Therapy Friday

I don’t meet anyone I know on the way to Ron’s office this time.

Ron always simply sits and looks at me, unsmiling, when I first come in. I find it disconcerting to meet that unsmiling gaze, week after week. He always waits for me to begin. I try to meet his eyes, and I do briefly, but can’t hold that gaze. Ron has blue eyes, but because he’s sitting with his back to a small window, his eyes turn kind of a muddy colour. I never know what might be going on behind them.

E. So I went to your group last night. I don’t think it’s helpful for me.

R. How is it unhelpful?

E. I don’t know…..After the group, I really wanted to quit it. I thought about quitting therapy also.

Ron sits and waits. He has this determined air about him. I figure he’s not that happy with my leaving the group for 15 minutes, and not talking. This turns out to be true.

E. It’s really difficult for me. It reminds me of work. I was working all day yesterday, and there was no one to talk to all day. Except meetings. And I felt horrible. Then I go to your group, and it’s the same. No one even says hi to me.

Actually R did say hi to me, but I’ve forgotten that at this moment.

E. So I still have this cough….

R. What happens in the group?

E. I’ve not been feeling well….like I’m trying to explain to you. I have this cough, and it’s triggering loose memories. So then I feel like killing myself. It’s not so much that no one would miss me if I died. That is true, but I still want to live, usually. Just for the sake of being alive. It’s the bits of memories that make me want to die. So then in the group, I’m thinking of this, and yet there is no space for me to talk about it. E was in the middle of her stuff. She was crying. What am I going to do?

R. So you think there is no space for you in the group?

E. Plus the group is like a support group. Which is OK. Well, support plus you offer some interpretation at the end there. But basically support.

Ron frowns at me, disagreeing.

E. You don’t like that I’m saying this, which is fine.

R. I don’t think it’s a support group, though it may take on that flavour sometimes.

E. No one ever says anything that would make them look bad. They just say stuff that makes them seem compassionate. Well, D did, and he left the group. And I did, and I looked bad, and I’m not going to do it anymore.

R. Why not?

E. Because everyone else is being supportive, and I’m going to be negative? No thanks. People don’t seem to be understanding that this is not a regular situation. It’s not friends, it’s not a party. It’s group therapy for God’s sake. But I can be supportive. It’s hard when you feel like dying, but I can do it.

Ron nods his head.

E. And it’s funny how sometimes, you feel right along with the person who is talking, and with other people, it just doesn’t move you.

R. Who in particular?

E. Well, when A and Z were talking, I really felt for them. With E, not so much. I always feel she’s manipulating somehow, behind the scenes.

R. So that would be something you could say.

E. No way. No one else says stuff like that. I’m not going to.

R. Other people have said negative things.

E. Like who?

R. Well, E said that she was jealous of the way A and I looked at each other.

E. But that was about her. She wasn’t criticizing A. It’s not the same thing. Anyway, I get angry, and no one else does. They’re either compassionate, or crying….

R. R got angry. And E also….

E. I’m not doing it.

R. I think you’ve got a lot to say, and you’re shutting yourself down. You had to do that in your family to survive. You don’t have to do that in the group. And on a practical level…there were times when E said she wanted other people to talk about their stuff….you could have talked then.

E. But she was shutting down her process. Like you said. So our job was to allow her to keep going with it. But I end up feeling so alone.

R. I think your loneliness is self-inflicted in this case.

I’m fed up with talking about the group.

R. You said you thought about quitting therapy. Is there something you need to say that you’re not saying?

E. I don’t know…

R. I wonder too, if when you left the group, you were struggling with some of the content of what E was saying.

E. Like what?

R. She was talking about how she felt I cared most about A, because of the eye contact….

E. Well, yeah, that’s a big problem with the group. When I just see you individually, I don’t have to think about other clients whom you also care about. It’s just me. But in the group, suddenly there are all these other people that you have the same kind of relationship with. It’s hard.

Ron nods.

E. And then E focuses just on A. But you have a relationship with each of us. Maybe it’s a little different with the men….But that’s how you work. You establish this intense relationship with your clients…It’s not just with A, not just with the young and the beautiful. It’s odd how E just fixates on her.

