I have lost every last word of my notes on week 19. Fuck! This has caused me considerable frustration, but it could be worse. I do remember the session as being a rather frustrating one – it was characterised by a lot of silence and little discussion. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you may remember that this happened a lot when I was seeing my previous psychologist, C, and it used to do my head in. In my interactions with Paul, it had not seemed anywhere near as common – but in fairness, I suppose it’s inevitable from time to time.
Paul doesn’t think that this economy of verbal expression is necessarily a bad thing. I know that when I vituperated against myself for same in this session, and the following one (below), he defended me. From a psychodynamic perspective, which I suppose this therapy broadly speaking is, there is, he holds, a lot to be drawn from sitting quietly, just experiencing whatever one is experiencing.
It doesn’t make for a particularly fascinating blog post, however, and even if it did, devoid of my notes and with five sessions in between now and then, there’s little I can remember specific to that day anyway. So I bring you, instead…
He opened the appointment by asking me to fill in one of those wanky questionnaires that therapists routinely present to clients – you know, scales of depression, anxiety, that sort of bollocks. Apparently he’s meant to do them every six weeks, but the last time he’d done one with me was either in our assessment session or in the first week or two of actual therapy. He says that their main function, unsurprisingly, is for Nexus’ statistics; it keeps the funders happy, but Paul himself thinks it is “a load of old toss forced on [him] by [his] manager”.
This exercise completed, he asked me if it had been “intrusive”. I responded by stating that no, it had been nothing of the sort – but I did wonder, “why now?”
“I’m quite conscious of the fact that when I first approached this organisation, I was advised that I would have therapy of about 26 weeks,” I told him. “This being week 20, y’know…”
“Yes,” he nodded, resignedly. “This is about the time that I start thinking about this with clients.”
He asked me how I felt we were getting on when measured against the reasons that had brought me to Nexus in the first place. What were those reasons?
I hate it when therapists ask this kind of question. Surely the answer, simplistic and uncomplicated as it is, is to feel better. I said so to him.
“And are you?” he asked me.
I shrugged, which was perhaps not an entirely appropriate response, and gave him my usual spiel about not believing in cures, etc etc. I added, though, that I believed that things could improve; life will never be easy, and what happened will always have happened, but perhaps it can be made a little more ‘in the past’.
He agreed, but did note that much more could be achieved if we had longer than 26 weeks in which to achieve it. Ideally, he stated, we’d work together for two or three years.
“But we do have to stop after those 26 weeks,” Paul sighed. To my own surprise, I felt great sadness as I let this statement sink in. It was partly about the relationship that’s been established, but it was more about regret that the progress being made would now be struck down. As things stand I don’t think there will be a regression [at the time of publication, the therapy has ended, and there’s no regression yet], but there could be a lot more moving forward if the opportunities were there.
But wait! Perhaps there could be some opportunity?
“You can always come back,” he said casually.
I felt my brows furrow. “Can I?”
“Yeah. You’ll have to wait a few months between leaving and returning, and you’ll have to go through another assessment and all that shite, but then I’ll just pick it up again anyway.”
Splendifourous! In the weeks that have passed since this appointment, my current relationship with Paul has been and gone, but I confirmed with him several times that I wanted to come back, and he himself confirmed that he would be happy to work with me again. So, in a way, it’s a win. I get a break for a few months, then get to pick up largely where I left off.
I used the ensuing pause to consider how things had changed in the time since I first met him. One key issue is that I mostly know now that everything I’ve said about Paedo is true. I mean, I always knew that some of it was, but as well you know, o my little brothers (and sisters), I doubted myself on many of my memories, despite their vividness, despite their striking detail. This is no longer true, and I really think Paul has helped to guide me to this position. His faith in me, his explorations of my child self (Aurora, whatever) have been strong and in-depth, and that has in turn given me the strength to face the truth and stop running away from it with allegations of False Memory Syndrome and similar wank.
Another issue was that my self-harm had “improved”. Writing this now, reading the word “improved”, kind of makes me laugh at myself. I haven’t self-harmed in months, and it reminds me just how far behind I am on writing about these sessions. I must still have been doing something self-injurious at the time, though I note with interest that I haven’t scribbled the specifics of that down on my nigh-illegible immediate-post-session ramblings. What I have noted is that I then stated to Paul that I still fail to see why self-harm is so inherently bad. Even though I’m not doing it right now, and don’t have any particular inclination to do so, I still largely agree with my stated take on this.
He said, “it’s not bad compared to what?”
