My Therapist, The Gaslighter: Part One
I was utterly vulnerable when I sought out therapy. I had no idea my fragility would be used against me
I needed something.
My father had died six months earlier and after weeks of being immobile, leaden and bed-bound in the immediate aftermath of his death, one day I started to feel less desperate. Not better, exactly; just further away from the edge.
I started to pick up the habits of my regular life, one by one. I could sit at my desk again, I could open a book. I resumed my daily walks, and marvelled at how nature threw its colours on the ground so casually, so generously; how the crunch of autumn leaves under my feet felt so normal, but so completely new.
And yet underneath that resumption of routine, something simmered, treacly and thick. I would pick fights with my partner — my affable, peaceable partner — over nothing. He wouldn’t take the bait, and that made me scrappier. I would snap for no reason, answer his questions quickly. We’d never experienced that kind of tension before; we’d never even really disagreed about anything. And here I was, storming out of rooms, hiding myself away behind all kinds of doors.
One morning, we were making the bed together and I flew off the handle for no reason. And then something happened, and this is when I wish that atheism had a language for the inexplicable, the liminal space between what we can perceive and what’s just out of frame.
A split-second before, I did not have a name for the festering darkness that had turned my insides to granite; a split-second later, everything inside me lit up, like a sudden stripe of light on a statue. It became so clear: I was livid. My father had died and left me. I wasn’t there when it happened. I hadn’t seen him in a month. Not only that; fourteen years earlier I had moved three-hundred miles away from him and the rest of my family. That had felt like a great distance, by land, and by heart. But it was nothing compared to now. Now the distance was impassable; unimaginably vast.
I sank down on the half-made bed and howled like an animal howls. The cries barrelled around my chest and up my throat and came out broken and heavy. I held my torso tightly, as though, if I let go, my insides would fly off in severed lots and leave me truly empty.
‘I’m so angry,’ I said to my partner, my voice raw and cracked. ‘I’m so, so angry.’ I suddenly felt exhausted and frail. He sat down next to me and wrapped his arms fully around me, like he’d done a million times before in those six months since it had happened. I could feel the tiny shudders of his body as he wept silently, his movements in double-time against my own.
I knew it was time to speak with someone professional. I’d had counselling a couple of times already, years earlier, but I knew, in that moment, that what I needed was not something just to get me through: I needed someone to open me up, help me lay it all out on a table and pick through it all. I felt like I’d lived for a thousand years, and had only ever moved forward, dragging a cloak of stone behind me. It felt like time to finally turn my head and look back; to really appraise the trail I’d left. I wanted to feel the weight of my past in my hands — to turn it over, gently and with care, to examine it with kindness until it turned into feathers and flew away.
I found a psychotherapist online who worked nearby. I emailed her immediately and told her how I felt. She booked me in straight away and a couple of days later, I stood outside of her office, a few minutes before my appointment was due to start. I was nervous. I didn’t know whether I should knock straight away, or wait. I wondered what turning up early would say about me, what my appearance would say about me (though I would find this out, much later).
Then, right on the turn of the hour, she opened the door and welcomed me in.