This “artwork” is a collage I did during art therapy as an inpatient at a psychiatric facility in 2015 shortly after my son was born. I should really one day blog about my experiences of psychiatric facilities but since I’ve only been to the one private one it’s almost nothing like what you would see in a movie. Both of my stays were covered fully by private health. I saw the bill and it was something like $11,000 for a week. I really wonder what it is like to cope with mental health issues for people in countries with health systems unlike Australia’s.
As I left the previous session, a client in the waiting room triggered a memory, one that is tricky to summarise, a memory of how some of the attention and grooming from my father had made me feel special right up until it had turned bad and then left me feeling degraded and highly fearful of any attention from any man. The critic suddenly looked back on the previous sessions and wondered if Psychologist J’s kindness was nothing more than a trap to lure me in the same way my father groomed me into feeling special.
I arrive at the session feeling very much in the present as regular ordinary Jane. It feels so strange to sit in his waiting room. Everything looks so normal, so real and yet so dull but it also feels like I haven’t been here in weeks.
He invites me in and I sit down on the couch, put the blanket over my lap as usual and clutch the cushion to my chest. He’s holding the document that the critic had wanted to discuss last session with questions and goals for therapy.
“I feel like I haven’t been here in a while and I feel crazy thinking about what I’ve been saying. I don’t remember the last session at all and even looking at my notes I struggle to remember it.”
“Yes the critic was very present.”
“I feel like I must have been acting so crazy.”
“Not crazy. They’re parts of you.”
“The room looks so…normal. I can remember how they see, how they see you and things in the room and how it all looks strange to them. Today I’m more in touch with the (memories the child part holds). Yuck.”
We talk about some problems in my regular everyday life including the MRI and how that went and how current issues had made me feel anxious.
“I can’t access the critic at all. I feel locked out. I want to get back in and not feel all this (stuff related to the memory the child holds).”
“This is dual awareness.”
“Well I don’t like it! I prefer to be more in the past were I’m more inclined to dissociate.”
“This is the realm of DBT (Dialectical Behaviour Therapy) and Radical Acceptance.”
“Sooooo annoying,” I say laughing. “Don’t talk to me about it. DBT makes no sense to the critic. It always says ‘I don’t do that’ but DBT makes sense to me today and I hear that annoying helpful inner voice I developed during DBT reminding me of what skills to use. I really don’t want to feel this memory.”
“Shake it out,” he says wanting me to move my body to get it to move through fight/flight/freeze.
“Do we want to talk about what we planned?” he says referring to the document that I brought that I’d also sent to him.
“Yes but it doesn’t feel like my stuff. I thought the critic would be here.”
“Do you want me to start reading it?”
“No. Don’t read it out loud,” I say suddenly feeling anxious. I zone out a little while he talks and only catch the end of a sentence when he says “…it’s about faith. Why is he talking about faith or religion? I think.
“Faith. This is her stuff,” suddenly I realise he is referring to the critic by the name the critic had told him to use via email. It feels so strange to hear him use that name because I feel like giving my parts human names is a terrible idea and one that will surely only encourage me to be crazier even though I know it’s common for the everyday parts of people with Structural Dissociation of the Personality to be phobic of traumatized parts.
“I’m glad we’re talking about this stuff. We’re getting down to the nitty gritty,” he says but perhaps now aware that I’m not at all glad to be here talking about this stuff that I’m well practiced at avoiding. “I think you need me to be more direct and in control.” He glances down at the sheet and says “shall we start with the questions?”
“No, I know the answers. That’s for the critic to hear. I doesn’t understand what I do about sex and it holds its own beliefs (about sex and abuse) and my brain is some how comfortable holding totally contradictory beliefs.”
“Yes, it needs to hear it from me,” he agrees.”
“The other session when you were saying things to the critic I could feel it going into my head as new information and changing it, like actually I could FEEL it like my head felt different right here,” I say gesturing to the left side of my brain.
“I think that when I sit on your left side it activates your right brain. You need to hear things going into your right brain.”
“What do you mean?”
“The right side of your brain is where we process meaning. So when I say things on your left, it’s activating that side of your brain.”
“Oh,” I say kind of stunned into silence.
“What seat do you want me to sit in right now?” he asks. He’s been sitting to my right, where I, Jane and little Jane usually prefer. I try to feel inside to see if the critic is around wanting him to move to the left. I start to feel overwhelmed by the question.
“When I give you choices, I notice its sometimes hard for you. It stirs something up.”
“Yeah,” I say kind of distracted and then thinking about the right brain comment I suddenly say, “Let’s try you sitting on the left.”
