as the old adage goes: Paul doing it once irritated the shit out of me). Rather than respond specifically, he said that in demonising Aurora, I was “shooting the messenger”.
  • For some reason, the conversation turned to a very brief article I had published some months ago in a national periodical, in which I whined about how terrible NHS provision for psychotherapy can be. I happen to know that C reads said publication. That’s not why I published it, but I did take some satisfaction in knowing that he may well have read it. “It was basically ‘fuck you’ in 150 words,” I told Paul. “Isn’t that really bitchy?” He laughed, and said that “bitchy is good sometimes.” I went on to add that occasionally I allow myself some slack for bitchiness in this area – I mean, the NHS therapy thing was a ridiculous debacle for which I was not responsible. Paul nodded his agreement, but added that all too often I “take the slack back.” True enough.
  • He alluded to the fact that, as well as not showing psychosis in session (mentioned 23 miles back up the page), I also rarely demonstrated anger. This is curious in a way, because I frequently ranted and raved at C, which was sort of a back-handed compliment to him; it denoted total ease in his company. In that way, not being angry with Paul (or, at least, not demonstrating anger) could be construed as vaguely insulting. Not that I said any of that to him, of course, but in any case he wondered if I felt that he would not “accept” my anger. I don’t know; I have never got beyond irritated with him (as I did in this session at points), so it’s hard to say. But why can’t (or won’t) I express that irritability, then? I have simply never felt comfortable doing so, yet I otherwise feel contented in his presence and, as this blog has amply testified, feel that he has helped me a great deal. Anyhow, I made some comment about “being very well aware that I’m my father’s daughter” – by this I meant that I felt that I had to be careful with anger, just in case I ever went into a dangerously blind rage (though, I should note, this was and is not my expressed reasoning for not exhibiting anger in front of Paul). I exemplified by telling him about the events that precipitated this post, though I’m still not going to say what they were here. Paul examined the incident in question against some of my father’s behaviour, and all but dismissed my concerns. I am most assuredly not like my father in any way, in his stated view.
  • As the end of the session approached, he noted that the one following it would be our last together. He lamented that fact because he felt that whilst we had achieved quite a bit in six-ish months, that realistically we had only begun to start scratching the surface of the tiresome iceberg that is my so-called trauma. “In the last few sessions especially,” he said, “we’ve covered a lot of very deep stuff. It’s frustrating to have to end it here.” I agreed that the timing was unfortunate, but brought up a point that NewVCB had made – that a break isn’t always a bad idea. Paul actually agreed with this, which is probably the first and last time that his opinion and that of a consultant psychiatrist will ever meet (and hark! The Earth wasn’t subsumed by the sun, and the galaxy wasn’t pulled into a super-massive black hole by this unlikely confluence, once-every-parsec of events!). Nevertheless, despite my insistence on the issue in the previous session, he asked me if I felt “abandoned.” I said ‘no’, citing the upfront-ness of Nexus on how short-term their therapy had to be. With the NHS, there had been – as far as I was concerned – an implicit understanding that my therapy would be relatively ongoing, at least until such times as I was socially functional. It was only after an attachment had been allowed to be formed that I was advised that that would not be the case. So, I told Paul, in comparison – and given the charity’s very reasonable issues of resource limitations – I felt quite OK about the ending. The fact that I could eventually go back gave me a further buoyancy about the whole thing. “I know we can’t start exactly as we’ll have left off,” I continued, “but at least we can dispense with the whole ‘getting to know each other’ formalities, and just get to work.” He agreed: he remarked that the time between the stints of therapy would be useful for me to consolidate the work we’d already done, and that I’d come back to the process with an increased understanding of myself, Aurora and ‘our’ situation.

As you know, I am in fact going back soon. I really don’t know to what extent I have reflected on everything we did before – not in a discretely contained gap-in-therapy sort of way, at any rate. But I know that I have a much greater awareness and understanding of myself through the therapy as a whole, and I’m still hopeful that I can build on that in the weeks and months yet to come.

Pedagogical Lust and False Abandonment – Paul: Week 23, Part II

This post is continued from here. Please be aware of possible triggers for child sex abuse and related issues.

So, Paul had inadvertently reminded me of a recurring dream that I’ve had frequently throughout this year. Oddly, I haven’t had it much since I actually had this discussion with him, so maybe thrashing it out a bit helped aid it on its merry way. Whatever the case, I found its recurrence to be really strange – as I noted in my first post on this session, although I’ve always dreamt a lot, I have not been particularly partial to recurring dreams – and the subject matter of this one had perplexed me. I could understand if I’d started having frequent dreams about Paedo or something, but I didn’t. No, this dream was about Mike – my favourite teacher at school.

It basically ran thus. I had missed pretty much an entire year at school, yet rather than re-sit the year as would be sensible, I went back in May – having had absolutely no tuition in my chosen subjects whatsoever – to sit my exams, due to be at the end of that month and then into June. The sense of dread was so palpable I can still feel it; I knew there was no way I could pass, and I was dreadfully worried about turning up to Mike’s class, not having seen him for months. There was a sense of hideously foreboding terror as I walked to his room; not only was I going to fail, I was going to let him down by doing so and, furthermore, I already had let him down simply for not being there.

As far as I can recall, as far as the dream went, I never actually did get to Mike’s room nor sit the exams. It was about the build-up to doing so, and my worry about how I was going to try to turn things completely around within a matter of mere days. I remember my sense that I would need an utter fuckload of extra time from Mike, and how unreasonable it was of me to ask that of him, given my lack of responsibility in the situation. The dreams were so vivid that I could almost believe that I’d be transported back in time to an alternative world in which my 17/18 year-old self resided. Some thinking in theoretical physics posits that 11 dimensions (and therefore alternative universes) are at least a possibility, plus the recent results at Cern may, just may, eventually cause us to rethink the notion of time travel. If any of this is proven in my lifetime, I could well be convinced that these experiences, so compellingly real as they were, were not actually dreams.

Anyway, I am mad enough without trying to bring the weird world of science fiction into this blog. The point is the dreams felt as real as sitting here right now does, and I would wake up screaming to myself, “fuck, fuck, fuck, what am I going to do?” for 10, maybe more, minutes, before I realised that it had all been, yet again, a dream – and that I actually left school over nine years ago.

