It’s been about a month since I found out J was expecting and would be leaving on maternity leave in November. The news that, while always on the back of my mind, hit me like a ton of bricks.
I’ve been coping with it as best I can. Part of that has been trying to figure out what it is I need to get through the break with little issue. Anything to make the time just a little easier. Since J promised me she’d do whatever she could and all.
After some thought, I had a few ideas. I ran them by L first, because I thought she could give me some insight as to whether I was being unreasonable.
The first thing I decided I wanted was to try again to get her to write me a letter. Or a note. Anything really that was concrete and could act as a transitional object. It felt like an especially vulnerable ask after how poorly the last time went, but with L’s help I developed a strong and sound argument: While I knew she held concerns last time because she didn’t seem to understand the reason I wanted it and felt nothing she said could be helpful, it didn’t matter what she said. What mattered was that she’d take the time to do it in her own handwriting so that I could have this physical piece of her to reflect on while we were not seeing each other regularly.
The second thing I wanted felt like it was wavering more precariously between reasonable and not. I hoped that maybe I might be able to email her. Not regularly; maybe once a month. She could even put limitations on the length or content I was allowed to include, for liability purposes. I didn’t care if she never read them. It was the act of reaching out that would feel helpful.
L warned me that J probably wouldn’t oblige, which didn’t really shock me. I knew that it was bordering on a boundary cross. But she also said that if I didn’t ask, I’d probably be angry with myself for it. So go ahead, L suggested, because maybe we’d both be surprised.
It took me a few more sessions to get up the courage to do it. But I did eventually ask. It brought me a lot of shame to do so, because it felt so needy. J insisted it was okay to ask for what I needed, but I still felt thought less of myself and wondered if she did too. Why couldn’t I just accept her leaving and deal with it like everyone else?
Because you’re not everyone else, she said. Not that her assurance helped any.
Upon hearing my requests, J asked for some time to think on it. She promised me that she’d let me know the Thursday of our last session. Fine, great.
So on Thursday, I was given my answers. I waited for her to broach the topic, both to see if she remembered and because I was still stewing in my shame over having attachment-based needs. Yes, she would be willing to write something for me. No, she did not feel comfortable with the emails. In that order.
Like I said, I had expected this. At that point, I no longer really even cared about the emails because I had already prepared myself to have that request denied. I just hoped for the note. So while I was slightly disappointed, I understood her reasoning.
It was fine, or it would have been, if she had stopped there.
But no, it’s never that simple, is it? J continued to go on about why it didn’t feel okay for her to grant email privileges. She said that it would feel unnatural for her not to respond, and she didn’t want to get into the habit of therapy over email. Hearing that was fine too. Again, more than fair, and why I knew even when I first asked that she’d probably say no.
Still, J kept talking. Mind you, I’m not arguing with her at all. I accepted her answer without questioning. Why she felt the need to overexplain her reasoning is not clear to me. Maybe she thought I was turning her “no” inward and blaming myself for it? Maybe she was trying to avoid a thought spiral? I don’t know. To me, in that moment, it felt like she had come in with his rehearsed speech, bracing herself for an intense response that never came, but let all the words spill out anyway.
So anyway, on she went. The other reason she didn’t feel comfortable honoring my request is that while she’s on maternity leave “all her cases are closed” and she would have to “document any contact.” Since she was on leave, she wouldn’t be near her files. They’d all say something about how her contact with the client ended with “x, y, z” until further notice.
The second I heard that, she completely lost me. All I heard in my head was you’re just another case to her. Just another case. She had to remind you of that. She has to make sure you know that she really only gives a damn about you because she’s paid to do so. You are the only one who will be affected by this. Once she’s gone, she won’t think about you.
These are all things that I already knew of course, but it was painful for her to make such a direct confrontation of them. A very obvious reminder that no matter how safe and helpful she’s felt, even if she does care, she doesn’t care that much. Because she can’t. Our relationship can’t matter to her the same way it does to me.
