Today, as I send this blog, I know that we are all in an alternative universe, overwhelmed by fear, locked in our homes, trying to get by the best we can. When I say I hope you are all well that hackneyed phrase takes on a whole other meaning. And I do wish you are well, with special thoughts to the New Yorkers on this list who are particularly under siege.
My blog, "Why," is unsurprisingly about the coronavirus, illustrating a patient's terror and her unrealistic demands of her therapist.
“I can’t stand it!” Marilyn yells into the telephone. “Why did this have to happen? I can’t stand being all by myself. There’s no one here, no one. I’m totally and completely alone.”
“I’m here,” I say quietly.
“No, you’re not! You’re not here. I don’t even know where you are but I know I’m not with you. I have to be near you. I have to imagine being able to touch you, even though we never do! And that’s what I want right now. I want you to touch me! I want you to hold me!”
Like most therapists these days, I am ‘seeing’ my patients remotely from home. Since for most of my career I have used the telephone when patients cannot be in my office, I am more comfortable using this modality than facetime or video conferencing. Most patients have been able to adapt to this new reality.
“Sounds like you’re feeling alone and desperate and wanting me to take care of you.”
“Now there’s a therapist response if I ever heard one! What good are you? You’re just a disembodied voice floating out there somewhere in space. You can’t give me what I need.”
“I understand that you’re feeling alone and uncared for, just as you felt as a child,” I say. “I understand that you want me or someone to save you, just as you did as a child. We’re all scared, Marilyn. We’re all in the same frighteningly unknown scary position.”
“But not everyone’s alone.”
“No, not everyone’s alone,” I agree. I want to add that many people are alone. I want to suggest that she call friends, reach out to family. I want to suggest that she start some of the projects she’s been wanting to do around her house, anything that will help her to feel more adult. But I know Marilyn will not, at this point, be able to hear such suggestions. She feels far too scared, back to being a child with an explosive, alcoholic father and a depressed, absent mother.
“Is there someway I can be helpful to you, Marilyn,” I ask.
“You can tell me when this is going to end! You can tell me why this is happening to me! You can tell me why only bad things have happened to me my entire life! It’s not fair!! I hate it!! I hate it!!”
Although I can feel my patience fraying, I try to retain my image of Marilyn as the frightened and vulnerable child. “I hear you, Marilyn. And I’m sorry you’re in so much pain.” I refrain from saying that this isn’t only happening to her and that she has known good times in her life. I know the futility of such word.
“I know,” she says suddenly. “I know how you can help me. You can tell me your address and I can come by and give you a hug and we can sit in your living room and visit.”
I am taken aback by the outlandishness of her request. At first I begin to respond directly, “You know that’s not something…” Then a thought comes to me and I stop myself. “Marilyn, have you just set yourself up? Have you just asked for something you know I won’t do so that you can continue to feel that I’m just one more of the long list of people who aren’t there for you, who don’t care about you, who can’t save you?”
She bursts into tears. “But you don’t!! You don’t care. Why can’t I come see you? Why can’t I come hug you?”
“Marilyn, can you try to answer those questions yourself,” I ask gently.
She sobs on the other end of the telephone. “You don’t care about me! I’m just a patient to you.”
I again consider responding directly and then decide against it. “What if you allowed in that I do care about you? What if you allowed in that I care about you and still can’t tell you when this will be over or why it’s happening? What if you allow in that I can care about you without being able to save you?”
Marilyn is sobbing uncontrollably on the other end of the line. “That can’t be! That can’t be!” she says between sobs.
I am silent and then say quietly, “It’s very hard to give up the hope of being saved, of being saved in the present and of being saved in the past.”
“I want you to hold me, I want you to hold me.”
I imagine Marilyn hugging herself and rocking back and forth in her chair. “I know, Marilyn,” I say, “I know.”