I have a new therapist. I make an appointment to see her after a particularly exhausting appointment at Flora’s clinic, a yet another excruciating debrief with yet another new member of Flora’s medical team. She—the new addition to the team—is actually quite wonderful. She clicks with my girl very quickly. Seems to recognize and value her intelligence and her quirks. And gets the severity of this particular manifestation of a non-textbook illness: she doesn’t offer us short-term promises or solutions. Things go really well, except for some of the completely inconsistent with reality (but perhaps consistent with being a teenager) things Flora says about her home life. Her throwaway comments (home life is stressful, she doesn’t really like her parents, and she never does anything fun with her family) plunge me into such despair I drive home in a rainstorm of tears in my eyes and barely get supper on the table. Then go to bed at 6:30 p.m., so that can be well-rested and at least semi-functional before facing the illness-related bedtime chores.
I decide to call the therapist after I try to debrief with Sean and, instead of getting support and acknowledgement and the strong, clear message that I’m a good mom, I’m doing my best, and all my sacrifices are worth it, I plunge him into my despair, and then perhaps lower. Fucking empaths, fucking mirror neurons.
I don’t blame him. He’s as empty as I am—how can he hold me up? I can’t hold him up either.
The clinic has a family therapist who is supposed to support us through this. She has, I am sure, a good heart, and apparently an education; there are framed degrees on her office walls. But no insight, at least not into me. And no tools that help—me. Frankly, when I do go to see her, I feel that I am helping her feel that she’s doing her job. So, I feel that I’m supporting her, not so much the other way around.
I don’t have super high hopes for the new therapist, but I know I desperately need to talk to someone, and it can’t be you, because, frankly, you’re as useless as the family therapist, and I fucking can’t handle your despair and fears. And tears. You don’t know how to help me, and I don’t have the energy to find feel-good jobs for you to do or to find feel-good words with which to thank you for your concern or to reassure you that yes, I’ll be ok, because, well, I don’t know. Maybe I won’t be, and now I have to worry that my not being ok is making you not be ok, and OMFG, this is why I don’t talk to people.
And now I’ve hurt your feelings just by writing this, and there you go, crying in the corner—for fuck’s sake, do you think something, anything could be about me for a change?
But do you see why I need to see a therapist?
So. New therapist.
I try to set her up for success.
I tell her about my struggle with the family therapist. “I need help coping and I’m here because I know I need help coping,” I tell the new one. “But if you tell me to have a bubble bath, get some fresh air, or practice self-care, I’m leaving.”
I don’t add, “After thoroughly trashing your office.” But I think it.
“Well, so long as we know who is boss here,” she says.
She might be able to help me, I think. Is she going to challenge me, push back? Force me to think about shit in a new way?
Yes, and no.
The appointment is interesting. We have very different perceptions of what the problem is. She thinks I’m being too hard on myself. Which is very sweet and all but I suspect it’s another way of telling me to take bubble baths. I think the problem is that I hate and resent my daughter because her illness is wrecking havoc on my work and my life, and I need to stop having those feelings because it’s fucking hard to act out of love when you’re seething with resentment. More importantly, it’s fucking hard to work when you’re seething with resentment, because all those feelings are exhausting and I’m so tired of feeling exhausted, and I just want to be able to sink into my work and enjoy it—I just had a taste of it when I was at the residency in Banff, and I want more, I need more, like a fucking drug, my heroin, my flow, my respite…
She thinks I need to bring more balance to my sense of identity. I think I need to work more. At all. Specifically, to figure out how to maximize the time that I do have. Because right now, I’m pissing it away, unable to focus, recovering from morning routines, anticipating afternoon and evening routines, all of which revolve around Flora’s illness, waiting to be interrupted, and so not really starting, doing anything…
“This concerns me” she says. But she doesn’t seem to hear what really concerns me. And she talks about balance and identity some more until I cut her off.
“I don’t want balance.” I am emphatic, clear, unequivocal. “I have never had balance or wanted balance. I have had passion and drive and flow and those are the things that bring me joy. And it’s not far, this thing I need. I had it in Banff: I wrote, I existed. I need that now, here.”
She latches onto my language. “Did you hear what you said?”
“I write. I exist.”
Duh. Well, of course. Beavers built dams, songbirds sings, moose—I have no idea what moose do, stomp through swamps stripping lichens off bark? Whatever. Writers write. I write.
She seems to think this is a problem and starts to give me a lecture about work and identity and the dangers of over-identifying with your job. I tell her that we need to accept that if this is a problem, it’s not something I want fixed. What I need is to feel less resentful, less exhausted so that I can, um, you know. Work, write more.