I shrugged at Paul. “What the hell is that about? A deep-seated fear of failure?”

He shook his head. “I don’t think so – at least, not primarily. You were very fond of this teacher. Was that mutual?”

“Yes,” I answered. “It was mutual to the point that the others in the class regarded me as something of a teacher’s pet.”

“It’s about the relationship, then, isn’t it?” he opined. “I feel a sense that there’s something about ‘using’ this man to get him to do something he shouldn’t – in this case, provide hours and hours of catch-up time to you, at the expense of his own time and possibly that of others. I would even say, in that regard, that there’s maybe something in there about you taking on the role of an ‘abuser’.”

I shot him a puzzled glance. “Would it not be simpler just to think of it as some ‘father figure’ bullshit?”

“I’m sure that’s part of it,” he admitted, “but I’m struck by the issues of boundaries in your description of the dreams. Dare I say…[he cleared his throat embarrassingly]…was there some sort of sexual tension between you and [Mike]?”

I felt the colour drain from my face – partly because I felt appalled at the idea of any implied accusations of sexual misconduct against Mike, who was usually* always a paragon of virtue – but more because Paul had just hit the nail on the fucking head.

[* Mike was a bastion of black and sick humour, which was one of the reasons I liked him so much. I remember a couple of occasions on which, to my amused delight, he made statements aimed at me that could have been considered what I will politely term ‘innuendo’. One such occasion was so blatant that the girl sitting next to me turned to me, laughing in school-girl, goggle-eyed amazement, and suggested he was flirting with me. I feigned nonchalance. How could he not flirt with me, I joked, smiling devilishly back at her. I look back on that memory with a lot of fondness, but I must make clear that he would never, ever, ever, not in a hundred-million years, have acted upon any frisson between us. He was a good man, an honourable man. He just happened to have a wicked sense of humour.]

“Quite probably,” I murmured quietly, avoiding his gaze.

“Perhaps there was a sexual drive there, designed to encourage him to brake boundaries,” Paul suggested.

“That’s horrible!” I spat. I then promptly followed my outburst up with a resigned, “it’s horrible because it’s true.”

“But put it in context,” he said, a willed determination present in his voice.

“Fuck it, Paul – context or no context, that’s as manipulative as it gets.”

“But you were manipulated, then accused [by Paedo, whether overtly or otherwise] of being the manipulator.”

“So? It doesn’t give me carte blanche to go around manipulating others later in my life.” I laughed, but it was a hollow, despairing sound. “I can see this fucking neon sign flashing above my head screaming “BORDERLINE“, warning everyone away from me.” (Though as I noted I can no longer be diagnosed with that most iniquitous of ailments. “Not that it matters, though,” I added, “because as soon as it’s on file, it stays on file.”).

He looked at me sympathetically, but gestured for me to continue.

“Well. I probably did use my relationship with Mike to obtain certain…liberties. But, by the same token, I worked my fucking arse off for him. I worked very, very hard – by parsecs more than the others in the class [this is true]. So in that sense at least, he was…I don’t know, rewarded?”

“Mmm,” Paul agreed. “You see, in the real world, you’re not manipulative. The relationship was co-operative: he rewarded you, you rewarded him. It’s only when you get into the realms of the unconscious – such as dreams – that you become a manipulator, an abuser. It directly sums up your life, doesn’t it? In the real world, you were a monstrously abused child, devoid of any responsibility for the disgusting acts you suffered. But you were taught to absorb [Paedo’s] culpability, so you’ve always subconsciously believed you were to blame for pretty much anything that could have been construed as ‘bad’ in your life. Such thinking then comes out in things like these dreams, where your mind tries to convince itself that you are to blame, that you are nothing but a manipulative, slatternly, abusive bitch. And it just isn’t true.”

I sat in silence, strangely perturbed by his impassioned soliloquy of Pandora-defence.

In the absence of a response from me, Paul decided to continue. “I have this image of you as a young girl – an adolescent – standing beside this teacher thinking, ‘I could ruin this man’s life. I could seduce him and make him into a monster’.”

I had never thought of it like that. I didn’t not consider the seduction element, as discussed on the post I’d previously written on Mike, but to me it was just some silly teenage crush. Loads of school children have ‘things’ for their teachers, for fuck’s sake.

Uncomfortable with the direction the conversation was taking, I tried to deflect it slightly.

“When I was about 14, I used to follow him around like a puppy. I know it irritated him.”

“And what happened as you got older?”

I went to say that I didn’t follow him around like a puppy in my later years at school, but stopped short of doing so. It’s true – I didn’t do so. But when I thought about it, I didn’t do so because I didn’t have to. When I was in sixth form, I saw Mike for usually at least an hour a day anyhow. I also had another class two doors up from his room, so would frequently run into him after it was over and I had a free period, or was on lunch, or whatever. Quite often I’d end up in his room blathering to him about something or other for fairly extended periods of time – and at this stage, he distinctly wasn’t irritated by my presence. He would engage me in discourse about politics, existentialism, journalism, religion – all manner of social issues. Occasionally we’d even talk (shock! Horror!) about those weirdest of things that were our actual lives. Just as I enjoyed his company, he enjoyed mine.

“As you grew older, you grew more seductive,” Paul said in response to this, tilting his head in what I thought was a deliberately provocative manner. Not that he needed to be provocative in his mannerisms, because I felt that the statement itself was loaded enough.

“As I grew older,” I challenged through gritted teeth, “I became more intellectually engaging. Does it have to have to have anything to do with sex?! Yeah, there may have been a frisson. MAY. He would never have acted upon it, however. Never.”

“Of course not,” he acknowledged. “I’m just looking at the possible hidden dynamics of the relationship.”

As I said, it was a loaded hypothesis – but perhaps not an entirely unconsidered one. I heard a cynical laugh emanate from somewhere within my body. “It’s fucked,” I told him, “but it’s a slightly more orthodox version of sexuality than that to which I’d earlier been subjected.”

“In a way, but what is so troubling about it is not that you had a romantic interest in your teacher, or even that he may at some hypothetical level have reciprocated that. You’re walking around your school at the age of 14 with your interest in this man. For you, it wasn’t some typical school-girl crush; you had full knowledge of what you were capable of doing. It’s not this pubescent image of a little kiss, holding hands, blah blah. You knew where to put this, how to do that. You knew how to have sex, and you knew you could do with him it if presented with the opportunity, because, of course, you’d done it before.”

