Anakin sat across from Master Xio and smiled thinly. He felt better than he had the day before (mentally, he thanked whatever deity was listening for Siri and her rather changed view of him recently), but the whole thing had shaken him. Darth Sidious had sent a message, because anyone versed in dark-side practices would recognize what had been done to those victims. It was to let Anakin – well, Vader – know that he was getting impatient. A warning that should he continue on his current path, it wouldn't end well for Vader.
Despite his discussion with Siri, he still wanted to do something about it – still felt guilty over the whole thing. That old part of him that belonged to the Anakin Skywalker of the Clone Wars desperately hated sitting by and watching things happen – hated reacting. Funny that he was still feeling useless and like he had to prove himself as worthy of the Jedi's attention.
"How are you today, Anakin?" Xio's steady voice asked, drawing him out of his thoughts. He blinked and focused on her brown skin again. He remembered her telling him how she wanted him to be truthful when she asked that question, and not to simply dismiss it as a platitude. He'd gotten used to swallowing his pride lately, and prepared to do so now so as to answer the question truthfully. Funny, it somehow never seemed to get easier, no matter what Girth said.
"I'm... well, there's a lot going on."
She nodded. "I don't doubt it. However, that didn't answer my question."
He took a deep breath. "I'm..." Don't say fine. Don't say fine, he chanted in his head. "Alright."
Somehow, he didn't think that was any better. She knew it too, because she just stared at him with an eyebrow raised in challenge.
Anakin sighed. "Let me tell you what they found yesterday, and it might help." He spent the next several minutes telling her about the bodies the police force had found, about what must have been done to them (in vague terms) and about talking to Siri.
Finally he finished and Master Xio smiled sadly. "I know it's difficult for you, Anakin, but if you are having problems like that again, I want to reiterate that you can call me."
He shuffled uncomfortably. "It usually happens in the middle of the night." And she was a mind-healer who had a lot of difficult work the next day.
"I told you that you could call me at any time, Anakin. I meant it. If you get a hold of me, chances are I'm available."
Silence fell over the room as Anakin looked down, a little ashamed. "It's... just not something I'm used to... doing. It might take me awhile... to be comfortable with trying."
She nodded. "I understand more than you know, Anakin. If you aren't comfortable talking to me, but you are comfortable talking to Siri, and she's alright with it, then I don't see why you shouldn't speak with her. I just wanted to reiterate it. For future reference."
He returned her nod slowly. "I shall... keep that in mind."
"That's all I can ask," she returned with another smile. Then she glanced down at the data pad in her lap.
"Well, before we move onto what I had initially planned for today, I want to let you know that Siri is right. Following the plan we've laid out is the best option we have at the moment, and you are not enabling him."
The former Sith sighed. "So why do I feel like I am?"
She thought for a moment. "Well, there could be several reasons, but it very likely has a lot to do with your mentality – your need to prove that you are worthwhile. It also probably has something to do with the fact that you hate seeing other people in pain."
Anakin snorted. "You obviously never saw me as a Sith."
Master Xio's expression flattened slightly. "Anakin, you said yourself that the dark side twists the way you think."
"But it doesn't give you something you don't already have."
She shook her head. "Every heart has the power for darkness and hate. Every heart initially wants to see justice done to others and might even take pleasure in seeing it so. But from what you've described to me, even as a Sith you didn't prolong suffering unless you felt you needed to."
Well, he couldn't really refute that. He momentarily wondered why it stung so much to lose an argument that painted him in a better light.
"Also, from everything you told me, as a child and as a Jedi, you went out of your way to help people."
He shifted, a little uncomfortable, and again, wondered why. Then he remembered his words to Siri yesterday, about how much he hated himself and it made a lot more sense.
"I wanted to prove to everyone else that I was better than them – that I could save the unsavable, especially when they couldn't."
His mind-healer paused and cocked her head to the side. "Is that really the only reason, Anakin? Can you say that you never cared for the people you saved?"
He wanted to. He really wanted to... But he couldn't. Not if he were honest.
"No," he muttered.
"Well, then, we can conclude that you are very likely naturally dispositioned to care for people."
Great, he really was never meant to be a Jedi.
"I also think you have been conditioned – whether by others or by yourself – to think badly of yourself."
He frowned. "That makes little sense. Both as a Jedi and as a Sith, I was proud of my skills. Often too proud, as a Jedi especially."
She conceded the point with a nod. "Perhaps, but you have told me that you never felt like you measured up to expectations, either as a Jedi or as a Sith."
