I’ve been trying to cut back on my therapy appointments. I don’t have any good reason for this. I guess I thought that if I didn’t have to go every week, that would be proof that I was doing okay. 

But I haven’t been doing okay. I’ve been struggling a lot with my mental health lately. I’ve been ruminating more. I’ve had excessive anxiety, panic attacks and my OCD has flared up. 

I’ve been directing a lot more energy toward calming my nervous system. I’ve been doing breathwork. I’ve been resting more. I’ve been doing guided relaxation every day. Therapy is just another thing that I seem to need more of right now. Recently I attended four sessions in the span of two weeks. And then I was back to weekly appointments with a self-imposed (and not discussed with my therapist) goal of attending just twice a month, and eventually just monthly. 

But I was not ready for that yet. I thought I was all scheduled for weekly appointments but I checked the calendar — and I didn’t have a session scheduled next for next week. I was really upset. I know I can get by without going, but I really want to go. And I don’t particularly like that I want to go to therapy.

Overthinker that I am, I began contemplating whether I was too dependent on therapy. A particular thought hit me so hard, I had to write it down. I made a note that said:

“The boundaries of therapy allow me to maintain the illusion that I’d be likeable outside of my therapist’s office — without ever having to risk finding out that I’m wrong”. 

Ouch. That was a painful revelation that snuck up on me. Made even worse by the fact that I couldn’t talk about it in therapy. And not just because I didn’t have an appointment. If I did talk about it in therapy, I would have to be prepared to have the illusion shattered. 

I wasn’t ready for the thought itself, let alone for the unpacking of that thought. I just expected that the ‘too dependent’ thing had to do with my mental illnesses; like I should be able to cope better on my own. And then I was hit with this shit about wanting to be liked, and lovely thoughts such as 
“Oh by the way Jamie — have you noticed that your ‘social life’ is going to therapy and you don’t have any actual friends”. 

Having ‘unprofessional’ feelings about your therapist is an actual ‘thing’ — but I still don’t like it

It’s rare for me to really like my therapist. In fact, I’ve struggled to connect with most of my past therapists. But I do like my current therapist — or should I say — I like the person he shows up to work as because the truth is that I don’t know him outside of that context. He’s an exceptional therapist and I know that part of why he is as good as he is at his job is because he is skilled at building rapport and trust; at providing an environment that allows for attunement and co-regulation; and he provides presence and compassion. 

But there’s a part of me that wants desperately to believe that it’s not about the job, but it’s about me. Sometimes I like to believe that we would have a lot to talk about outside of that room; that we would get along well; that we could be friends; that I would be interesting enough to talk to outside of a professional relationship. That I would matter if I wasn’t paying him to be in my life. 

I know this is a ‘thing’ and not unique to me. Here’s a related tweet I came across that proves that I am not alone in this. 

But for more evidence that this is a ‘thing,’ a counsellor that I was seeing had once shared this article with me called “Why It’s Okay to Love Your Therapist” after I had allowed myself to be vulnerable enough to talk about how I felt.

The article starts by saying “Love is always complicated. However, love is rarely as complex as the love felt by a person for their therapist. Although it’s often dismissed, buried, or even shamed, loving your therapist is deeply human.”

I do feel ashamed and embarassed, and I can’t bring myself to equate it with love. Maybe that’s an indication of just how deeply ashamed and embarrassed I am over it. Or maybe it’s a sign of how hard it is for me to let love in. And I’m sure that underneath it all there is some trauma. But regardless of all that, I am still deeply uncomfortable about wanting or needing to feel this way about someone I am paying to see. 

Even though the author, who is a therapist, goes on to say “Many times, it’s a sign that therapy is working”, I still believe that it’s not a good sign. I see it as a sign that I’m defective. And for more proof that I’m defective, I look at this quote from the article:

“Eventually, this safe therapist-client relationship gives us the practice and confidence to seek out healthy relationships outside of therapy, risk emotional intimacy with others, and develop the satisfying and supportive relationships we need for good mental health.”

How is this proof that I’m defective? I’m years into therapy, and I am still stuck without healthy relationships outside of therapy, unless you include my household. And who do I blame for that? Myself.

