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Having actively been in therapy for the past six years, I’ve been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, Bipolar II (and one time, Type I), Depression, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, PTSD, Social Anxiety/Social Phobia, Alcohol Dependency, Sex Addiction, EDNOS, and Bulimia.
I’ve sat silently more than a few times in front of therapists and psychiatrists who frantically leafed through their DSM manuals stumped. To say that I am a challenging case for mental health professionals would be an understatement and I take responsibility for being aggressively stubborn about approaches to recovery.
Many therapists will specialize in substance abuse, for example, but are untrained in eating disorders, therefore compromising my treatment when making uninformed comments about diets and weight. My goal has ultimately not been to find a professional who is trained in every one of my many inherent mental health challenges, but rather to find one that doesn’t fire me.
During my first run-through to get sober, I chose a therapist from Psychology Today that boasted specialties in addictions and mental health. He also happened to be extremely good-looking. He looked to be in his mid-thirties and his bio preached the wonders of meditation and life in recovery.
After our first appointment, I was skeptical. He was incredibly hyperactive, jumping up sporadically to draw flow charts on a white board and page through manuals to let off the impression that he knew exactly what was up with me. I decided to go back to him more so out of curiosity rather than because I genuinely felt that he could help. We became uncomfortably close, texting each other when we weren’t in session and talking on the phone on a weekly basis outside of meetings. I even drunkenly professed my love of him on one occasion.
He told me many times that I was his most challenging patient and I felt that he got a fix out of trying to “cure” me. One session, I was dressed in yoga clothes, ready to head to a class immediately following our appointment. He was quiet for most of the hour, which was very unlike his typical active, engaged presence. We were close enough that I felt comfortable asking him why he seemed so withdrawn.
“Are you just tired today?” I suggested.
He replied, “To be honest, I’m distracted by your femininity. I don’t know if it’s because you’re wearing less clothing than usual, but I’m seeing your body in a different way.”
He went on to say that usually, therapists recognize their clients in a father/son capacity, but at that time, he was conscious of my sexuality and it made him uncomfortable. The sexually addictive part of my brain switched on and from then on, I recognized him as a potential sexual partner, rather than a mental health caretaker. I internalized our conversation as meaning that even in a medical setting, I was still going to be recognized and defined by the fact that I had a female body and my worth as a human was tied to the holes I was born with.
Although the intellectual part of my brain recognized his thoughts were a one-time slip-up, the sick part of my brain now desired a different type of attention from him. He apologized later on and said he ethically could no longer work with me, but he continued to regardless, most likely out of guilt that spewed out of re-traumatizing me. At one point, we came to the conclusion that in two years, it was morally acceptable to sleep together. I moved away and have not seen him since.
About a year later, dealing with a recent relapse, I sat in a small back room with a middle-aged gay man, confident that this time around, I would establish a secure relationship of trust and respect, because his sexuality was not tied to mine. Our first session not only made me laugh, but also made me feel safe, something that was usually a problem when older men were within close vicinity.
When I came to the second session, I was blatantly in a bad mood. I told him I was convinced therapy would never help me and the only reason he was sitting there was because he had to fulfill his job duties for the day, not because he cared at all about my well-being. He told me I was a manipulative, self-absorbed, attention-seeking bitch and that I pretended to want to get better, but would never get there, because I was stuck in my identity as a victim and desired the attention that label brought me.
The dialogue left a bad taste in my mouth, but I immensely respected the brutal honesty he laid upon me and thought a lot of the things he said had merit, so I scheduled a follow-up appointment. I walked into our third appointment and immediately apologized for belittling his reasons for being in the mental health field. He told me he had acted inappropriately towards me, internalizing the things I told him rather than projecting professionalism, but he said he could no longer work with me.
The scope and complexity of my issues were too large for him. He then proceeded to say he had a dinner reservation he needed to get to and that I needed to leave. The appointment had been less than five minutes, but I still had to pay him for his time. I was left with no referral or sense of direction about where I should go from there. My relationship with him had solidified my mindset that I was “unhelpable” and would never be able to seek long-term recovery. I went outside and chain-smoked as I watched him drive away.
I have since found a new therapist who is not only aggressively non-judgmental, but honest with me in a stern, compassionate way and does not use the DSM to determine who I am. My diagnoses are relevant, but not representative of my true nature. I get the impression she has worked with clients who have larger ranges of trauma than I have, so she is not put off by my inability to handle any type of social interaction. I have high hopes for building our relationship, even though I still have a nagging voice in the back of my head telling me she will flee if I release too much information. Only time will tell.