You’re Not My Mummy…But Parts Of Me Wish You Were.

This time last year I wrote a blog post titled ‘You’re Not My Mummy’ where I spoke about how the young parts of me hadn’t yet accepted Anita into the role of ‘replacement mum’ having only recently just terminated with my therapist, Em, after 8 years working together. I was still in a state of complete meltdown about the ending and the idea of having anything like the level of attachment to Anita that I had with Em seemed really unlikely. The attachment of those child parts is really fixed on one person at a time for me. It really is like an infant relating to its mother.

Look, before anyone starts rolling their eyes and tutting, I absolutely know our therapists are not our mothers! I understand transference. I read a lot! I don’t actually believe my therapist is my mum. I don’t want her to adopt me (much!). My adult doesn’t see Anita as a mum, at all, but there’s absolutely no point in denying that the little ones definitely do…now! (Oh the irony!)

For ease of expression and writing here, I think it’s fair to simplify things and say, that for me at least, a lot of the work I do to process my mother wound and childhood trauma is largely achieved by letting my young parts relate to my therapist as though she is like a mother to me. Of course, my adult is there in the room too (sometimes!). A and I unpick a lot of what goes on together from all angles and different parts’ experiences and it’s amazing how many parts can come floating in and out during a session. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say that the way I get to really process my childhood trauma is by having those child parts activated in the relationship with Anita.

When the feelings are live, they can get metabolised, understood, and healed in real time. I have spent years talking about my childhood and narrating it through my adult and there’s so much distance and disconnect there. It’s a filter that has served me well in life because I haven’t ever expressed feelings (that’s safer) but actually in the end, I almost couldn’t feel anything as stuff was so deeply internalised. Allowing EVERYTHING and EVERYONE to have their place in the room with Anita has been a gamechanger for me. I mean I really cannot believe how much I have been able to bring to her that has been locked away for a lifetime and shrouded in shame.

I remember saying, last year, how part of me hoped I would avoid getting stuck in the transference with Anita and maybe I’d be able to circumnavigate it altogether because it felt so nice not being caught up in all the negative attachment stuff that I had experienced with Em. It was such a relief to do therapy with someone that didn’t instantly trigger me and who felt safe and accepting. We were doing some great work and laying the foundations of what I thought could be a strong working alliance but part of me dreaded the possibility of finding myself back in the familiar territory of dissociation, disconnection, and high anxiety that was so big a part of therapy with Em.

Looking back now, I feel really sad that I thought that was what could be in store for me. Like if I attach to someone then, ultimately, it’s bound to be a shit show of pain and hurt no matter how much I want it to be healthy and healing because that’s my relational pattern. I am a tick, after all.

But that’s not how it is.

Attachment doesn’t have to be agonising ALL THE TIME!

It wasn’t until June when the young parts switched their allegiances and fell face first into the attachment zone with Anita. I remember I was ironing one afternoon and a little voice inside said, ‘I miss Anita’ –

‘Oh shit’, I thought, ‘here we go again’. The thing is, because Anita and I had been steadily building safety and trust in our relationship I was actually able to tell her how I felt. I didn’t get filled with shame or embarrassment for having the feelings (I mean to be fair she’d already seen a fair amount of the crazy in the aftermath of Em and I ending), they just were. And she was not in the least bit bothered and told me that she thought we were definitely getting closer and it was normal to feel this in an emotionally intimate relationship especially when young parts were involved. I love how she has always normalised my experiences rather than pathologising them – it’s so refreshing.

Anyone who’s followed me for a while will have seen how transformational this therapy has been for me in building me back up and helping me see that I am worthy and valuable and not some freak with too many complex issues who needs to be kept at arm’s length. I am astounded that I can safely feel ALL OF MY FEELINGS with Anita and she accepts ALL OF ME. It’s so strange to really experience ‘unconditional positive regard’ (or love as I prefer to call it!). I can’t believe I can cry…and not just cry…but sob my heart out with her having never shed a single tear with Em until the final session when it had all gone up in flames.

Don’t get me wrong. I have a long way to go, still! But therapy with A feels therapeutic not torturous. It’s not all sunshine and unicorns by any means. We have had ruptures but they get repaired so quickly and I can express how I feel when things A says or does upset me. She is never defensive or attacking and is open to hearing whatever it is I bring to her (especially when a teen part is having a meltdown). I do get that that is how it’s meant to be but it’s a change to what I have been used to.

I am deep in a pit of young attachment need right now after my life just collapsed and nothing feels safe in my adult world. Thankfully, it feels safe with A in the room and in that relationship especially for the young parts. I genuinely feel like Anita is holding the other end of the rope and is holding on. She said the other day that she is holding out her hand and will be there to stop me disappearing. I know therapists can’t rescue you, and I have to dig my way out my own hole but there is something really lovely hearing, ‘I can see how hard things are for you and I really wish I could take it all away for you. I know I can’t but I am right here with your for the whole of the journey and you can lean on me’. I honestly don’t know what I would do without her right now…and of course that ‘without her’ felt like it could be a very real possibility a few weeks back.

When my wife lost her job at the start of February, we were plunged instantly into financial insecurity and instability which has sent my system through a massive loop. I don’t do change very well and I certainly don’t like not feeling secure. The week following the job loss my wife also had to have an operation with a two-week recovery period and she is due another in a couple of weeks – all time she can’t work. I’d already spent weeks stressing myself out during isolation so really it’s been a hellish couple of months now.

In order to cover the immediate shortfall income, I have basically maxed out my credit cards but obviously that only delays the agony where debt is concerned…which again stresses me out. My wife will be able to work again soon but agency work is sporadic and far less well-paid than what she was doing previously. So even if things work out well with reasonably regular shifts we’ll still be about £800 a month down until something more suitable comes along. FFFFFUUUCCCCKKK.

In terms of stress, it’s been epic and I just haven’t coped. Last week was so bad I felt borderline suicidal which was really scary for me as it’s been a very long time since I have felt so awful – like when my dad died over a decade ago and I had a breakdown. I felt paralysed with fear and couldn’t see a way out of it so just spent hours feeling anxious and incapacitated. It was horrific. I even did the NHS anxiety and depression score thing (as if I needed confirmation of how shit is all was) and scored a fabulous 24/24 on the depression and 17/21 on the anxiety… I have always liked to do well on tests! Lol!

When my wife lost her job I text Anita and told her that we’d have to stop our sessions after the session we had booked in for the next day because we just can’t afford anything right now and then we’d pick up when things improved. It felt really awful and I was so so sad about it. Anita responded really warmly and told me we’d find a way forward together when we met in person and not to worry. She’s so different to Em, who, when we were in a similar situation a couple of years ago (honestly so much bad luck!) didn’t bat an eyelid when I was worrying about how we’d pay our bills and I was clearly really distressed. Therapy twice a week a £50 a session meant we accrued quite a lot of additional debt at that time and it was really hard feeling like I needed my sessions but also knowing I was putting us further into debt.

So, back to 2021, I arrived at my session that evening feeling crap but also really dissociated. I was so overwhelmed by all that had happened that I had to step away from it a bit and the only way I seem to know how to do that is to disappear. The weeks of stress and anxiety I had felt worrying about my wife when she had COVID and panicking that she’d lose her job had taken its toll and then to have my worries confirmed…well, it was too much and I was thoroughly exhausted.

I tried to be adult in that session but after a catch up on the latest elements of ‘new shit and stress’ I just couldn’t hold it and fell apart and into Anita’s arms where I trembled and sobbed and for ages and she held me until I settled listening to her steady heartbeat. She continued to hold me until it was time to leave. There have been so many sessions like that lately that I can’t really say what’s happened from session to session in any great detail but the level of holding and containment has been essential as I’ve let so many tears out even if the words have been relatively few.

In this session Anita said that she thought pausing our sessions was a bad idea and insisted that we could make it work. She said that pausing would be traumatising for my system when things are so bad already and I really need the therapy. She told me she could reduce her fee and I could pay when I could afford to, but that I needed to keep coming (if that’s what I wanted).

Honestly, the relief was massive. It felt like Anita really genuinely is invested in the work we are doing and that she really cares about me. I mean I knew this already; she demonstrates it week in week out in how she is with me. But I think dramatically reducing her fee so that I could keep coming really showed me that it’s not about the money to her. I felt so much shame about not being able to afford to pay her properly and yet it really wasn’t a dealbreaker for her. It’s taking some time to get my head round!  

