I was 10 minutes late to my therapy session on Thursday night.
This is the first time that this has ever happened to me. I usually like to be 15 or even 20 minutes early so I can sit in the parking lot to decompress before what always has the possibility of being a taxing session. Especially now, after a very long day, I capitalize on that time. I am coming from a job a great distance away now and trying to use the most efficient route to therapist. On Thursday, I had tried a new route, thinking it would be faster than those previous. It backfired, because traffic was insane and an accident had closed a road, so I was late.
I texted therapist to tell her I’d be late. She responded to say that it was absolutely fine and she’d see me soon. And yet, as I sat desperately waiting to make the u-turn and go through the light, my heart started racing.What ensued in the time between the intended start of my session and the actual time I arrived is exactly what you might expect from someone who feels emotions like I do. 6:30 came and went, but I was still there in my car, gripping the wheel like a vice. Pissed at myself. Pissed at the circumstances. Anger rising from my core and colliding with fear. I began to cry, started cursing at every car in my path, and just generally let my composure slip away with the passing time. I so desperately wanted to be there and there was nothing to do but wait until I could get through.
When I finally arrived sometime around 6:40, I was a mix of seething and panicked. Seething because of the traffic I couldn’t control and panicked because despite the reassurance that “it’s okay, you made it, you’re here now,” I couldn’t get it out of my head that therapist was mad at me. I apologized more than once. I needed her to know that my lateness was not intentional and was only a one time thing. She was super understanding, but I couldn’t let it go. I seriously toyed with offering her the chance to cut my session by the time I was late, because I felt like it was my fault. Even if I had, I suspect she would not have taken me up on the offer, both because I was clearly in need of that whole hour and because she’s just genuinely a good person. But in the aftermath, I felt like I should have done it.
I’m thinking now about where that need came from. My conclusion? Something which I’ve seen other people with BPD talk about. The very real need I have to be her perfect client.
Let’s back up a few days. On Wednesday morning, I had the first real panic experience I’d had in a long time. It resulted in me writing this post, in which I mentioned that therapist and I had a phone chat during lunchtime. It was a call I was afraid to ask for because I so deeply try to respect her boundaries. No matter what part of me may want or perceive to genuinely need it, I do not often let myself contact her between sessions for issues other than scheduling. That morning, I’d held my phone in my shaking hand, trying to decide if it was okay to text her, already prepared that I might be told no. And when I was given the call, I apologized for it. It felt like a breach, a burden, to need her more than that one allotted hour a week.
As with my lateness, therapist was incredibly kind and empathetic during that call. She told me, firmly and repeatedly, that it was okay. That she was glad I knew when I needed to reach out for help. It was so hard to hear that from her, to really absorb it, because I still felt like I had done something I shouldn’t have done.
See, I believe there are certain acceptable behaviors as a client in therapy, a box in which I need to contain myself. Most people would agree with me about that, I think. But since I have such trouble with grey area, I have to make my behavior standards very black and white to feel comfortable with where I am. That means my box is smaller, the boundaries stricter, with little to no room for error.
For most, stepping outside the box would be chronic lateness or constant texts/emails. For me, it is one late session or any contact where I choose to ask for something besides my standard one hour on Thursday nights. I wouldn’t know when I’d stepped over a line if I left myself a lot of space for lunchtime phone calls. I wouldn’t know if that one text was too much. Saying that I needed it isn’t a reliable source to determine that because if you asked me at a low point, I’d always say I needed her. It has to be black or white, because anything else is unclear. And unclear risks too much.
I guess my thought process goes like this: If I step too far outside of the box, make too many mistakes, ask for too much from her, then she won’t want to work with me anymore. Or even if she keeps working with me, she will resent me for all the time and energy I am costing her. It will destroy the connection we have built.
I’ve already talked about my relentless fear of the end of therapy. To avoid the end as long as possible, I realize I have been unconsciously trying to be perfect. Make no mistakes. Be a client worthy of her help and her care.
Like therapist has told me approximately 8238 times now, give or take, perfection is not possible. It’s just not. But I fear the repercussions of anything else, so when I do inevitably step out of my neatly crafted ‘perfect client’ box, it is extremely anxiety-provoking.
Mind you, I’m not sharing this fear with therapist. Not directly. So it comes out via excessive compliments and expressions of gratitude. True, I like her and respect the hell out of her. I know I can be a challenge to work with, so I appreciate that she handles all of my “stuff” with equal professionalism and compassion. But I feel it, I know my expression of all that can be a bit much sometimes. However, because all of that “stuff”, I feel like I need to remind her how important she is to me. Like a protective buffer for the aforementioned inevitable mistakes. A failsafe. If I can make her remember how much I need her, help her see how good she is, then nothing bad will happen with us.
Being the perfect client governs what I do inside the session as much as outside. I am intricately honest with therapist, but there is a limit on how much I will let myself emote. I can be crazy, but I can’t be too crazy. Imagine the grey area involved in emotional expression and you could see how crying or getting angry might be distressful to me. And since I don’t know what is too much, I try to avoid it when I can. I’ll shield my face if I start to cry. I’ll actively push away any bit of anger that surfaces toward therapist, try to deny it. Maybe there will be compliments instead, acting as a buffer again for when I slip up and the anger comes out.
I haven’t been truly angry at her often, but the few times it happened it was difficult for both of us. A few weeks ago I mentioned to therapist how I know working my BPD personality can be a challenge, but that at least she gets a lot of compliments out of it. She responded with something along the lines of: “Yes, but your anger can be very intense.” That comment had me taken aback, because to me it meant that the anger had stuck with her. And that’s terrifying. I should have addressed it then, but I was kind of stunned in the moment and we’d moved on by the time I reoriented.
Needless to say, anger feels like a threat to the perfect client image. Especially anger at her. It feels potentially therapy-ending. That’s why I have always tried not to express it. The last time we had conflict, I really thought that was the end of it for us. It wasn’t, and we spent the next session talking explicitly about how one conflict doesn’t undo everything else, but I still wondered how it changed what she thought about me.
Any feelings towards her seem like a threat to that image. I think that this drive to be perfect is what is stopping me from sharing some of the fears I’ve been posting about. I did bring mention to her that there was something we need to talk about, but that I wasn’t ready yet. That’s because these feelings represent purposeful stepping outside of the box. Talking about my feelings related to her seems like too much crazy for me, too weird. Asking her to read blog posts feels like asking for too much outside of session. These are breaches of perfection. I don’t know how either will be received, so I can’t risk it.
I can’t be the only one that feels this way. Struggling to be perfect, while also struggling to accept that perfection isn’t possible. There’s got to be a middle ground here. A balance of addressing the feelings, acknowledging the respect towards her and her boundaries, accepting that there will be mistakes, and finding ways to resolve those breaches of perfection.
But I think this is another one of those topics I need to bring up with her to find all that.