I learnt a long time ago I could not express myself in the way I wanted to or expect to be treated as an equal on rainy fascist island. I knew that speaking up would make me a target and I wasn’t strong enough to take it. I decided I would write down my version of events anyway, immediately, to remind myself this is how it happened, because things get downplayed, minimised, erased and historically I’ve been easily silenced, and gaslighted, even by people you’d never suspect of such an injustice.
I flagged on social media my first session with a specialist psychotherapist because I felt really uneasy afterwards, like I had been scrutinised and judged. I reasoned perhaps this was what it was supposed to feel like, I was here to learn of the inconvenient truths I’d buried but it irked me that the therapist hadn’t smiled at me once. I learnt about unconditional positive regard over 20 years ago, in a psychology module, as an example of best practice. Therapists must show clients acceptance and support in order to build a rapport and this makes sense, how else are vulnerable people meant to engage with a service if they feel they are being maligned?
I quieted the little voice that told me to run as fast as I could, even though my first therapist told me to always listen to it. I reasoned it was just an assessment, and that it would be followed up by another session to further assess my needs and this process was bound to get messy. I stuck with it, although I had to cancel 4 of the 11 sessions I was booked in for. The therapist would later assert that I had cancelled 6 of the 11, neglecting to mention she had cancelled one herself, and another was rearranged owing to a hospital appointment I absolutely could not miss, to investigate a possible auto-immune condition. There were 3 absences I was accountable for, when I had simply felt too sick to attend. It wasn’t very helpful either that there was no consistency in the times and dates I was offered, for example I might be booked in on a Thursday for 3pm, the following week Tuesday at 10am. This chopping and changing had the effect I suspected it would; on Thursday I booked a dogsitter to watch Frida whilst I went to therapy but it was only when I’d handed her over that my blood suddenly ran cold and I remembered the appointment was for 10.30am. I calmed down after a few minutes when I remembered it was for 10.30am the following Monday. It wasn’t the first time it happened either, it accounted for one of my absences. I had called in to check what time my appointment was only to be advised I had already missed it.
From the first session, I felt unwanted, a burden. She would sigh in exasperation at my expectations (or lack, thereof) and perspectives, and at the end of every session asked what I wanted from the service, as if I had more of an idea of what they provided than she did. I informed her I was not aware of all the services they offered and with this, she would arrange a follow up appointment to continue the assessment. Of the 5 sessions I was in attendance, I told her about everything, my life, my relationships, how I interact with them and the world and she actually said “it sounds like you’re trying to impress me” (!) I responded that I was trying to give her as clear a picture as possible so that she could use her professional experience and do her job to signpost me to the relevant services.. why would I need to impress her? She kept eye contact for too long or not all, making me shift in my seat. Always with the stony face.In every session she would suggest that perhaps this was not the right service for me, and I’d be better suited to group work, or somewhere that was closer to my home. She wanted rid and I had never felt more awkward but I was going to play the game, when specialist psych services are so thin on the ground, you don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. Plus I never want to piss a mental health professional off, they have the power to ruin your life with just one diagnosis.
There is always a power imbalance in a therapeutic setting, it should be a safe space where you are able to let yourself be vulnerable but this is not something I felt comfortable doing here. I felt she was prejudiced towards me for whatever reason and I absolutely did not feel comfortable discussing cultural differences with her. Contrary to what some might suggest, I do not feel like this about all white people, my first therapist, the late Angella Ryan, was white, with French and Irish ancestry but she was also an immigrant, and she was the first person to open my eyes to the inequalities I navigated every day. She saved my life. She was critical of me, but she built me up first. I never felt judged, I always felt she had my best interests at heart, I believe tough love is not completely without its virtues, if it’s coming from someone who genuinely wants the best for you. She knew I was perceptive and didn’t fear me for it, or try and minimise my gut feelings, she actively encouraged me to heed them.
I called in sick for my last session, I felt so heavy I could not open my eyes. I had a sore throat and was experiencing bowel issues, as one might with irritable bowels. A few days later I received a letter informing me I was no longer on their service as I had repeatedly failed to commit to attending and how she was right after all in her assessments that a local service might be more suitable to my needs, and with this came an epiphany; I was relieved. I wouldn’t have to appeal to disinterested and potentially bigoted professionals with coercive power that I was worthy. It dawned on me that my body knew before I let my brain accept what I had already intimated deep within me; that I was not thought of as an equal or someone worthy of acceptance by this person who had behaved in a way that is familiar, on a cellular level. My body reacts to microaggressions even when I am trying to fool my brain into complying with an illegitimate authority. Interestingly I touched on authority with the therapist, because she suggested I was a ‘rebel’ for standing up to historical abusers, instead of a ‘survivor’. Rebel to me suggests I have no respect for authority, and am a contrarian for the sake of it when in actual fact, legitimate authority is all I really crave. I have no parental figure in my life I can turn to when I feel weak, which is why illegitimate authority rubs me up the wrong way.
It was in her rejection that the most valuable insight was revealed; my body cannot abide bigots of any kind. I had a sick record to be ashamed of before I had my breakdown. I wasn’t making it up, I had operations on my ovaries, and a couple on my back. I have irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia, hypermobility, CPTSD, anxiety, depression.. except there are sometimes days when I feel like I am in peak fitness. Those days usually involve a lot of laughter and love, I feel safe and protected and the world is just a blip on the horizon.
I’m kind of sick of feeling like my illnesses are of my own creation and that I could feel better if I just did xyz.. I eat incredibly well, almost nothing processed. I take vitamins and supplements, I do cardio and weight training, I take my dog for walks, I sleep 7-9 hours a day and I try to laugh every day. I try to remember to tell someone I love them and am there for them, and I let love into my life. My sicknesses are not for lack of trying on my part, they are a natural reaction to the racism and ill treatment of minorities in Britain, along with all the misogyny and sex abuse.
In this respect my specialist psychotherapist inadvertently helped me realise why my abiding patterns are so hard to let go of – they were never in my control.
Or at least, they could be, if I leave and never look back.