Life of the mindby Anna Blundy / February 18, 2016 / Leave a comment
Published in March 2016 issue of Prospect Magazine
While she talks my mind is fizzing. I’m anxious, wanting her to say it once and for all, not wanting her to say it at all. Every week she reels off more of the list of potential adult sequelae of childhood sexual abuse (lack of early memory, self-harm, bulimia, drug and alcohol stuff, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder-like symptoms, and so on endlessly). Partly, I want her to cut to the chase. Partly, I hope I’m on the wrong chase.
Yesterday, she recounted a terrible dream in which she was a child being (remembering being?) attacked in bed. “It was so vivid I woke up not knowing if it was real or not,” she said. And all the time I hear my supervisor’s voice in my head: “We don’t know.” Allowing myself to listen and bear the not knowing, is something I am not good at. I am trying.
She’s always hiding her face, disappearing into her baggy clothes, averting her eyes and never referring to any previous sessions, as though we meet for the first time every week. I say stuff like: “It seems to feel hard to be looked at and thought about.” And then, in the ensuing silence, I feel like an idiot.
Not all psychotherapists follow the “not knowing” guidelines. Everybody wants an easy answer to their problems and many are seduced into providing it. I went to my first therapist back at university when I became overwhelmed with an inexplicable terror as soon as dusk set in (about 2.30pm on a bleak winter afternoon). She announced that I had “existential angst and chronic separation anxiety.” A thing! A name! Almost sounds curable. While I might write that in session notes, my psychoanalytic (Freud/Klein) training wouldn’t brook saying it to the patient.