When I think about what I like about the therapeutic relationship, I judge the shit out of myself. I like it because of what I get out of it. I get to talk about myself. I get to be the centre of attention. I get someone’s full presence. I get to matter. But I only get all of those things because I pay for those things. In the ‘real world’ I am often dismissed, ignored, and talked over. And besides, who the fuck am I to think that I deserve this kind of attention anyway?

Then I wonder if I would matter to my therapist if I stopped coming? Maybe briefly, but I know this kind of stuff happens all the time. He’s not going to make an effort to be my friend or stay in my life. I’m sure there are ethical reasons but even if there weren’t why would he even want to?

Why don’t I have friends anyway? 

I figure that one of the big reasons that I don’t keep friendships is because I hold this belief that have nothing positive to give. I tell myself that I used to have people in my life because I was always doing things for them. I don’t know what value I bring to any relationship where I am not doing things for the other person.

Maybe that’s one of the reasons why I avoid other people. There are opportunities that arise, but I worry that there will be too much expected of me, and that I won’t be able to meet the demands of a friendship. And history tells me that these friendships tend to go one of two ways. Attract or repel.

I attract someone who takes advantage of my sensitivity and people pleasing. If I try to establish boundaries for myself, the friendship does not last — and often ends very badly. Or I repel someone because once they get to know me, I am way too intense for the other person. They back away or I give them an ‘out’ that they take.

Life is demanding enough, so why do I even want more relationships. I have a very close relationship with my husband. Why do I feel like I’m missing something by not having friendships? Is it because I come from a big family? Is it because it’s some marker of being accepted as a person? Is it because I don’t know who I am, and I need someone I feel safe being myself with out in the ‘real world’.

Maybe I don’t feel like I am part of the ‘real world’ because I am so isolated.

When and where does this real world occur?
Scene from the movie Almost Famous that lives in my head rent free

And I actually don’t know when or where this ‘real world’ occurs. I just know that I don’t feel like part of it. Sometimes I don’t want to be part of it. Sometimes I do. Sometimes I’m painfully aware of how different I am. And it feels a million times harder when the world I’m living in is across the world from the one I grew up in. And compounding that is my age. The world we are all living in is so different from the one I grew up in. And I’m not coping with that all too well.

Oh, and there’s this little thing called autism. The DSM-5 diagnostic criteria includes this gem: “Deficits in developing and maintaining relationships” so maybe I’ve been in denial about how impacted my relationships have been due to autism. Perhaps it’s time to accept that if it was part of my diagnosis, it’s something that does actually impact me, and maybe it’s been one of my blind spots. 

Is therapy a middle ground? 

When things get too difficult for me, I have a tendency to hide or run away. This seems safer than taking a step out into the ‘real world’. So if I can’t make it in the ‘real world’, finding safety in a therapist’s office serves as a middle ground. And maybe that’s okay. Maybe I need to spend longer in this middle ground. Maybe I’ve been judging myself on a timeline that is too contracted. After all, I’ve had over forty years of trauma. There’s a lot of undoing that needs to occur. 

But as you might guess, I’m not very practiced at undoing. I want answers and results. I want to know I’m making progress. And it doesn’t seem like I’m making progress if I can’t expand my world outside of my therapist’s office without falling to pieces.

Maybe I don’t want friendships as much as I want to feel like I belong. I mostly feel like I belong within my own home, but that’s just four of us. I suppose I want to belong to a bigger ‘tribe’. But I’m too afraid to attach to other people. I don’t have a lot of trust in others. I’ve been hurt too many times. I am so emotional that when I experience a loss or rejection I find myself in a very black abyss.

Is going to therapy a way of ‘microdosing intimacy’?

So much said in so few words

So I guess that it makes sense to be dependent on my therapist. Maybe as the above tweet posits, for me therapy is a way to ‘microdose intimacy’. Maybe it’s just part of the process of healing. But even within that relationship, I have fears; of abandonment, rejection, loss and grief. And even though I’m afraid of losing my therapist, and what impact that loss would have on my life — somehow I keep turning up. Because I do desperatly need intimacy — even if it’s in this middle ground, microdosed form. 

And maybe someday I’ll turn up in the ‘real world’ despite my fears. Maybe someday I’ll be ready to risk finding out whether I am likeable outside of my therapist’s office.

Better yet, maybe someday I’ll like myself — and other people’s acceptance of me won’t make or break me.

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