Ron nods again.

E. Anyway, the problem I’m having is these memories and the coughing.

Then I sit. I’ve been struggling keeping the body memories at bay for the whole conversation, because I’ve been coughing and they’re right there. I feel pretty hopeless, talking about some stupid group when I feel like dying.

R. What’s it like?

E. I feel like I’m at the bottom of a deep well. And there’s this weight on top of me.

R. How can we get a rope down the well for you?

E. You know after we were talking about things last week, I kept remembering different things about when I lived in Suburbville. Stupid things. Like what the buses were like. Like that we had this dishwasher you had to wheel to the sink. And my mother used to make these cookies, they were really good, this particular kind. All these details, that don’t really go anywhere.

R. I think you felt pretty bad as a teenager. You felt like no one liked you. That’s an awful feeling.

E. I did have friends. Two. One of them went to my high school. But I was such a loser, she kind of distanced herself from me quite a bit.

R. What about your other friend?

E. She was OK. She went to a different school. She had these tiny lapdogs, and we would walk them. And I had this job, walking a golden retriever….It was a good job. And I’d go down to the lake a lot. I liked the lake.

I’m feeling calmer, talking about the past. It’s as if a part of me is still there, and wants to describe it.

E. My friend loved horses. So I started taking riding lessons too. I really liked that. That was good. I had lots of lessons actually – ballet, piano, skating, swimming….I wasn’t too good at ballet.

R. So you were physically active. Your physical needs were taken care of.

E. It’s weird, I’m remembering all these details. I wasn’t good at sports….

We sit in silence for a bit.

R. What’s happening?

E. I feel the memories pressing in. Like I’m choking.

R. How does it feel?

I start feeling angry.

E. Like something is coming at me from above. Like I’m being attacked. I don’t like being attacked.

I get upset, and start choking and re-enacting a bit of the memory. I feel completely hopeless.

E. This is what it’s like! It’s always the same thing, over and over. And I get just a slice of it, not the whole thing ever. And I’m exhausted from it. I don’t want to do it anymore. I just don’t want to do it. If I could just stop coughing, I could get some rest….

R. The coughing is like what you do when you go into a memory….

E. Yes. It goes both ways. So a memory can trigger coughing, and coughing can trigger a memory. I remember when I went to therapy two weeks ago, the session actually helped my cough, and I started coughing a lot less.

We sit. I feel massively upset and sad, but don’t know what to say about it. The session is almost over.

R. Getting back to the group, if you need my support, you just have to ask for it. I would much rather you talk than leave the group. We can….

E. You know what? I can’t even talk about that right now. I have no idea what you’re talking about. I just can’t have a normal conversation right now.

Ron sighs. But I’m in a space where I can’t take in rational conversation.

R. OK. Well, are there any parts that would like to say something before we stop? I know there are various parts involved in this.

I shake my head and whisper No.

R. Fine. If any parts want to write to me about this, that would be OK.

Ron is irritated. I get up and get my coat. He says take care. I say thank you and rush out of the office a minute early.

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21 comments
  1. gniz said:

    Tough session, and some very tough times you are going through. Like walking through fire. How to get through it? You will find a way. Try to stay present with it all if possible (though it might not be possible even a little). The way out is through, I believe. Just one foot in front of the other and not to lose hope. People do care. I care. There are others, too. The past truly is the past, and right now is right now. You are actually safe now, and being taken care of. You are taking care of the little one. Nobody is going to hurt you now….so try to be present with what's actually happen and see that it is safe now, even if it wasn't before.Best wishes to you and your little ones.

  2. on a practical level, have you ruled out bronchitis? it's unusual to cough for so long. have you seen your doctor? will comment on the rest later… hope you feel better today, c.

  3. Harriet said:

    I've been having trouble commenting, on my end not yours, I'm sorry. This sounds like it was a rough week in group and in individual session. I think that you hit the nail on the head when you said that this sounds like a support group. Where is the therapy? I know there are good groups, maybe you just need to try a different one. And perhaps if Ron wasn't facilitating it, you would be more comfortable?