She says, to lower the bar. Change my expectations.
I start to worry this appointment is a waste of time.
“I don’t think you really understand how I’m wired.”
I try again.
So does she.
I recognize that she’s trying to figure out how to give me what I say I need. I decide the process is sort of helpful… I did need to talk to someone, and to tell someone how angry and resentful I was, and why.
But what I really need is to stop feeling angry and resentful—and exhausted—so that I can work. And the thing that will make me stop feeling angry and resentful is being able to work.
“Wait.” The therapist wants to be clear. “So you’re not writing at all?
“I’m… practicing. And I’m writing… well, short things. And crap.” Like this. “I’m too stupid to hold space for any of my big, important projects.”
She latches onto the word “stupid.” Tells me I’ve used it a lot.
I shrug. It’s apt. In Banff, my brain woke up, felt sharp for the first time in months. I could think all the things, see all the connections. The Big Picture. Cause and effect and missing pieces, and how to find them.
My mind was sharp as a razor’s edge. I knew it, myself, again.
Back in the demands of real life, I feel, again—stupid. Foggy.
“This is a problem.” Quoth the therapist.
“Yeah, well, I’m not here because everything is just awesome, you know.”
We again experience cognitive dissonance on what, precisely, the problem is. She thinks the problem is that I think I’m stupid. I think the problem is that I actually can’t think, perform at anything approximating the level that defines normal for me. My non-functionality isn’t all in my head and it’s not the result of poor self-esteem blah blah blah. Trust me. I be an ego-ful, arrogant bitch. If I’m telling you my brain feels stupid, that I can’t perform, this is a real thing that needs a real solution and not a lecture on negative self-talk.
“The problem is that you’re beating yourself up for it,” the therapist says.
I sigh. I feel, again, we’re talking at cross-roads. I redirect her. This is my brain running on nine months-plus of trauma and emotional exhaustion, and I suppose, physical exhaustion too. This is my brain shoulder-checking and, by the time it’s looking forward, not remembering what it saw over the left shoulder. Also, why is it in the car? Where was it driving, exactly? And why? This is my brain screaming, “Write this idea down NOW because I will not be able to hold it during the chaos that is about to ensue!” and this is me screaming at it “Write it down where, how? When? And to what purpose?”—and everyone just deciding to not do anything instead, because, what’s the point? Let’s just seethe and hate and resent instead. We know how to do that, and we can do that in this foggy state, we can do that in-between interruptions. Sure, it feels awful, but by now, it feels familiar…
We need to break that thing. I need to break that state, that habit, that default mode—I need to smash it. I need tools, I need strategies, I need help. What has she got? What can she give me? Cause I’m fucking empty—I’m too stupid to solve this myself.
She does not appreciate the irony in my choice of words.
She gives me homework. She suggests that I try to stop working in the morning—that is, that I stop trying to work in the morning, thus eliminating the feeling bad when it doesn’t happen thing. And perhaps look for other potentially productive windows later in the day. This is so obvious I feel stupid that I haven’t thought to it myself—and she latches onto my words again.
For fuck’s sake.
“Well, it is obvious,” I counter. “And also, an illustration of how non-functional, by my usual standard, I am, that it didn’t occur to me to just… you know. Stop sticking to a non-functioning routine.”
She jots something else on her notepad. I expect it might be “usual standard.”
I don’t really know that we’ve solved anything, really. I leave the office feeling pretty shitty. Emotionally exhausted—not that I was sparkling fresh when I walked in. But, with a bit of a plan.
The next day, I don’t try to work in the morning. It’s a Sunday, so I feed Ender, putter around the kitchen, and leave the house as soon as Sean is up and about. Flora is still in bed.
Go to the library. Don’t really work here—I transcribe. Something unimportant, short, not very good.
I read. Something completely unrelated to any of my projects. Research turquoise mining in Khosan, I don’t fucking know why.
Spend a big block of time, in the midst of real life, not engaging with Flora’s illness. With my obligations as a mother.
So. That’s something.
PS Can we be clear, darling—I’m not asking you for tools or strategies or help. You are here to bear witness, that’s all. And make mewling supportive sounds. Perhaps bring me chocolate. (I was just reading somewhere that among the many proven health benefits of dark chocolate is protection from the sun. I didn’t read the article very carefully, so I’m not sure if this is achieved via ingestion or via smearing melted dark chocolate on your skin, but I’m not sure I really care. I could totally get into smearing chocolate on my skin.)
PS2 Two weeks, two more therapy appointments. The therapist thinks I’m evading dealing with the problem. I don’t care what she thinks. I’m writing.