As my Thursday session rolls around, I find myself increasingly anxious and unsure of reading what I’ve written to J. On my drive there, I worry that I might chicken out, but am determined not to. I practice what I think I might say to her to preface the letter and hope desperately that it all goes well.
I don’t have to wait long when I arrive, which is a blessing. Sometimes, the session before mine runs over by five or so minutes. I always get that time back, but tonight I’m itching to just get this conversation over with.
We sit and she asks how I am. I tell her I’m okay and we speak briefly about some trivial topic that I can no longer even remember. When silence appears, I find the courage to start the conversation. I tell her that I’m sitting with a lot of unresolved feelings from our last session and that I feel that conversation is unfinished. I ask her if I can read her what I’ve written and then we can go back and dissect it.
She’s on board for this, so I read it to her. I wish that I could look up at her while I do it and gauge her reaction, but it’s taking everything in me to just keep reading so I pour all my effort into that.
When I’m finished, J tells me that her very first reaction to what I’ve written is that she is glad I listed the parts of our discussion from Monday that had been helpful. She confesses to me that she’s also been sitting with a lot of feelings. We’ve spent a lot of time working together in the last couple months, working hard going through some challenging topics. To find out I had been feeling unsafe, and then see me react so strongly and negatively to what she’d tried to say on Monday, had taken her aback. She could see, obviously, that I was upset but she didn’t know how else to respond.
J had tried to articulate this to me on Monday, but it hadn’t come out that way. Instead, what she’d said was that she was frustrated that despite all the time we’d spent together, I was still feeling the way I expressed to her. So in that moment, I locked in on the word frustrated and what I’d heard was: Aren’t I doing enough for you? What more could you possibly want?
When she explained those same feelings on Thursday, she didn’t use the word frustrated. She used the word helpless.
That was what she’d been struggling with. Not what else I could want from her, but what else could she do to help me?
I apologize to her, not because I am sorry for any wrongdoing but because I feel for her. It’s not fun to be in a helping position without any clue of how to help. And I think it’s easy to forget that she can be affected by our interactions like that. I assume that even when there’s tension between us, she just sheds that like a sweater at the end of the hour and heads home feeling perfectly fine.
So anyway, J is glad and grateful –and maybe relieved– that I was able to see Monday’s session from a bigger picture. She doesn’t say she’s relieved, but I feel it. I’ve given her something that we could work with by telling her explicitly what I needed and what would help.
J asks me to remember that she’s human, not a robot. So she’s not perfect, and can’t always respond exactly how I need her to. I can respect that. Despite that, she assures me she will try to remember what I’ve told her: validate first, show me that I’ve been heard. Because I’ve noticed the second I feel that I’m not understood, that’s when I tend to shut down entirely.
J tells me that’s good insight.
After that, we go back through each of the things I’d said in my letter that require further addressing.
We talk about the “checking in” need. J says she is open to checking in about suicide and self-harm, but she wants to know how I think we could build it in to our sessions. Do I want her to just simply ask “Have you self-harmed” or “Have you been suicidal” at the beginning of each session? Certainly, she can’t ask it at the end. That’s why she wants my opinion. Put like that, finally I understand what she’d been saying about structure and why she’d been wary of it. It does seem very narrow and restrictive.
At the same time, I feel like she finally understands where I was coming from. She explains that the reason she doesn’t ask those questions and instead asks a very general “how are you” at the beginning of session is to give me the space to bring up whatever I need. She has always hoped I could indicate when I am in a tough place, but that she is now coming to understand it is not always that easy to just bring up something as serious as suicide.
I appreciate that she recognizes that.
At some point, and I’m not sure if it was right after this or later, I tell her again that part of the reason I always waver before talking about the suicidal thoughts is because I feel like I’m being dramatic. I keep saying that I want to kill myself, but I haven’t, so why would she believe me?
J says she does believe me. She says it firmly. She knows that when I say things like I feel like I’m going to end up doing it sooner or later, that I really mean it.
I appreciate that too.