  4. Laura said:

    I agree with gniz, well said.It sounds unbearable, I'm sure it would be for me, but from this safe distance it seems like where you need to be.I'm shocked that Ron would accept your word 'negative', when the more accurate term seems like 'honest'. Seems like you have a choice of being true to yourself (and possibly getting someone angry at you), or smothering that voice, and feeling so alone that you want to kill yourself. and I guess there are two voices inside – one that warns you to keep your head down, and one that says – hey, this is bullshit! This is a different day – but do you know what you were getting to in the session? It seemed like you were working your way to what you really needed to talk about, but you ran out of time.You have my total admiration, Ellen. I relate to your misery, please hang in there. Keep trying to give yourself some comfort and respite.

  5. it doesn't sound like a regular support group to me, too much transference going on, esp. with E and Ron. i think working through those conflicts is an important part of the process of being in a group. difficult, to be sure, and complicated. but all part of the work.

  6. Candycan said:

    Oh my daisies. It's so tough. It's hard even reading about how hard all of this is: group, talking about group with Ron, the fragmented memories. I feel your pain. That's all I have to say about this. I really do know how hard it is. I don't know if that's of any use to you at all, but sometimes it can be helpful to know there are other people who would (and do) feel the same way.

  7. i wanted to add there was plenty of conflict/addressing conflicts in our group. i called out two diff women on what i perceived to be manipulative behaviour, and also challenged a woman with DID on how i felt her alters affected the group (that was the hardest, because at the same time i had a lot of sympathy for her). as for the issue of not looking good, i 'fessed up to some not so pleasant things regarding my sexuality, things that the group had every right to get mad at me for, and it turned out okay. i believe everything can be talked through and resolved. and i also believe nothing should be off limits in group (or in therapy for that matter). i know you are being very brave for going to group, i just want to encourage you to take that next step, speaking up. you may be surprised at the reaction you get. c.

  8. Ruth said:

    It does sound like a break through is coming. Perhaps Ron is hoping by doubling up talking at group and regular session it will help push the information up to conscious level. Does writing the memories down like free writing help? I sometimes use photography to work out feelings that I can't access other ways. Take care.

  9. Ellen said:

    @ gniz – It is tough times. There is a way parts of me are still stuck in the past – they don't know I've grown up. And you're right about staying present too Aaron. In part of our conversation that I forgot to write down, Ron asked me if I was avoiding the memories or allowing them….I have been working on allowing them, and hey, my cough is almost gone. Funny how that happens. Thanks for caring about me. @ brave – Apparently bronchitis comes with pain in the lungs – I asked a few people. My doctor never does anything if I go for this kind of thing – I just seem to have a hard time getting over viruses.

  10. Ellen said:

    @ Harriet – glad you're still here Harriet! I'm having the worst time with the comments also. Some stupid blogger glitch. Probably I would be more comfortable if Ron wasn't there. I think I do need to make more of an effort to talk though. take care@ brave – thanks for telling me your experience of group catherine, that's helpful. I will try again this week to be more open (um, a little bit open as opposed to entirely closed). take care

  11. Ellen said:

    @ brave – There is a bunch of transference going on catherine, good point. God, you sound completely like a professional. Anywhere Ron is, transference will be in full swing with me. cheers

  12. Ellen said:

    @ Laura – I like how you are describing the two voices Laura. That does seem to be happening. I was always encouraged to 'smother' myself as a child, like a lot of us were, so it makes sense I'd continue. But it's tough being the only person with a dissenting voice. Last time I spoke up, I felt it didn't go well, and I felt Ron didn't support me, though he may have meant to. I wonder if the sessions were longer if I'd get to what was bothering me about being a teenager. It all seems fine, the details I'm remembering. Except for the memory fragments that are mixed in and not making sense. I just don't know. I may skip agonizing over the group next time and just get on with the memories stuff, so there's more time. Thanks for the kind words.

