The fall out from the last session was bad. At work on the Friday after I was extremely dissociated, lost so deep in the past as the part of the critic now called Faith, fighting off urges to self harm, hiding in the bathroom to cry. I sent Psychologist J several messages of despair. He replies:
Right now you are in touch with so much fury and anger at yet again being reminded of the pain of being done to and then abandoned. The feelings would have you destroy so much because of how you were so unjustly mistreated. You hold all the pain and it feels bottomless. When I made the mistake to leave your intolerable feelings to wonder about Dr M, it felt once again as though no one will ever witness and bare these feelings with you. There is just so much aloneness and pain, and you are in touch now with not just all the pain of what happened during the abuse, but all the lost hopes and dreams that little Jane had to give up on. Like the wish that someone would actually see her and value her, It brings with it so much shame and self disgust, So – its like you are holding two sets of despair and disgust and horror. No wonder it feels impossible to see a way out. I know that at the moment I introduced Dr M that you felt I’d dropped you harshly. I also know at those moments that the past and present are so hard to separate. What a lot of extra work you are having to do. I will be there on Tuesday no matter who shows. I am available for you to call and check in with if you’d like. I am around till 6pm this evening.
All weekend I spiralled further into hopelessness and considered quitting therapy unannounced.
But the time I was driving to my appointment, another part of the critic emerged, a part I know little about because it’s job is to take over the body when no other part can endure any more, wipe their memories, allowing me to wake up and go looking for safety again, or in the case of my childhood, reattach to the parents who failed me. I try to argue with this part, beg it to not block Faith from having access to J. I urge it to at least let him know who it is and what it does. I can’t tell if it is listening to me. What follows is the strangest, switchiest session to date.
One – The Cleaner
I’m a stand-in. I’m not even human. I’m not a thing, I’m a process, a function.
I sit in his room and look at the floor. It matters not if I’m here for a second or a lifetime. I wait and for most of his questions I answer the same way in a flat tone: “It doesn’t matter” because it doesn’t. I’m just here to wait until something passes. Something, anything, nothing. It’s all the same to me. I’m not fussed.
He says he’s read the emails (from Faith who is terrified of the constant trauma re-enactments in life and in therapy) very carefully and he’s prepared and ready to listen. He says he’s printed out a picture of a red panda as I had asked. The more he talks, the more I sense the other parts needing to be relieved of their painful memories.
“Am I with Faith today?” he asks. I shake my head no.
“How are you feeling right now?”
“Have I met you before?” he asks. I pause and then reply, “No.”
“Do you have a name?”
“You seem almost like the embodiment of despair.”
“No. I don’t feel anything.”
“Do you want to be here today?”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“What do the other parts feel about you being here?”
“It doesn’t matter what they feel.”
“Do the other parts want you to be here?”
“What do you want to get done today?”
“Nothing. It’s not my job to want.”
“I imagine you feel like I will disappoint you again.”
“No. It’s not my job to imagine.”
“What is your job?”
“I can’t really tell you. It’s not my job.”
He signs. I see him turn his body away for a bit. I peak a look at him and I feel nothing so I look away again and lose myself in the ugly greys and maroons of the Turkish style rug. He reaches over and picks up some fluff of the rug.
“I get the feeling you really want me to know how much you don’t care.”
“No. It’s not my job to want.”
“You can do whatever you want to me. It won’t matter.”
“What do you imagine I will do to you today?”
“I don’t imagine. It’s not my job. I’m just telling you it doesn’t matter what you do. I won’t feel it.
“Yes that’s right, you’ve told me that.” Looking back I can hear frustration in his voice but at the time I didn’t notice it or care.
“I’ll have to tell you when the session is coming up to a close. Will that be ok?”
“Is the session over?”
“No not yet.”
Somehow we get to talking a bit and I explain my purpose, to be in the body when the other parts can’t handle being trapped in a nightmare existence with two abusive parents.
“I’m just here to be dead but awake. I’m just here to shut the other parts down and delete everything.”
“Yes. To play dead. Were you around when Jane was a child?”
“Yes. When it gets too much for everyone else then I’m there. So he can do anything to her and it wouldn’t matter. She wouldn’t remember. I don’t feel anything so I would be there and then I would delete it.”
Two – Little Jane
Psychologist J has been talking and suddenly I’m here. I feel something happening to my body. I know that if I can turn my body away from J then the flashback will stop but it’s already too late, my lower body is frozen and I’m wincing. He knows I’ve moved into a flashback because he asks me and I nod.
“Are you seeing something?” he asks. I shake my head no.
“Is it emotional?” he asks. I shake my head no. He doesn’t ask me if I’m feeling something and I can’t find the words to say I’m reliving the physical sensations.
He’s asking me what I want to do.
“I can’t move my legs!”
“Can you move your eyes?” he asks.
“Yes,” I say crying “because nothing is happening there!”
“That’s ok. Keep moving your eyes. Can you move your head?” he asks. I nod. “Ok keep moving your head.”
I feel sick. I want it to stop. I want to run away but I can’t.
“You’re holding that pillow so tight,” he says. Out of the corner of my eyes I see the pillow in my arms but I can’t feel anything there at all. All I want is to move away so that flashback will stop.
Then he says the most unexpected thing. “I’m right here with you Faith.”
He’s never called that part of me that out loud and though I’m not Faith, Faith hears him and feels a strange warm feeling that simultaneously makes me feel safer and intensifies the flashback. He calls out to Faith again. It makes me wince.
“Do you want me to sit closer?” I must have shaken my head no vigorously. I think he said something else too like to try looking around the room or trying to ground myself. I don’t remember what I answered but he leans back, perhaps feeling unsure of how to help me and says “well I’ll just leave you with it.”
