NDJ:7 Mary Davis, MD

Drowning in Words

Language connects us with others, but we also use it to hide from them, to keep secrets and to lie. Language makes it possible to live in the world of Others. Like the air we breathe, when our language serves its function it is transparent to us. We notice it most when it fails.

Lily used her language mostly to conceal, and there was a great deal of it. Early in her treatment I wondered about whether she suffered from hypergraphia, since she would talk rapidly and nonstop, but without saying much that was useful. She brought in sheets and sheets of written material that was disjointed, tangential, and difficult to follow. If I had written down the words in the hour, it would also have been sheets and sheets of disjointed, tangential, and difficult to follow material. It seemed clear that she was anxious, but I could not get a handle on what made her anxious; and she spoke so rapidly and intensely that it was very difficult for me to interrupt even to clarify that she was anxious. She anxiously made appointments, and then anxiously cancelled because of unanticipated conflicts. Once she rescheduled three times in two days.

I found myself withdrawing from Lily, both within my head and in our interaction. I set limits on talking with her outside of appointments, set limits on providing prescriptions, set limits in many different ways. During her hours, I found myself drifting, thinking about almost anything except Lily. It often felt as if I was being washed away by waves of chaotic, meaningless noise.

When I tried to think about Lily in a way that allowed me to actually think — in words, using my analytic self to process her primary process behavior — I was unable to. I could not find a way to describe how she behaved, or how I felt. I believed that if I could describe it to someone, I could find a way to think about how to be helpful, but I kept getting washed away by the chaos.

I tried to think about chaos as internal structure, as defense, in an attempt to engage my analytic self to process the relationship and interaction (and of course to withdraw in a useful way), but could not manage to hang onto the concept long enough to frame any questions. I could not manage to engage myself with thinking about Lily except with dread at my incompetence, resignation at the need to listen without hearing anything meaningful, sadness at her suffering and at my inability to relieve it.

Only now, as I write this description of my own experience, am I aware of the re-enactment I have been drawn into. I am experiencing the incompetence, resignation, sadness, lack of ability to function that Lily herself experiences, that she experienced through her childhood, but that she was not allowed to articulate. Because she was not allowed to articulate it, she became unable; and as she disallows my own struggles to articulate her experience, I become unable to articulate it even to myself. I cannot find her meaning, and I drown in her words.