Here’s what happened-ish: So I was in my psychoanalytic psychotherapy class and one of the instructors started taking about something that happened with one of her patients. I, being a careful listener with a good memory and a person with a capacity to make intuitive links, thought that maybe the patient she was talking about was a patient she talked about a few weeks ago. So, I naively asked her, “Is this the patient you were talking about before?” Even before she answered me I could feel from looking at her face that I had asked the wrong question. Once her eyes had returned to their sockets and her jaw had been lifted from the floor she was able to use her voice to express her shock. “Yes.” She said. But she didn’t say yes like you or I would. She said “yes” as if she was responding to an unwanted insight about the day of her death from a psychotic and smelly psychic.
Her co-teacher then said in accusing tones, as if to underscore their shared shock at my question,”You have a really good memory“. I can tell you that I never imagined someone could make that sound like an insult, but he managed to do so. I defended myself as I felt ashamed and disoriented by his accusation of me daring to have such a good memory, ” I have a therapeutic memory,” I said. And I didn’t say that in any inflated way. It is just the truth. Being a therapist has given me a MUCH better memory. I am able to remember details about my clinical work in a way that I can’t in other areas of my life. Going to a grocery store, I continue to require a list or at least a mnemonic device to remind me that I need milk, bread and coffee (the mnemonic for that is “The caffeinated money cow“).
I was, I can tell you, shocked by their reaction. I tried to quickly make sense of it. I thought of how Bion says to approach clients without memory or desire. I thought maybe that is why I was receiving this kind of unexpected hostility. I was still trying to make sense of the reaction when the women went on to say, clearly in response to me, “nothing that is discussed about patients in this class is to be taken out of this room.” I must tell you that this was the first time any instructor in this class has felt the need to remind us of our ethical and legal obligation to keep confidentiality. It is usually done at the first class and then it is most often done in a spirit of “of course you are all professionals and you will of course keep confidential anything that is said here”. This, however, was the first time in eight weeks that this reminder about confidentiality was given. And, confidentially, I was offended.
The shame I felt before she gave the confidentiality reminder was sizable. The shame I felt after that reminder was HUGE. I was stunned. How did she jump from me making a connection about her patient to me taking her clinical material out of class. Okay, I know I am taking my reaction to all of this out of class but that is different. For the record, I would light myself on fire, endure Chinese water torture, the rack, and any other medieval torture device that the folks who brought you the Spanish inquisition could come up with before I would ever-ever-ever-ever reveal any personal clinical materials about my patient or anyone elses patient. NEVER would I ever reveal anything about a patient—-NEVER. I take my ethical requirement of this work incredibly serious. So I was pretty offended when that was brought up in relation to my question. What I was trying to do when I asked the question was to better understand the material she was presenting. I was trying to make sense of things. I was attempting to more fully understand exactly what she was saying.
This class is broken up into two parts. The first half of the class is run by these two who are freaked out by memory and the second part of the class is run by a brilliant clinician who I have a bit of a girl-crush on( smart, stylish and an incredibly gifted clinicain). When the first half of the class was over I had an attack of “I have to get out of here.” I picked up my cell phone and read an imaginary text. This imaginary text read, “You have an emergency.” I picked up my stuff. I told my classmates and my memory phobic instructors, “I have an emergency”. I walked by the instructor who was waiting to begin the second part of class and I told her the same thing. Even as I said it I felt guilt for my lie.
When I got to my car I was, I think, too stunned and in shock to even know what the emergency was or even why I felt compelled to leave. I drove home in a fog of shock. I arrived home nearly two hours early. Something about how I entered the house made it clear to He-weasel that I didn’t want to talk about it. We, silently, sat on the sofa with Lily and watched a movie. I felt grateful to be at home and happy about my decision to leave early.
The next Thursday at Igor’s, I was talking about the dream I had about my children. I was telling him about how my daughter in the dream had an injury to her eye, only she really didn’t. It was when we were talking about my associations to that part of the dream when the memory of this stuff came to mind. I began to tell him about it. My energy rose, my anger bubbled to the surface and I recounted in agitated tones what happened in class and the story of my fake emergency. Igor, being the brilliant Igor that he is, made the connection “you got in trouble for seeing, just as you did in childhood. You were attacked for your ability to make links. You were shamed for your intuition. It was your seeing that inspired this attack on you, from your parents and from these teachers.” Igor went on, “It was an emergency. Your eye was hurt. You needed urgent care. And you needed me to see this attack.” He was right. And the dream had known this even before I did.
Igor is a Bion scholar. He is the grandpooba of Bionian theory. I asked him if maybe the reason I was met with such harshness was because they were trying to say that memory is bad—-somehow using Bion as the source of their outrage. Igor grew outraged with my instructors, “That is ridiculous, if they are they are completely misreading Bion. Bion isn’t encouraging people to be idiots. He isn’t saying to go into the session without mental capacities. No, what happened is that these instructors envied you–they envied your capacity to make links. That is what happened. This woman envies you and so she attacked you.” I have to tell you that the idea someone could envy me seems incredibly ludicrous. I just don’t get it. And it is so ego-dystonic to think about that I was hesitant to even tell you Igor’s interpretation.
I told Igor that my plan was to return to class next week and not say anything. I would be quiet. I wouldn’t ask questions. I would bring celery sticks to chew on and keep my mouth busy. I complained that it would feel like being in a tomb if I didn’t participate and that I was dreading it, yet it seemed the best way to protect myself. Igor didn’t like this plan, “Your withholding your seeing is not helpful and it isn’t good for you.”
I went to class. I withheld a bit and then I didn’t. Things didn’t go so well. Actually, things went pretty badly. I got to live out my Cassandra complex again. I got in trouble for seeing. Only I didn’t leave this time. I didn’t blame myself. I could see her envy ( embarrassing to admit as I don’t think I am a person anyone should be envious of and yet I know envy isn’t rational). I took notes and documented what happened so I could put it in my course evaluation. I also decided I would not be going back for this portion of the class again. A shockingly simple insight(seeing) came to me that has profound reverberations for my life—-the insight is this—-I don’t have to do what I don’t want to do. I don’t have to go and sit through that class( just one week left of it anyway), put up with their envy and accusation, and I can just go to the second half of the class( the part that I enjoy). I can get out of a place that doesn’t feel good—no emergency required.