We agreed a fee for the next two months rather than per session and to do 75 minutes face-to-face and reduce the Friday online session to a 15 minute check in – which was fine by me (at the time) as I don’t get a lot from the online but touching base is good. This is largely how it had been anyway, over lockdown, where I have only been going once a week in an evening to fit around home-schooling and childcare. It’s not been ideal this year but I have kind of accepted that something is better than nothing and there are so many people who aren’t able to see their therapists face-to-face that I know I have it really good.

I have missed the twice-a-week sessions in the room since Christmas, but to be honest I’ve just been grateful to see A at all, especially after the having to isolate for two weeks and then thinking would have to stop altogether it’s felt like winning the lottery having any time!

This last couple of weeks has felt hard as I started sliding on the black ice of depression and anxiety on speed. The time between sessions has felt looooong and my young parts have been really struggling with that. The object constancy stuff is a real problem for me and I just can’t seem to hang onto the sense of safety and her care and warmth for seven days. I feel like such an idiot saying that when there is clearly so much evidence to the contrary. I’m still wearing the groove in my brain, though and it’s like recoiling a spring but in the opposite way to how it’s been set. It’ll take time.

There was one session where I was so desperate to connect with Anita but I just couldn’t. My protectors were fronting and I could feel my little parts screaming inside. It was agony. I couldn’t look at her and was frozen. Anita was patient and kind and so reassuring letting me know she was there, that she was waiting for me to let her in, and that she wasn’t going anywhere. She was already sitting beside me, within touching distance, but I said it didn’t feel like she was there and she said, ‘I know, and I think it’s been hard only seeing each other once a week hasn’t it?’ Sometimes she just sees exactly what the problem is and it cuts through all my defences. I just crumbled on the sofa into a flood of tears and she pulled me into her and held me again as I cried and cried.

These sessions probably sound like nothing much is happening but actually SO MUCH healing has gone on in them. I’ve been at my lowest, stripped bare (not literally, obvs!), and allowed myself to be really seen and that is massive. To be responded to with care, compassion, and love has been so huge. Anita is so responsive to my need. Last week I text her on Thursday evening. ‘I miss you’. That was it. She replied shortly after with, ‘Would you like to come here tomorrow morning?’ When I picked up the message I was stunned. I asked if that would be ok, and she said of course and she’d look forward to seeing me in the morning.

With my wife being off it means I have childcare and so I think Anita realised that and knows how helpful the second session is to me… especially after my performance earlier in the week. And that second session did make a huge difference. I came away feeling so much more settled despite more tears and trembling. I’m seeing her twice again this week, and although my child parts have been feeling really needy and unsettled (because of life) knowing that I only need to hold it until Friday is massive and feels more possible.

Anyway, that’s a huge ramble without a lot of detail, I’m afraid. There’s more to say but this is long so I’ll get myself back in the zone for the next post!

Thank you, guys, for all the support you’ve sent my way in recent weeks (and months). It’s meant a lot to me xxx

Trust In Your Sixth Sense (Or Is It Just Hypervigilance?).

When I was seventeen, I went and saw a palmist in Bangkok and he did a detailed consultation for me. At the time I was sceptical – I certainly hadn’t got into my astrology and tarot at that point! My dad had been to see him years before, when he worked in Thailand (his Thai friends all swore by this guy), and his reading had been surprisingly accurate for the past as well as what had started to unfold in the intervening time since he’d come back to the UK.

I figured there was nothing to lose so went and sat in his consulting office, put my hands in some ink and transferred the image of my palms onto paper. With the print of my hands and my date of birth alone before him, he took compasses and all kinds of mathematical equipment and set to work. I sat and watched as he methodically worked his way through one hand at time. After about twenty minutes, finished, he looked up and spoke to me and told me what my palms said.

I remember feeling like there was a lot of accuracy in the reading at the time, but then at seventeen telling me I would be in an arts field and hate maths was really a 50/50 guess surely?! He said that I would have two children – which made me bristle and instantly made me think the guy was a crock of shit because at that point I knew I was gay (I wasn’t out yet) and couldn’t imagine how children would ever be part of my life (although I desperately wanted to be a mum). There were other things, too, but to be honest looking ahead twenty years when you’re that age seems like another lifetime…well, it is now I am here!

As I walked out the door, I remember him holding my hands in his and telling me that I have a very strong sixth sense and to trust in it. I thanked him for his time and put my inky print in my bag and went on to enjoy the rest of my holiday. When I got home I put the envelope containing the reading in a box with other souvenirs and photos and there it lay for the next few years as I went off to university, met my wife, travelled the world and grew up a bit.

When I was twenty-five I got the news that my dad had died suddenly of a heart attack in Thailand whilst on holiday. It was, without doubt, the worst, most distressing experience of my life. I’ve written about it before so won’t bother again now, but the trauma surrounding that event was the trigger that sent my life into freefall and opened Pandora’s Box spewing out a lifetime of trauma that I had dissociated away. This bereavement signalled the start of the massive mental breakdown I had.

Every single day I miss my dad and, at times, even now, twelve years later, the grief rises up in me and I howl with pain or wake up in floods of tears when he enters my dreams (which is a lot lately). My anchor is gone and I struggle to accept that. Especially when, right now, I REALLY need him. It sounds daft, being an adult myself, but when I feel like I do right now (like a child), I really could do with the steadying presence of my rock.

Anyway, after he died, I was going through his stuff, clearing his house, and found his palm reading from years before. I opened it up and glanced through it. It was so on the money that I could barely breathe. When I got home, I went into my loft, found the box that contained my reading and looked to see what it said, only now viewing it with more grown-up eyes and living further in the future. It was definitely interesting. There were some parts that I was hoping wouldn’t materialise not too far ahead but others that might be a possibility. I folded it up, put it away again and carried on with my life.

Time moved on. We moved house. The box in the loft moved into the next loft and the hand prints, souvenirs, and photos were safely stored there along, now, with my dad’s copy, his passport and letters he had written me over the years. My wife and I got married. We started a family (and yes, 2 children!). I got cancer. My wife lost her job. Things got bumpy. Things got better. Then bumpy again. And then really bumpy…which brings us to now.

If you look at the picture (above) you’ll see that it’s slap bang in the wobbly red ‘SHIIIIIIIITTTTT’ area between 37-38 years old where finances are fucked. I turn 38 in a few weeks and ugh…can’t we just fast-forward to 40 where I apparently get super successful and hit the peak of my life for the next 18 years?!

I’ve been AWOL here on the blog a bit this month. Since Christmas I have written, on and off, about how hard things have been feeling (really fucking hard). The Christmas therapy break felt tough this year, but then that wasn’t surprising as I headed into the anniversary of ‘tick gate’ and the end of my therapeutic relationship with Em. Then lockdown three thousand was announced, home-schooling started AGAIN, and I had to reduce face-to-face contact with Anita to once a week and no visits to K ☹. Then my wife got COVID and was isolated from us for weeks upstairs. Obviously, the kids and I were also stuck inside – so then no face-to-face at all with A…GROAN.

Incrementally, week on week, things were getting emotionally harder to cope with. I could feel myself sliding. I just felt so stretched and anxious, and on the edge, and yet the support I needed felt further and further away. Of course, Anita hadn’t gone anywhere but it didn’t feel that way when I had to revert to complete online therapy during isolation. There’s fuck all privacy here so online sessions are often interrupted by one of my kids who suddenly need me. I can never fully relax into a session, and the parts that need help rarely show up, or if they do, they get so upset that it actually feels worse.

I am really shit with online therapy (no shit!). But it felt especially hard this time because Anita was here, she hadn’t gone away, and she had been willing to see me face-to-face this lockdown after my complete lack of coping in the November/December lockdown! No need to write more on that!! You’ve all been along for the ride. So, it just felt so fucking unfair that I couldn’t see her and I couldn’t believe unlucky we’d been for my wife to get Covid.

Things started to escalate inside over the isolation period. I felt a sense of foreboding and panic rising up in my body. It’s a familiar feeling of dread that is so visceral it cannot be ignored. It wasn’t about being unable to get to see Anita or COVID (although those stresses and attachment stuff were definitely there too). Instead, I don’t know why, but I started to feel like my wife was going to lose her job. It was such a strong burning feeling in me that I really couldn’t ignore it. On paper there would be no reason this should happen. She’s very good at what she does and has transformed the place she has been working in with recognition from the inspectorate.

Perhaps I was just being silly. Maybe I just had too much alone time. Perhaps I was just being pessimistic and was crumbling under the stress and pressure of the last couple of months…but it didn’t feel that way. I couldn’t get away from the feeling and no amount of rationalising would make it go away.

