“And now you are just a stranger with all my secrets.” lauraklinke_art
She swept into my life while I was at my lowest. It was my first time being in a private hospital for my mental health and she was my nurse. I remember being blown away by the level of care shown towards me, which sat at stark contrast to the public hospital I was in a few years back. She told me she felt protective of me like she was my big sister. She was always looking out for me and said that during handover she would ask to hear about me first. She said she wanted to come with me to my first Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation session as she knew I was really scared. She also always warned me in advance when she’d be away for a few days.
I slept on the floor with a sheet draped over the bed and a chair which formed a little cubby. This was because I hated the night nurses looking at me while I was sleeping. When I first met Betty, lets call her, she told me how funny my notes were. The notes said it can be difficult to tell if I’m in bed because I hide under a sheet on the floor. My age was also written wrong; the notes said I was zero. I even still used kids nurofen, which Betty found in my bathroom the day I had to call a nurse as I had excruciating period pain. This all led Betty to start calling me her baby. It was harmless at first, but very soon I found myself taking on this role. I felt like a little child with her. She was so attune to my needs she became like a mother, friend or even a partner to me. Everything I had longed for but had been denied all my life. All these ancient feelings I had not felt since childhood came back. Once again I found joy being with another human being. In fact Betty made me laugh so hard I told her she must be magical to make a clinically depressed person laugh like this. I loved it when she told me I looked cute in my fluorescent green wig, and I loved it when she touched me affectionately. I often sat cross legged on the seat and she would rest her hand on my foot. I found joy with Betty and I found safety. When we were together the world around me faded away. It no longer seemed like such a scary and dark place. I felt I could endure anything as long as I had Betty. Betty tore down the walls I’d spent a lifetime building around me. Symbolic of this was the day I removed the chair holding up my cubby so we could both sit down and talk. I also had signs on my door telling the nurses not to come in during the morning, but it never bothered me when Betty came in. Betty bragged to the other nurses that she was the only person I’d let into my room.
I always think of Betty when I listen to the song “Innocence” by Avril Lavigne. Our relationship was so beautiful it made me cry. I sat with Betty and cried tears of happiness as I had not felt more loved in my life. Yet mixed in with all this happiness was the worst pain I’ve felt in my life as I knew I could not stay in the hospital forever. How could I ever say goodbye to Betty? I felt I could talk with her about anything, so I told her how I felt. She said she felt a friendship between us too. She even said she’d get my number off my hospital notes when I leave and send me a message. I couldn’t believe it. Finally my happy ending had arrived! I went from wanting to die all the time to being afraid of dying because it was like my life was only just beginning. My so-called treatment-resistant depression was gone just like that. I came up with a list of things I wanted to do when I left the hospital, and had all the motivation in the world to do them.
The day I was discharged Betty didn’t come see me which I thought was weird. It was an awful day. I was not feeling good about leaving; I had spent three months in the hospital and it was beginning to feel like home. Another nurse was in charge of me that day. I was at the nurse’s station with her and she shoves me the discharge papers and tells me to go pack up my room so another patient can have it. I didn’t know if Betty was still going to get my number. I think a part of me, deep down, knew that something wasn’t right. Days went by and I never heard from Betty. I lost my will to live again. I stopped eating, I stayed in bed all day. Weeks passed. Then a whole month. I screamed and cried and threw things around my bedroom while my dad cried with me on the floor as he felt so helpless. Finally my psychiatrist suggested I call up the hospital and ask to speak to Betty. The mere thought made me dizzy, but somehow I found the courage to make the call. The receptionist told me Betty was on lunch break and took down my number so Betty could call me back. I didn’t know if she would, but she did. She even called me from her own mobile phone so I had her number. She told me her whole face lit up in front of the receptionist when she saw my number there on the page. She said the hospital had closed my file before she could get my number. She said she had missed me so much, that she felt sad every time she passed my old room. “We’ll definitely keep in touch” were her final words before she hung up. It was like I was riding a crazy rollercoaster and I’d just reached the very top again.
Another month passed and there was no peep from Betty, so I figured I’d have to be the one to text first. I wrote her a text and she replied straight away. We continued texting every few weeks. It was always me who initiated the texting, and me doing all the disclosing. One day I asked if she’d like to meet up, and she said sure, with a smiley emoticon. I was over the moon. I went out and bought a Navman GPS so I could get to her house. I waited for her to tell me when she was free, but she never did.
I don’t know what happened, but eventually Betty stopped replying to me altogether. I tried calling her but couldn’t get through… all I got was an automated message. I sent a few texts, one of which was “If you don’t want to be friends can you just tell me so I don’t keep texting you and can begin to move on”. Still I got nothing back. I told her I didn’t understand the silence and it hurts. Still nothing. It was like speaking to a brick wall. She used to be so responsive to me; I barely recognised the cold, heartless person she had become.
