How to speak of sorrow? I don’t know how to describe it. Instead I’ll describe what happened.
I get to my parking place early so sit in the car. I actually read over some dreams I’ve dutifully noted down, thinking I will discuss one or two. Ron loves dreams. But no, in session dreams completely fly out of my mind.
I am quite scared. Sitting in the car is making me feel worse, so I get out and walk slowly to Ron’s office. This time I don’t meet anyone on the stairs except one very alert and relaxed looking man, who doesn’t look like a therapy client. He most likely works in the building I decide.
Ron calls me in a few minutes early.
I look around the office and see no signs of previous clients. Ron hasn’t unpacked his bag, there’s no coffee cup, everything is very tidy.
E. So I’m your first client?
R. You’re my only client today. (It’s Saturday.)
E. Oh, I’m sorry. I could have come in yesterday.
R. It’s OK. No need to be sorry.
I consider this situation for a moment.
E. Well, this is good! The only client! That’s how it should always be. No rivals.
Ron grins at me.
We sit for a bit.
E. I’m thinking about what to talk about.
R. Well, what about the group. You wrote me an email about it.
E. Yeah, there’s always the group….
E. You know, I’m still scared. I’ve been coming here over a year, and I’m still scared. And you don’t look that scary.
R. Is there something you want to say to me, that you’re not saying?
E. I don’t know. You think that would scare me?
I consider. I squirm around, arranging cushions and blankets.
R. Could be.
E. I can’t think of anything.
But I feel my fear. I just don’t know what it’s about.
E. Last night I went to my 12-step group.
Ron frowns. He’s not keen on my changing the subject.
E. It was interesting, because two of the people there were having a conflict. In your group you encourage that, but people don’t…but here it was happening. I was kind of interested whether I’d be afraid and need to leave, the way I am in your group. I wasn’t. It is very different. It has a strong structure, so I always know what’s going to happen. And it’s easier. I share a bit, but not a whole lot….
E. So in your group….I wrote you that email. I feel so much anxiety after the group, writing to you helps me manage it.
R. So you didn’t feel there was any way for you to stay, at the end?
E. No, I would have had to interrupt E, and she would’ve been mad…
E. Anyway, I was surprised E had such trouble standing up to R. She has no trouble getting mad at me. But R did interrupt her, for no reason it seemed, and if anyone plays therapist in the group, it’s him. I could’ve said that. E is OK. She just brings up my issues, I know that. She reminds me of my sister. That way of being such a great person, always good, but underneath there’s something different going on.
Ron says something to the effect that E seems to want me to like her.
E. You think that?
I’ve just felt judged by E. Does she want me to like her?
R. From what she said in the group, she does.
Ron is always trying not to give away anything clients say to him in sessions, and he finds it tricky I’ll bet. He knows the background story of what everyone thinks about everyone else, and he can’t give that away. He slipped up once with me, but not this time.
E. So I did appreciate calling you that day. I don’t want you never offering another call, because it helped me feel better. Both looking forward to it, knowing I was going to talk to you, and that you cared enough to talk to me. But as well, I ended up with bad anxiety after I called you.
R. What was it like?
E. Well, I’ve struggled with this in the past. It was like everything was super clear, and kind of flat, and bright. So I couldn’t sleep or relax…..
R. Maybe like hypervigilance?
E. Yeah, maybe.
R. What do you think made you anxious?
E. Well, the kid did want to talk to you. The call was basically for her. And then you didn’t talk to the kid, so we started talking about that book….Which was interesting. But I have a thing. It’s like a handicap. For instance, I don’t have one friend who reads anything ever. Because people who talk about books and ideas make me anxious. So I never do that….
R. So maybe talking about the book was the wrong way to go….
E. Well, I don’t know. I’m thinking about why I might have been anxious.
(I actually don’t think anymore that this was the cause.)
E. And then….finally I did go to sleep, I took a pill, and then I woke up with a really severe pain. I’ve had that before, in the past, but this time it was so bad, I actually fainted from the pain of it. I’d gone to get a glass of water, because water helps with this, standing swaying beside the sink, and next thing I knew, I was on the floor, the glass had broken when I slid down.
R. Where was the pain?
E. Well, it’s like my colon twists into a knot. Digestive I suppose. I did make a doctor’s appointment, because if it’s so bad I pass out, I thought I should get it checked. But it could be anxiety….and I hate going to doctors, they poke at things, I don’t like it, and it could be nothing….
We sit in silence. I feel a lot of fear, similar to what I felt when I was having that pain attack, and also similar to the fear I felt in the group when I had to leave.
E. So I feel a lot of fear.
We sit. I look carefully at Ron.
E. But you seem real, so I’m not dissociated, so that’s good…..I actually feel like leaving right now. It would be good to just leave. Actually…I’m just going to get up and walk around a bit.
