S and I talked about what I did on Saturday at the event. I was filled with trepidation as I recounted what I did (for context, read this: Strange Social Behavior).
I was nervous because I was afraid that I’ll lose S; that he’ll be afraid of me and pull away. I didn’t want him to feel those things. I also felt bad because I felt like I had acted inappropriately.
He actually brought up the subject of us discussing our boundaries 2 weeks ago and wanted to check in on how I felt about that. I told him that I didn’t really feel much except relief because every week during therapy, I get to clean out all the negative emotions. What he brought up actually had a lot to do with what I wanted to bring up too so I was glad that he had checked in.
So he gave me an awesome way to segue into the conversation I wanted us to have. I started by telling him, “Yeah… So that brings me to one of the things that I want to talk about today…. Was just the fact that I actually saw you at the event…”
“Yeah! I think other CAPS folks told me but I did not see you…” S said.
“Right right… Which was fine. Um… But I think I was hesitant because we didn’t talk about the boundaries of a public event like that. I didn’t know whether it was appropriate for me to say hi or not so then I was just kinda awkwardly standing further away, but just kinda like, ‘Hmm… What do I do now?’”
“And the thing is, um… I did say hi to D. Um… C saw me and she said hi to me. I said hi to T. But for the most part, I don’t think the CAPS staff really knew I was there.”
“But I think the curiosity kicked in and I was like, ‘I wonder what they look like outside of work you know?’ So I ended up just kind of observing you guys for a while, and all the time just kinda feeling really bad about it…”
“Um… I thought to myself, I was like, do I want to talk about this? Because on one hand, I don’t want you to feel like I’d violated your privacy somehow, but on the other hand, it felt like an important thing. And throughout the whole time that I was observing you guys, I was just… I felt a mix of emotions. On one hand, I felt happy that I was able to see that unfold. It looked to me almost like a scene from a movie…”
I started to sense S’ nervousness. I think he was as nervous to hear what I had to say as I was to say it. It wasn’t very obvious but I sensed it a little. I was expecting some kind of negative response anyway.
“People were having a great time, having a picnic or something. Um and it just felt like the perfect gathering or the perfect moment, that everybody was just having a good time. And that felt good. I vicariously lived that experience and that felt really good. It felt good to kinda just see your family too. Just because I’ve been curious about them for so long you know? It’s just the fact that I was able to see what they look like was just now I feel better about that….”
“Okay… Why do you feel better?” S seemed intrigued but also cautious. I could tell that he was probably afraid of what I was going to tell him next.
“I don’t know. It’s really strange… I mean, I’m not sure why exactly but I’ve always had these thoughts like, ‘I wonder what his wife looks like, I wonder what his daughter looks like’ You know? Someone pointed out and said that it sounds like I was desperate for connection and I was desperate for… To feel like I was part of something like that. And I thought about it and I realized that it makes sense just because I don’t think I’ve ever experienced something like that. Like family gatherings where everybody was like happy… Um… Just looks like perfect you know? And so being a part of that, even though I wasn’t necessarily a part of that, just living that vicariously felt good…” I started to tear up. “But at the same time you know, I was wrestling with the other emotions. The more negative ones where I felt like I was creeping. I told myself that I was like some sicko just watching people…”
“Wow! So two very polar opposite sorts of things…” S noted.
“Very… So that created a lot of conflict. I felt like I was being a stalker. And I didn’t know whether I should try to make things better by saying hi because saying hi justifies that I was watching you guys. But then at the same time, I was like, ‘I don’t know necessarily how we act in public events like this’ I mean, it was a school sanctioned event and it wasn’t like you were at a park, and I was at a park and you had a private like party or something…” I said, trying to remain calm and not let anxiety take over my train of thoughts.
“But at the same time you know, I was kinda beating myself up the whole time and calling myself names and things that you know?” I said.
“And then um… After a while, I decided I can’t keep standing here, just being this weirdo. So I left and I went and got a haircut. When I left, um, I felt really distressed. Just felt really bad. Kinda didn’t know what to do about it. And then in the car, I kind of talked to myself. And uh… I told myself that I wasn’t weird. Um, that I was just curious, wanted to see what the CAPS staff looked like outside of CAPS. I told myself that yes, whatever I did was probably questionable, but how I felt was valid. I was curious and have been for a long time. But now that I’ve seen it, now I can let go…”
“Okay…” S said as it dawned on him why I did what I did.