In that instant he switches from being a memory of my father to being my mother abandoning me. For a moment the flashback intensifies. Then there is just white. No memory of what happened.
I feel myself coming out of the flashback. I recognise J. He’s has moved to the left of me and he’s talking to me but I still feel little and in a dream.
I can’t fight the urge to turn my head to the right. I stare off into the distance where I can see someone there in the shadows of my mind. I want to stretch my arm out but can’t move it. I stare and stare. It occurs to me he probably thinks I am turned away from him in fear rather than finding my head drawn to this corner as though by a magnet. I can’t tear my eyes off the blurry image I see from the past. Eventually he asks what I’m doing.
I watch the memory unfold before me. I answer his questions but my voice is soft and slow. The memory is so mesmerizing.
“I’m looking at something.”
“What are you looking at?”
It’s hard to find the words and then even harder to find my voice. I feel so engrossed in what I see, “Something over there.”
“My desk chair or something in a memory?”
“Something in a memory?”
“Ok. Can you say what it is?” Though I see the chair, in my minds eye I see an image overlaid and I know exactly who I see. I hear my voice in my head saying who it is I see but I find I can’t be direct.
“A person,” I whisper.
“Do you know who it is?” I hear a myself screaming the name of the person in my head.
“Can you tell me who it is?”
I pause. Then whisper, “My mother.”
“You can see your mother. What’s she doing?”
“What do you want her to do?”
I pause again. I’m staring so hard at her, wanting something so much. I can’t feel my body at all but I know what I want. “Help me.”
“What does she do?”
“What’s happening to you?”
“I can’t move.”
“Because someone is here with me.” I start to cry. I feel the sensations happening to my lower body again.
“Yes someone’s on top of you,” he says. I nod.
“You’re doing really well. How does that make you feel?”
“I don’t know. I don’t have the words for it.” I feel a strange mix of confusion, sadness, helplessness, and betrayal. “She’s going to kill us,” I whisper recalling an impending attempt on our life.
“Do you want me to say something to her?” For some reason I can’t explain I answer “No.”
“Can you see anything else?”
“A door.” The doorway she stands in.
“Where does it go?”
“Out of the room.”
“Do you know what room it is?”
In my head I hear my bedroom and yet I answer “No.”
Three – Clara
I’m suddenly awake. There’s a man in front of me talking to me.
“Who are you?” I say with my eyes open wide.
“I’m J,” he says calmly.
“Why am I here?”
He’s talking but most of his words don’t make any sense to me. He says something about me having been telling him something that happened in the past.
“I can’t make it not happen but I can remember with you,” he says.
I have no idea what he means and I feel totally confused.
“I don’t know about that. I need to go back to sleep!”
“You were just having a memory.”
“I don’t know about that!”
I can hear voices talking in my head. “I can hear someone talking to me telling me I’m the part that doesn’t know anything about what happened to us.” I feel cold and scared and confused.
He tells me I’m holding the pillow so tightly and suggests I push it off.
“No. I don’t want to expose my body. I want clothes on.” I start crying.
“That’s a memory. You have clothes on. Look at your arms. See?”
I look down expecting to see the arms of a young toddler and see large adult arms in a grey jumper.
“Those aren’t my arms,” I say even more confused.
“Yes they are,” he says.
I stare at the arms clutching the cushion. My head feels heavy but also like it is spinning. He says something about how I will need to go home soon and that we need to bring the other parts back, parts that can drive. He keeps talking and I feel myself fading away.
Four – Faith
Psychologist J is talking. His words are comforting and validating.
“I’m not really that part anymore,” I say in a rush wanting him to know I’m finally here. I feel a sudden sense of relief to see him and to feel safe with him.
“Can I hold your hand?” I ask. He smiles and says yes. I hold his hand, its feels the wrong size as always but I try to burn into my memory the feeling of being with another human being. I know it will be hard later to believe I’m not still stuck alone with two monsters forever. I let go.
“See what you just did? That was really good. Do you want to try that again?” He asks stretching out his hand again. I hold his hand again briefly.
He apologises for a remark he made some time ago where he told me “You don’t want to look at my ugly mug.” He’s apologising because I told him that it bothered me in multiple ways.
“I think I was just trying to tell you in a flippant way that you’re free to look around the room. I didn’t want to shame you for wanting to look at me.”
“Because you told me the other day that we should look at each other to acknowledge each other.”
He’s saying something about how hard it is to not see everything as just a repeat of the past.
“Oh I worked something out the other day. I worked out a way to tell the difference between you and my father. You never lose your temper.”
“No,” he smiles.
“I mean sometimes my dad would be calm and agreeable and make it seem like we had made up but sometimes he didn’t. But no matter what I say to you, I can’t make you lose your temper. That’s how you’re different. That’s how you’re safe.”
“That’s great! I’m glad you worked that out. A way to tell us apart.”
I suddenly realise I haven’t told him I’m here but I feel too shy to tell him my name.
“You know who I am?”
“Yes I do.”
“Next session, can we talk about the stuff I wanted to talk about the other day?”
“Yes of course.”
I stand up to leave.
Five – Jane
I feel myself thrown into the body. Psychologist J is handing me a receipt. I walk to the car feeling like I have just woken from a dream. I know I have been many parts, none of which feel like me. It feels hard to believe what took place was real. I would panic except my entire body feels lethargic. I wish I could fall into bed, I feel an overwhelming urge to sleep. The front of my head feels so warm and heavy like someone is holding a warm sponge to my forehead. I drive home in a daze.