I got out my deck of moon tarot cards (definitely got a lot more alternative since that day getting my palms read!). It’s freaky what happens with them. Frequently I’ll ask a question and get a card that resonates. Then I’ll ask the same question again…and get the same card. A few months ago, I pulled the same card six times in succession on the same afternoon! I close my eyes and spend ages shuffling them about – I have no reason to try and ‘cheat’ but it always makes me feel a bit ‘eek’ when the same card keeps coming. Anyway, I asked the question three times and got the same card. It felt confirming but also not what I wanted to hear.

Two days before my wife was due to go back to work, and we had all received negative Covid tests I decided to tell her what I was feeling. It was making me ill. The fear of losing everything (which is where my mind takes me when stability is questioned but that’s the trauma brain) was making it so that I couldn’t eat and the nightmares I was having every night were taking their toll.

Usually, my wife would tell me I was overreacting and to not run away with panic. But this time she didn’t. She looked at me seriously and said, ‘You know what RB? Your Spidey sense has never been wrong in all these years we’ve been together on anything. I hope you are wrong but if you’re right we’ll be ok, we’ll find a way through together’. That helped a lot. I mean I was still stressed out beyond words but at least she was accepting that my gut was screaming and that maybe it might have a point even if there was no tangible evidence yet.

Then it happened. As suspected. On the Monday she went to work for a morning meeting and was on her way home within half an hour. Absolute farce. I told her to record the meeting just in case even though there was no reason to suspect that anything was wrong. It’s a good job she did. Our friend is a HR manager for a big organisation and listened to the recording and was absolutely horrified by what took place. The laugh is, in the UK if you have less than a year with an organisation you can have your contract terminated for no reason at all so long as they pay you any holiday owing and stick to the terms of their contract – i.e a week’s notice.

I felt so sad but also so vindicated when my feeling was confirmed to be correct. But of course, here we are again. No job and huge stress with bills etc. I text Anita the day it happened to let her know. I had already spoken to her about my worries in the weeks before it happened (she probably thought I was losing my mind and overreacting!) and told her that I wanted to see her for our planned session the next evening but from that point on we’d have to put the therapy on hold as I didn’t know how we were going to cover bills let alone therapy. You can probably imagine what that felt like.

This last year, but certainly the last few months, has been an emotional rollercoaster and to lose the one thing/person that actually helps me function felt unbearable. I felt utterly beside myself. Anita as usual was, and has been, incredible throughout but this is long so I’ll write more on this later.

So what was the point in this post? Well, what I am learning, despite the shit storms is that I can and should trust my gut. The other day I was so shut down and was isolating myself from A. It was so painful. I wanted to be close but was terrified of being too much. The fear of abandonment stuff was massive and I think this especially the case right now with all the instability at home. Anita said she thinks I know deep down, and can feel, that she is safe, but sometimes the fear that I have about what’s happened in the past comes in and impacts how I can relate to her.

I always knew in my gut that Em was not safe. I tried to convince myself otherwise- that it was my hypervigilance gone mad and that there was something wrong with me. I so desperately wanted her to be safe that I repeatedly ignored what my body was telling me. Whereas, I have felt safe with Anita from day one. What comes in when I am silent and disconnected is not that I am unsafe with her, it’s the fear that I’ll lose her by being too much – especially now, when she’s seeing me for next to nothing.

It’s a completely different thing to how it was with Em because underneath that I DO KNOW that if I let Anita in, she is there ready. She is willing to connect. She isn’t scared of me. I know she loves me. I can feel it even without my sixth sense! Sometimes my brain just doesn’t get the memo in the moment that things have changed and it takes a while to unstick the brakes.  

        `

Kind Regards (And F*ck You)

Dear Em.

It’s been a year since that last, awful termination session with you. The one where you sat, repeatedly glancing at the clock, willing the time on.  It was, without doubt one of the most cold and painful interactions that I have experienced in my life. Sitting across from you, knowing that you really couldn’t have cared less whether I was there or not, was complete agony. Even now, it physically hurts to think back to it – the somatic response to what’s happened is still huge. It’s a year on, and I am nowhere near close to processing or healing the damage done by bringing and showing my most vulnerable self to you and having the young parts rejected.

That final, horrible day you were completely unmoved as you watched me cry (for the first time) and told me with absolutely no feeling that we’d ‘reached a plateau’ and simply said, ‘it is what it is’ and that it must feel ‘rejecting’. It was rejecting. Any normal person in that situation would have said, ‘it must feel rejecting, but I am not deliberately rejecting you’. You gave me absolutely nothing to cling onto in that session, you just let me drown. You didn’t even say goodbye. All I was left with was confirmation that what we’d been doing for all these years meant nothing at all, and that I was completely deluded for thinking (hoping) that after years and years in the room together that the therapeutic relationship was more than a financial transaction to you.

Knowing that you were willing to end a long-term therapeutic relationship with a two-line email response and no onward referral really should have told me all I needed to know about the quality and strength of the relationship we had and the level of care you had for me. I should have let go at the point, and not tried to reach some kind of resolution. I thought I would be stupid to run away from you and not give myself the opportunity to have some kind of decent ending. But the ending was anything but decent.

I sometimes wonder why I put myself through that final session, especially when so many people that care about me, including my current therapist, advised me to stay away and protect myself from even more hurt because it was clear that nothing good would come of the meeting. It pains me to say that they were all right because I so badly wanted them, and my gut, to be wrong.

I guess that the parts of me that were so attached to you hoped that being face-to-face you’d see how painful it all was for me, how distressed I was by what had happened, and you’d want to help work through the trigger of you likening my young parts to ‘adhesive ticks’ (which is what made me retreat and react so strongly in the first place). I thought at the very least, given my history, you would take some care not to reinforce the beliefs that I already carry about myself before we parted ways.

In that session you said you didn’t mean to hurt me with the tick analogy- but it did hurt. When I told you this, I was made to feel like I was too ‘sensitive’ and ‘defensive’ – those are actually the words you used. When I have recounted this exchange to ‘normal non-mental’ people and other therapists they have been horrified by it. In the retelling I have kept it simple and unemotive, because part of me wanted to believe that it was all me, that there is something inherently wrong with me, and that you were right that I was just overreacting to a ‘metaphor’. But that has never happened – there’s not one person who has gently tried to tell me that what happened was me being a bit too sensitive.

In fact, over the last year of us working together, I was advised by two therapists (who went and discussed me with their own supervisors) that it would probably be in my best interests to leave and raise a complaint to your governing body because what was happening was abusive, retraumatising, and dangerous.

It’s strange because on the occasions I went outside of our therapy (to other therapists) when things felt awful, I was looking for someone to tell me that what was happening was the nature of therapy and that I was being too needy or resistant and that my high levels of dissociation were a product of doing trauma therapy and I should keep at it. I never wanted to hear that maybe my gut was right and that what was happening wasn’t ok. I so wanted someone to tell me that the emotional pain I was experiencing in the therapy was a product of my history and if I stuck with it, it would be the path to healing. That never happened, though.

Throughout the time we worked together I could never shift the sense that you didn’t like me much and didn’t really care. In so many ways being with you was like reliving the relationship with my mum! No wonder the maternal transference was so strong. It was so familiar feeling inadequate, unwanted, and unlovable. It was my norm to have a cold and unavailable caregiver and I guess there is comfort in the known.

The most you ever said to me when I was falling apart and needing some kind of reassurance was, ‘if I didn’t care about your well-being then I wouldn’t be working with you’. And I guess on paper that looks fine but it felt crap. You used to ask me what it would feel like to be cared for and I said ‘it wouldn’t feel like this’ [what it felt like in the room] and you’d tell me that if I haven’t experienced care how would I know what it’s like. I think you were trying to make me think I should accept that what was on offer was good enough. You’d tell me over and over that if I had a secure attachment, I wouldn’t experience you like I did. Again, I wanted to believe you but, in my heart, I knew that it wasn’t right. It never landed well.

I really wanted to believe that it was me and my issues making it feel so bad. Struggling to trust people and fear of abandonment are both huge for me, as you know – but I know now that it wasn’t all me because I don’t feel like this in the same way with my new therapist. The level of safety and connection I feel with her is so different, but it hasn’t come through her standing back and letting me suffer. Her presence and care is tangible. There’s no guesswork, or wishful thinking required. She is demonstrative and clear. It’s exactly what I needed.