“‘I think I kinda just calmed myself down. Every time the thought came up where I would tell myself that ‘You’re such a weirdo’, I would also say to myself, ‘No, you felt what you felt. And yeah, maybe yeah you feel bad about it, and yeah you’re feeling bad about that. And it’s okay because all your feelings are valid… And I was like, ‘Just talk to S about it. See what he thinks about it… ‘And that part of me was like… What if you feel like I’ve betrayed some kind of privacy issue or something. So… Um… That was one of the things that I wanted to talk about…”
“How are you feeling having disclosed that?” S asked. He wasn’t angry or showed any kind of negative emotion.
“Um… Part of me feels relieved because it felt like a really bad thing. It felt like I had done something wrong and now I have a secret to keep or something… Um… And then like, another part of me feels kinda proud of myself to not only disclose that but also being able to talk to myself, both ways you know just being able to kind of counter the negative thoughts. To challenge, you know, the negative thoughts I was thinking. And not trying to justify what I did but rather accepting that I did what I did and I felt what I felt…” I said. I was really relieved to be able to hear S’ side of things.
“Yeah!” He said enthusiastically.
“And another part of me is curious and wondering what you think about this whole thing….” I said. Time to turn the tables. “I would like to know how you feel about me disclosing?”
“Okay… So from a purely boundary perspective, it doesn’t really matter whether it’s a school sanctioned event or it’s randomly in the park… If we walk past each other, I’ll just follow your lead. If you wanna say hi, I’ll say hi back and that’s fine. And I mean I’ve had, in previous years at the event, I’ve had clients walk by the group and say ‘Hi S’ and that’s fine. But like I said last time, having a longer conversation… We really… We really shouldn’t do that… Yeah… I really appreciate you telling me… And I think it would’ve If I’d heard from… I don’t think my coworkers said like they saw you like looking at the group but if I heard from my coworkers, ‘Oh she was there’ but if you didn’t say anything, I’d be like, ‘Huh… What’s that about?’ I think it would’ve created that distance. We probably would’ve gotten past it but…”
“Right” I said in agreement. I would’ve withdrawn and tried to grapple with my emotions and not let S back in. We could also distance ourselves from each other just because I had done something that violated his privacy without telling him about it.
“Yeah that would’ve happened… So hearing and knowing what you’re going through, and hearing your feelings about it, I definitely understand… But there is this piece where I do feel a little uncomfortable that… Just… Like I don’t feel unsafe or you’re going to do anything inappropriate but just the idea of someone is watching me when I don’t know that they’re there, there is a bit of a discomfort there. And again, I understand why, I understand everything you’re saying and why… What you got out of it. And I don’t want you to feel ashamed or anything like that… I guess like that’s the other piece. I felt like I needed to share that seeing as how you go into black and white sorts of like self-judgments…”
“Right right…” I said, feeling a little nervous still. I also felt bad for how he felt uncomfortable that I had been observing him and his family.
S acted a little hesitant to share how he felt about what I had disclosed initially. But then he dove in and told me the truth. I really appreciated his kind and gentle tone as he described how he felt. I could sense that he was trying to protect my feelings and perhaps to also say something that would not add to further distress and shame.
I wish I didn’t feel the shame but truth be told, I feel so ashamed of what I’d done – as much as S can understand why I did it and tells me not to feel so bad, I still felt the shame. It’s such a strong emotion.
S also later told me that he’s also concerned for me because of how much time, energy, and effort that I spend fixating on him, CAPS, and the staff when I could be spending the same amount of time, energy and effort on forging real relationships. He told me that with him, and the CAPS staff, that our relationship can never become anything other than a therapist-client relationship. He said that I could instead use the same energy to practice taking risks in real relationships as to find more friends and perhaps even a partner.
I appreciated his concern but as he spoke, tears rolled down my cheeks. I felt extremely sad as he said what he said. It just felt incredibly sad that I don’t really take risks in relationships or that I can’t really find people whom I can trust as much as I do with S.
I knew what he said was valid. I was pouring so much of my personal resources into getting to know the CAPS staff when I really should be working on finding more new friends and potential partners.
I still can’t help how I feel or how I act. I wish it wasn’t this painful to just let people go and to let circumstances go so that I can stop feeling so bad all the time.
On a different note, my positivity for the week has definitely drained away, leaving me in a state of negativity that I can’t seem to overcome. I’m back to feeling suicidal, and tonight I felt like I wanted to self harm again. I had some small victories throughout the day but I think just not having enough sleep and being physically exhausted is straining my mental health as well.
Note: I wrote this while falling asleep so there might be nonsensical sentence structure and weird grammar. I’ll fix any inconsistencies tomorrow morning after a proper night’s sleep.