“Ok, well we’ll do it mindfully,” he says and he stands up slowly and walks the one metre to the other chair. His body looks like a large willow tree bending in a storm. Suddenly I hear the critic shouting Shut up!
Suddenly the critic is in the body overwhelmed by having been forced into the session. I immediately turn my head away to the right so he is out of my area of vision and my whole left side of my body feels stimulated and alive. I can feel someone doing something to a part of my body, something I know is a physical memory of assault. He notices I’m dissociating and says he’s going to move back to where he was.
I told you I didn’t want to get involved! I hear the critic screaming at me. I try to calm it down by talking in my head to it, giving it soothing words and apologising to it. J is also talking to me, trying to help me ground myself to the safety of the present.
“Did something get very activated?” he asks.
“Yes, I’m trying to settle something right now. I think a part isn’t very happy right now.”
I nod. “And with me.”
I hear the critic angry that I had tried to bring it into the body when it isn’t feeling like it trusts J. “I don’t feel free to talk about it.”
“I respect that,” he says.
“But I don’t. I want to say what just happened. When you moved it activated the critic and I heard it say I don’t want to be here.”
“We should respect the critic’s wish not to be here today because it’s suffered the bulk of the brunt of abuse,” he says and I hear the critic shout at me I told you so!
“The critic is very happy with your comment,” I say smiling.
“It’s all about consent. Someone protested loudly. Next time we should ask it before I move.”
“Lesson learnt!” I say and we both laugh.
“Yes it’s all about consent. Something it didn’t get in the past.”
I discuss how I feel like the left side of me is very sensitive and hypervigilant and how it relates to the position I was in during abuse though I don’t want to reveal the specifics.
“Yes, someone was on your left side,”he agrees.
“I feel like I haven’t gotten anything done today.”
“I think we’ve learnt something important about the critic and consent.”
“Can I share a bit from that document we we’re going to look at that other thing from the start about what the other parts believe? They believe I never have sex without falling into other parts in order to get through it.”
Here the conversation gets awkward to blog about. I talked about which parts appear in order to do different sexual things with my husband (different activities as you were trigger different parts of me with different memories).
“And whenever we have sex I never feel my age with my body. And the whole time I have to do CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) in my head and repeat over and over in my mind I’m safe, I’m allowed to do this. And there is always some part of me that is reluctant to do it or is trying to resist, usually the critic or the child part. It’s exhausting.”
Psychologist J begins to talk in general about sex. As he talks I keep having moments when another part that has recently emerged keeps popping into my head. Who is this man? Why is he talking about sex with me?
“I’m sorry I can’t follow what you’re saying. I keep dissociating.”
“That’s very protective,” he says. “A lot of survivors, before they have sex they have to start with other things.”
“Like what?” I ask genuinely perplexed.
“Like they have to do that each time before they have sex?”
“No in general to get used to the idea they are allowed to feel good things in their body. Sex is healthy, it feels good, these sensations aren’t supposed to terrifying…”
He keeps talking but I can feel a part of me being getting overwhelmed.
“I have to stop. This is a whole other problem for me.” I elaborate on a specific memory that gets triggered if I try to do anything to myself.
He says, “I’m learning that’s what Fiona holds,” referring to a part Faith had emailed him about. I suddenly feel very uncomfortable about bits of me having different names.
“I don’t like using those name.”
I continue, “I can’t see those two things as part of the same general topic. I can’t connect them at all. It’s so complex. Sex and masturbation trigger different flashbacks for me.”
“It’s ok. There’s a lot in here,” he says gently. “We can definitely come back to it. The main difference is it’s about consent.”
I sense the session has come to the end and I quickly mention I had the MRI the day before.
“Oh yes I was wondering about that!”
“Oh it was fine.”
He laughs at my dismissal of it perhaps surprised it didn’t end up being as terrible as I feared.
“The critic wanted to do it but I’d already decided I was going to do it.”
We both stand up and as goes to his desk to print me a receipt he looks off into the distance as though deep in thought then suddenly smiles and says, “Have you seen the movie the Fifth Element, with Bruce Willis?”
“Oh that one with that model in it? No.”
“There’s a scene in it where she’s sleeping and he goes to kiss her and she pulls out a gun and puts it to his head and says ‘Never without my permission!’” He laughs as he acts it out. “It’s brilliant.”
O, Van Der Hart, E, Nijenhuis, & R, Solomon, Dissociation of the
Personality in Complex Trauma-Related Disorders and EMDR: Theoretical
Considerations 2010, Journal of EMDR Practice and Research, Volume 4,
Number 2, 77