As my young parts became attached and all the ‘stuff’ became live she’s been so accepting and welcoming. We’re in the trenches together. It feels collaborative. She actively works with the young parts of me, she doesn’t try and make out that she knows what I need more than I do. She learns from me and makes space for me to express whatever I feel and need – and magically, the attachment wound is starting to heal. There are ruptures (of course) and they get repaired really quickly, they don’t fester for months on end. My feelings are validated and understood. Therapy now feels like a safe house where I can explore my wounding rather than a place where the wound gets poked each week and then is left bleeding out between sessions.

All my wounded parts are learning what it is like to be in a relationship where I actually matter. I don’t feel like I am on a conveyor belt and thrown out the minute the clock chimes. I know time boundaries are important in therapy but if we ever accidentally step on a landmine close to the end, or something comes up and I am dissociated or distressed I don’t leave until it’s safe to do so – or I at least get asked ‘are you ok to leave?’. It’s insane that simple questions like that feel so alien to me. I used to leave your house dissociated more often than not and have even injured myself because of it!

The power feels more balanced now where I so often felt disempowered with, and by, you. I don’t think you meant for it to feel like that, but the way we worked didn’t empower me at all. Even when I did build up the courage to ask for things from you (and it took months and years) it was rarely met well. I felt like a child who was beholden to its parents’ wishes – and that was repeating a pattern. It took me years to feel anything at all, or to come in contact with my needs, and then I was faced with the painful reality that I was on my own and my needs were never going to be met or examined or explored compassionately.

All those months trying to get you to write me a note just to say you were ‘still there’ (because I had struggled so much with the summer break) became what is known as ‘pebble gate’ on my blog. Six long months of waiting and hoping that you’d do something to help me with object constancy was ridiculous – so much so that I ended up telling you what to write which completely missed the point. It was so disappointing and felt both rejecting and abandoning. And yet my new therapist has repeatedly asked me if I wanted to take a transitional object from the room without prompting.

She understands attachment and C-PTSD. She sent me away with her necklace over the last lockdown and when we returned to face-to-face had bought me one the same. I know this is unusual, but working on an individual basis, attuning to a client, and allowing yourself to be present in the relationship is so important. You and the relationship you create with the client is where the healing lies, it’s not in theories, or strategies and techniques. Relational trauma needs to heal in relationship. Love is essential and needs modelling to us. It’s so hard to love (and trust) when love has been your great disappointment.

Looking back now, I can’t believe how much I was prepared to shrink myself to try and fit with your vision of how my therapy should look. I mean honestly, the fact that I even suggested sending you three dots in the hope you’d reply in the same way, as a last-ditched attempt to maintain some kind of connection and ease the spiralling into the abyss that happened in the time between sessions, just tells me how fucking desperate it all was. Fuck. And the absolute excruciating pain that it was when you told me to tell you what I wanted and then to flatly refuse… god.

Refusing to even read or acknowledge my texts or emails was so hard . Often, it was the young parts that struggled to come to therapy that reached out in this way (and it was rare for me to do it because you were so disapproving!). I know you are busy. But honestly, you say you work with attachment disorders … I literally can’t see how you think that given how it’s been. Different parts communicate in different ways and, sure, it’d be ideal if they all turned up in the room, but sometimes they need to tentatively find a way in from the outside. They need an invitation…especially the teens! Why is it so hard to see that you are dealing with a mini-bus full of child parts when a client like me walks in? Sometimes you need to think outside the box.

In one of our final sessions I had given you a list of things that I thought would help make things better for those parts that were struggling with therapy: drawing together, playing games, transitional objects, sitting closer to me when I was distressed, sitting on the floor, letting the young parts text in the session when they couldn’t talk… and the list went on…and you said ‘I don’t work in that way’.

I felt so much shame around wanting to feel close to you. The attachment was so strong and yet all I did for the best part of four years was feel distressed because my object constancy was so bad and I couldn’t keep any felt sense of you between sessions. The boundary around outside contact fuelled this and I would become more and more upset. There was absolutely no flexibility in your approach and you so doggedly believed that you were right and that if you conceded on anything it ‘wouldn’t do me any good in the long run’.

I would be so hopeful that seeing you in person would ease that attachment anxiety but it rarely did. Occasionally, you’d tune into those young parts and use that calm, soothing tone and I could feel my nervous system settling but in the end that part of you disappeared and all I felt was your frustration and disgust at the youngest parts. The problem was, the further you retreated the more distressed the young parts became and the greater the dissociation in sessions was. The day I showed you the picture I had drawn of you being covered in barbed wire really ought to have been the start of a huge conversation – but what could you say? It was true.

I still don’t know what I did wrong or why you were so distant and detached. All I can ever come back to is that you thought there was some kind of sexual thing going on for me and you were repulsed by that. There really wasn’t anything on my side. I loved you but it was from that really young part that was so deprived of love and care. It was never sexual for me. And even if it had have been, that should be safe to bring to therapy.

Anyway, this just seems like a big string of listing what was wrong with the therapy and actually that’s not what I am here for. I am actually here to thank you for letting me go. It broke my heart. I mean it literally devastated me. But I am glad that it happened because if we’d have continued working together, I would be in such a bad place, still.

The last year with my new therapist has shown me that it’s ok to be me. I don’t need to hide. I am ok as I am and am valued for all of who I am. I am loved.

I see now that it’s not weird to want to feel secure in the therapeutic relationship and to feel like a therapist actually cares about your well-being. It’s not odd to want someone to come sit closer when you’re dissociated and stuck in a traumatic place. It’s not unhealthy to reach out for support when things are bad. It’s not strange, when healing relational trauma, to need a transitional object. It’s not bad or wrong to want a hug. It’s not unhealthy to love and be attached.

Emotional intimacy and physical touch don’t mean there is a blurring, or lack, of boundaries. It doesn’t mean that the child that missed out on so much years ago thinks it’s got a new mother and will stay stuck forever. Healing takes place together. It can’t be done alone. If it could I’d be fine by now! I know what’s wrong with me, I’ve read all the books, I have ‘insight’, but I needed an ‘other’ to help me heal the wound that was forged in a relationship by giving me a reparative experience in another relationship.

And the best of it? The thing you tried and tried to get me to do – mother my own young parts? It was utterly impossible, as though you were asking me to lay a golden egg. But guess what? Getting some of those fundamental basic needs met: being held, feeling it is to be safe to be vulnerable, experiencing what it is like for those young parts to be cared for rather than disgusted by means, that I can see now what I am meant to be doing. I have a template. I have a little nook inside myself where I can keep that love and I can start to tap into it. I’m a long way off the finish line but at least now I am in the race.

So…that’s it. You hurt me more than you can imagine but you did me a favour in the end because now I have what I need to heal. I sincerely hope that you have undergone some more training in working with complex trauma and attachment because it wouldn’t be fair for you to do what you did to me to another vulnerable client.

Kind regards (and fuck you).

RBCG

(and yes, I am angry!)

Isolation…

I don’t know about you, but I am so sick of bloody video calls now. I cannot take much more Zoom Doom, Skype Shite, FaceCrime, or WhatsCrap. Sure, technology has been helpful and without it I wouldn’t be able to work right now, but I am starving for real human connection (and that’s not just from a therapy perspective – I need my wife back!!). My world is backlit in blue light and my brain is completely done in. I feel overstimulated and overwhelmed and I am sure this is, in part, down to the amount of time I spend staring at screens (it’s not lost on me that I am at my laptop typing this – but writing is helpful so…!!).

It’s been two weeks- so far- in isolation but honestly it feels like months. My wife contracting COVID has turned our world completely upside-down. To say that I am going slightly (a lot) crazy is an understatement. It’s been a long, hard, scary slog these last few weeks and at times I have felt like I was drowning in overwhelm.

I can usually switch myself into gear for work but this week I have been staring at the screen, knowing I need to start the call, and a voice inside has been crying ‘I just can’t’. I like my students, we have a good laugh, but it’s just felt like the part of me that is funny, and capable, and light-hearted just isn’t available. Of course, I somehow find a way to be the right version of myself in the moment – frankly there’s no choice, we need to eat and right now it’s only me who is earning anything but it’s taking everything I have got to function as I need to. It’s been a shocking week for internet glitches – one session Zoom booted my student out 5 times!