"Besides," she continued, "you told me, and Siri yesterday, that you drew strength from your hatred, and that hatred was directed towards yourself. So you were encouraged to think poorly of yourself to gain more power, correct?"
It really was kind of scary how quickly she got concepts like that down. Swallowing, he nodded.
"So you were conditioned, for more than twenty years, to think poorly of yourself. It's only natural to fall back onto those habits. But hopefully, now that you're aware of it, you can change it."
It was a revelation he'd had before, but it still felt new. Perhaps because of the light she cast it in? The perspective she brought to it? He didn't know, but he realized, yet again, just what kind of damage his years on the dark side had done to him, mentally and emotionally. Even physically, if he counted what happened with his limbs and burning on Mustafar.
But, then again, how was he supposed to change all those years of thinking like that? All that self-hatred?
"I... don't know if I can," he whispered, unable to look up at her.
She stood and walked over to kneel in front of him. "Anakin, do you want to make the future better?"
He blinked but nodded.
"And do you want to become healthier?"
Again he nodded, beginning to see where this was going.
"Then there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that you can change – that you will. You have come so far already, learning to trust where you never thought you would, wanting to stop the destruction you've seen. I honestly hope that one day you can see and understand how absolutely incredible you are."
He still thought she was exaggerating at best... and yet...
"Luke... thought I was worth saving."
"He cared for you when you thought no one could," Master Xio replied with a nod, still kneeling before him.
"He loved me... even as the monster I had become. Even past what I had done to him and his friends – the universe in general. There was nothing in me worth redeeming and yet..."
They were both silent for several seconds before the Jedi Master stood. "Perhaps we are both beginning to see why Girth says love – true love – is the most powerful force in the universe."
Anakin thought about that, thought about everything that had happened in the last few days, and he couldn't help but agree. True love – caring – for another could move worlds.
The Sith really had no clue what they were talking about.
"So, in the future, I would like you to try and identify when you are unjustly being too harsh on yourself – encouraging your thoughts to be negative towards your person."
He snorted softly. "It never feels unjust."
"Then analyze it. Be as methodical and logical about it as you can be. If you recognize a feeling, try and figure out why you feel it. Isn't what Healer Girth has been teaching you?"
And it was kind of surprising that she seemed to actually agree with the other mind-healer.
"Yes," he replied.
"This won't be easy," she warned him as she retook her seat in the chair. "I don't expect you to catch every time, and I don't expect you to simply be able to change, but I would like you to attempt whenever you can."
He smiled a little.
She must not have expected that because she raised her eyebrow in question.
"You're the second Jedi in as many days who has told me to simply 'try'."
She blinked at him before leaning forward with a conspiratorial smile of her own. "Perhaps we won't mention this to Master Yoda."
Anakin managed to turn his laugh into a cough, but he knew he wasn't fooling anyone.
"I'm proud of Siri for telling you that," Master Xio continued, her tone softer, more genuine, and Anakin remembered that she'd begun to help Siri through her own therapy. "She's come a long way in her own healing."
"She has," Anakin replied, a little nostalgic.
Master Xio beamed at him. "Well, that's enough of that for today, I think." Anakin nodded in agreement. "Do you mind if we move on to my original plans?"
He shrugged, feeling tired but a little better about everything that had happened.
"Well," she said, reaching over and taking hold of her data pad, "I was planning on asking you a couple of questions about something I've suspected for a while. Would you mind? If it gets to be too much at any time, you can tell me and we will stop for the day."
In other words, this could potentially get... uncomfortable. Honestly, if he wasn't used to being uncomfortable now, he was certain he'd get there very quickly. But he could do it... Right? Whatever it was. He consciously tried to think positively of himself and was rather annoyed at how clumsy his mental voice sounded. Still, he wanted to get better. He really did. So he could do this. He was, after all, Anakin Skywalker.
She smiled again before looking back at her data pad.
"Alright. Now I know that you consider your life to have a couple of separate phases: Your slave childhood, your Jedi upbringing, your Sith adulthood and then your new timeline in the past." He nodded and so she went on. "When I ask you these questions, I would like you to think about the separate phases and see if they still apply for each. Do you understand?"
"Yes," he responded, still a little wary. She'd gone into what she called her 'analytical mode', where she was simply focused on the information and drawing connections. She'd explained this tendency to Anakin in their first meeting after he'd told them about his status as a time-traveler. It was still fascinating, and a little strange, to witness.
"Excellent. Thank you, Anakin. Now, I want you to know that we may have discussed these topics or similar ones in the past, but I'd like you to answer anyway." Again he nodded and she looked grateful. "Good. Now, firstly: During these periods of your life, did you experience mood swings and display uncertainty about how you saw yourself and your role in the world?"