She wants to know if she should be doing something differently? Should she be acting on what I’m telling her? She doesn’t believe that I would benefit from a higher level of care right now, and I actually agree with her. I’ll admit that I could benefit from a psychiatrist, and that maybe it’s finally time to revisit medication after my last bout with it went so poorly. J was pretty insistent on that during our Monday session. She wants me to add someone to the support team, because she feels like I’m doing a lot of hard work and not reaping the benefits as much as I should be.
But anyway, I’m off track. The point is, she wants to know what she could do differently so I might genuinely feel like she believes me. In talking about that, I even share with her the sentiment I’d expressed in my post about communicating my pain, where I admitted that part of my urge in self-harming is that it conveys to her how deeply I’m hurting. She thinks this is interesting, and similarly asks me how she could respond when I talked about self-harm urges so that I know she understands the severity of how I was feeling.
It is an honest question. Not a rhetorical what do you want from me, but searching for a solution. I’m still working on a response to that.
We talk about the time she’d rolled her eyes at me when I’d asked for a hug, something I’d long been holding onto and which had been feeding the fears that she was bothered by my attachment needs. Long story short, we resolve that issue.
We talk about the letter I’d asked for. I am so prepared for her to say no that it catches me completely off guard when she mentions casually that I will be getting the letter. What?! Turns out, yes, she’s going to do it for me. J says that she is still trying to figure out how to lay out what she wants to say, but that it’s coming. She also says that she could have followed up with me about that, that maybe she should have. Wow, that was also really nice of her to admit.
At this point, I am feeling very calm. J is hearing me. She is really hearing what I am saying. Validating it. And I am hearing her, not feeling rejected or hurt. We seemed to be finally understanding each other and it felt really good.
The last thing we talk about is the attachment stuff. I had wanted to know what she meant when she had said that her seeming uncomfortable might be for different reasons that I assumed. She explains that with any topic, I might be reading her behavior and assuming it’s about me when It might just be that she’s having a bad day or that the topic is challenging.
She starts to say, “My reaction isn’t necessarily because..” and the pauses, trying to find the right words.
“–because I’m annoying you or my problems are a burden?” I finish for her.
“Definitely not that,” she assures me. “I guess that’s how you feel then.”
Yup, pretty much.
She continues by saying some topics are uncomfortable by nature. Me wanting to take my own life, for example. That will never not be a scary concept. Again, she’s human. It doesn’t mean she doesn’t want me to talk about it.
J requests that if I’m sensing a change of tone or body language, it’s important that I bring it to her attention, since she isn’t always aware of it. I need to practice voicing those concerns in the moment instead of letting them build.
She’s right and I know that. I don’t think it’s going to get any easier to talk about attachment, and I would be lying if I was saying I was completely assured that doing so isn’t a burden to her, but I’m willing to try.
At this point, we are near the end of session. J asks me how I am feeling about things between us now, and I tell her I felt much better. It’s such a relief to have that weight off my shoulder. I tell her that I care about her and our relationship a lot. I am glad we’d worked things out. She smiles at me and responds by saying she feels the same way and she hopes I can see that.
I do see it, and I tell her as much. I tell her that I stockpile evidence that she cares about me to fight the minions.
She tells me to keep fighting them. Not just to prove to myself that she cares, but to keep myself alive.
Before I leave, I ask for a hug. No eye roll from her this time. She is happy to give it. Another reminder that she cares for the list. I am grateful for the moment where we embrace because it really solidifies the connection I was feeling with her.
I’ve detailed this whole session for myself so that the next time there are lingering feelings of hurt or anger, the next time I feel like our relationship is perched precariously on a cliff, I can remember how we’ve worked through difficult times before. There will be a next time, because there always is. This is the concrete evidence that things can feel better after they’ve felt rotten. I felt rejected and then supported, unheard and then understood.
I think this was a big hurdle for our working relationship, but we survived it. Now we can move forward with me feeling safe again. I’m so happy for that, because there’s plenty coming up in my life that I need her for.
And I know she’ll be right there, ready to help.