I wondered if Paul was not reading too much into this. Don’t all teenagers think about sex, readers? Don’t they know the mechanics of intercourse? I’m seriously asking. I don’t see any of that as being abnormal.

Indeed, A and I discussed this last weekend. A thinks Paul’s suppositions are utter bollocks – ie., he thinks – yes, teenagers fucking do think about sex, and its specific mechanics. It is possible that A and I are both perverted sexual deviants, I suppose, but I have yet to see meaningful evidence of such an idea.

So, I asked Paul was sexual ideation not a common teenage mental passtime. “Not with the refinement of knowledge that you had,” he insisted.

“Vile, isn’t it?” he went on, staring into space in a way that I can only describe as wistfully non-wistful (yep, I’m sure that epically successful summary conjures up a clear and informative image of his expression in your head). “So vile that you were so different at 14 – but not just at 14. At five. How many five year old girls even know what a penis looks like?”

Well, I’m hardly some socio-sexual research analyst so am therefore unqualified to speculate on the point, but my first instinctive, inner reaction had been, “all of them.” I laughed nervously at the ridiculousness of the notion. “I suppose that shows you the stoicism that after a while comes to permeate this…this kind of thing.”

He nodded. “And, to me, that’s largely where the trauma of the abuse comes in. The physical stuff is horrid, but it heals. If the abuse hadn’t become normalised for you, if you’d somehow been protected from it continuing, then much of the psychological damage that resulted from it all may not have developed.”

I sighed deeply. “You see, I can tell myself that it’s all fiiiine, because after all, it’s only Münchhausen Syndrome, False Memory Syndrome or bare-faced, over-imaginative lies. But then I’m told that positions I deemed entirely appropriate for all young people to hold are in fact uncommon, and I suppose if that’s true then it drives the whole thing home – it is entirely believable, probably because it’s true.”

“Yes,” Paul replied. “It’s easier to think you’re just mad, isn’t it?”

But I am mad. Why is so impossible for him to accept that one can be both mad and an abuse victim?

Rather than confront him with that, though, I merely stated that should my history with Paedo ‘come out’ to the entire world, that that is certainly how the entire world would see me. Few people believe that Paedo is even remotely capable of anything even coming close to what he really is capable of, and since I’m mental anyway, it would be conveniently explained away by my alleged delusional thinking or some such. In that way at least, Paul is right.

He smiled amiably. “Well, at least one person believes you!”

“That’s a good start.”

For some reason, the discussion moved back to Christine, and how I don’t talk in any detail to her about the abuse. To my mind, this is entirely appropriate; she’s there to support me in terms of my everyday living, so far as I can tell. There is no reason to dredge up reams and reams of long-past bollocks when that is what Paul is meant to help me with.

He, though, wondered if she and NewVCB “shy away” from the subject. Maybe they do, and maybe they don’t, but to the best of my knowledge, qualified as they both are, they are not trained psychotherapists.

“Still, though,” I ventured, “does it somehow offend them or scare them? If so, why? I mean, it was me that had to live through it!”

I paused, reflected on the comment, then felt like the bitch to rule all bitches. “God, that was a dreadful thing to say,” I moaned. “I actually really like them both, and do believe they want to help me.”

“But it isn’t about them,” Paul insisted. “There’s a part of you that carries what happened with her at all times [fucking Aurora], and it’s that part speaking: you’re rightfully pissed off, and sometimes that just comes out. I don’t think you’re angry with anyone specific – except, perhaps, for the obvious.”

He paused dramatically for a second, wearing a thoughtfully perturbed expression. Just as I was about to ask him what was wrong, he continued, “you know, when you stutter and stammer over words in here, I can’t help but see these hideous images of you choking on him.”

This shocked me to my core. Does he really see that?! What a truly terrible thing for him to experience indeed. What a complete fucking cunt I must be for even allowing such evil into his head. I said so, adding that I didn’t understand how trauma therapists could do their job without going off their heads themselves.

“I know there’s supervision and whatnot, but it must be at best challenging to have to listen to – to have to see – this kind of stuff all day long.”

He made a gesture dismissing my concern. “I think that what you said about having to live through it rings true – I didn’t have to do that, did I? [Well, I don’t know. Maybe you did, and you wanted to help others in this predicament? I don’t exactly know your life story]. If I can’t hold some of the toxicity, what chance do you have?!”

He said, “look, Pandora. I don’t get my fingers burnt in these situations. Yeah, it’s fucking nasty, but I don’t. I hope that in that way the toxicity of this can be somehow contained for you.”

‘Contained’. My favourite fucking word. “I’ve been in therapy on and off since I was 14!” I exclaimed, hopeless and incredulous all at once. Paul me regarded me with a sympathetic but nonetheless searching expression.

“FUCK!” I eventually screamed into the air, at a random, ethereal, non-existent persona. “FUCK!”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, he enquired as to what exactly I was shouting at.

“Just….FUCK! FUCK FUCK FUCK!”

Both of his eyebrows quivered minutely, but my God – he was clever and subtle about it. He composed himself more quickly than anyone else that I have ever seen in a similarly ridiculous siutation. In those few minuscule seconds, he diffused my sudden and quite frankly inexplicable ire, and I appreciated this fallacious, yet remarkably calming, tolerance, however bogus it may have been.

“It’s interesting,” I murmured, affecting indifference.

Paul tilted his head. “Tell me how,” he coaxed.

“I’ve spent – what? 10, 12 years? thinking that therapy was a right load of old bollocks. But now, I’ve met you – and things have changed. It does work. I feel better – or, at least, I feel that I’m worthy of being understood. Why is that? Why – how – does therapy actually work?!”

[I deliberately resisted the urge to tread into neuro-psychiatric territory at this juncture. Paul is an anti-psychiatry type, and sometimes I feel too old and decrepit (the fact that I’m only fucking 28 notwithstanding!) to try and defend a position that contradicts that of others. Previous discussions about Paul should exemplify this well.]

He shrugged with amusement. “If you find out,” he smiled, “will you please let me know?!”

I returned the smile, but he must have seen something regretful in my facial expression. “OK,” he started, after several minutes of study of my rather forlorn face. “There’s more for you to say here. Cough up.”

