I suffer from PTSD with a dose of comorbid anxiety and depression thrown in. If you’re following this blog, you know this. Now, lately, I’m suffering somewhat more than average and sleep less than is healthy, so, like a grown-up, I’ve decided that it would be best to get help.
Turns out that my former therapist is retiring. Also turns out that even though I have always appreciated the hell out of him, I have not appreciated him enough.
Yesterday, I went to a second session with a new potential therapist. In hindsight, I should have already been suspicious after our first meeting but I was lucky with my first therapist, so my defenses weren’t up.
After our first meeting, the therapist had said that she thought we would be a good fit and that she’d have a regular place for me in a month or two. She also said that she wants to be very focused in a therapy, and thus, as homework, she wants me to think about what I want out of our time together and describe it more precisely than I had.
Now I had described it as: “Traumatic events happened more than once in my childhood and in my last therapy we only managed to get to part of the trauma, so I’d like to get to the rest of it. I’m reasonably sure that will make my symptoms get less.”
Please note that this therapist has trauma therapy and EMDR as one of her specialties and she was recommended to me by a trauma recovery center.
I didn’t think my description was all that unclear but thought that maybe she wanted more measurable results. Something more tangible. Something less complex.
Yes, warning flags should have gone up when I felt like I needed to dumb it down for my therapist.
But I did it anyway, so I said: “I want the anxiety to be manageable again. I want to enjoy things that are not routine instead of being plagued by irrational fear.” And because she had told me to give her two concrete goals, I added: “Also, I want to be able to sleep 8 hours per night again.”
She looked at me for a long moment.
Then she said: “You don’t look like an anxiety patient. And 8 hours of sleep per night really isn’t an attainable goal anyway.”
Talk about a punch to the gut.
She went on to bullshit-explain to me why everything I wanted was wrong while I sat there stunned, fighting back my tears. It was the moment where it sank in that I had come here under the illusion that she was going to take me on as a client while she already knew that she was going to boot me.
She gave me the reason she had prepared before I ever showed up that day a few minutes later: She’d noticed when reflecting on our last meeting that she hadn’t felt “an instant connection”, and connections happen instantaneous to her or they don’t happen at all.
I didn’t answer with anything more coherent than “that’s not how it works for me”.
I was still stunned. I was still close to crying. I felt rejected and small and unable to grasp what I had done wrong.
Fortunately, my brain has learned a few tricks in my last therapy. It recognized bully in the room, tearing me down where she was supposed to lift me up. My survival instinct and with it my flight response kicked in, and I got up and ended this as fast as I could.
I stumbled outside. I called my husband. Talking about it, my mind settled and I went from being close to tears to being angry. I figured out that I was unable to grasp what I’d done wrong, because I hadn’t done anything wrong.
This woman calls herself a trauma specialist but I doubt severely that she actually takes on many trauma cases or that she fares well if she does. She doesn’t have the first idea about it.
People like me, who have been abused over many years in their childhood, don’t do “instant connections” with people. You have to earn our trust. Even if you’re a therapist.
And the casual disregard of “you don’t look like an anxiety patient” proves why we don’t open our hearts for someone to stomp on before we’re sure that that won’t happen. That we’re going to be taken seriously.
It is my right to protect myself from you.
And I guess that is what I learned from this experience.
That from now, I will go into first sessions and say:
“I am a survivor. I will not trust you easily. There will be silences while I’m thinking and I will look mostly past your shoulder instead of at you. My words will be measured and portray little emotion until I trust you with my heart. If you can’t cope with that, this is not going to work.
I am tall and I am loud. I may be an introvert but I am not shy. If you think that means I do not suffer from PTSD and anxiety, then this will not work out.
And last but not least, I am polite and friendly but I will not let you tear me down.”
PS: BTW, Twitter almost unanimously agrees with me on how people with anxiety look like:
One voter for the “tremble” option explained: “We constantly tremble with rage because people are so f*cking stupid.” Aye.