Yet another Shrink’s Line of the Day

Yesterday I decide that I feel bad about quitting the shrink all abruptly and in a rage. That I didn’t want to end like that, if just out of politeness. I really wanted to call and leave a message apologizing, and wishing him a happy holiday. I said that I was going to be the bigger man here, be the one to let my ego come down off the high horse first. Because, true, he shouldn’t have gotten sucked into the whole yelling and power struggle, but I participated too. I felt bad. I decided that, for the sake of my own dignity, that no matter what he said or did, that I wasn’t going to get into another knock-down-drag-out. I was going to be mature and in control, like my first therapist taught me.

Unfortunately, he answered the phone, despite my best attempts at timing to get voicemail.

“Hi, this is Sara. I just wanted to say that I’m sorry for losing my temper, and I didn’t want to end on that note. So…I’m sorry for anything I said or did that was inappropriate – ”

At this point he cut me off and said ominously, “Well, I’m sorry too that you’ve chosen to be like this and end things this way.”

My blood pressure immediately rose and all of a sudden I was almost ready for a fight again. I mean, even if I and my personality flaws are 90% at fault, there was at least some unprofessionalism on his part.

I took a deep, deep breath, and said, “Let’s not go into this again. I really just wanted to apologize for yelling, and wish you a happy holiday.”

He could hardly control his anger and snapped back at me, “Happy Holiday!” and hung up.

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I promise, soon to get to the post on recurrent/long-standing mental illness and what the Buddha has to teach us. You know, something that might be of use to someone.

But since this is my journal, I can use it to think in writing. This incident raised so many questions for me.

Am I so crazy that I am imagining the anger/stubbornness/power struggles coming from him? Is that projection or some other psychological bullshit I am doing because I’m really as fucked up as he says?

Is there a legitimate therapeutic reason ever for being obscure or concealing the therapeutic mechanism? Is it ever right to say to a patient: I don’t think we can discuss your condition, how we are going to go about treating it? Is it ever ok to refuse to discuss the kind of therapy you do? Is it ok to say, “You just have to trust me” – and not at a given moment, but as a guiding policy? Especially when the patient is going through considerable distress as a result of the treatment? I mean, if I give a patient steroids for a serious disease, and they complain of side effects, I feel obligated to explain why I think that the benefit of the drug outweighs the side effects, what it is doing to them. Is psychiatry really so different?

Is it ever ok to refuse a patient their record, especially while refusing to give a reason? (Thanks to Jay for some perspective on this one.)

Is honesty on the part of the therapist always an important part of therapy? I mean, to me, it seems like that’s exactly what I’m paying for – someone else’s honest and trained opinion. But maybe I am understanding wrong – maybe I am supposed to just let him do whatever it is he is doing?

Is there a rule that therapists should never apologize? I mean, this whole thing would have been avoided (in retrospect), if he could have just said something like, “I’m sorry you feel hurt.” I wouldn’t even expect an apology for the content of what he said or anything – just some sort of acknowledgment that I was upset. Is there a rule in therapy that it undermines authority/transference/focus on the patient to apologize? I mean, my natural instinct in a similar situation with a patient – no matter how nuts they are – is always to say something like, “I’m sorry you’re so upset.” And when I’ve lost my temper or gotten annoyed with a patient, I always apologize – but maybe out of my own sense of guilt and remorse rather than concern for them?

The reaction I got was, “Why are you upset? There’s no reason for this to be upsetting to you. Why should this (being called both narcissistic and borderline in two sentences, one after the other) be a cause for concern?” This seemed so invalidating after I had said it was worrying to me to think that that might be the problem and asked what the treatment would be, what to do about it. I think I would have been ok if he had said something like, “Yeah, it’s hard to hear.” But a total failure to understand why I was upset – and then to tell me to “not be upset” was incredibly invalidating. It’s ok to tell a patient, I think, that their feelings are colored by their past experience or knowledge, that maybe they are taking offense or being hurt excessively – that, after all, might be part of what brings them to therapy. But to flat-out say that someone has “no right/reason to be upset” seems sort of anti-therapeutic to me – I mean, isn’t part of the idea of therapy recognizing and acknowledging feelings (even if one wishes to change them)?

Is any problem always the patient’s pathology?

And most importantly: Why do I keep seeking validation and understanding in a place where I so obviously am not going to get it? Why am I seemingly endlessly attracted to going back to someone who repeatedly hurts me, hoping for a different outcome the next time? What buttons is he pushing in me, or what screwed up need do I have that I keep running right back in for another round?

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I’d like anyone, but especially therapists working in various schools, to respond to any question that catches your eye.

Anyway, if anything, that phone conversation should have cemented my position. From time to time, the situation catches me and I feel kind of bad. Not abandoned or whatever – I mean, I know if I’d just give in and stroke his ego a little, I’d be welcomed back and “forgiven.” It’s not like he’s kicking me out. I am, as he said, “choosing to end this way.” I think the choice is being made rationally, for sound reasons. I mean, I have to trust my own intuition and logic – it’s the only source I have. The real question is why I’ve been ignoring the signs for so long.