I looked at him curiously. I hadn’t considered it to be somehow comparable to something else. Eventually, I shrugged and said, sincerely, “boredom.”
Then my intellectual mind kicked in, and realised what he was trying to get at. “Of course,” I continued, “that doesn’t work from a psychodynamic perspective, does it?”
Used to this kind of inappropriate interruption, Paul immediately returned with, “let me worry about that. What does boredom mean to you?”
I shrugged. “Self-harm is something to do. Blood is something to watch.”
“Isn’t it about feeling something?” he asked. “Don’t you see the repetitive nature of what you’re doing? Stabbing? Penetrating?”
Well, I do, yes. I also see the repetitive nature of this particular conversation with you, Paul, but let’s not get bogged down by pedantry, eh?
I was silent for what felt like forever. The fact that we’ve had this particular exchange so many times frustrated me, and I didn’t want to confess that to him, but at the same time, Aurora was faffing about in the back of my mind and I kept, internally, telling her to shut the fuck up. She wanted her say, as she often does. I didn’t (and don’t) want her to have it (as you might imagine Paul finds this particular issue to be unhealthy, but that’s a story to be told in more depth on another day).
But she kept on and on and on and on and fucking on, until I could bear listening to her no longer. So I tried to speak for her, but each time – for ages, over many attempts – the words stuck in my throat. So I instinctively resorted to a more standard version of communication, and berated myself (whilst beating myself and Aurora about the head) for my inability to verbally convey the matters in my mind.
I was biting my thumb, I remember, during the moments of silence that preceded and indeed followed this childish outburst. Acting out, anyone? Paul observed at one point that the transference emanating from me was “very childlike.” Funny that, when I’ve got this fucking infernal brat in my head trying her damndest to take over my body as well. You folks with DID and multiplicity of other descriptions – fair play to you for coping with that kind of thing all the time. Dealing with one alter on an occasional basis (at least, as far as I am aware it’s occasional) exhausts me entirely.
Eventually he said, in that time honoured fashion of psychotherapists the world over, “how do you feel?”
I made a non-committal facial gesture in response.
“You looked angry,” he prompted.
“Of course I’m angry,” I spat, the vitriol in my tone almost palpable. “I sit here and waste both my time and yours by being unable to open my stupid fucking mouth. What’s the point in that, Paul? Of course I’m angry. I’m angry with me [and, not that I said this aloud mind you, I was angry with her too].”
“OK,” he replied, “you mentioned psychodynamic work earlier. In psychodynamic work, silence can be useful. A lack of words can say an awful lot. You know that.”
“What can it say?” I begged him, sounding pathetically desperate for answers.
“Usually I come to your rescue at about this point,” he said. I waited for him to follow this comment up with the rescue itself, but he didn’t.
After another infernal millennium of no speaking, I blurted out, in a laughable squeal of apparent anguish, “please help me here! I’m stuck!”
Eventually, he began to respond, carefully. “One of the hardest parts of my job,” he said, “is having to sit here not having answers, nor knowing what to say. I have to sit here and let my clients suffer at times. The reason is, they were damaged as children and need an adult to be with them who won’t tell them how to think, what to say, how to feel. Sometimes they just need to sit with the pain.”
“OK, but what do I do?” Reading this comment back has amused me somewhat. He had already said that he wasn’t going to prescribe my comments nor my words, and when he responded with a simple, “I dunno,” I shouldn’t have been surprised.
He added, a few minutes later, that perhaps there was some value in not knowing what to do.
“And how does that achieve anything?” I enquired witheringly, looking out the window behind me at the frustrating normality of life outside the therapy room.
“It enables us to have a comfortable, honest relationship.”
“Right, that’s good and everything, but how does it advance matters?”
“It allows a unique relationship. It’s different from your psychiatrist, wouldn’t you agree? Does she ever not know what to do? Does she allow you not to? It’s even different from your relationship with A [well, I’d like to bloody hope so, yes]. You have to, at least on occasion, live in the real world with him. You don’t in here.”
When I didn’t answer, he went on: “the disorganised part of you is allowed in here, yet it’s the part you fervently fight to keep out. What can that tell us?”
“Well, I’m obviously uncomfortable with that side of myself,” I conceded.
“Yes – but why in here specifically?” he pressed. “I think there’s enough trust between us [yes] that you know that you’re safe here, that you won’t be judged or hurt or whatever, but yet you push it away nonetheless. Is it that it’s not needed in here?”
“It’s very destructive,” I responded, avoiding the question posed. “Sometimes I want to kick and punch the living shit out of things…wait, I haven’t done that have I?” I cried, suddenly panicked. “I didn’t dissociate and kick the fuck out of that wall [the wall has some paint peeling off it in a curious fashion]?”