It reminded me so much of the words written by my wonderful blogger friend, which I’d like to quote here because I don’t know if I could phrase them more perfectly:
I also really struggle with the fact that she doesn’t need me in the least. She doesn’t miss me when she’s away – or certainly not in the way that I miss her (which is a very good thing because I don’t think she’d be the ideal therapist if she did)! When she is sick she has other people to care for her. If she is struggling in her life I would never know about it. I am not a friend or family member and so I am completely ignorant of what goes on for her outside that room – unless it impacts me in some way and then she lets me know what I need to know.
I know that this is how it’s all meant to be but it is hard to find a place to put all that sometimes – other than ‘this is a therapeutic relationship and it’s different from other relationships we have’. Ironically when she says that to me it makes me bristle, like I get a proper kick back, because I’ve always seen that comment through the lens of ‘limitations’ ie what the therapeutic relationship ‘isn’t’ or ‘can’t be’ for me.
All the shame I had tried to hide in the nooks and crannies of my subconscious wormed its way free. I wanted to escape that conversation quickly, so I changed the topic. When J tried to go back there a few minutes later with “something else to add” I said to her Do you have to? I really don’t want to talk about it.”
She paused, noticeably surprised, and then backed down. But I could see something akin to hurt in her eyes, so I told her she could go ahead and say what she wanted. Her suggestion was that maybe instead of letters being sent to her, I kept the connection by writing those letters but then talking them through with L.
I don’t know why, but this pissed me off. That seemed like a misguided way to maintain a connection. Instead, it seemed like a half-assed band-aid fix for the fact that I wasn’t allowed to contact her. Which is probably what made me angry. It’s fine that she said no, but stop trying to compensate for that.
In maybe not my kindest tone, I told her that her idea wasn’t really helpful and that while I was working with L, I’d prefer to focus on my relationship with her. I know a bit of a petulant teenager was hiding under there, almost trying to get back at her in a way: Get over yourself, I’m not going to let you continue to dominate my therapy, I’m going to try to forget about you. I’m going to replace you with someone else. She didn’t argue.
We talked about other stuff for awhile, but then things kind of devolved.
The problem was that I’ve been carrying around so much already. Social stuff. Family issues. Job stress. A lot of the time, I’ve been so in my head that the weight of my thoughts has been suffocating. Frustration and shame and emptiness flood me at random moments. There’s been a lot of suicidal thinking and planning in the extra moments of my day. I’m wondering if upping my meds has had a reverse effect on my mood, because I think the thoughts have gotten worse since the increase.
Regardless, these were things I didn’t really plan to bring to session because honestly what’s the point. I’ve just been trying to push on and appear functional with all that noise in the background. Unfortunately, J’s comment triggered me in a big way, and just added to the pile of shit and hopelessness. So it came out.
We were talking about my impulsive eating/shopping. She asked to know more about it, so I explained. And where we ended up were the feelings of defeat. How I go back and forth between wanting to control these vices and genuinely believing that there’s not really a point because I’m ultimately going to kill myself.
It doesn’t fucking matter. I really don’t care. I said these things repeatedly. And it felt so true. Still does. People can’t handle me. Everyone preaches that it’s okay not to be okay, that it’s important to talk about mental illness, until you actually do it. Then they get confused or scared or annoyed and they withdraw. I get left alone. I am alone. And either it’s because that’s how society really works, which I can’t overcome, or that I’m personally creating my own hell because of my innate flaws, which I can’t overcome. Either way, it makes me feel empty. That emptiness is big and consuming.
And that’s where J’s clinical explanation about the emails made everything worse, because it reinforced the idea of aloneness. That you can go to this person who supposedly has your best interests at heart and talk to them for 20 minutes or an hour, but then they send you away too. They’ll say a bunch of stuff or give you some chemicals and then send you on your way with those problems.
Their method of help may help or it may not. Either way, you’re still expected to be extremely vulnerable within carefully constructed parameters, to trust these people with your world and then just go on with your day. You’re supposed be grateful they’ve given you the time at all as you go back to living your life on your own. The truth is, you’re in it by yourself, and that’s so painful for me.
I don’t know how to make it feel less painful, less like betrayal. I can understand it logically, but emotionally each time I remember how much I truly am alone with my struggle it’s like being pummeled in the face.
All of this came out during my session, but much less articulate. And it ended with me ranting that what’s the fucking point of going back to my psychiatrist because she’s just going to listen for about 10 minutes and then change my meds and send me on my way because I’m just another case to her too.