“This therapy is ending soon,” I said, again with feigned nonchalance.

“Yes,” he said, expressionlessly.

“Do you think that I think you’re abandoning me?” I queried, disgusted at the borderline implications of the question.

“Do you?” he batted back – to my considerable annoyance. Why is it so bloody hard for people to answer a simple sodding question?!

“No,” I declared definitively. “However, plenty of others appear to hold that view.”

He asked me what I meant, and I explained that both Christine and NewVCB had postulated the premise that because the therapy at Nexus was time-limited, that I would going to feel “abandoned” and “rejected” when the relationship between Paul and I was no more.

“I don’t,” I pressed. “I truly don’t feel that. My issue with short-term therapy is that two decades of mental illness cannot be reversed in six months. It’s a rational, pragmatic objection – not some borderline freakery, like seems to be generally assumed.”

“I’ve said to you before,” Paul began, “that in an ideal world we’d seen each other for at least two years.”

“I know. But you’ve always been so straight-up about the time-frame that we are afforded here, and thanks to your candour, I’ve been able to accept that. But that bloody word ‘borderline’ denotes to all and fucking sundry that any rational objection I have must be related to an abandonment complex.”

Paul was about to respond, but I felt I’d overstepped the mark a little. Yes, NewVCB and Christine were concerned about my feeling “abandoned”, obviously a central tenet of the borderline personality. However, in fairness to both of them, the key word here was “concerned”. They cared; they didn’t, and don’t, condemn.

Nevertheless. “It’s not about abandonment,” I complained. [The lady doth protest too much? I don’t think so, but I’m sure there are those that do.]

“Of course not,” Paul responded, perhaps too appeasingly. “Throughout your life, you’ve been subjected to a string of dysfunctional attachments. Here, in this room, there is, I hope, an attachment – but of a different kind. It’s secure and non-abusive. You’re entirely accepted here. Yes, you’re leaving in a few weeks – but, I hope, you’re going to take that security with you. I’m here in the background; the experience of our relationship is still there.”

He paused, then – more deliberately than I might have liked – added that all relationships come to an end. “It’s about how it’s handled,” he said.

“Of course,” I nodded, in all sincerity. I thought back to the mess that was the conclusion of my time with C, and chuckled cynically. “I can’t help but think back to how poorly this was managed in my NHS therapy…but I know it shouldn’t, and doesn’t have to be, that way.”

Paul made some caustic anti-NHS-therapy comment that I wish I could recall.

“It genuinely wasn’t my fault,” I commented, with a surprisingly defensive tone. “It wasn’t entirely the psychologist’s either – it was more to do with the appalling mess of bureaucracy to which most NHS workers are sadly subjected.

“My psychiatrist has actually been really supportive,” I added. “Yet she and my CPN are still concerned about this abandonment bullshit. I don’t get it. Just because my NHS therapy – as a result of the utter fuckwittery of the Trust – ended badly, it doesn’t mean that I am a demanding twat, and that all therapy I might ever have will go tits up.”

“What do you actually think about endings in therapeutic relationships?” Paul boldly asked me.

I could have given a 4,000 word response, because I’ve bloody read enough into the subject. Instead, I gave him a simple – but accurate – analysis: “no one is in therapy forever. That’s exactly the point of it: it’s not meant to be permanent. If endings are handled well, that exemplifies to me what one is meant to do with the relationship.”

Paul smiled. “You’re right on the mark, girl,” he said. “Right on the mark. Do you think we can achieve a satisfactory ending to this relationship together?”

“Of course I do,” I nodded. “Would I like it to be longer? Of course I would. But do I accept that it’s not going to be? Of course in duplicate. To me, it’s about how it’s handled, and how well it’s been handled. And I think it’s been, and is being, handled well.”

He smiled at me. “I previously suggested that after this is all over, that you come back again after a few months have elapsed, ” he said. “I do hope you do so, Pan. “But if you don’t, I have every faith in you anyway.”

Body Memories and the Power of Silence – Paul: Week 23, Part I

I’m going back to Nexus, my previous centre for psychotherapy, as demanded by NewVCB, Christine, A and seemingly everyone else across the space-time continuum right from the beginning of the universe all the way to its infinite ends (don’t you just love the paradoxes of physics?).

Please forgive my customary flippancy. It is probably a good thing to be returning, especially since Nice Lady That Works for Nexus has responded to my email saying she’d stick me back on the waiting list to see Paul. I mean, I knew he’d pick it up when he saw my name on the system, but Nice Lady has already made sure he won’t somehow miss it amongst all the noise of all the other registered clients. Additionally, they’re also going to “call” me (groan) when someone has a cancellation, so that I can go in, pre-therapy, to “update [them] on [my] present circumstances.” That’s going to be a hugely insightful and interesting meeting. “Hello, Nexus Person. Me? Hmm. Still seeing psychiatrist. Still seeing CPN [when she bothers to turn up, which she didn’t last time. I never did rant about that here – I shall rectify that in another post to be composed probably-not-anon]. Still writing that stupid blog, though thanks to anhedonia, avolition and other nefarious a words, not with the frequency or passion that I once did. Still mad. Still depressed. Still unemployed. Still x, still y, still z. Isn’t that so obscenely fascinating that you might have a passion-fuelled heart attack and die right now? No? No, I didn’t think so. It isn’t for me either.”

Anyhow, as any of you who regularly follow this nonsense will know, I’ve been horribly remiss in recording my last few sessions of my last round of therapy with Paul (as I was in the final weeks with C before him, but that was more about my avoiding having to think about the trauma it would have evoked, rather than being merely attributable to an apathetic lethargy caused, at least in part, by the rut of mentalism). I mean, I last saw him in June, for God’s sake, and now it’s the end of September (though quite how that came to be the case is quite beyond me. My life is passing me by…). So. I’m going to bang out this session today (and continue it tomorrow/Sunday), and the two that followed it WITHIN THE NEXT FORTNIGHT AT MOST. Should I fail to achieve this, you are not just permitted to bollock me: you are actively required to do so. OK? OK. Here we go.

This session was on 16 May, just before we went to Fuerteventura. It’s kind of fucked to start writing a review of it over four months later, but I have my notes, and they catalyse certain memories of it, so sod the dispassion and let’s get to it. It will not surprise you to learn that of course things opened with silence. I didn’t know what to say – who’d have guessed it? – and Paul refused to let me off the hook. In a fit of pique, I refused to break a stare with him. Why let him off the hook if he won’t afford me the same courtesy?