Well, that wasn't as painful as Anakin thought it would be because, as she'd said, hadn't they just discussed how angry he could be? Perhaps she was just being overly cautious. He thought about it for a moment before answering.
"As a child? I... don't believe so, no. As a Jedi... um..." he thought about the missions he and Obi-wan went on, and the Clone Wars and... he couldn't answer that any other way. "Yes. Very much so. As a Sith? It was kind of expected, what with the dark side and all. Now? I do find it a little difficult to keep my emotions in check."
"I wasn't asking about keeping them in check. We're looking more for extreme mood swings."
He thought of the roller-coaster he felt he'd been on in the last few months and sighed. "I have experienced some recently, yes. It isn't as prevalent as it used to be, but it is still there."
"Were there triggers? Or would these mood swings just happen?
Anakin thought back on that. "Recently, there have been more triggers. My strange bonds, Sidious and anything to do with him... but as a Sith and a Jedi? Even I couldn't predict my mood swings." Which was terribly embarrassing, now that he thought about it. Fortunately, Xio didn't seem to judge him for it. Not that he expected her to. She just jotted down a couple of notes before moving on. Her ability to streamline when she was like this fascinated and impressed him.
"Did your interests and values change quickly?"
"Interests? No, not much. I mean, it's always been about mechanics and racing and keeping the people close to me safe. Values? I... think that's self explanatory."
"I'd still like to hear it from you," she pressed.
He inwardly sighed but he answered calmly. "Let's just say that my fall wasn't exactly as surprising as I initially believed. My values may not have changed often, but they did change. Especially during the course of the Clone Wars."
Xio nodded again, made some more notes and moved on, absently sliding the silver braid that had crept over her shoulder to trail down her back again.
"During these periods, did you tend to view things in extremes, such as all good or all bad?"
Anakin snorted. "Yes. Perhaps not so much as a Sith, but even then I had deluded myself into thinking I was doing the right thing. Surprisingly, as a Sith, I had quite the distinction between 'good' and 'bad' in my mind."
"I see," Master Xio replied, repeating her actions before looking up again. "What about your opinions of other people? Did they change? Sometimes quickly? Was one person seen as a friend one day, and the next an enemy or traitor for little or no reason? Visa versa perhaps?"
Anakin thought of the different Jedi he fought along side during the clone wars. That didn't even include people like Hondo and the Fetts. Asajj Ventress, even. He hadn't known who he could count on or who he could trust half of the time because it changed so often. Was that a problem? Well, he supposed he could see how that could be. He'd seen how his perception changed like that before, but he'd dismissed it because it had been a war. But even before then... And as for Vader...
"As a child, no. As a Jedi, yes... even outside the war. As a Sith... not so much, simply because I didn't really see anyone as trustworthy. However, those who did... question me were dealt with quickly and efficiently, despite any record they might have. There were few exceptions."
She nodded again, made some more notes and went on, causing Anakin to wonder exactly where she was going with all of this.
"Did you make efforts to avoid abandonment, real or imagined, by rapidly initiating intimate (whether physical or emotional) relationships or cutting off communication with someone in anticipation of being abandoned?"
He actually winced at that. He'd cut off all contact with Ahsoka after she'd left the Jedi. Tru Veld and Ferus Olin (although a lot of that had been because Ferus had left the Order as well, but he couldn't see himself keeping in contact with the boy after what had happened). And rapidly initiating intimate relationships? Emotionally with Obi-wan. Physically and emotionally with Padmé. And he'd been so against Ahsoka to begin with, but then he'd seen something in her and they were practically inseparable from then until she left.
As for Vader? He simply didn't allow himself to have relationships, knowing that it was all futile in the end.
"I... can't remember as a child, but as a Jedi and a Sith... yes. Most definitely."
He paused. "I have been... actively working against that mind set." Because he still needed allies. More than ever. "However, the idea of keeping myself distant is still... most comfortable."
She nodded sadly, as if he'd confirmed some things.
"Moving on, can you tell me about your relationships in general? Especially with people you considered family and friends. Were they intense or unstable? Would you find yourself swinging from extreme closeness and love – idealization even – to extreme dislike or anger and devaluation?"
Anakin couldn't help but outright cringe. "Yes, as a Jedi and as a Sith, although usually only when the dark side was involved somehow." Like Mustafar. Where he'd gone from completely idealizing his father/brother figure and his wife to actively trying to kill them out of pure hatred. Or the Jedi Temple. The Younglings...
At this, Master Xio paused and studied him for several seconds, scrutinizing. "Really?"