It seemed to click for J in that moment why I was upset. She looked at me knowingly and said something that drew a connection between her comment and mine about Dr. N. As if that explained away everything else I had said. I got the implication that I was being treated as a little kid having a full-blown tantrum because I didn’t like what she’d said. I pressed that while her comment certainly didn’t help, I’ve been feeling all of this already. I’ve struggled with the structure of the relationship.
You know why it has to be that way, she said. Of course I knew that, I told her, but it didn’t make it hurt any less. Her reaction felt defensive, more about protecting her ego than exploring my feelings. Which just increased my shame. Here J was last week trying to tell me that it’s okay to have needs, but yet it seems lately I’ve heard more and more about this “professional relationship” we have. It seems like she’s feeling my increased sense of need for her and inserting these comments to try to push me away. It feels like I’ve become too much even for her.
Maybe she was just tired that day. Likely she didn’t intend to make me feel this way or at least not to that intensity. I believe that. Still, I’m so angry that after all this time she didn’t know better. She knows how strong my attachment is. She knows I struggle with maintaining a constant sense of connection. She knows worry that I’m going to push her away with my emotions and needs. Yet her choice of words was so poor and did not seem to recognize those sensitivities at all. How has she not learned after all this time?
J has insisted that my attachment to her doesn’t make her uncomfortable, but her behavior continues to paint a different picture. It always comes back to this. I get needing to maintain a boundary, but I try so hard to be respectful of her boundaries. Why is she pushing so hard to remind me of the distance built into our relationship? It feels like a slap in the face from someone who encouraged me to talk about my feelings regarding her leaving “at any time.”
She was clearly out of her element by the end of our session. Trying to focus on strengths as I’m telling her that I ultimately do plan to kill myself, not seeming to realize that I was beyond that capability. And responding to my statement about a suicidal planning gesture by telling me it wasn’t safe or healthy.
Well, no shit. That doesn’t change anything. I’m still doing it. I looked at her, annoyed. “Do you want me not to tell you next time? I don’t know what else to say except that’s how it is.”
She didn’t have an answer for that. And that’s where we left it. Her asking about a safety plan, me saying I didn’t plan to kill myself before I saw her again. Then out the door. I was emotionally wrought.
I talked on the phone for awhile to a good friend, which helped some. Then I ended up texting L, which sent me into a flurry of anxiety. It was something I promised myself I wouldn’t do, because I don’t want her to think this is going to be a pattern all of the time. But the emotion was intense and I really felt like I needed her. Was I trying to sabotage my relationship with J before it could be suspended? I didn’t think so, but I couldn’t trust my own thoughts for sure. I couldn’t tell if I was overreacting or justifiably angry and hurt by J’s words. I hoped that she could help give me some guidance to avoid burning the bridge.
It was the end of the night and she’s not in the office on Friday. I asked for a phone call next week. Of course, she’s away. So I’ve been offered a check in on Saturday when she gets back. Which is kind.
It’s also a little bit scary to feel that attachment forming to her now. We had a really good session a couple weeks ago and I felt so connected to her afterward. It was one of the first times I felt like things would truly be okay without J. She’s even offered to do the things J does for me that have been helpful (e.g. check-in calls), which was so helpful. Part of me is always trying to look out to make sure
Anyway, while L told me to avoid the temptation to burn the bridge, I do think that I am going to cancel my session with J this week. That’s a heartbreaking thought to me knowing that my time with her is limited as is. I know things can’t get better if I don’t talk about it with her, but I don’t feel safe bringing it up. And I don’t feel like I can hide my anger if I’m there. I worry I’ll be judged, or that she will be confused or visibly frustrated by my hurt.
I just can’t handle the thought of things getting any worse.
Therapists, don’t call your clients a “case.” Don’t talk about the “professional relationship.” Just don’t. We can’t handle it, we perceive it as a rejection. We perceive it as you being uncomfortable with our needs. We know the limits of our relationship with you, we don’t need you to voice it. You telling us that the structure of your time is necessary doesn’t fix our pain. If anything, it exacerbates it. Instead, help us explore where those deep needs come from. Give us a place to work them out.
This is what you’ve signed on for with us, like it or not. Just please, please watch your choice of words.