But I’m a weakling of a human being, and after several minutes had elapsed, I gave in and told him I couldn’t stare him out any longer. He advised that he had “not considered it a competition.” Whatever. Do you just stare intensely at people for what seems like ages for fun, mate?

In any effort just to say something, I ended up telling him about my neo-psychotic encounter with a Monty Python keyring. When I’d concluded the story, at first he didn’t laugh, which left me feeling utterly mortified. I was disgusted that I had dared find my little anecdote mildly amusing when it apparently wasn’t – but just as I was about to start verbalising my self-castigations, he sort of bowed his head and started howling with laughter. So, ever the psychological splitter, I then began to regard him with a measured incredulity – I mean, it wasn’t that funny!

Composing himself, Paul said, “how appropriate that Monty Python were involved. They seem psychotic at the best of times.”

I concurred, and voiced the view that the whole episode had itself been worthy of a Python sketch.

He used the opportunity to ask me about my friends (spot the heavy irony), the hallucinatory voices. “They seem to have been quiet of late,” he commented. “Why is that?”

I boldly stated that 600 daily milligrams of Seroquel was a forced to be reckoned with.

He smiled appeasingly at me for a welcome but frustratingly brief second. “Wouldn’t it be nice if that were true?” he said, his grin shifting to something slightly more sceptical.

When I elected not to respond to this remark, he continued by saying that maybe it had more to do with the fact that, as we had discussed to some extent the previous week, I was allowed to ‘hurt’ in therapy without that pain’s typical accompaniment of panic. As well you know, dearest readers, I don’t agree with Paul’s views on medication and the medical model at large – however, what I do think is that drugs only help to a point. It is only through therapy that anything approximating proper, long-lasting recovery can be achieved. I thus declared that I agreed with him on that point, adding that in that room with him I could speak with impunity about anything and everything, without facing any value judgements whatsoever (at which point he quipped that whilst that was mostly true, he had to condemn my taste in keyrings. I appreciated that amusing aside).

“You know, it’s odd,” I mused. “I spent a year and a half in NHS therapy, and yet it was only in the last few weeks of it that I felt able to share anything more than the least worse bits of this whole sorry saga with the psychologist. I know Nexus is here to counsel people with experience of sexual abuse specifically, and my previous psychotherapy wasn’t, but it’s still a really positive thing for me that I was able to walk straight in here and start talking about it to you.”

[At this point my mobile started vibrating in my bag, interrupting the flow of conversation. I was absolutely affronted, and when I brought it out of my bag to shut it up, I noted that it was my old friend Brian calling. It is not to my credit that in those few seconds I fantasised about rearranging the face of one of my closest friends for unwittingly intruding upon my therapy session, but that’s the strength of feeling that in my experience so frequently bounces around the room on these occasions.]

“It’s not just about being able to speak,” Paul told me. “It’s also about being able to be silent.”

Ha! I think I call bullshit on that, Paul. As I said to him, “I always feel shit about there being so much silence in session. Which I suppose is odd as I do a lot of it, but you know what I mean.” Don the metaphorical mortar board and amend the uncertain tone of voice. “Of course, intellectually I appreciate that of course there is therapeutic value to be gleaned from silence; you can derive psychological detail from same, and in doing so, afford benefits back to me. Nonetheless, it feels like time-wasting.”

He had been shaking his head, ready to softly scold me for treading into academic territory yet again. With the last sentence uttered, however, he was sated, and proffered the opinion that perhaps, then, it was somehow therapeutic to be allowed to be a ‘time-waster’. “You don’t have to be the ‘good’ client or the ‘good’ child,” he said. “Not in here.”

Not content with my earlier foray into pseudo-scholarly speculation, I hit back with, “I’m not saying this is the case, but if I were to offer a hypothesis [he rolled his eyes, a gesture that I chose to ignore], I might suggest that if I had silence enforced upon me as a child, that it makes sense to re-enact it now, in these circumstances, as an adult.”

Paul looked at me with vague curiosity. I think I’ve said it before, but sometimes you can almost see the cogs turning in his head. In this case, I’m fairly sure that he was trying to develop a response to my continued intellectualising, or perhaps he was mentally querying why I kept insisting on taking the sessions down that route (avoidance, I should imagine). Either way, I know – I knew with C, and I knew with Paul – that I’m not supposed to wank endlessly on about the subconscious thinking behind my feelings and actions. That’s his fucking job.

Thus began the beating-myself-about-the-face for not conforming to what is expected of me in this inherently bizarre social setting. “Why the fuck didn’t I become a psychologist? I’m ridiculously well-versed in o’er pretentious but probably empirically flawed psychobabble shite, just like they are,” I declared.

A ghost of a smile crossed his lips at this, but instead of replying he asked if the silence in session was forced or chosen. To be honest, it’s neither – or not insofar as I had previously considered it anyway. It just is. I said so, but added that on reflection it was probably closer to the latter. I mean, he doesn’t sit there and scream at me every time I use my vocal chords, so he’s hardly coercing me into keeping my fat gob shut.

And guess what? That resulted in a silence as long as the name of a Welsh village. I remember sitting there wearing this ridiculous expression that I suppose was meant to convey some sort of “oh fuck!” embarrassment and discomfort at my entirely predictable but nevertheless irritating failure. Having learnt my lesson at the start of the appointment, I decided not to look at Paul. Instead, the ever-fascinating carpet was the object of my less-than-dignified gaze.

“So,” Paul said eventually. “Is this a comfortable or uncomfortable silence?”

If the question hadn’t been so completely ridiculous, I’d have laughed in his face. How could it be anything other than the latter?!

“I keep racking my brains in order to think of something to say to you.”

“Stop trying to think of intelligent things to say. What would you say then?”

An even more ludicrous remark, I thought – though as I acknowledged, I knew what I was meant to say (or, perhaps more accurately, I knew what clients who are less dickhead-ish than I would have said in similar circumstances. They would have got to the fucking point).

I cleared my throat. OK then, I thought. Let us talk about what he wants to talk about.

