A drop of joy.
I love food. I’ve always eaten my emotions but since my husband’s health scare, I mostly eat sugar free paleo and I’ve given up chocolate – my reliable predictable source of relief.
On Tuesday, Husband and I attended a second appointment with Neurologist Professor V at the local private hospital to get the results of 3 MRIs and blood tests that involved collecting 22 vials of blood.
Professor V especially impresses me, not just because I love Eastern European accents or because he has an astounding resume of contributions to his field but because he greats every patient with “Hello my friend” and light pat on the back. When an important person takes the time to make everyone else feel important, you know you’re dealing with a secure individual.
He calmly tells Husband he doesn’t have enough lesions for an official MS diagnosis (yay), it’s definitely not cancer (yay), it might even resolve itself (yay), suggests Husband drink less alcohol due to liver function tests results (YAY), says he needs to investigate further via a spinal tap (not yay) and an appointment with a immunologist. But all this is delivered in such a personable manner I feel like I’m having tea and poppy seed cake with my dead Hungarian Grandma and I half expect him to pull out an old record player, pop on a waltz and start taking about the old country.
We leave the appointment and I’m surprised how quickly the feelings of relief fade. Deep down I can sense the inner critic is thinking something like Well this doesn’t change anything for me. I’m still suffering!
On Wednesday Husband had a second appointment with Nutritionist S as his diet needs an overhaul regardless of his diagnosis. He tells me he’s happy seeing her and he’s taking on all her suggestions except he refuses to drink almond milk instead of real milk because he hates the taste but I secretly think it’s because he doesn’t want to sound like an inner city hipster when he orders coffee from a coffee shop. He’s most excited to hear that to have enough hair to cut for a heavy metals hair strand test means he has to grow a mullet.
On Thursday I had my appointment with Psychologist J. I’d spent the morning in bed in some kind of inner critic related dissociative state involving shame and feeling like someone was touching me all over.
Of course it has to be the day they’d predicted gale force winds when there are no car spots available. I get out my umbrella and try to walk uphill against rain and wind so fierce it blows my umbrella inside out and sideways. I would have cried except the umbrella looked so utterly ridiculous, almost a metaphor for my life. So I get back in the car, drive back to his office and park illegally. Of course as soon as I park the rain and wind has miraculously stopped. Is this another metaphor? Or perhaps an omen?
Psychologist J and I sit in our usual spots and he’s holding a wad of paper.
“I have the NDIS report. Would you like to see it now? Or I could read it to you?” I thank him and tell him I’m sure it’s fine and I’ll read it later. I’m not in the mood to read a 5 page document on my dysfunctions.
“Ok. I read your emails. One of them in particular where the critic was wanting some kind of contract between us.” He pauses to let me react. I don’t so he continues.
“I think the critic wanted us to be clear about what the needs and goals are. For example I know the critic wants to not have a body. That’s a need I can’t provide. If there was a way I could do that for you I would. I think other goals are that there’s a need for safety and to be less dissociated. How does that sound?”
“Fluffy and nonspecific. I mean less dissociated how? Because dissociated can mean split into parts and it can also mean leaving your body and it can also mean having a flashback.”
He starts explaining more specifically what he thinks the goals are for the critic but although I hear the words, I can’t make sense of what he is saying. And I hear inner chatter. He notices me distracted.
“How are you right now?”
“I’m hearing voices. It’s noisy.”
“Can you tell me what they said?”
“I heard a voice say ‘what is he talking about?’ and another voice answering ‘I don’t know’. I mean I can understand the words as you say them but as soon as I understand them, I can’t hold onto the meaning. Your sentences are too long.”
“Our goal is to learn to work as a team.”
“That doesn’t feel like a goal, that feels like a necessary step. Like working as a team is an initial goal to get to a final goal of feeling better. Other parts of me want to read the book you gave us but I don’t know if it is safe for all the parts. My job is to control and protect (my name). I don’t want her to read the book and be worse off for it.”
“Yes,” he nods. “You want to feel safe first.”
“I want you to run this session like it’s our first session like how you describe a first session on your website. I never got that because (my name) met you in the DBT group so she already knew you when she had her first session with you.”
“Ah ok.” He sits up neatly like he’s in a job interview. “My name is J_ B_ and I’m a Counselling Psychologist. A lot of my work has been around helping people with personality disorders. I first met (my name) in the DBT group when she was seeing Dr C -“
“No, I don’t want you to tell me my history,” I interrupt. “I want you to treat me like I don’t know you.”
“Yes, you want me to get to know you.”
“No, it’s not that at all. I want to start over like I’ve just met you. The rest of me knows you and trusts you but I want to make up my own mind. I want to understand YOU.”
“Oh!” He makes that face he always makes when something has just clicked for him, like he’s just bitten into a sour candy. “Wow, I didn’t understand at all. You want permission to be curious about me.”
“Yes. I want to understand why I’m here. I mean what your role is. If we’re to be a team, my job is to come here and talk. What’s your role? What are going to do for me?”
“Ok, can I take notes? This feels really important and I want to get it all down on paper like you wanted.” I say yes. He comes back to the chair with a vintage looking wooden clipboard with sheets of printer paper and a fancy pen. It irritates me that he always outdoes me in eccentricity.
“Ok, my job is to assist you to not be so disturbed by experiences that happened to you.”
“Can you write that down?” My voice is loud and direct. “And I want a copy of that too if that’s ok.”
“Sure,” he continues. He starts writing. Even his handwriting is more interesting than mine, curly and neat, but some how friendly looking too. My handwriting looks like something an angry tiger scratched into cement.
“Why would you do that job? Why would you choose to help me? ” This feels like a trick to me. I can not fathom why someone would choose to be kind or help me.
