|"‘So about this column I write,’ I say to my therapist. ‘This column I write about you, about us. Have you read it?’" |
|"I met a therapy-sceptic the other day. They wanted to know what benefits therapy has given me, whether it has changed me, how it has translated into my everyday life" |
|"Breaks are a funny thing in therapy. When my therapist takes time off for a holiday, initially it feels fine, a relief even. I wave him merrily on his way, barely giving him a thought until the date of our reunion session begins to loom large in my diary" |
|"Sometimes I can’t believe I’ve spent three years in the company of my therapist yet I know nothing about him. He is a man who sits opposite me in a chair, week in week out, and I have no idea who he is outside of this context"|
In the client’s chair – Boiling point
It has taken me three years to get angry in therapy and when it happened my ability to communicate went away. It was like a revolving door: the feeling arrived and the words left the building.
The funny thing is, it came out of nowhere. It had no discernible trigger. It became a sensation that I noticed I was carrying around, that began to simmer and sometimes spill over. It has spilled over into therapy, after three years.
‘We were both a bit cross at the end of the last session,’ my therapist observes at the beginning of this next session.
‘Weren’t we,’ I retort. (I don’t know it yet but, for the next 50 minutes, this is as good as it is going to get.)
Time passes and there we sit, simmering away. About what? If I knew it would help. Explanations always help. Or rather, they used to.
He asks me to describe ‘feeling low’ (which is my explanation-in-progress). I offer some long, empty rhetoric. I don’t feel involved in what I am saying. I feel detached. The only word with feeling in it is ‘withdrawal’.
He sighs. ‘I feel a bit like a useless parent,’ he says. His energy is rising, or so it seems. It is rising as I am falling back into silence, into myself. He wants to know when I am going to stop setting myself up to have my low expectations of life confirmed. He wants me to know that it is a punitive withdrawal, this withdrawal of mine: one that people feel, one that he feels.
I consider talking about something else: a recent family reunion I attended, for instance, where four generations of love and dysfunction congregated for the first time in 15 years. I think about this; it is an inviting distraction. But the words won’t come and my simmering remains, resistant and inarticulate.
‘This is a bit of a familiar bind with you,’ he says, his energy rising higher still. ‘Because you tend to say, “I’m OK on my own, I’ll sort it, you can’t help me” when you are clearly not OK. It’s frustrating. I feel like I am doing all the work.’
I am not doing any work? When I hear this the simmering rises to boiling point. There I am, silent, boiling and lost in this language-less landscape. And then, suddenly, the words spill over. ‘It was work for me to even get the energy to come here,’ I say, furious. ‘It is work for me to sit here in this, and not even have words for it. To not know where it comes from and where it is going. So don’t tell me I’m not doing any fucking work.’
‘Now you are doing the “fucking work”,’ he replies.
Tears come, followed swiftly by paranoia. What has my anger done? What has it destroyed? I feel exposed, that I am being found out, that something awful is going to happen and it is completely out of my control.
I remember (in my head) the recent family reunion again. I remember seeing the impotent rage in my uncle and in my mother when they were loosened by wine and memories of their own childhood. How angry they seemed when confronted by their own mother’s age and inculpability. Nothing was explicitly spoken, of course, but it was there, simmering away. Then there was my cousin, whose obstinate self-sufficiency had taken her to the edge of life itself, to an overdose two years ago. We ducked out of the party to have a cigarette outside. ‘Why didn’t you ask for help?’ I had asked her, already knowing the answer: that her stoic shrug was the answer, that our inherited, language-less landscape was the answer.
Back in the therapy session we are recovering a little. I don’t feel anything vaguely resembling comfort but I feel a shift somewhere inside. Whatever it is, I am still obstinate with it, inarticulate with it in this moment. My therapist is talking about what is happening. I’m glad he is talking. I feel like I have talked for three years and now the words have stopped, or at least the words I knew.
‘I am challenging you to do something different,’ he is saying. ‘To not withdraw. Disagree with me by all means, tell me to fuck off to my face if you need to, just stay in contact.’
It’s a big ask. I sit there simmering in a quandary of non-worded questions. How can I stay in ‘contact’ with something so inarticulate? How do I communicate the inside story of me with an anger that doesn’t even have a language? How can I speak without a word map? All this without the soothing distraction of an outside narrative for comfort?
Now it is my turn to sigh.
‘I hear you,’ he replies.
Details have been changed to protect identities.