*names have been altered to maintain anonymity
Amy: Our sessions are going to be recorded for review by one of our senior staff. The tapes won’t ever be distributed or published; the confidentiality will be intact, but all my sessions have to be recorded to monitor my performance. Is that alright with you?
Amy: Go ahead and verify your name and date of birth for the camera, please. [REDACTED], January 17, 1979.
Amy: Thank you. And, for the record, my name is Amy Hampton*. Okay [shuffling]. Alrighty. For our first session, I’m going to let you steer the discussion in whatever direction you like. Maybe just starting with what made you decide to come in.
X: Okay. I’ve, uhm, I’ve been having really terrible nightmares. I think I’m stressed out or something, I’m always tired and distracted at work.
Amy: Good start. Do you remember when the nightmares started?
X: Yeah, about two weeks ago. They were vague for the first few days, just normal running away from stuff and falling type dreams. After a few nights though they started to get weirder and more specific, I guess. I was always in my room – like, my room, not a dream version of it – and I was frozen in my bed and so so scared. I couldn’t move or scream or wake up or anything.
AMY: [scratches of pen on paper] Sounds like sleep paralysis. It’s very common, but definitely still upsetting. Keep going, [xxx].
X: Okay. Uhm, what made me want to come in was this feeling that I started having. Sometimes, during the nightmares, I feel like someone’s there.
X: In my house. Outside of my window. Just there, like a shadow, pacing and staring at me. I don’t always know where they’re at and I don’t know who they are. I can’t always see it, either, but I always know it’s there. Sometimes I don’t think I’m asleep, it feels so real. But I have to be, right? I don’t know. The fear is so real. It’s the only dream I’ve had in almost a month.
AMY: Does the shadow interact with you?
XXX: No. Not yet. I think it’s trying to.
X: – really eating a lot recently. Maybe I’m getting sick or something…the nightmares are still happening. Still awful. I feel like –
A: Like what?
A: I didn’t quite catch that, [xxx]. Just a little louder, please?
X: I think someone is following me.
A: I see. What’s making you think that?
X: I just feel it. When I’m alone I’m never really alone, you know, like there’s always someone near me or f****** looking at me. In the nightmares I hear this woman’s voice. It’s so creepy. She’s whispering my name and she’s so close and…she scratches. Sh-she scratches against the walls in my apartment. Like she’s inside of it somehow. I don’t know who she is or what she wants and the scratching is so loud. I saw her once. It was me. She was smiling at me while I was paralyzed in my bed and she had my face [xxx breaks down into sobs; unintelligible]
A: It’s alright. You’re going to be alright. Let’s stop for today.
A: Hi, XXX. How are you today?
X: [no response].
X: Sorry. Sorry. Spacing. I’m so tired. I’ve barely slept since my last session.
A: Are the nightmares getting worse?
X: Things started happening in my sleep. I’d wake up covered in scratches –
A: From your cat?
X: No. No. The marks are too wide. Like fingernail marks.
A: Were you maybe scratching yourself in your sleep?
X: Uh-uh. I bite my fingernails. Not long enough to even pet the cat. Anyway, Socks hasn’t slept with me in weeks. He’ll yowl at the door until I let him out and he won’t come into my room at night. Ever.
A: Have you been seeing anyone that might have been able to get into your apartment? Maybe they’re doing this to you while you’re unconscious?
X: I haven’t had anyone in my apartment in two months. I’m too scared. I still feel like I’m being followed and I don’t trust anyone. I got an extra set of bolts for my front door.
A: Okay. Trying to build up your sense of safety is good, but I think that shutting yourself into your apartment is more of a detriment than anything. Your paranoia’s probably being fed by the isolation –
X: It’s not paranoia. Someone is screwing with me. I’m not crazy.
A: I didn’t mean to imply that you were. What I mean is that your stress might be extrapolating a rational fear into something irrational. I don’t want to make you feel like the fear is trivial – it’s not. But the reaction you’re having is putting you under a lot of duress and is not doing anything to help the source of the fear. Let’s try some stress and fear management exercises today. For next time, I want you to keep a journal of every instance that you felt like you were being followed and what you were doing in that moment. Let’s see if there’s a connection we can find between your environment, your habits, and the fear. Okay?
A: Long time no see. Have you been okay since I last saw you?
A: Care to elaborate?
X: I’m sure. I did what you said- I kept the journal. I wrote down every single time I felt like someone was watching. There’s no pattern. Some days it doesn’t happen at all – others I’m being watched from sun up to sun down. There’s no f****** pattern. Someone is following me and I’m going to catch her in the act. I hired someone to monitor me with a camera – like a PI. He follows me and tries to capture on camera or on film the person that’s following me.
A: Maybe she’s just someone you met a long time ago?
X: No. No. She – she seems familiar. Like I’ve seen her before, but I still don’t know who she is. She’s always around me when I’m alone.
A: She could just be a woman with a similar daily routine, xxx.
X: NO. She’s NOT. Do you remember the scratches? Do you remember me telling you about those and the night terrors and the shadow at my window? They’re worse. It’s all worse now. I don’t even have to be asleep to see this shit anymore. I hear that thing saying my name outside of my window and scratching against the latch. I called the cops twice and they didn’t see anything. I started…I started waking up with new marks. Teeth marks. All over me. On my arms, my neck, th- the insides of my thighs. Sometimes they draw blood.
X: When I’m asleep, I see the shadow at my window getting closer. It’s seeping into my room, whispering my name, and I wake up in the morning covered in f****** teeth marks and fingernail scratches. What the f*** is that?
A: I’m not sure what to tell you. I’m not sure I can help you. I think I need to transfer you to someone in psychiatry. They’ll be able to help you more there. We’ll still have our last session –
X: My guy says he’s getting close to capturing her face. He says she’s getting careless. She’s more brave. I’m going to find her.
A: I postponed an appointment with another patient for this, XXX. If it was an emergency you should have called 911 or our hotline.
X: She got into my house.
A: What? Who?
X: [yelling] You know who! The woman-thing that’s been stalking me! She got into my house and touched my things. My stuff was all moved around, my underwear was thrown all over my bed, my clothes.. The pictures I have of my family were taken out of their frames and chewed up.. and.. [sobbing]
A: What? What else?
X: [loud crying] She ate Socks.
A: I beg your pardon?
X: She ate my f****** cat! I came home and I was looking for him and I found him in the kitchen sink. He had two legs missing and BITES were taken out of him. She ate my f****** cat. She came into my house and killed my cat. She’s probably been coming in my house this whole time and screwing with me.
A: Calm down. Please, sit and just lower your voice –
X: I’m not going to calm down! You’re supposed to believe me! You’re supposed to help me get through this! The police think I’m a lunatic and won’t listen to me, now you won’t help me. And that’s fine. I’ll help myself.
A: I’m obligated to alert the police if I think that you’re posing a threat to –
X: The only thing threatening anybody is that woman. Call the police. I don’t give a shit. I’m ending this. [sounds of breaking glass and slamming door]
A: [expletives and fumbling]