Juggling home-schooling for both my children, trying to do my job competently, looking after everyone 24/7, and trying to not freak out about my wife who has been hit really hard with COVID has been a struggle. When everything feels unsafe and insecure in my day-to-day it’s not very long until the wheels fall of internally. I have been hanging on by a thread and by bedtime I am on the verge of tears (and I am not really a crier). The internal feeling juddering is horrific and I feel like I have electric pulsing through my feet. I really need to see K and get a nervous system reset! God, I wish!

My sleep has been appalling, lately. I rarely fall asleep until after 1am. Then I wake up again at 3am, toss and turn and stress and then drift off again, and that’s when the anxiety serves me up textbook nightmares. It’s happened every single fucking night for weeks: plane crashes, streets of burning houses, being chased… my poor system is just terrified. I’ve had dreams with my lovely dead friend, my dead dad, I mean it’s just been utterly heart-breaking and scary. Several nights I have woken up with my heart racing and in floods of tears. I think it’s fair to say that I’m not doing brilliantly.

And because we’re in isolation it’s felt like everything that I have been facing I have been facing alone. I know I am not alone, not really; I call my wife on FaceTime and I have spoken to Anita but life has become pretty much a non-contact sport. I am so grateful that I have my kids but hugging them is very different from receiving a hug from another adult. It’s me holding my kids and not them holding me (which is as it should be) but the fall out of not being allowed to touch my wife or see Anita face-to-face is that I feel like the baby I was in the incubator all those years ago. No touch, no regulation, just stuck in a box scared and alone.

What I really need is a big containing long holding ‘it’s all going to be ok’ hug. I need to be back in my own bed next to my wife. I need my team mate back on the field because being a woman down is not easy!

I need to be able to leave the boundary of my property and go for a walk. I need some time on my own away from my children – I love them dearly but it’s been intense essentially being a single parent these last few weeks as well as their teacher!

I need to know where we are at with regard to my wide’s job. I need to know if we are going to be facing the possibility of a redundancy next week. I need stability but failing that, I just want to know what we are dealing with.

And yes… I need to see Anita. In person. I need to let the child parts out and let them get some kind of holding and reassurance. I need the energy in a room with her. The body language. Eye contact. Just all of it. A’s been so accommodating to me this week (but then isn’t she always?!). It’s all been kicking off inside for me but yesterday my daughter was losing her shit over something she’d been asked to do by her teacher and was in tears over it. This lockdown is really affecting the kids much more than last year. They desperately need their friends and routine and stability. Schools are asking a lot of children this time around and I really feel sorry for them (this is not just my young kids but all the students I teach 11-18 from many schools).

Anyway, I was just about to have my call with A and was sitting in the living room when I heard sobbing coming from my daughter’s room. My phone started ringing as I was walking down the corridor to her room. I picked up and explained that I couldn’t talk because I needed to sort out my little one. Anita was fine about it and said she was free all morning and just to call when I was free and to take my time and do what I needed.

We were scheduled to talk for half an hour (because of my fucking lack of money!) but it ended up being an hour (I didn’t realise – the time just went because there has been so much to hold this week) and Anita said to just pay her for half an hour. I was so grateful to her. We spoke about how hard it is to get things squeezed in and she suggested moving my Friday morning session to after the kids are in bed so I can talk freely and not be up against it. She is really so kind and I absolutely can’t believe how lucky I am to have found her after Em.

This year has been so tough in so many different ways but I know for certain that I would have been in a far worse state had I still been working with Em. At least the attachment stuff and the agony of it hasn’t been too bad with Anita and if it has got triggered, I have been able to tell her!

What else?…aside from the immediate life crisis, it’s been a weird few weeks internally, too. It’s been a year since the stuff with Em ending. The 3rd February was our termination session. And whilst I am in no way desperate to see Em or go back to that hell I am still reeling from how it ended. Currently, if anything, I seem to be enveloped in a protective rage about it all and just want to let her know exactly what I think of her!

So….that’s just a moan and a ‘this is where I am at’…I’m sincerely hoping for my wife to get a negative test result, and to go get tested myself so that I can perhaps get back to Anita on Tuesday evening.

Finger crossed.

Love to you all and big thanks to those of you have emailed to check in and offer your support. It means a lot xx

The Price Of Trauma

It’s been a complicated, stressful, and emotionally messy week. ‘No change there, then’, I hear you say! To be honest, I thought I was close reaching my breaking point these last few weeks. It’s certainly felt like I was at rock bottom – but as it turns out, there was a hidden trapdoor I didn’t know anything about just waiting to spring open and give that extra little bit of depth and doom to plummet down into. I really need to stop saying, ‘how much worse can it get?’ because invariably the universe seems to think I am issuing it some kind of challenge.

My wife came home sick late last week with a fever and by early Monday morning we got the confirmation that it’s COVID – we knew anyway, the rapid deterioration and the developing symptoms were there and clear to see. This is unbelievably stressful on many levels- she’s actually very unwell with it, struggling to breathe and I can see that’s she’s scared – and nurses don’t tend to get scared with health stuff because they’ve seen so much shit in their careers that they shrug most stuff of as ‘you’re not dying so you’re fine!’ To see my wife in tears via FaceTime (because she’s isolating) is heart breaking. She is the solid rock in this household and suddenly she’s more like a jelly than a chunky bit of granite.

I’m trying not to let myself run away with what could happen but it’s hard not to – you all know what I am like. I know it won’t help anyone if I start catastrophising and so I keep on keeping on because I have to hold it together and remain calm for the kids, but there are things that are a disaster already just a week in. Like me, if my wife doesn’t work, she doesn’t get paid. She doesn’t get sick pay in her job and SSP doesn’t come anywhere close to covering what’s not coming in from her salary. So, once again, we are on a really financially precarious footing. We’re still not recovered from her losing her job last year and every day she’s not in work is another bill that becomes a challenge. Like many people in their 30’s and 40’s we have no savings and a lot of unsecured debt.

I text and cancelled my Monday session with Anita on Friday because that’s the only area where I can cut anything from our budget– everything else is already on a knife edge, every pound accounted for. It felt rubbish because, now more than ever, I really need my sessions. I am not in therapy twice a week because it’s ‘something to do’ I am there because without it I don’t function. Therapy is a huge part of my maintenance plan but also my fucking healing!

I really hate that mental healthcare is so exclusive and based on your ability to pay for it. I hate that my system is so traumatised that without that routine of my Monday and Friday sessions I swiftly fall into a place where I don’t cope. I did once-a-week sessions for years with Em and it was horrific for those young parts that just don’t have any sense of object constancy. I spent the whole time anxious and spiralling in the abyss between the appointments. Twice a week is much better but even that’s not perfect.

I know I am not the only one that feels like this. I feel angry that I am saddled with the bill for trauma that was done to me and it’s the reality for so many of us we’re left footing this enormous bill. When you exhaust your ‘quota’ of NHS therapy you’re left to manage by yourself. Discharged. ‘Goodbye and good luck!’ A lifetime of trauma doesn’t just get resolved in 12 months of once-a-week sessions with a psychologist (and that’s if you are even lucky enough to be given that and not just 6 sessions of CBT). When I start reeling off my history and the coping mechanisms I have built over the years it’s clear as day that this isn’t short-term work.

So what do you do when you hit the end of your NHS entitlement? Essentially, you’re faced with a choice – accept that this is the best it’s going to be for you or take on the equivalent of another mortgage to try and help yourself some more…and cut everything unnecessary out of life to facilitate it.

It’s insane.

If you had a broken leg that wasn’t healed the hospital wouldn’t say, ‘well, you’ve had one cast, and that’s your lot – hobble on’, they’d look again at how to try and mend you. When I had cancer they didn’t say, ‘We thought based on your initial scans that you would need 8 rounds of chemo. However, looking at your most recent scan we can see the treatment is working and the tumour is shrinking but the cancer’s still there. We now think you need another 4 rounds of chemo and radiotherapy, but tough, we don’t have the budget…’ I mean, can you even imagine? – Of course they booked me in for more chemo and the radiotherapy and because of this I am still here. And yet when it comes to mental health it’s tough shit and that withdrawal of support feels so abandoning and rejecting which again taps into a lot of the trauma for childhood – not being worthy of care and support, being too much etc.

It’s hideous, really.

It stresses me out to think about how much debt we have accrued over the years just so I can go to therapy. Sometimes it feels counterintuitive because the financial lack of safety negates the benefit of therapy. I hate feeling unsafe and financial insecurity really impacts my well-being. I panic about money a lot. I take on more and more work to try and cover the shortfall but in turn I feel exhausted and burnt out. It’s a vicious cycle but I literally don’t know what else to do.