“Have you ever heard of the term ‘body memories’?” I asked. When he nodded, I continued by saying, “well, association is the oldest trick in the psychological book. When I come in here, associating what we do with the reason I came here in the first place, I sometimes experience such things.”

“Which is a horrible thing,” he speculated. “How do they manifest?”

I see from an archived post that I briefly alluded to this phenomenon with C – in fact, to my retrospective surprise, I see that I used the actual words when discussing it with him. Fortunately for my too-frequently-blushing cheeks, I managed to avoid such hideous terminology with Paul. “Sometimes I feel like I need to urinate [I somehow managed to resist my urge to play with him by using the word ‘micturate’], even though I actually don’t. I remember this happening from waaaay back into my childhood. If someone was drunk on TV, say, I’d feel this weird sensation, and it often continues this day [something of an odd issue given that my adult self is not exactly a teetotaller]. I was always completely mystified by it, but now of course my supposition, although I have no conscious recollection of it, is that he must have been pissed on one of our…encounters.”

“And how is discussing that for you?”

Aha! The inevitable re-phrasing of that old therapeutic mantra, and how does that make you feel? For once, the question was aptly timed. Even mentioning this bizarre ‘body memory’ caused my head to do what I described as “that thing it does.” In other words, I felt myself trying to float away – to dissociate – but I fought it. I didn’t want Aurora (or anything/anyone else) taking control, little bloody brat that she is. And hark! I was the victor in this case. Mwhahaha! Screw you, Aurora! However, my internally-fought fight against feeling smug at beating her down was somewhat less successful.

Paul broke into my mental tug-of-war. “As well as dissociating, you often choke or stutter whilst trying to talk about these things,” he said. The dialogue presented in these blog posts completely belies the truth of this statement. I am an unmitigated mess of oratorical shite every time I see him.

“Sometimes I feel like I’m abusing you here,” he announced, completely to my surprise.

“That’s not how it feels to me…”

“Well. I try to bridge the gap between the dissociated and repressed to the conscious. It’s inevitably difficult for you, and at those times it’s like I’m coercing you into feeling that pain.”

I reiterated that, at least on a surface level, I didn’t feel that way about things. “I can see your point, though,” I admitted. “But I think reliving the trauma and pain is a necessary part of the process. Not pleasant at the time, but helpful in the long-term, I think.”

He nodded, then – in reference to body memories – brought up another client. “She dreams a lot, and wakes up brutally tender and sore. She’s also constantly bothered with urinary tract problems, despite no medical reason for them.”

I felt immediate empathy with this and said so. Not with dreams resulting in tenderness per se, but regarding random flare-ups of embarrassing down-there issues. I’m frequently afflicted with thrush, which has occasionally been resultant from my now-discovered allergy to penicillin, but which more often develops for no discernible reason at all. I get it in my throat too, so you can see the whole rape-analogy shebang…so I have conversion disorder on top of everything bloody else, how fantastic! Seriously though, in my case I suspect nothing more than coincidence to be at play, but it is interesting and potentially revealing to at least consider possible connections.

Anyhow, Paul had reminded me of something else in his allusion to this other woman. “I dream a lot these days,” I told him. “I’ve never had recurring dreams – other than the one probably everyone has where they’re falling through air – until relatively recently. Now there’s one with which I’m constantly plagued.”

Oh boy. This fairly opened up a set of gargantuan twatting floodgates…

OK, I’m going to leave this post here for now, and continue the session review in a second one. There’s still a myriad of crap to cover, but a month or so ago I decided I was going to try to start writing blog posts that weren’t of the preposterous length to which I seem addicted, at least not every time I put fingers to keys. Since this is already 2,600 words long I have clearly failed, but I wish to fail no more than I already have. So, then, dear readers: duh-duh-DUH! To be continued…

Continued here.

The Evolution of Goldfish – Paul: Week 22

Right. For absolute God’s sake, Pandora, just write this fucking post and stop finding procrastination-borne ways of avoiding it.

It’s not that there’s anything particularly traumatic about what I’m intending to write, but these session reviews are long and tiring in their composition, and moreover, because it’s from a couple of months ago, the feeling is not as ripe in my mind as I’d prefer it to be. That’s entirely my own fault, of course; I have had plenty of opportunity to finish writing about Paul well before now. Instead, I’ve chosen to dick about – oh look, *shiny thing*! Fuck’s sake. Anyhow, the notes do remind me of some of the nuances and subtleties of the sessions – the way he might peer over his glasses, the palpable expression of hurt or rage within the room, my constant hair-playing – but I’m not sure if I’ll ever nail them quite to the standard I would have had I written them up in the afternoons immediately following the appointments. But therapy is a draining pursuit, and so it’s hard to summon the internal mental energy necessary to engage in such writing; to that end, I’m not going to promise to hold to that ideal when I return to Nexus in the next couple of months. I’ll try, but for at least some of the time, I will fail.

Anyway, here we go…

Paul was met with my usual opening gambit of complete, hair-fiddling silence, though it was eventually me that broke it by castigating the living shit out of myself for my failure to speak. He responded with some remark about my feeling that I ‘have to’ speak, and about how that made me ‘trapped’. He went on in an entirely predictable fashion: I still frequently behave as if I’m helpless and have to do as I am told. I am reminded of how submissive I really am in ‘real life’. Everything – well, most things – are given deferential consideration before I dare to respond, and generally I will kowtow to the other party’s wishes in the end anyway, even if I loathe them for it. My last-but-one job, of which I’ve never really had reason to speak here, is a glaring example that still (four and a half years later) sends shudders through my body.

After a great deal of fairly repetitive discussion surrounding Hotel California and my aforementioned submissiveness, he eventually went on to say that my current methods of coping with things and defending myself were such that I was ‘trapped’ in this world, and that Aurora was ‘trapped’ in her world, which is full of pain. “To you,” he continued, “she’s just a nagging problem. She buggered up your life, so although you’re intellectually aware of all the facts – that she was abused and badly hurt – you can’t really empathise with her, can you?”

It depends when you ask me, actually, which in and of itself is progress to my mind. I said that I had written an awful lot on this blog (I can’t be bothered to look for the link((s)) right now, sorry) about how my position shifted about, on how I recognised that I didn’t deserve any of it at all, and, crucially, about how I really felt all of that, rather than just knowing it as an abstract sort of concept.

