Scene 1 - Therapist’s Office
A frail young woman sat in my over-stuffed chair almost disappearing in its comfortable folds - she was so thin. I forced myself to concentrate on her but my mind wandered with concern for Lizzie, who had missed her last appointment. I was overcome with worry for her - not something a therapist should allow.
"How are you feeling today, Jennie?" I asked trying to focus. She deserved my full attention.
"Okay." She cast her eyes away from me, her hands hidden in her too long sleeves as she hugged her knees to her chest.
"Just okay?" I tilted my head trying to make eye contact, something that was always hard to do with her.
She didn’t answer. She didn’t budge.
"Tell me about your visit with your parents."
Jennie’s body tensed even more. "Same as usual." Her sleeve-covered hands were now bunched under her chin as she held herself even tighter, almost in a fetal position.
It was her standard response to any question about her parents but since she has never defined what a usual visit with her parents looked like it was challenging to decipher. I could only push so hard. It had taken a long time to get Jennie to be even this responsive to me. She was on the edge and I didn’t want to push her over it.
The rest of the session was mostly silent except for my gentle prods to get Jennie to open up just a little more. Her anorexia nervosa was so advanced that I was afraid I’d lose her to heart failure before we could make the kind of progress I hoped for. Not uncommon for patients with anorexia, Jennie controlled her food intake more fiercely than the gold was guarded at Fort Knox. It was the only area of her life where she felt she had any control and control it she did.
Her pain resonated through the office and it hit me hard today. Not as hard as Lizzie’s had during our last session and perhaps I was more vulnerable because of it. I feel others pain too easily - it’s one of the reasons I became a therapist. It’s a gift and a curse, and lately it has been an overwhelming curse.
Scene 2 - Therapist’s Home
Dana and I maintained a somewhat peaceful coexistence since our blowup over the mall visit and how she had dressed. Her clothing choices returned to more of the Dana I thought I knew but somehow I suspected she was taking a change of clothing with her and dressing differently at school. She was craving the kind of male attention most adolescent girls do but in her case it was amplified. I was afraid for her because I knew what that was like.
Her father and I never should have married and we certainly shouldn’t have brought a child into this world with all the baggage we both carried from our own childhoods. But then when you’re young and think you’re in love that’s a difficult standard to live up to. I love my daughter I just feel so helpless these days where she’s concerned.
The divorce wasn’t bitter like most but Dana’s father - my ex - walked away and started a new life - new family, new house, new car, new dog, new everything - and Dana wasn’t meant to be part of that. At least that’s what she said after each visit. The time between visits grew and soon Dana stopped seeing her father completely.
The child support checks came on time and without debate but Dana needed more than basic survival needs. She needed a chance to develop a healthy relationship with the most important male figure in her life. I knew what happened when that wasn’t available.
I was concerned that she was projecting this need onto a very unsuitable boy at school. She wouldn’t be the first young girl to do this but right now I had doubts about my own ability to steer her in the right direction. Yes, the therapist was at a loss in how to deal and communicate with her own child.
An overwhelming sense of sadness swept through my entire body. I was losing my daughter at the same time I felt at a loss with my patients. One of my daughters many standard retorts jumped into my head - Reality Bites! - and right now it truly did.
Scene 3 - Therapist’s Office
I started seeing Regina once a week. Used to be I could just pop into her schedule whenever I needed a "tune-up" of emotional strength. Not anymore. I needed someone to guide me through what I was sure would be an extremely difficult time for me.
"Have you asked Dana if she’d like to visit her father?" The question jolted me.
"He doesn’t want her around." I knew I sounded defensive, resentful. I heard it in my voice, felt it in my body.
"How do you know?" Perhaps I didn’t know. Perhaps I was angry at him for moving on when I didn’t seem to be able to. I stopped myself from over-analyzing the situation. Analysis paralysis - gets the best of us every time.
"Look, Georgia – "
Here it comes.
"– you’re going to have to accept that Dana is growing up and away from you. That’s normal. What’s not normal is her not having a relationship with her father and if you want her to grow into a healthy young woman who has healthy relationships you need to help her find a way to reach out to her father."
I knew she spoke the truth but it was still hard to digest. It had been just the two of us - Dana and I - for so long now I couldn’t imagine my life without her. What a heavy burden to put on a teenage girl!
"And you need to start dating again." Regina’s words sent me into panic mode. I had enough heartache in my life these days. How could I risk yet someone else breaking my heart!
"Georgia, stop jumping ahead to it ending in disaster." She knew me so well. "There are other outcomes - like you could find someone who’d bring you some happiness."
A weak smile worked its way across my face. I felt a sense of fear akin to standing on the high diving board. All I could think to say to myself was don’t look down.