My wife can never understand how we never have any money when we both work so hard, don’t drink, don’t eat out, don’t socialise, don’t buy presents for each other even at Christmas and birthdays. We make sure the kids have what they need but it stresses me out when their feet grow or they need new clothes (which seems to be all the time!). Our holidays (which we didn’t have any at all for 6 years) go on credit cards piling on the mountain of existing debt. It’s hard to explain to her that all this is down to the fact that she is married to a basket case whose system is so fucked that therapy is like life support.

I feel bad about it, but what’s the alternative?

Anita text me on Sunday evening to see how I was and said we could do our session if I wanted and arrange payment later. When I cancelled my session with her I told her that we just couldn’t afford it. I declined her off because it’s not like there’s a magic money tree in the garden that I can shake in a few week’s time and miraculously find another £50 hanging off a branch. It was kind of her to offer but really it just moves the problem.

We got confirmation in the early hours of Monday morning that my wife did have COVID and by Monday lunchtime she had deteriorated so much that I text A in a panic and asked if we could check in during the week. Maybe there’s a treasure chest lurking under the patio?! Suddenly, everything just felt really unsafe and out of control because the COVID diagnosis directly impacted another medical procedure and ugh…it’s just too precarious…but of course it also sent my brain on ‘we just cannot afford this’.

Anita and I fixed up a time to talk on Wednesday and I just ploughed on in survival mode – feeling increasingly ‘not ok’ and also panicky and disconnected from A. The last session we had face-to-face had been a nightmare for my system and the fallout from it has been huge. I feel like I am just fizzing with nervous energy. My nervous system is wound up like a tight spring and I feel like I am going to either explode or collapse soon.

I have been trying hard to look after myself through all this – eating properly etc (which is a fucking miracle given my ‘go to’ under stress is to starve myself) but even with self-care I was totally done in and exhausted by Tuesday evening and took myself to bed early – like 8pm. I couldn’t sleep, though. My brain was whirring and I just felt like talking to Anita online was going to make everything worse. I have been hanging it together with rubber bands and chewing gum but this is only possible because the child parts have been locked away. There was a very real possibility that an online session could trigger them, there’s no space here right now, no privacy I could end up falling down another trapdoor.

I felt incredibly unsettled – so much so – that I text Anita at 10pm to cancel our session:

A, I’m really sorry but I don’t think I can do tomorrow. I’m sorry it’s short notice to cancel. Things here are really hard and I just haven’t stopped running since Friday. I’m completely exhausted, stressed out, and drowning. Tomorrow is my crazy busy day and we’ll be up home-schooling from 7am. I can’t see how I can fit it is and talk to you – there’s no private space to speak to you either. I can’t escape to my room.

Also, I know that I am on my edge and as much as I want to talk to you, I think given how bad things feel it might actually make things worse because distance doesn’t help and I feel really far away from you already. It’s that thing where my brain doesn’t even think you exist or believes you are dead. I’ve sort of thrown all the non-coping parts in the cupboard because I can’t do my life right now. I need to be armoured.

I don’t know if you got the email I sent you last week but it’s very much in the needing to survive it by going it alone. I know that that’s not ideal but, actually, I can’t give space to the parts that are terrified and spiralling because I can do nothing for them – but what I can do is not trigger myself further by putting a screen between us. I cannot afford to fall apart. I hope you understand. X

She replied a little later with:

I am so so sorry to read your message and do totally understand. Please do let me know if there is anything I can do to help. Think of you with lots of love xx

I didn’t reply as it was 11pm and there was nothing to say anyway.

I could not sleep despite being absolutely exhausted. I tossed and turned and felt absolutely awful. My brain wasn’t consciously thinking of anything but my body just would not relax. I got cramp in my feet. I felt hot and cold. The anxiety was horrendous. That feeling of falling through the black abyss, the young stuff about being unsafe and uncontained was massively activated but it wasn’t really in regard to Anita even though I felt somewhat disconnected from her. It was 4:45am the last time that I looked at the clock and then I finally fell asleep for an hour and promptly had a plane crash dream (and have had it every night since).

I woke up feeling terrified and my heart was racing. And then my brain clicked. 20th January. A year since the horrible session when Em compared me to a tick, and the session that led to our termination on the 3rd February. This time last year was absolutely fucking horrific. It’s been on my radar that January was the anniversary of it all going to shit but somehow the date of ‘tick gate’ crept up on me. Of course, I am worried and stressed about the here and now but there’s also a big undercurrent of anxiety about this stuff with Em and that, I think is why I feel like everything is life and death. It’s that early annihilation stuff being tapped into.

I responded to Anita’s text when I woke up. Honestly – I’m like the tide changing all the time. I briefly outlined what I had realised when I woke up and asked if we could speak at the time we had arranged. We spoke yesterday for half and hour. It was very adult and I didn’t mention any of the stuff about Em or the attachment stuff or feeling disconnected because opening it up didn’t feel like a brilliant idea given I had a solid run of 10 hours ahead of me juggling my kids and teaching my lessons. However, it was connecting enough and I am so glad I have her in my corner.

I don’t know when I will get to see Anita face-to-face again. I have to isolate until Sunday and so far, I feel fine…so fingers crossed I don’t get sick, too. But ugh. It’s all too much stress not knowing how things are going to work out and money…fucking money man…

I know this is just a rant but actually I realised that money is such a huge thing and I know for a fact that I am not the only one struggling with the price of trauma – and therefore the price of therapy. I think what’s hard, too, is that we value our therapists so much that it’s not a case of thinking the therapy is ‘too expensive’ or ‘not worth it’ – it’s just simply unaffordable sometimes and that’s far from ideal when you REALLY NEED IT! It’s not easy to talk about this, either. I feel incredible amounts of shame around being unable to afford therapy – and this leads to all the stuff about not being worthy of it, deserving of it, good enough…it’s a vicious cycle but then £100-150 a week for years and years and years is just not realistic for lots of us is it? But like I said before, what other options are there?

I hate to be so doom and gloom but I just feel rubbish right now.

x

Anyone Want To Skip To 2022?

Honestly, it feels like a lifetime since I was last here having a meltdown and lamenting how hard things felt. If only I had known then what it was going to be like now, I don’t think I’d have moaned quite so much! I mean it really felt awful when I wrote my last post – stuck in the horrible limbo that happens each year between Christmas and the return to work in early January – but at least I could have my mental health crisis in relative peace!

Things felt especially bad this year with my annual breakdown. It’s a year since all the shit really started falling apart with Em and I couldn’t help think about it and turn it over and over wondering if I could have done anything differently. I couldn’t. And things are better with Anita than they ever were with Em, but there is still a profound sense of loss as well as all the feelings of rejection and abandonment around how things went down last year.

There’s still a lot to process and try and heal where that’s concerned, but 2020 didn’t really allowed a great deal of space for that. I mean Anita has held the space, but other stuff has got in the way. I mean who would have imagined we’d have been desperately surviving a pandemic in 2020 (and now 2021)? COVID and the associated lockdowns have caused so many disruptions to therapy (and we all know how shit I am with change – and working remotely!) and so a lot of the time I’ve actually been trying to work through the ‘here and now’ issues that have been brought up with A, not stuff that happened last January (although I more than appreciate that my reactions and responses to A have been informed by what’s gone on with Em…and my bloody mother!). 

Working online for half the year hasn’t exactly been ideal. However, bit by bit Anita and I have built a good, strong therapeutic alliance. I’m staggered, really. I’ve had my fair share of tears and tantrums, been needy, been avoidant and felt and expressed all the feelings and throughout Anita has remained solid and strong. I think she saw parts of me that would have otherwise taken a really long time to surface in the room when we couldn’t do face-to-face in November. I was so triggered by the remote sessions and it gave us both a really clear understanding of exactly where my sore points are. I knew already, but being safe to express how I really felt and not be told I was too much or ‘like a tick’ was huge for me.

Throughout all the upheaval I have felt Anita to be on my side, like she genuinely wants to help me and cares. I also feel like the power dynamic is more in my favour than it ever was with Em -I felt so powerless in that relationship. I trust Anita with all the parts of me. I feel safe with her and that’s really testament to how she is as a therapist – especially given how hard I find it to trust in relationships.

