This isn’t going to be good. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
To summarize: I went into therapy today feeling misunderstood, and I left feeling the same way.
J started out as always, “What do you want to talk about today?” I wasn’t aware that we were done with last week’s topic, but that is his usual MO, so I am used to it. I came up with a list:
writing class was harder than I thought it would be
I quit my volunteer jobs
I went to a reunion dinner with the Mississippi people
I ran in a race (I said, “But I obviously am not going to talk about that with you!”)
He said, “Let’s start with the first one.” So we talked about the writing class and I told him it was more difficult than I thought it would be to read my story, it was about my foster child. But it was the last class, so I don’t have to worry about that anymore.
He asked if I am relieved about quitting my volunteer jobs, if I did it as good self care. I said I am relieved in a way, but it has nothing to do with self care. Kind of the opposite, actually.
He asked why I quit my job as advocate for the foster child and I told him that I didn’t have a good reason, that everything I came up with sounded selfish. But I explained the story and he said it makes sense that this is a good time to leave. That I shouldn’t feel guilty for leaving, or feel like a failure, despite the commitment that I made to myself four and a half years ago to stay with the child until he aged out. That would have been a 10 year commitment, and the organization only requires a one year commitment. He agrees with my supervisor that it is good for my child to learn that endings can be good. He also feels that my lie (that I am going to advocate for another child) was a white lie, and despite the fact that I don’t intend to take on another case, it is still a good lesson for my child to know that there are other needy kids out there and not enough advocates. He said I should finish my story about the foster child (I only wrote about his life up until age 12, since there was a word/time limit on our stories for the class) because that might give me closure. I said I would do that. I have to do it before I officially finish, because at that time I’ll have to turn in all of my notes and paperwork.
Then we talked about quitting the hotline. I told him that was a more impulsive decision. I didn’t want to do it anymore because I was feeling bad about myself. That I quit the day after he and I had the conversation about his race. He asked me what my supervisor said when I quit, and I lied. I told him that she just asked me why I was leaving, and could I give her a week or two to find someone to fill the spot. That’s not exactly what she said. She praised me and my work on the hotline, but I didn’t want him to know that. I didn’t want to give him evidence that I might be good at the job. There was a lot of confusion in this conversation. I said I didn’t want to deal with people anymore, that I didn’t feel I was good at the job, and that I’m sure they could find someone better. He said it’s ok to not want to deal with people, some people just don’t want to, or feel better alone. Some people need to work in a cubicle all day by themselves without interacting with others. I had no idea what he was talking about, in regard to me. I said, “So it’s ok that I quit because I didn’t want to deal with people?” He said, “What’s negative about not wanting to deal with people?” I said, with a tone in my voice, “Well, I won’t have anyone to talk to, I won’t have anyone to do anything with, I won’t have anyone to support me, and I won’t have anyone to have a connection with. And that’s OK?”
Part of our miscommunication is that he thought I was alone on the hotline, just talking to callers, and he thought I didn’t want to deal with the callers anymore. I told him I wasn’t talking about the callers, I was talking about my co-workers. That I have had partners on the hotline, and I got somewhat close to them. But this is what I do, I get close to people and then I pull away. Sure I’ll miss the callers somewhat too.
He said that he feels that I was punishing myself after our conversation about his race. I left his office, I felt bad about myself, and I quit to punish myself because I didn’t feel good enough.
He said, “Can I ask you about your race?” I said, “No, not if you are going to tell me that ran a marathon this weekend in a hour and a half.” He asked if his remarks two weeks ago about his race affected my race, and I said that I was really hesitant to do the race, but I wanted the shirt. (I won’t wear the shirt unless I do the race, that’s bad etiquette.) He asked why I wanted the shirt and I said because it’s a nice shirt. He asked if I had seen the shirt before the race weekend and I said I hadn’t, but I had seen previous year’s shirts and I knew they were nice. He asked what was important about having the shirt and I said it meant that I did the race. I said, “You better quit here before you ruin this for me.” He said he wanted to say one more thing, and I said, “Don’t you ruin this for me.”
He told me that last month when he ran his race he saw one of the high schoolers after the race wearing the race shirt. He had cut off the sleeves and written his time on the front, and it was 18 minutes. J thought, “Oh man, 18 minutes.” But then he thought to himself, “Well, that’s ok, some people run faster than others.” I was started to get extremely frustrated right about now. I looked right at him (I had been avoided his eyes all along) and I said, with emphasis, “He is not your therapist!” J said, “Why does that matter?” I said, “Because he did not set you up by asking about your racing and you didn’t tell him about a bad race you had and how slow you are prior to him telling you that he ran the 5K in 18 minutes. There were 17,000 people who ran faster than me in the race on Sunday and I don’t care about any of them. None of them are my therapist!” I think he was biting his tongue right then, about to say that he didn’t set me up, etc. But he didn’t say anything. He just doesn’t get it though.
Again he said, “Why does it matter?” I said, “I don’t know why it matters. And now I feel bad about myself because I am letting it matter. I guess it shouldn’t matter.”
Then he asked if there was competition with the hotline. I said, “No, of course not, why would there be competition?” He said, “Because I do therapy, and you were doing a form of therapy with the callers, so maybe there was competition?” I had no idea he was talking about me being in competition with him, I thought he meant competition with the other hotline volunteers. I thought that was an interesting idea, once I figured out what he was talking about. I said it may be true. He said, “Why does there have to be competition?” I said, “There never was competition, until you started the competition!”
Then he gave me a whole lecture about the therapeutic relationship and the power struggle. And lions wrestling over power, and how they don’t mean to destroy each other, they just need to see who has superiority, and the others accept that and just move on with their lives, but then there may be more battles for power in the future. And if one dies in the battle for power it is usually an accident. And how the therapist shares very little of his life, feelings, thoughts compared to the patient, and that could make the patient feel vulnerable, but the patient also has power because they decide the direction of the sessions and what is to be talked about. Blah blah blah. Is he saying if I die it will be an accident?
At the end he said he wanted to read my story about my foster child and he thinks I should finish it. I’m hesitant to let him read any more of my writing because of his lack of emotional response to any of it. It’s like reading a psychological journal I guess. The New England Journal of Medicine maybe.
Yesterday my son had asked me if we could out to lunch after my “meeting” (my euphamism for therapy, used with people who don’t know about my therapy, which is everyone). So I picked him up and we went out to lunch and I had a glass of wine. Then I dropped him off, picked up my boss’s girlfriend’s birthday present and went to a bar to continue drinking. I had to be at the hotline at 4PM, so I went to Panera to have some coffee. Then I went to pick up my boss’s girlfriend’s birthday card and I came to the hotline. My hotline partner isn’t here, which is too bad, I’ve enjoyed working with her. She is going through a divorce, so I’ve learned a lot from her experiences that she has shared with me. I doubt we’ll stay in touch though. I don’t do that.
I’ve already decided what I am going to say next week when J asks me what I want to talk about today. “I want to talk about why I feel it is so hard for you to understand me.”
Yes, some people run faster than others. Why does it matter that it was my therapist telling me how much faster he runs than me? Why can’t I articulate it? I suck at communication, and he sucks at reading between the lines. So that leaves us in a mire of misunderstanding.