“Well because I get paid,” he laughs. “And it gives me meaning to help people.” Something about that doesn’t sit right. I don’t like that my trauma gives his life meaning. Is that the meaning of my life? My purpose in life is to suffer so others may have a meaningful life? As I think he keeps talking.
“I feel like that’s what I was put on this earth to do. To help people.”
Hmmm. I do nothing to mask my cynical facial expression and I avoid asking him who he thinks put him on this earth. I’m not in the mood to discuss my beliefs about God or lack there of. But again it makes me ask the same question of myself – what was I put on this earth to do? To be used?
“And I get satisfaction when you share good things with me, when I can share in your successes.” That comment helps a little but overall I’m not convinced he isn’t grooming me for some future dangerous use.
“I just don’t know if you can help. I feel I have needs that can’t be met. I wish I could be split down the middle. I preferred it when I was asleep and separate from the rest of (my name).”
“In that poem you sent me, you mentioned the one word three times. Inside, inside, inside. Is that what you mean? You preferred controlling things from a distance.” I feel something warm in me, like a dot of connection. He remembered the poem!
“No that’s not what it meant. I like to be far away from the rest of me but not in the world. But now I come here and we talk about stuff and all the anger gets stirred up and there is now way to release it because the person I want to hurt isn’t here and I’m worried I will just leave this session and I will be so angry and there will be nothing I can do.” I start to cry. Ugh, I HATE crying. So pathetic.
“Are you feeling it now?”
“Yes, in my body all down my left side. I feel pain.”
“Usually when people feel a lot of anger, underneath it is overwhelming pain.” He explains that my experiences are disturbing because I was created at a time that (my name) was experiencing abuse and my job was to hold all the pain so that (my name) could survive in a home where parents hurt her. “You hold all the terror, horror, shame, disgust.” I shake my head no at terror and horror.
“The child part feels the terror and horror,” I explain.
He nods and adds “I think I made it worse for you by not knowing that you existed. I want to apologise for not acknowledging you sooner. I didn’t really know you were there.”
“How do you know I’m not making everything up?”
“I don’t know,” he says matter-of-factly. “But I trust you.” He shouldn’t trust me. I don’t trust me.
“Why do you trust me?”
“I trust you have no reason to make this up.”
“This feels kind of circular. Maybe I have another psychological problem that involves making things up?”
“Maybe,” he says. “But I trust my clinical judgement.”
So far nothing he says is helping me know if I should proceed in therapy with him and allow all of parts of me to read the book on trauma. Although I haven’t lost the ability to talk this session, my body has remained stiff and still. I tell him that my body hurts and I feel like curling up in a ball.
“What can I do for you now?”
“Nothing. Even if you came closer it would feel worse. It never feels how I want it to feel. I feel like a burns victim or something like any touch is just going to feel so painful. I want to be alone but I don’t like being ignored or forgotten. I want the anger out so I can stop pushing people away. I want to feel comfort but he ruined that for me.”
“I’ve noticed this whole session, your body has been very still especially your upper body. When you feel the anger, what does your body want to do?”
“My arm always wants to push something away from me on the left.”
“Trauma is a response stuck in the body. When you are in a terrifying situation and your natural fight/flight urge gets blocked, it gets stuck in your body. Maybe we can do something about that here to get it out.”
“Good luck!” I quip rolling my eyes. He laughs as I continue, “Dr K was having difficulty helping me do that and that’s all she does, all that mindfulness somatic grounded stuff.”
“Hey, I’m no dandelion!” he jokes. “Forget all the technical terms. I can help you complete the action that is stuck in you. Would you like that?”
“Yes.” I nod but I’m careful to hide my eagerness. I don’t want him to see how pleased I am. This is all I wanted. This is what Dr K was going to do and then she left. “Everything feels hopeless to me. Dr K said she could help my body feel good things again. She offered me hope, she offered more than just tolerating the past. Can you do that too?”
“Yes, absolutely.” We both pause for a moment and then he adds, “you mentioned in a email some time ago that you thought I saw you as someone who is borderline and you were quite upset I thought about you that way.” He leans forward and says almost sternly. “I’ve never considered you borderline. I see you as a person.” This feels too earnest and uncomfortable so I change the topic.
“If I was to read the book. How should I do it?”
“Slowly. In small pieces. Just start with the Introduction and Chapter 1.”
“I’ve read that already and answered the questions but I didn’t read any of the mindfulness exercises.”
“Oh, that’s ok.” He pauses and then suddenly smiles “Hang on! Maybe you should go back and read those bits.”
“Well I told you I answered the questions and one of the questions was ‘Did you skip any of the book at why’. Maybe next session we can talk about the resistance I have.”
“Yes. Next session we’ll discuss the NDIS report and the book. You’ve been brave to come today despite the fear.”
By the time I drive home he’s sent me an email and I’m surprised to find he’s typed up all his notes into a formal document outlining his role, my role and the goals. But I’m most surprised to find he’s included a picture of a red panda – a reference to a previous conversation about his favourite animal and how I wished he was in the body of a red panda and not a man. Though the adult part is now back in control of me, I hear and feel the reaction of the inner critic – a surprising burst of something new like happiness. It is only a small drop but it feels so full of nutrients. And I hear the inner critic say “He understands me.” Sometimes what nourishes most is not food, especially when it comes to unmet childhood needs.
Caslini, M., Bartoli, F., Crocamo, C,. Dakanalis, A., Clerici, M., & Carrà, G. (2015) Disentangling the Association Between Child Abuse and Eating Disorders: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. American Psychosomatic Society.
Peter Levine. (2011). In an Unspoken Voice: How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness.