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.
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.