These sessions are getting harder to write about because each week it feels like there is less of me present. In my place is someone I vaguely recognise who speaks with such certainty about things I know nothing about. I watch the session from far away behind a thick white cloth. I hear it, but I don’t see it. When the I come back into the body, I have no memory of what took place. If I concentrate really hard, fragments come back as though I’m recalling a movie I watched while drunk. I jot down what I recall and then try to piece together what took place.
I think I will also have to give myself a name. Let’s call me Jane.
Last Tuesday I walked into Psychologist J’s room, and stood stiffly frozen. He was standing to my left and it felt as thought if I moved, he would charge at me like a lion.
“I don’t know where to sit.”
“Would you like me to sit at my desk?”
“No. Can you leave the room?” He leaves and I get settled in the couch.
He’s wearing blue jeans, a black T-shirt and a pair of laceless black boots I’ve not seen before. I immediately sense the critic not liking them.
“You have different shoes on today.”
“I don’t like them.” This isn’t true. I like them too much and this repulses the inner critic. The critic is wary of anything that feels like a shared interest.
“I haven’t worn them here in a while.”
“They look exactly like a pair of boots I tried on on the weekend but didn’t buy. You’re wearing different glasses too. You’ve been wearing a new pair lately that I like a lot. They’re blue.”
“Oh really? You like them? Maybe on Thursday I should wear the blue glasses and the other shoes.”
“No don’t. I don’t want to feel like I’m dressing you,” I say horrified.
“No ofcourse not,” he laughs.
“I want you to wear whatever you want. What I’m trying to say is sometimes it’s hard to make eye contact or look around the room. I look at your shoes a lot. They’re familiar. But these shoes make me feel like I’m still at the shoe shop.”
The first part of the session I talk about things I can’t share on this blog but as I ranted I could sense the critic coming into my body and in an attempt to avoid a flashback it blurts out, “I don’t want to spend the whole appointment talking about (topic that can’t be blogged)!”
I mention the up-coming MRI how I feel anxious about it but I find myself unable to focus on the conversation as I hear the critic saying I need him to move. I need him to move. Tell him to move. Usually I can’t talk to people who are located to the left of my body. I see them as kind of pixelated or a moving jiggling blur due to where my father was located during some of the abuse. But the critic, who was born during abuse is unable to see people clearly unless they are on the left of me.
“We should work on preparing for it if you feel anxious. How do you usually deal with things like MRIs?”
“Can you move to the left?”
He moves out of his armchair and into a wooden desk chair that he positions to my left.
“No, this way a bit, a bit more, now turn your body that way. Like we’re spokes in the Mercedes Benz logo. Ok that’s good.”
“It’s good you got me to move. What tells you this is better?”
“I could see you before but it was like you weren’t in my periphery. My eyes felt like they were straining to see you. You didn’t seem real.”
The critic is present now having been rustled into life by the previous conversation. I feel irritation in my body, impatience.
“Lots of people are anxious about MRIs.”
“Because they’re claustrophobic.”
“So what?!” snaps the critic in the tone of a snarky teen.
“Because maybe your anxiety is not about a flashback. Maybe it’s be it’s claustrophobic.”
“Yes it is about a flashback,” I say firmly. “The way I’m positioned and can’t move and especially all the noises happening around my head are just like how it was.” Though J knows the two types of acts I was forced to be a part of, I am rarely explicit about them in session. I can still only tell him in detail via emails.
“Ok we need to prepare a script for that.”
“And I also need a script for the rest of me to say stuff to me,” I say referring to our homework from a previous session on preparing words I can say to the critic.
“Yes we need that part to understand it has rights. We can prepare some imagery to get through it. We can -” He means things I can imagine I suppose to distract from the noise and restraint of the MRI.
“No,” I interrupt. J laughs at my interjection which clearly surprised him.
“No to having rights?”
“No to preparing imagery.” He laughs again and I end up laughing to and then he asks why I’m laughing. Whatever I answered is lost to me now.
“It’s good you could be firm about it.”
“It wasn’t all of me saying no. Some of me wants to prepare.”
“Was it the critic saying no?” I nod yes.
“Maybe we need to do some radical acceptance around this,” he says referring to a DBT skill learnt in the outpatient group in 2007 where I first met him.
“Oh no, I don’t do that,” says the critic.
“Do you know how you usually get through these things?”
I explain to him that I am awakened whenever there is something invasive happening to the body. First, the abuse, then years and years of dental work, then later pap smears, childbirth, any time a doctor has to use a stethoscope, hair dressers appointments and so on. I feel everything that is happening to the body but I am disconnected from the body as though I am feeling what is happening to someone next to me. So I experience life as ‘I have the sensations but its not my body’ and the rest of me has ‘its my body but I don’t have the memory of the sensations’.
“So after an event say like a papsmear Jane will think oh wow that’s not so bad. But that’s because she wasn’t really present for it.” J is nodding. We talked a little more about how most of my, the critic’s experiences of life are invasive unpleasant experiences, how I rejected the body and I have my own body that is inside Jane’s head, and I only hop into Jane’s body as needed.
“You know after last session it was really good to find out I’m human and I have a body. It made me kind of protective of the body now where as I used to be the part that would instigate self-harm. I feel like self care is really possible now. But now I don’t know who will be present for the MRI. I feel like I won’t be able to dissociate in the same way as I used to if this body is my body. It will be my body it’s happening to.”
“I can help you prepare a script for the MRI.”
“I need help but I’m not comfortable asking. It brings up shame.”
“Ok,” he says. And then he puts out his hand as though gently patting an invisible baby and says softly, “Maybe that’s enough for now. Different parts of you need help and you all need to help each other out.”
“I miss Dr K.”
“Did you just have a thought about her?”
“I just suddenly really missed her.”
I leave the session but the comforting feeling I experienced last session is gone. I don’t realise until later the significance of missing Dr K at that moment. Several hours later I start experiencing flashbacks and I send him multiple emails. The next day at work, I struggle to focus because inside I feel split in two. I feel the critic struggling with flashbacks angry at J for having poked and prodded with questions. When I try to read the emails I sent two days earlier, I find I can’t read them at all and dissociate each time I try.
Click here to read Part II