But still, I think it’s ok to feel a little sad. After all, even if he never did offer me much in the way of comfort, even if I’ve gone downhill under his care and felt worse for it…it still is, as Tony White would put it, an attachment, even if not the healthiest one in the world. I did like the guy as a person, if not as a therapist. And we’ve known each other a long time. And he did try to help me. Maybe I’m just unhelpable or unreasonable. So I think it’s ok to feel kind of bad, knowing that in the long run I’ll be better off. And I think I really do need to examine why, after so long and so much of my gut and brain telling me otherwise, I kept being pulled back.

Is a big part of it hope and regression? That he promised that, as deeply flawed as I am, that there was hope of a “cure” if I’d just keep coming and talking to him? (A lot of my frustration that brought up the conflict was that this therapy seemed to be going nowhere – that it was just like chitchat…with no change in anything.)

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About the comment on the last post about the colors and design of the blog being dark and depressing, well, true. But I rarely see them anyway – I just see the compose window and get the comments by email. I almost never look at the finished blog, so I forget the dark colors and photograph. I feel sort of like I do want to leave it, just because this is the place I can let the darkness out, my place to be the goth teenager I secretly always wanted to be. My other blog, the one about my real life and not my mental patient life looks nothing like this at all. Though it is a good point. I do take a lot of these kind of suggestions in real life – exposing myself to sun, to sunny people, exercising, keeping the Dali posters off my walls in favor of something warmer – definitely a good point.

Enough

I finally wrote what I thought was a reasonable letter to the shrink, since he never seemed to hear what I said…about how I can’t live in the dark about what is wrong with me or how to fix it, that I was deeply hurt and concerned about the borderline thing, etc. I hoped that we could work something out.

But today, we met. True, I knew I was in a bad mood going in. But on the other hand, he claimed I had nothing to be upset about, accused me of splitting between him and the GP (I knew from the minute they started “coordinating care” that sooner or later I would be accused of this and tried to be so careful not to say anything negative about either of them), said he couldn’t understand why I would be upset, that he was so sure I’m just trying to push away. It felt like always – I say and mean one thing, and he sees it through his filter. Refused to tell me why he thought I was borderline (and then later, when I was angry, said, “See – that’s classic borderline. You’re upset, so you’re trying to make me upset.”), what he thought my problems were, or how we planned to work on them together. (“Part of your problem is needing to just trust me.”) In short, it was the classic psychoanalytic bullshit – the shrink is always right and the patient is always crazy.

To top it off, I requested my medical records and was refused.

The whole scene was incredibly upsetting – to be so totally invalidated. But I had spelled out that I just am not interested in paternalistic care, where my problems and how they will be treated are hidden from me. That if this is the care he gives, I’m not interested…not interested in his diagnosis and not interested in buying a treatment that can’t even be explained to me. That I need collaboration, I want to change, but need the direction on how.

No good. “I can’t understand why you are so upset.”

I left, finally. It was sad, and it was scary. I’m now without a safety net and badly medicated, though I did meet a hippie clinical psychologist I sort of liked (woman).

I drove home and cried a little, felt like throwing up. It was so humiliating, invalidating. But – I also drew my lines in the sand. I can’t say I was totally calm; in fact, I was angry. But I spent months examining myself closely to see if what he said could be true, if there was justification in my anger. I decided there was, and that I needed some acknowledgment of that. I really didn’t expect not to get it at all. But I didn’t.

And that’s just not ok with me. No matter how sick I am, how bad I feel, how much I need help…I don’t need it that bad, bad enough to believe that I am so crazy that I am totally out of touch with reality.

So, through my tears on the way home, I reminded myself that I can save myself, that maybe only I can save myself, that I’ve done it before, and that I can do it again. That I’m somehow going to be ok. That I am a decent person, despite how broken I may or may not be.

I might go re-read The Color Purple. I think that is the message that I need to hear – remember Celie? Raped as a child, beaten, cast-away, unloved by anyone, half-literate…she knew somehow that she was a human being of intrinsic worth, one of God’s creations, one of the things that is included in the phrase “God love everything you love–and a mess of stuff you don’t.” That even if she was poor and ugly and a woman…the universe had created her with love. That God loved her, even if nothing and no one else did. That she existed, just as lovely as a wildflower.

I may suck at being happy. At being patient. At controlling my temper. I even may suck at loving the people I love. But I can do some things – I can comfort people and I, on a good day, can write words that mean something, that capture something real that happens to people. I can forgive. On a good day, I can be grateful, and on a great day I can pray, or at least I used to be able to. I can be part of the universe sometimes, and of the human race when I am not sick. I can overcome my fears. I can see the color purple. I can survive the dark night. I am a living, breathing part of the universe, and sometimes, that is enough.

I just need to remember that, to remind myself that during the moments when it seems like everyone is trying to tell me to the contrary.

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Note to self for next post – remember to post the thoughts about chronic depression, the idea of depression as an addiction, why some people can’t seem to give it up, and the Buddha.