The former Sith nodded slowly.
"It's not that I don't trust you, it's just that that validates a theory I've been working on."
That took Anakin back. "A theory?"
She nodded. "I'll be happy to discuss it with you when I have it more finalized."
That sparked his interest. "I'll look forward to it."
The older Jedi grinned at him, snapping out of her strange mode before snapping right back into it as she glanced back at the data pad. "Do you remember having a distorted or unstable self-image or sense of self?"
He couldn't help but remember all of the times he'd absolutely hated himself verses every time he couldn't see any other Jedi as anywhere near as good as he was (or Sith for that matter). And then his recent realizations on mind-sets and slave mentalities...
"If... what I suspect is true, I don't believe I've ever had a stable self-image," he admitted, feeling heat rise to his cheeks that he hoped Master Xio didn't notice.
If she did, she didn't say anything. She just simply continued on, thankfully.
"What about your behaviors in general? Were they dangerous? Unnecessarily so at times? I have examples of spending sprees, unsafe sex, substance abuse, reckless driving and binge eating, but other things could apply. I mean, you lived through a war. Particularly dangerous maneuvers or gambits, regardless of the potential outcome?"
Alright, these were starting to get a bit uncomfortable. And almost all of his actions during the war (and during his padawan days now that he thought about it) had had a sense of danger to them. The Emperor had more or less stomped those tendencies out, but they'd still been there initially.
Even now with his racing... If he were being honest with himself, it wasn't all for the money. He coughed and nodded. "Um... yes... through my entire life."
She blinked. "Even now?"
He kept silent and didn't meet her eyes.
She frowned, obviously disapproving. He didn't see it, but he could practically feel it.
"Hmm," was all she said, though, before she asked her next question (somehow he felt like he'd just prolonged the inevitable).
"What about self-harming behavior, such as cutting?"
Finally, something he could answer 'no' to. He'd been too valuable as a servant/slave to do anything of the sort.
Somehow, that still didn't strike him as the healthiest of mentalities.
She smiled at him, relieved for a moment, before something seemed to occur to her.
"Just to be clear, it doesn't have to be physical behavior. There are several forms of self-harm – emotional and mental – and those count too."
Anakin's conversation with Siri the day before came up and he had to fight from shrinking back.
"Does... self hatred count?"
Master Xio closed her eyes slowly, as if just having an awful suspicion confirmed. Then she took a deep breath and opened her eyes. "It isn't uncommon or unhealthy for people to be upset at themselves for past actions. That is, after all, how we learn. When it is taken to an extreme, though, and you can come up with nothing but loathing for yourself despite your actions, then yes, it does count."
Anakin looked away. "Then I'll have to change my answer to 'yes'."
She took another deep breath, but said nothing as she once again tapped on the data pad.
"Recurring thoughts of suicidal behaviors or threats?"
That one took him a minute to go over. "As a child or a Jedi, no. As a Sith? Yes." But again, he'd been too valuable as a tool to really consider it. Just how deep did that... mentality run?
"And... now?" Xio asked hesitantly.
Anakin took a deep breath. "I would be lying if I said the thought hadn't crossed my mind. However, I would not say such thoughts were reoccurring, especially as of late."
And wasn't it a relief to say that too?
"What about intense and highly changeable moods, with each episode lasting from a few hours to a few days?"
"As a child? No." And there stopped his streak of answering in the negative. "As a Jedi, yes. As a Sith? Most definitely. Again, it doesn't seem quite so bad or intense now, but it has... happened." Sometimes with triggers, sometimes without.
"Chronic feelings of emptiness?"
"As a child? No. As a Jedi? Yes, but not often. As a Sith, it was a daily occurrence."
"Rarely." It was more feeling worthless or inadequate or overwhelmed.
"Inappropriate, intense anger or problems controlling your anger?"
He barely stopped himself from snorting. "Yes." He still blamed the dark side and his dependence on it for a lot of that though.
"During how many periods of your life?"
"All of them."
She blinked. "You do a pretty remarkable job at controlling it, then."
"I learned what happens when I don't the hard way."
She swallowed. "Right." Then she looked back at her data pad. "Difficulty trusting that is sometimes accompanied by irrational fear of other people's intentions?"
He wanted to snort again. There were very few people he'd ever trusted. Even now, he always looked at underlying motives.
"Yes, during all periods."
"What about feelings of dissociation, such as feeling cut off from yourself, seeing yourself from outside your body, or feelings of unreality."
He thought about that, trying his best to quickly go over anything in his memory. The only time he really remembered feeling that was during the 'Zone of self-containment' episode. And Mortis. But everything about Mortis felt strange.