“But,” I said, inevitably, “then I think of my fat five-year-old face and I feel nothing but disgust. If you put my mere outline in place of that image, I can pity and empathise with and wish to protect her, but not if it’s actually the young me. And then, of course, that leads to tremendous guilt because regardless of what I was like, I should still feel that concern for my younger self.”

Paul asked me to put Paedo into this mental vision that I’d conjured up and which was fucking with my head. In that time-honoured fashion of therapists everywhere, he asked me, “how does that feel?” (At least the emphasis here was on something specific, rather than on some amorphous abstract as it so often was with C).

I closed my eyes and let the image consume me for a minute. It wasn’t at all pleasant, but I tried to walk him through it.

“I feel fear, I suppose. Not intense terror in that Lovecraftian horror sort of way [Jesus, how up my own hole am I?], but…well. It’s more like I’d respond to a hallucination. Trepidation, perhaps?” Self-created Paedo leered at me in my mind. Aurora took a step back. I – the envisioned adult me – looked at him with an examining and curious sort of contempt, but none of the three assembled psychic (non-)personnel spoke.

Paul went at me again for trying to over-analyse the scenario, though he did admit to my description being a realistic one (in the sense that, the first time or two, rapes that are the start of systematic abuse are met with overwhelming terror – but that gives way a resigned stoicism as the abuse continues). “What else?” he pressed. “What is she feeling?”

I ‘looked’ at her. She didn’t look petrified at all, but I felt a sense of dread emanating from her. I suddenly knew what she was feeling, even if there’s not a specific name for it.

“It’s a sense of ‘oh no, not again’,” I told him.

“Not the reaction of a blameful child,” he mused. “More like a helpless wee girl.”

(Completely off-topic, but does anyone else find it odd – not bad, just a bit weird-sounding – when someone who isn’t Scottish or Irish says the word ‘wee’? I remember reflecting on this that day: how interesting it was to hear a Brummie say ‘wee’ ((utterly disregarding the fact that Paul has lived here for years, of course)), yet I say it a hundred times a day. Funny the little things you pointlessly ruminate upon whilst in therapy).

“I agree with you,” I admitted, “it’s just…” …I started my usual carry-on of being unable to articulate the words I wanted to convey… “it’s just that I can’t…can’t throw off this…this persistent self-disgust. That picture of me when I was five that I mentioned…Jesus, it makes me cringe.” Pause. “But…being cringe-worthy does not equate to being at fault for being used as a sex toy.”

“Indeed,” he nodded, his head cocked, his eyes unblinkingly fixated upon me. I wondered what it was that he was so intently looking for. A manifestation of how I was feeling? A tell, as we call it in poker circles?

“Indeed,” he repeated. “You could have been the worst child on Earth and you still woundn’t have deserved a second of it.”

“Do you remember I told you about the picture of the baby?” I asked.

“Yes. That was hugely significant, I thought. You looked at that little baby and thought, ‘You’re just an innocent baby – yet you’ll have that taken away from you before long. I know your future’.”

“I still think there’s something terribly sad about that,” I confessed, fixating my own gaze upon Random Point A on the off-green, non-descript carpet. I could feel his eyes upon me, but I refused to look at him. A lot of stuff was circling in my whirlwind of a mind, and it was frankly quite horrible to think about the issues this conversation raised. I don’t know why. I don’t like babies any more or less than I like five year olds, so my reaction to this one seemed wholly out of character.

“There is something sad about it,” Paul replied, “tremendously so. I recall the sadness in the room when we talked about that before. In fact, when I was writing up my notes on that session, ‘sad’ is the word I used. I think…I think you have some sort of separation from the baby. You can’t remember yourself then, you can’t see any of the physical characteristics you now have [wanna bet, Paul? The baby is certainly fat, so we have that in common], so perhaps you don’t think of it being really yourself.”

He’s right. I don’t.

But the picture of the baby was only once facet of therapeutic discussion that I thought particularly relevant: the other was the session in which we pretty much ignored the sexual abuse and focused on my parents and their tumultuous relationship. In the aftermath of that, and in particular in my writing it up here, I was a complete heap of psychological spaghetti, and at one point, seeing me in a flood of proper tears, A opined that “the therapy [was] finally starting to work.”

“I am given to believe that crying is a more appropriate way of expressing distress than other ways I have I might have chosen,” I self-decried.

Paul cocked his head. “You still view crying with contempt, then.”

Um…yeah. Of course I do. As I said to him, people look strange when they’re crying, and I don’t want to look any stranger than I already do.

I laughed then. “That coming from the girl who dyes her hair pink, blue, green, purple, etc.”

“What’s that about?” he queried. “The hair dying.”

Fucking psychology. Why does something always have to reflect something apparently deeper?! I drolly and cynically responded that presumably I was ‘seeking an identity’, and waited for him to lap the comment up in scrutiny.

Instead, for once he surprised me in dismissing the potential psychoanalytic ramifications of this most ordinary thing. He said, “maybe you just like dying your hair. My former mentor once told me that you don’t have to analyse everything: he said, ‘sometimes a fart is just a fart, Paul’.”

Whilst I laughed at the remark, I was ever so slightly pissed off that I looked like the one that was over-analysing. I mean, of course I do over-analyse, but oftentimes I am wont to dismiss psychobabble, and this was one such occasion. I’m not convinced he picked up on the derisive tone which nuanced my original comment.

As if to confirm this, he suddenly said, “sometimes it’s like you live your life in a goldfish bowl. Everything is there to be watched and examined, and there’s nowhere to hide.”

I snidely returned that if a goldfish was removed from its bowl then it would cease to have oxygen, wouldn’t be able to breathe, and would eventually die – thus, the goldfish bowl is a necessary place to be. Internally, I smiled at what I perceived as my clever comeback, and I looked at him with a smug and challenging expression adorning my facial features.

Right enough, he hadn’t planned for such a point, and was forced to concede it. It was desperately hard for me to hide my cocky satisfaction.

BUT! The man is too fucking quick for his own bloody good. After a few seconds, he ably destroyed my egotism by asking, “what about evolution, then? What if you don’t want to be a goldfish anymore?”