When I am drowning in shame and pickled in embarrassment, she always normalises my responses in relation to the level of trauma I have experienced. When I am mortified about how I have reacted or behaved she tells me it’s ok and that it’s to be expected. As I said recently, she’s like a bucket of soapy shame remover and that’s so accurate. I had a horrific session this week, the critic totally derailed me but Anita was steady, and calm, and found a way through to me and I left feeling connected. I never leave the room feeling abandoned or dissociated. I know I shouldn’t think that that is something unusual or noteworthy, but it really is after all the years with Em.

Anyway, get to the frigging point RB…!

Last time I wrote here, I was winding myself up anticipating the government announcing a lockdown and freaking out at the prospect of more online therapy. After how bad it was in November, I just really, really didn’t want to have to do it again – especially as I knew that another lockdown would be harder this time around because I felt it was inevitable that schools would close and I would be back trying to manage home-schooling for my primary aged kids as well as still working my job teaching online. I certainly didn’t relish that proposition, but the main thing that was upsetting me was knowing if my kids were home from school then I would have to wave goodbye to face-to-face sessions as I have no childcare. Ugh. Part of me hoped that Anita would go and bubble with her partner again to take the decision out my hands.

I managed to go to my session on Monday 4th January because my wife had already booked annual leave as I had therapy and the kids weren’t due back in school until the Tuesday. To be honest I can’t tell you much about it because it feels like so much has gone on since then. I know that it was nice to see Anita and we reconnected. It was so lovely to have a proper cuddle and to be able to talk about how fucking hard it had been over the Christmas break but other than that, I can recall nothing about the content of the session.

Obviously, at that point the lockdown hadn’t been announced yet and I left the session feeling ok but also slightly anxious that that may be our last session if I was correct in my assumptions. There were rumblings on social media when I got home that something was going to be said that evening by the prime minister.  I sent Anita a text:

‘Forewarning… if we go into a proper lockdown from tomorrow – or minimally schools close – after Boris announces whatever the fuck he’s going to say tonight at 8pm, I’m actually going to have a breakdown. You can join my club if you like!

Roll on Monday evening and BoJo confirmed my fears, yep, it’s time to lockdown. My heart sank. I was instantly all over the shop, internally, even though I had known it was coming.

The next day A replied to my text with, ‘Yes it’s not going to be easy. I guess we need to go back to WhatsApp’ ended with a crying face emoji.

To be honest that really didn’t cut it. I mean, sure, ok, I get it but NOOOOO. Having sessions whipped away again like that just felt sooooo bad. I would really have liked to have talked to her to discuss it and settle the chaos that was going on inside. I get that she must have also been taken by surprise and would have had to have cancelled or rescheduled all her clients for the week but I just needed a bit more than that in her text – some reassurance, I dunno.

I responded by telling her that I felt sick and just wanted to cry because I couldn’t believe we were in this position again.

She sent me a cute gif with a hug but, again, it just didn’t cut it because by now my system was having a complete meltdown. Things escalated internally as the day went on as the reality of what this lockdown meant hit home. I asked A is we could speak and have a check-in before our Friday session and I think this is where she got the memo and recognised that I was flailing like a fish out of water.

She offered me a time the next day and I took it. When we got online, I genuinely had only intended to talk for ten minutes and then go… somehow, we ended up at an hour! I literally let it all out in the biggest way. It was like the floodgates opened. The Christmas break and this latest disruption had seen me really fall into the depths of the doom. The stuff around eating (or not!) had reawakened, and even thoughts of self-harm were doing some serious time in my head. It wasn’t good.

I told A that I felt like an unset jelly that had been dropped on the floor and was just spilling out everywhere and that I felt enormous amounts of shame for reacting so strongly to this lockdown. Ok, not the lockdown, but the separation. My young parts just couldn’t fucking cope. I asked her when she was going away, assuming that’s what she was doing this time around, and she said she’d definitely be here until the weekend and told me that if I wanted, I could see her face-to-face on the Thursday or the Friday if I could get childcare.

Internally, there was a lot of relief when she said this, but also a dread. My wife is flat-out at the moment – you only need to look at the news to see what a state the health and social care sector is in right now – 14 hour days are the norm for her right now (in fact looking at the clock she’s still not home and left 15 hours ago) and then endless calls to mobile when she’s home. There was no way she could take time off for me to go to therapy – and I didn’t want to have to explain that despite seeing Anita on Monday, and having spoken to her on Wednesday, that I now needed ANOTHER session on Friday because I wasn’t coping.

I have spoked a lot to a friend of mine that lives a few doors down about what’s been going on for me this year. After the shit with Em I just couldn’t cope on my own and needed support from friends. Our children are friends and we’ve basically dragged each other through this year by meeting at the park in a socially distanced way and letting the kids let off steam. I’d spoken to her just before lockdown and told her how precarious it was feeling. She text me after my session to see how I was and I told her what had happened. When I told her what Anita had said she immediately said that she was happy to form a childcare bubble with me if it would help me to access the support I needed.

I tell you what, not all superheroes wear capes! Thank god for friends.

So, on Friday I went to see Anita. It felt bittersweet. I so needed to see her to work out a plan for getting through the next few months but was painfully aware of how this was going to be the last session for a while. I sat there not really knowing what to say. How many ways are there of saying the same thing – ‘I really struggle when you aren’t here and my young parts are giving me hell! I literally cannot do this again. It nearly killed me last time!’…

Imagine my surprise when Anita told me that having spoken with her partner, that this time they were planning to stay here. She said she may need to go to their other place to check on the house every now and then just to check pipes etc but the plan was to be here most of the time and so, therefore, I could have my face-to-face sessions if I wanted them because she knows how I need them and that we could find a way to make it work.

Honestly, I could have cried.

She said she understood that I wouldn’t be able to make daytime sessions and that two sessions a week would probably be tricky for me given how much I work, but she wondered if we might do a longer session one night a week and then have one online to keep touching base? I mentally scanned my timetable. I work every evening of the week but knew that I could move an evening session or two to during the day, during lockdown, as my students are not in school. I just needed to run it by my wife and see if she could commit to being home from work by 6pm one night a week.

I told Anita that this would be amazing. I felt the tension I was holding in my body lessen and promptly burst into tears. The relief was palpable. Anita came and sat beside me and I cuddled into her and cried and shook for ages. My system finally settled after about twenty minutes as I tuned into her heartbeat and her breathing and I could feel myself almost drifting off to sleep. The week leading into this session had been absolutely exhausting. I was emotionally done in.

My wife agreed that she could get home on a Tuesday night and I went ahead and arranged my sessions with A. We booked in 90-minute sessions for these times…although next week I can’t go Tuesday evening but will go during the day on Friday as my wife is home. It makes an impossibly long stint between sessions, though.

I even struggled on Monday not having my regular session this week. I just think that there has been so much upheaval that my system is off its tits. I’ve been so unsettled and jumpy and generally just struggling to get through. It’s been absolutely manically busy trying to teach my children and fit in work. I was actually a couple of minutes late to two of my own lessons last week (shudder) because I was caught trying to sort out technical issues on my kids’ devices trying to access live lessons on Microsoft Teams. It’s felt relentless and stressful and I just can’t sustain it for very much longer. The nightmares started up last night so I know I am dangerous ground.

Anyway, I was so so so relieved to be able to go and see Anita on Tuesday evening. But FFS…parts of me had other ideas about it when we got there. It was so dark, and I was so tired driving that when I arrived, I was just flaked out. The room felt really bright/light and A made the fatal error of sitting in her chair. It was the last thing I needed. Everything instantly felt wrong. I had so hoped to just be able to go, relax, and talk about the stuff that was bothering me – the Em stuff…and the fact that it was a year since Anita and I had met, the relief I felt about being able to see her in person…but no…ugh!

The critic stepped up really quickly, instead. That hasn’t happened in ages. My ‘false adult’ talked about shit that had gone on in the week – filler – for 30 minutes, all the while hoping that the critical part would move out. But it didn’t. It had all the vulnerable parts locked down. From then on it just all started falling apart inside. I couldn’t connect at all because the critic was so on her game.

Anita was amazing, so calm and kind. She asked me if I wanted her to come and sit with me and I refused. Of course I wanted her to sit beside me but how could I admit that? The critic would never allow that need to be shown. The young parts, by now, were absolutely distraught. Anita kept steadily reassuring me and asking what I needed but I couldn’t say. I was so overwhelmed. It was agony. I could see the clock ticking down. I felt awful.

I managed to ask Anita if we could turn the light off and put the little lamp on instead. I felt so exposed under the bright light and so distant. Immediately, things felt a bit better. It felt more intimate and less exposing being in a softly lit room. It was a relief to have a gentle orangey glow rather than the ‘big light’ in the ceiling doing its thing.