So I get up. There’s a tiny bit of space, maybe three paces, from the couch to the office door, where there’s a desk against the wall. I walk to the desk and stand there for a bit. Ron can’t actually see me without twisting around, and at first he doesn’t do that, and I feel relieved. Then I go back to the couch. I feel a bit better, but still afraid.
R. What do the voices have to say about the fear.
E. Well….I don’t know…..
R. What does it feel like?
E. It’s like there’s a line across my throat, and across my pelvis.
R. The line across your throat is what stops you from talking?
E. (slipping into the kid) It’s like being choked! It’s not nice being choked and I don’t like that….
R. The choking stops you from talking?
E. I’m having pillows stuffed on my face. (crying) Why do they do that? Why do they put pillows on my face? They shouldn’t do that….
R. Who is doing this Ellen? You say they – who is it?
E. I don’t know! It’s a voice. The voice doesn’t make sense.
R. It doesn’t make sense yet, but it will. Can you ask it? Ask her?
E. I guess. (I know this doesn’t work.) OK, so who is choking you?
No answer. The voices don’t respond to questions. They just pipe up with comments and feelings.
E. (slipping back into the kid) But I like mushrooms….I like them. We find them! They’re good….
I cry for a while. Evidently something has gone wrong, but I have no idea what.
E. (adult) My father would take me and my sister out hunting mushrooms every year. I loved to do that. We’d avoid the poisonous ones, we’d step on them. We only picked a few kinds.
R. How old were you when you did this?
E. Well, we lived in Germany until I was seven. So younger than seven….I guess something went wrong. I only remember the good part. I don’t remember this part, whatever it is…..
E. Well, I’m not afraid any more. Now I wish I was dead, but I’m not afraid.
R. So the fear might be about what has already happened, about what you remember here, rather than about me.
E. Yeah, it could be.
R. And I think you are afraid of the parts coming out….
E. Yes I am. I am afraid of that.
R. But by letting them out, you’re actually not fragmenting. You’re getting back pieces of your experience which you split off. By allowing them a voice, you’re letting them become a part of you again.
I sit and look at Ron. I feel full of sorrow, but fairly calm and no longer afraid, which is a relief.
E. You know, I can understand what you say perfectly. I’m not blocking it out.
I smile, relieved that my mind seems to be acting normally for a change.
E. You should talk some more, while I can understand you.
R. The voice that wants to die….that’s a part of you that is so distressed, so unhappy, that she sees death as a solution. It’s important to let that voice speak. Not to act it out though.
E. Yeah? So what should I do?
R. It’s as if you are re-making your core. The current core of you split off these things she didn’t like. Now you are shifting that core and allowing these parts back.
E. I don’t want them coming back.
R. No, it is painful.
E. That’s a part too, that said that. I’m all in parts and pieces. It’s not good.
R. Well, it makes sense you don’t want these parts back. The trick is being able to endure the pain so they can come back.
E. Uh huh. So I can still understand everything you say.
R. Does it seem true?
E. Yeah, it could be true. It’s true I’m afraid of the parts coming out. There is the part about the memories. But sometimes, say at work, I end up speaking with a different voice…
Ron nods. I’m all quiet and tentative.
In between there somewhere, I’ve said to Ron that he doesn’t care. A familiar refrain when I’m in a memory.
E. And you don’t care at all!
R. How do you know I don’t care?
E. You just don’t.
R. What do you need me to do Ellen?
E. I don’t know the answer to that question….
I look at Ron. I’m in the middle of this mysterious memory, so I’m flooded with emotion.
E. And your eyes…they’re not blue! They’re supposed to be blue and they’re not!
R. What colour are they?
E. They’re dark….and I can’t see inside them.
This seems like an awful thing, and I cry. Then I look at Ron again, checking if he’s really real. I look at his eyes. He gazes back. He never blinks, that man. I don’t know how he does it. Anyway, we gaze for maybe half a minute. He seems really present, and I feel reassured.
That about wraps up the session.
R. There’s just a minute left, so I still wanted to say….
I look at the little black plastic watch on the side table.
E. Yep, one minute exactly.
I wave my hand to Ron in a ‘wrap it up’ kind of motion.
E. Hurry up, hurry up, there’s just one minute….
Ron grins at me.
R. About a minute or so…..Now I’ve forgotten what I was wanting to say.
After a pause, Ron remembers the thing, which I’ve now forgotten, in the joy of teasing him about the time. I go to the door.
E. Thank you. Bye.
R. Take care.
I walk slowly back to my car. I feel sad but no longer afraid at all.
Walking to the car, a large black woman with two small collie lapdogs on leashes passes me, walking briskly. The dogs are beautiful, perky and healthy looking. When they’re about half a block ahead of me, the dogs stop and look back. The woman turns and stops also, allowing them to look. They seem to be looking at me. I turn to look behind me, to see if anyone else is there. Nope, just me. They stand there, all looking at me, until I reach them. ‘They’re looking at you!’ the woman says, and laughs. I laugh also. ‘They’re lovely’ I say. I bend down to pat one of them. The woman smiles, and they move off.