  13. Ellen said:

    @ Candy – Thank you Candy. It helps. take care@ Ruth – I don't know, perhaps it is some kind of breakthrough. Or perhaps I'm simply getting everything completely mixed up. It is very confusing.I can try the art stuff. I'm not really an artist and just end up scribbling, but sometimes it helps me feel better. Photos – I'm often looking for prettyness….I guess I don't know how to use them to express pain. Thanks for the suggestions Ruth. take care

  14. Laura said:

    I was glad to see your post, Ellen. I'm having a rough day and I was hoping you might have checked in. Glad you're mining the gratitude vein.I'm sure if you focus on speaking up for what you need (hey I'm having a hard time and i need help), you wouldn't be criticized – and that seems more of a priority than saying that you think E is full of baloney – which might be more controversial, and can probably wait. That's what eye-rolls are for, right?I really liked the part where Ron said that if you need his support in group, all you need do is ask for it. I'd be thinking of how I might do that. You might have to interrupt someone, if you feel you're about to bolt. I think that's allowable, when your hair is on fire, or you're falling down a well.

  15. Wow. I have read just the last two entries on the blog. Your group session took me back almost entirely into my own experiences with group. Mine was toward the end of my five years of therapy–I think it was just five… Anyway, Mary Ann had deliberately wanted me in a group where there WAS at least one verbally aggressive member–for me to practice and for her to learn. And for me to learn how to talk about "it." I won't go into it. This is YOUR blog, not mine. I just want to tell you that I think you have enormous courage and you write beautifully as well. Both things kept me engaged in your blog.I saw in my tracking you had visited and wanted to thank you for stopping by. I'll be following. Watching someone grow is a privilege. I keep thinking I'm "done" but maybe it's time that I got it–that it's a lifelong experience. I don't think I'll be one with the zen masters any time soon.

  16. Ellen said:

    @ Laura – Second attempt to reply to you here – grrr, blogger!Sorry about the rough day – now hopefully things are better for you.The whole issue of what to say is huge for me. I don't actually feel that E is full of baloney. She was on top of a building contemplating jumping…I believe she suffers. She just doesn't seem straightforward to me. But I think I will stay away from that for now. I don't want to say 'I need the group's help'. I don't actually believe they can help me. I just don't want to feel lonely. I also don't want to say 'Ron I need your support' just like that. Maybe I could ask him what he thinks, or something….if I'm struggling. I don't know.I like the part about my hair being on fire! he he … Yeah, I could interrupt I suppose instead of leaving altogether.thanks for the thoughts Laura

  17. Ellen said:

    Welcome Jeannette. It's great to meet you. I found your blog through erin's – you're one of the 'literary' blogs I enjoy….Interesting that you've had similar experience with group therapy. It is definitely a good place to practice speaking in ways that might scare us usually. I'd be interested in whatever part of your story you feel like sharing – I always feel honoured when commenters share stuff with me. thanks for the kind words

  18. Laura said:

    good distinctions to notice. the group's attention can help to make you feel less invisible, and lonely, can't it? (this question seems moot, following your next group post). Perhaps E doesn't "talk straight" – Kaiser said,"Patients don't talk straight. …although they might be perfectly sincere, neurotic people seemed without exception to give the impression of some artificiality or ungenuineness in their speech; what they said did not seem to express what they actually thought or felt. The tears seemed forced or worked up the story of childhood sounded rehearsed; the angry account of yesterday's event had the quality of a public oration. It was artificial, but there was no suggestion of a conscious intention to deceive the listener." David Shapiro calls this self-deceptive speech. perhaps we feel as if we (the listener) are being manipulated(?) but that's not the primary intent.

  19. Ellen said:

    Yes, exactly, that Kaiser quote describes how I feel about what E shares. I don't doubt that she has pain – just that the way she talks doesn't seem quite genuine somehow, and I do find it's like she's demanding we respond in a particular way. As for speaking in the group, I suspect I actually crave attention, while shying away from it…

  20. Laura said:

    "…and I do find it's like she's demanding we respond in a particular way. " and that's what you mean when you say she's controlling? thanks

  21. Ellen said:

    Yes, I think so. cheers

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