I resisted the urge to point out that merely wanting to evolve does not necessarily mean actually evolving, thinking I had already pushed my luck with my awkwardness. Instead, I went back to a more therapeutically pertinent form of dialogue. “This is the thing. If I didn’t want all this crap to stop, I wouldn’t be here – I would never have been here – in the first place. And I think things have changed a bit, or at least are doing so. Maybe I’m less of a goldfish than I once was.”

“It’s like there are two goldfish in two bowls,” he offered. “One gets its water regularly changed, and it’s well-fed. The other only receives the very minimum possible to keep it alive.”

“That’s self-inflicted,” I commented.

“Perhaps, but maybe when that fish was first hurt, it couldn’t deal with any more than that – it could only concentrate on its most basic needs of survival.”

“Yes, but it wants to deal with everything else now, and it’s brain won’t co-operate. That is so frustrating.”

“Interesting,” he said thoughtfully. “The fish still blames itself for everything. It forgets that it was hurt by abusers and is faultless in this regard.”

“I think its point is that other hurt goldfish progress to a level of not being hurt any more…Well, OK, not entirely – this kind of thing can never just go away. But said other fish somehow capably manage their lives, whereas this one does not.”

“Perhaps the best it can hope for is to move into a bigger, better tank with its healthier friend from the other tank, where that friend can take care of it. It won’t make previous events go away, but perhaps it could make them easier to deal with.”

This was striding into difficult territory for me, which I proceeded to explain to him. “This is a stupid thing to say, I know, but it’s so unfair. Surely people (or fish) who’ve been hurt the most deserve the most relief – and yet they’re usually the very ones that continue to experience the greatest pain.”

“It’s not stupid,” Paul replied reassuringly. “Of course the world doesn’t work like that, but it’s still unfair.

“One of the hardest things in this kind of arena is having to get clients to deal with the bereavement of it all. The pre-abuse person that they were – he or she is never coming back, and that results in a tremendous amount of grief.”

Something about the statement resonated deeply and painfully with me – probably particularly because I don’t really remember much from before it all started. I have no frame of reference of who I was, and who I ‘should’ have become. “Obviously I was always aware of that,” I told him, “but there’s something about hearing it here, in those terms, that’s really big.”

“Huge,” he nodded. “For some people, though, it gives them a reason not to bother with therapy. If I can’t give you your childhood back, what’s the point?”

An understandable but obviously fatalistic view. I said, “but recovery – insofar as that’s possible – is surely better than perpetual misery. Sure, tinges of regret that you can’t make it unhappen are inevitable, but…don’t you have to make the most of what you have?”

After a brief pause, I had to laugh at my own hypocritical optimism. I am the last person on Earth who believes in the ‘count your blessings’ response to depression and related difficulties. How crude of me to patronisingly bring it up in this context!

Paul didn’t respond directly, though. Instead he said that he felt that whilst we were still occupying the bowl of the healthy goldfish, we were at least looking over at the other one. I wasn’t, for once, trying to ignore it, and I could see through the stagnant water that permeated its enforced domicile.

It’s hard to articulate the kind of feelings that were bouncing around the room. As I told him, I was indubitably affected by the analogy and, presumably, aspects of transference and whatnot, but when he asked me to describe said effects, I found it exceedingly hard. I could hardly speak – not a first in therapy with Paul (so much not a first, in fact, that it could almost be described as entirely normal in that circumstance). After a lot of stuttering and idiotic gasping, I eventually concluded that I was sad. Perhaps grieving.

“I had DBT forced upon me once,” I complained. “One of the aspects of it is some old wank about knowing what you feel and accepting that. Accepting, I get – but knowing? There genuinely aren’t always adequate words to describe some of this stuff.”

He shrugged. “I don’t think we do always need to explain. ‘Sad’ is enough.”

After a few silent moments of apparent reflection, he added, “you know, ‘sad’ is big for you. It represents a transition from anger, which is incredibly noteworthy.”

I nodded, but felt no need to reply. We avoided each other’s gazes for another quiet few minutes, before Paul continued by stating that he felt that there was a “softness” to me in those moments.

Needless to say, whatever spell had been temporarily cast was suddenly broken. I was repulsed by the idea of appearing “soft”, and in horror begged him not to “say that”.

“No,” he protested. “It’s OK to be that here.” Pause. “Or is that a step too far for now?”

“No,” I robotically replied. “I’m being stupid.” Then: “I have this life narrative, I suppose. I’m a bit of a bitch, harder than a fucking coffin nail [anyone like Papa Roach? I think they’re utter shit, but I do love that lyric]. You know. Misanthropic, a miserable sod. That’s me. A bitch.”

“I don’t see any bitch,” he responded. “Would it be easier if I did?”

There was a long pause before I randomly asserted that I was a child in a woman’s body. I told him that I took very little responsibility for myself, that standard practice in adult domestic living scared the living fuck out of me (example). I admitted to him about the dozens of cuddly toys I’ve ammassed over the last three or four years, despite having almost no interest in them as a child (save for Mr Friendly, of course). I confessed to the childish little ways I will sometimes privately talk to A (though mercifully I’m apparently not entirely alone in my experience of this phenomenon – Maybe Borderline reflects on her similar mannerisms with her husband here. Though I am nine years old than her…).

“Well,” Paul said, with a tone of exculpation. “You had to live as an adult when you were a child…”

“So am I trying to somehow vicariously relive my childhood?”

“Well, you’re trying to reclaim what was stolen from you.”

He brought up the concept of regression, which he says is sometimes used in trauma work. He said, “I wouldn’t ever do that here. You have to accept the loss, whereas reliving it in a therapeutic context only succeeds in avoiding the reality of the here and now. You are an adult – but you have an unheard child inside you, and the ongoing challenge is to allow her to speak.”

“I do think we’ve made some in-roads there,” I replied.

“Yes,” he agreed. “And the thing is, you’ve consistently turned up here each week. On time. That alone speaks volumes.”

“I must be getting something out of it, yes. I’m way too cynical to have kept at it if I wasn’t doing so, and I’m hardly engaging in the process because it’s fun.”

“Indeed. You do appear to be able to see the value in what we do, despite its inevitable difficulties. And that in itself is therapeutic.”

And, I think, so it is. I know I’ve had something of a relapse recently, but revisiting this session reminds me that progress has been made. I am intending to return to Nexus in the next few months to attempt to advance that further, and despite the current bleakness of my world, I am reminded, sometimes, that hope can and does exist.

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