A friend, who is also a support worker, offered to step in and try calling her for me. At first she got the same automated message. But then Betty texted asking who this was. Betty also called her back. Yet when my friend answered, Betty hung up. My friend proceeded to introduce herself in text. She said she was deeply concerned about my wellbeing and asked if they could talk. Betty defensively asked how did she get her number. My friend told her that I gave it to her, of course. Betty then said she’d got the wrong number, and there was no further correspondence after this.
At the very end of last year I decided to go back to this hospital. I called Betty’s ward and asked to speak to Betty before I came in.
“Hi Zoe”, said Betty.
“Why did you take this call?” I asked Betty.
“Errr, because the phone was handed to me?” Betty coldly replied.
“You haven’t been speaking with me all year, I’m guessing you blocked me, so why did you take this call?” I asked her again.
“I think you’ve got the wrong number.” Betty told me, and then she hung up on me.
I began crying and called again.
“Was that Betty?” I sobbed to the kind receptionist. “I barely recognise her.”
“Yes, yes it was,” she said. “She remembers you from your last admission. What is the matter? I’ll get her again for you.”
“No don’t!” I told her.
I ended up speaking to intake and they admitted me that day, but to the other ward. My mother threw a few things into a suitcase as I was too distraught to pack, and we got in the car. I didn’t even bother getting changed out of my pyjamas. We reached the hospital and even though I wasn’t in the same ward as Betty, the reminders of her were everywhere. I lay face down on the bed as the nurse filled out my intake forms. Another nurse came in.
“We’re going to get you better.” He told me.
While my nurse was busy preparing my stay, I went into the bathroom, turned on the cold water and sat, fully clothed, under the shower. I felt like I was in a dream and could do anything. I imagined my pain gushing away with the water. My nurse called one of the female nurses who came in to help. She turned the tap off. I lay on the bathroom floor soaked.
“Are you ok?” she asked me.
“No” I wailed, sobbing. When I was a little more together, I was moved closer to the nurse’s station.
I found it hard to tell them about Betty as I didn’t want to get her into trouble; I only spoke of losing a “friend”. I loved Betty but I hated her too, and at one point I nearly went up to her floor to scream at her. I ran into the elevator but the nurses stopped me. I’m glad they did because going up there was just too triggering. When I went to a group on that floor, my nurse came up to give me some lorazepam. Still, my anxiety was through the roof. I had a dream that I saw Betty again and passed out. My nurse once said she’d ask Betty if she would come down to see me, but Betty never did. I heard the nurses whispering in the nurse’s office. “What should I do?” I caught my nurse say. I called the other ward a few times on my phone and Betty picked up, but as soon as she realised it was me she handed the phone to another nurse and took off.
My stay was so distressing that I dissociated for a good part. I did things that I’d usually be too self-conscious to do. I was almost sent to a public psych ward again as they felt they couldn’t manage me there. I really tested their nursing skills, and I found that some nurses were really quite incompetent. One evening two male nurses held me tightly by the arms and yelled at me to “walk straight” and stop playing up.
Betty was my favourite person, a term used in the BPD community. She broke through the walls I’ve put up, but as Ray LaMontagne sings in “Be Here Now”, we should never put our trust in walls ‘cause walls will only crush us when they fall. I trusted and loved this person and to be abandoned, so unceremoniously too, has hurt me more than I can ever put into words. I remember sitting with Betty and the hospital’s psychologist and sharing how every therapist I’d got close to got tired of me in the end and left. I really hoped that Betty would be different.
It has been a long time since Betty and I stopped taking, but I still mourn her as though somebody very close to me died. It is something that takes a long time to heal from.
“I no longer see my therapist, and she has requested no more contact,” writes Rebecca Donaldson, who has had a similar experience as me (please do read her article “The Aftermath of a Therapist Having No Boundaries”).
“Some see me crying in my office at work, or alone in a café, and ask if I’m okay. They assume I’ve been dumped or someone died when I say I’m just missing someone whom I lost. The truth is that the tears I cry each morning when I first wake up are not for a partner or a blood relative, but for a woman I never knew much about.”
I still dream about Betty. In my last dream I was on a cliff watching some people in the surf. The dream said I had been lured into trouble by Betty. I don’t know who the others were but I think the fact I wasn’t IN the surf like them was a positive thing, except sometimes the waves were so big they’d crash over the cliff. They were more like tsunamis. I feel this dream is saying that I have progressed a lot with my grief, but it still hurts. It also suggests that I have been “lured”… that this dangerous situation I and others have found ourselves in is not entirely our fault. This is what Rebecca expresses in her article.
“To all therapists out there, please make boundaries clear from day one for all your clients, so they don’t experience this pain,” Rebecca writes.
“We aren’t your friend or child. We are a client. We will walk right up to you and want to befriend you if you let us. Try your best not to have my experience be the experience of your clients. Show them love and compassion, but make sure they know that you are not their friend.”