"No, not particularly."
She put the pad down on her lap and looked at him softly. "Thank you, Anakin. I know that answering those questions may not have been easy."
Well, he had been through worse... but she was right; that didn't make it easy, no. He felt bare, naked and vulnerable, like a live wire, exposed and raw. He'd deal with it, but it wasn't a pleasant feeling.
"With what we've discussed here today and over the last several months, I think we can rather safely conclude that you have what is known as 'Emotional Regulation Disorder'*. It's more or less exactly what it says it is with the inability to or extreme difficulty regarding regulating emotions. It has many risk factors, including family history – although I doubt this comes from your mother – brain factors including certain imbalances or even physical damage to the brain, and lastly, environmental, cultural and social factors."
"You suspect the latter for me."
"Well," she responded slowly, "there could be several factors of which we have little or no knowledge of, but... yes. I believe your ERD is, if not caused, at least exacerbated by untreated PTSD."
He frowned. "I do not have PTSD."
She blinked at his reluctance. "Anakin, people with PTSD simply witnessed something shocking, scary or dangerous."
"I doubt there isn't a person alive who won't come across such in their lives. It cannot be that common."
"Well," she started slowly, "not every traumatized person develops a version of PTSD, and not everyone with PTSD has been through a dangerous event. Some experiences, like the sudden, unexpected death of a loved one, can also cause it. Or the separation of a family?"
Anakin's eyes widened. "You're suggesting that the event of leaving my mother exacerbated or caused my condition?"
He lips thinned, but he got the distinct impression that she wasn't upset at him. "Well, you grew up on a dangerous planet as a slave. I don't think that was the only factor, but I do think it was a major one. Can you look me in the eyes and tell me that you weren't extremely upset, shocked or scared by what happened?"
Well, no. Not in truth. He still didn't answer, feeling stubborn all of a sudden...
Which, now that he thought about it, kind of fit all of the symptoms she'd just discussed with him.
Oh, Force... was he really that weak?
Almost as if reading his mind (not possible with his current shields), she spoke. "Anakin, I want you to know that having PTSD doesn't make you weak. It just means that you came across something you found difficult to process, and no one helped you through it."
Well... that did fit what he remembered.
She must have taken his lack of answer as answer enough, because she continued. "And even if we put that aside, it's rare for a war-veteran who saw action to not have at least some symptoms of PTSD. Was any of that ever addressed or treated?"
They hadn't really had the time, and then...
"You haven't even told me – or to my knowledge anyone – what happened to push you into turning. I doubt that was anything dismissive or minor."
"Very well, you've made your point," he muttered, words clipped.
"I'd like you to stop seeing this as a weakness, but again, I don't expect you to simply change your feelings suddenly. We'll work on it.
"Fortunately, whether we count it as PTSD or ERD, you're doing everything right for the condition."
Anakin blinked at that unexpected news. "What?"
Master Xio smiled. "Well, psychotherapy and mind-healing tends to be the best treatment. It's not always caused by a physical imbalance and thus isn't often treated by medication. We could get you started on some anti-depressants, but I don't think that would be the best treatment for you, not with how you've been responding to therapy and cognitive restructuring."
"Cognitive restructuring?" he asked, a little uneasy at the term.
"Basically helping you understand why something happened, why you reacted as you did – more or less defining consciously what you've only known subconsciously up until now – or putting the events into a healthy perspective."
He relaxed a little. "Oh."
She stopped and studied him for several seconds before a small smile crossed her lips. "I think we've done enough for today. Wouldn't you agree?"
"Well, I plan on passing on today's findings and discussion to Healer Girth, if that's alright with you."
Anakin nodded, feeling too tired to actually say anything. He wondered why these sessions seemed to take so much energy when all they were doing was sitting around, talking.
"You look exhausted. Why don't we skip D-40 today and you can just head right to end-meal and then to your quarters."
That sounded wonderful.
He stood and bowed. "Thank you, Master Xio."
Her smile grew. "Anytime, Anakin. And I mean that; any time."
*They are considering renaming 'Borderline Personality Disorder", and "Emotional Regulation Disorder" seems to be the most popular choice if they do. I liked it as well, so that's what I'm calling it here. You can look up information on the NIMH website about PTSD and Borderline Personality Disorder if the symptoms above look familiar in either yourself or someone you know. Just remember, only a licensed professional can diagnose BPD (or ERD as it may be called in the future) or PTSD!
Alright, so I finally got this up! I'm kind of annoyed that I couldn't seem to get this right before posting Oversight, but it was honestly writing that story that helped me to get this done. :)