He shook his head whilst suppressing a wry smile. “What brings those times about?” he asked me.
“It’s just…it’s just so profoundly un-fucking-fair. And that makes me angry.” I cleared my throat. “But so what? Life’s not fair; shit happens.”
“I think you’re allowed a bit of leeway on that,” Paul responded. “Most people thankfully don’t have to go through what you’ve gone through. That’s more than mere ‘life’ – that’s having shit kicked in your face and then some.”
“But I’m not angry with him,” I whined. “The anger is there, it’s just…not pinned down to one specific person. I don’t like him, but I don’t wish him ill.”
“I just don’t,” I said pathetically, looking intently at the non-descript carpet. “I just…don’t.”
More silence befell the meeting, but I uncharacteristically broke it without it going on for 18 chiliads. Instead, a few minutes later, I admitted that I had lately been torn between feeling sad, and feeling bollock-bustingly furious.
“The problem with either anger or sadness is that neither gets you anywhere nor does anything,” I lamented with a philosophical sigh. “I mean, other feelings serve as uncomfortable but nonetheless useful catalysts or warnings, just like physical pain. Look at anxiety, for example – it’s horrible but it’s there to protect you, or scare you into a fight or flight response. Anger and sorrow do nothing.”
I went on to tell Paul that, a few months prior to this meeting, especially early in our acquaintance, the primary feeling I experienced was one of a low-lying but paradoxically paralysing terror. Or perhaps horror. Or dread. Or a curious alchemic mix of all three at the same time. See this post, for example. But as I said to him, that really isn’t true any more – or, rather, I don’t have that constant horrordread hanging in the air wherever and whenever I walk.
“What scares you now, then?” he queried pragmatically.
I thought this through out loud.
“Family? No. There’s just…well, again, there’s just a sort of sadness there [which is weird to read back as, aside from my mother, I mostly don’t much care about any of them]. Let me see…well, crowds. Obviously. Don’t do crowds well at all. And…work. That scares the absolute living fuck out of me.”
“What’s frightening about a job?” Paul asked.
What’s frightening about anything? I never said any of this was rational! As I said to him, it is just a vague, unspecific sort of anxiety that overwhelms me whenever I consider it. However, I did attempt to pick it apart for him.
“I’d theorise that my fear of failure is so profound as to be debilitating. I’m petrified of failing others, of letting them down. I’m scared of people, and in the vast majority of jobs there are – regrettably – people.
“More practically, there’s my pathological phone phobia. My concentration, whilst better than it was a year ago, is still rubbish. There’s no point in doing a job if you can’t concentrate, as it simply won’t get done or, if it does, it will be shoddy, and that is unacceptable. Also, I can’t deal with confrontation, no matter how civil it may ostensibly be, and in my experience even the best job in the world carries the risk of that arising occasionally. So, in summary – there are a number of practical concerns, and a few more abstract ones – but whatever the case, the anxiety about it is crippling.”
“Overwhelming,” he added, apparently having garnered that word from the fear he heard in my voice.
“Yes. But then, I hate myself for not being at work. I hate it. I just don’t want to go back into work, not be ready for it, have another breakdown and be back on benefits again. That would be no good for either the employer nor myself, and would probably set the progress I’ve made mentally back about a decade.”
I sighed. “But then, that makes me feel guilty. I should be able to return to work and just be able to fucking do it. I measure myself so strongly by the concept of a career. I have no idea why, because I’ve never had a career – only jobs.”
I told him about my abject rage when I hear of people I went to school with – stupid people, nasty people, whatever people – doing law degrees and being lawyers, doing computer science degrees and being computer scientists, doing engineering degrees and being engineers. Or the ones who had the bloody sense to jack school in at the age of 16 and become plumbers or electricians. God, if I could live my life over again, I would surely choose that path.
“So you describe your former classmates by their job titles. How do you describe yourself?”
“Dolescum, yes. Oh yeah, I may try and re-invent myself as a writer [ha] or whatever, but really – ‘dolescum’ reigns supreme.”
“Isn’t ‘dolescum’ a little harsh?”
I ignored him, and went off on some impassioned rant about how I wanted to change my ‘dolescum’ status, but that I couldn’t, not yet, not now.
“Everything makes sense in context, as you know,” he said, which I initially found to be quite cryptic. “An interview panel, a set of colleagues – they’re all judging you, in your eyes…”
“Of course they’re judging me,” I interrupted. “That’s the point of interviews.”
“…they’re judging you as adults. You feel like a demeaned kid in front of them – who can you trust? What will they do to you? It seems perfectly natural to me. The problem is, you judge yourself far more harshly than they will judge you. Do you think a colleague of yours is going to carve ‘bitch‘ into your stomach?”
Well, it’s a funny old world, Paul. Who’s to say there isn’t such a colleague out there, just waiting for me? I responded by saying, simply, “it feels like it.”
Time for another self-directed rant. “It wasn’t always like this! 10 years ago when I was first properly applying for jobs I was confident, cheerful, even charismatic in interviews. It came naturally to me – none of it was an act. Now all that comes naturally is stammering and floor-watching.”
“Is that how ‘Dolescum’ [he made a gesture denoting that he was, with irony of course, referring to me] has handled interviews?”
“Dolescum can’t have done that badly. Dolescum went back to work after breakdowns before.”
“How is ‘Dolescum’ dolescum, then?”
“Because Dolescum isn’t working again. It was all very easy when I was off for six months to make up some bollocks on my CV that I’d be travelling. I can hardly spin that yarn over three years.”
“OK,” he said, trying to ‘ground’ the conversation. “I don’t think it’s about unemployment, to tell you the truth. It’s about you. You don’t work now – you’re dolescum. If you were sitting behind a desk right now, you’d be office scum. If you were in a factory, you’d be factory scum. Etc etc etc. It’s the ‘scum’ bit that’s entrenched.”
“That seems reasonable,” I admitted, which led to the inevitable narcissistic whinge about the just-sort-of-Mensa-level-IQ bint with qualifications flying left, right and centre out of her arse who ended up as a receptionist or glorified typist* (though admittedly, my typing speed is very good – I can usually rack up about 90wpm, which is a bit unfortunate for you, a reader of my blog, as it helps facilitate the ludicrous verbosity of these self-obsessed ramblings).
(* Actually I should state that my last job in particular was a lot more than this, but it was not considered so by my superiors – but let’s not go down that route again. Past is past and everything, yadda yadda).
“Well, it’s my own fault,” I sighed. “I shouldn’t have done the courses I did.”
Pause. Then: “it’s his fault I don’t have a doctorate.”
Paul peered at me over his glasses. “Who said that?”
I shook my head in self-surprise. “I have no idea. It just came into my head.”
“Is there any truth in it?”
“It’s my fault I don’t have a doctorate,” I clarified.
“But did he [there was an implicit understanding that we were referring to Paedo] have a role in it? Didn’t he have a role in everything?”
I avoided his gaze.
“Your mental health issues,” he offered. “Whose fault is that?”
“It depends who you ask,” I said evasively.
“I’m asking you – you’re the only one that counts. Oh and please – don’t give me any bullshit from the medical model.”
I rolled my eyes a little, but shot him a wry smile.
“OK then, you’ve lain down the gauntlet. It’s not just him. There’s some residual issues with my mother, there was a whole pile of fuck with my ex, I still haven’t got over the death of my grandfather. But mainly – well, I attribute most of my mentalism to my father and Paedo, yes.”
“And to what extent did your mental health difficulties prevent you studying for a doctorate?”
It’s impossible to know the answer to such a question, of course, but I replied by stating that I reckoned they severely impinged on my failure to achieve one of the few things I ever really wanted in this world.
I saw Paul glance at the clock. “Shit,” he muttered irritably. “Just when we’re getting into some really meaningful stuff, we have to end the session.”
For some reason this took me right back to therapy with C, and his weekly mantra of shit of “we’re going to have to leave it there.” Shit-tinted glasses show me a glint of satisfaction in his eyes, as if he enjoyed throwing me out of his room like dirty dish water when I’d got into the midst of something gritty and murky with him. Of course, I know rationally that this is absolutely horse shit. But it was how I felt, and I responded accordingly.
“Am I game-playing?” I said, genuinely concerned.
Paul tilted his head and studied me, as if to look for clues as to where my odd comment had arisen from. “No,” he said finally. “If you’re ‘playing’ at all, then you’re safe-playing.” Before I could counter this, he went on: “it’s interesting that you put so much blame at your father’s door [it’s not interesting to me. It just is]. It underlines his failure to provide safety and security for his child – both in the context of your life as a whole, and in the context of allowing the abuse to happen.”
He sighed and looked contemplative for a minute, as if he were taking on the guilt that my father should have carried. Then he turned to me reassuringly, made some non-verbal gesture of, “we’ll pick it up next week,” and then it was – for another week – a meeting consigned to history.