Anita told me that she felt like we were a long way apart and asked me if it would be ok, now, if she came closer to me. I barely nodded but at least it wasn’t a flat refusal like earlier. Maybe the critic was backing off a tiny bit? A kept gently talking to me, telling me she was still here, and did I want a hug.

YES…

But the critic said ‘No’.

FOR FUUCKKKK’S SAKE!

I told Anita that I couldn’t feel her and I felt like I wasn’t there either. It was that impossible situation where you are so disconnected from yourself that you cannot connect with others. It’s shit.

Finally, my barriers came down enough that I let out a huge sob and my body convulsed. I couldn’t hold it in anymore. Anita moved over to me instantly and held me for the last ten minutes of the session whilst I sobbed and convulsed in her arms. It was so fucking painful. I needed her, that holding, so much and yet I had deprived myself of it for 80 minutes. WTAF?

I settled just as the session was coming to an end, which is something at least, but what a fucking performance! I left the session feeling so confused and upset with myself. What had just happened? I drove home trying to work it out in my mind and wrote this email to A first thing on Wednesday morning:

Hi A,

I’m trying to work out what happened last night so I can try and put it to one side before the craziness of the day kicks in. I feel really sad about it.

Driving home last night all I could come up with is how when I feel overwhelmed, I disconnect from myself just to survive day-to-day life because it’s too much for me…and that’s how it feels right now. I feel like I am hanging on by my fingertips. When it’s like that I want more than anything to feel safe and to feel connected to you, but my autopilot kicks in and some part of me feels it’s safer to go it alone than let you in or reach out.

In the past when I have felt scared and stressed and anxious there has never been anyone there to help me. No one has seen how hard I struggle – of if they have, they’ve ignored me and left me to manage on my own or shamed me for my need. And my brain hasn’t updated and got the memo that I am not completely on my own now, and that you aren’t going to shame me or reject me. I get that the isolation I feel is created by me, now – not because it’s real anymore but it doesn’t make it feel any less real in the moment.

When I disconnect from myself it’s meant to be protective. I am numbed enough to get through the days. Only I’m not quite cut off because I feel like my senses are being attacked even with my armour on. My nervous system is on alert. I get jumpy and feel unsafe – last night even you speaking sometimes or moving in your chair made me physically jump. It’s nothing you did – you were nothing but gentle and kind but my system is on overdrive. It’s crazy hypervigilant. Everything is heightened – my sense of smell is off the chart at the moment. And I understand that this is a somatic response to feeling threatened (as in life is too hard right now) but it’s hell to be in it. My brain works overtime trying to work out what’s going on and if things are ok – so even something as simple as you sitting in your chair gets filtered through my distorted lens and gets read as ‘she doesn’t want to be near you’.

There is definitely a part that is trying to protect me from being/feeling abandoned. Change and disruption is just about the worst thing for my system (that’s not new news!). Seeing you last night, at night wasn’t all that big of a deal – yes it felt a bit different but it wasn’t that that destabilised me. It was the realisation that, when I stopped and stepped out of my life for a minute that I feel like I am not coping and actually it was going to be ten days until I see you again in person. That feels like a lifetime right when every day is a struggle – especially to the young parts. And I know this is not your doing, this is my life and my commitments getting in the way of things but try explaining that to the young parts that just don’t understand it at all.

I know it’s counterintuitive to stay away, not connect, and not let myself get what I need when you are sitting there in the same room with me, but there’s a part of me that feels as though if I get close to you then it’ll be harder when it’s taken away again and I think this is also part of the hangover from the last lockdown and Christmas break.

You’d think, by now, I would know that this actually doesn’t help at all but it’s not conscious when it’s happening. I am not deliberately putting myself in a prison cell. I want to get out but as I said it feels like I have my hands tied behind my back. I can’t override that part because it’s so powerful. I know you were there, you kept telling me, and yet I can’t hear it when I am like that, I can’t feel it, but even when I do start to hear it, I can’t move towards you because I’m frozen. The only thing that seems to break through that numbness is when you touch me.

I wish it didn’t feel so painful and exposing to say, ‘I feel shit, things are hard, it feels like it’s falling apart inside can you sit next to me and can I just cuddle you tonight to try and make things feel better?’ I get that was what you were trying to tell me I could ask for, but it’s impossible when I feel gagged and bound.

I know that what’s going on now really isn’t helped by the events of this time last year. I feel like my level of need has ramped up again…(how much higher can it get?!) and I really, really don’t want that to show…I mean I know it does…so I am wasting my time…but actually I really, really don’t want you to reach your limit and tell me I am too much and send me away. I can’t get that ‘tick’ comment out my brain and the critical parts has latched onto it.

Anyway, that’s about it.

Speak to you on Friday and thank you for persevering with me xxx

——————————–

And so that’s where we are at. Online session tomorrow and eekkk…I don’t even know where to start!

Dear A, this is hard and I am struggling…

Dear A.

This is hard and I am struggling. It happens, without fail, every year. The period from the 27th December to the start of the new school term is a complete emotional disaster zone. I can trace this feeling back over at least the last twenty years, if not longer. It’s become part of the season just as much as Santa and Christmas films. I think a lot of people feel this way (do they?) – but even if there’s a lot of people in the same boat, it doesn’t help because what I feel right now is so incredibly isolating.

I desperately need time to recharge and given how hectic my day-to-day life is surely now, of all the times in the calendar, this should be the time I kick back and relax and have pj days. Nobody is expected to do much – I mean there’s the joke about not knowing what day it is and feeling like there’s no purpose – only it’s absolutely no joke feeling the way I do now. This isn’t relaxing. It’s harrowing. Yes, I am in my pjs but it’s because I have no energy or will to get dressed.

I feel so depressed. Everything feels a huge effort and I feel overwhelmed by the smallest of tasks. I should go and empty and reload the dishwasher, or at least get in the shower, but I can’t. I will do it at the very last minute before my wife gets home from work so as not to arouse suspicion of the fact that I am not functioning.

I feel so lonely and unsafe… I don’t mean that I am going to self-harm (although that has been a feature of this time of year before) I just mean I feel scared and not ok, not safe in my body. My nervous system is in tatters. I feel incapacitated. Frozen. Paralysed.

It’s at this time, every year, when all my fears rise up and I just feel desperately sad but also worthless and useless and all of those other horrible things that I struggle with so much. I can’t escape it and I can’t shift it – in fact, thinking about it, a decade ago it was this time that signalled my complete emotional breakdown which saw me off work for 17 months. It’s not a good time!!

As much as I want to ‘cheer up’ and find some energy and joy I just feel emotionally and physically wiped out. I know, now, that this is the very young stuff – pre-verbal- activating. It’s the feeling of that endless painful black hole in my chest that I wake up with, the panic, the emptiness, the tears that won’t come, the overwhelm and the detailed relentless bad dreams night after night.

And I can’t soothe it, that part of me. I just feel like I am in my own emotional prison and I don’t have the key to unlock the door and get out.

It’s bad.

Thinking about it, I am not surprised that over the years it’s been this time that has signalled the start of a rupture with Em. Things feel so desperate. I mean it’s as bad as it gets for me, and I’d reach out when I shouldn’t and then get radio silence which obviously triggered more pain, more shame, more of the ‘I am not worthy of care or love’. And this is where I am at again – now. Only I am writing this in a blog post in order not to create a rupture or to push you away. I don’t want to be ‘too much’ but this stuff, these feelings are too much for me and it’s hurting…and we’re only at the midway point.

It’s a negative downward spiral.

I know you’d probably say something like ‘try and do something nice for yourself’ but I don’t even feel like I have the capacity to exist right now. I know that’s dramatic. But ‘self-care’ feels like asking me to start speaking Chinese. I simply can’t do it.

I feel so stupid. In my last post here I wrote about how I genuinely thought this break would be ok because things are so much more secure and settled in my relationship with you. What I failed to recognise was the part that was around then is settled but this part, here, now is not. This part is the one that cannot take anything positive in. It’s the one who has no sense of object constancy. It’s the one who feels desperately alone and scared and has no words – it feels like a matter of life and death. I guess, given how bad it feels in my body it has to be the baby. It is the distress of a child who needs holding and is left out in the cold.

I don’t think how I feel is triggered by the break alone. It doesn’t feel like that…but when this stuff becomes live, it’s the break – the lack of contact – that makes it so much worse. My mental health maintenance plan is on ice – you and K aren’t there. In the usual run of things if I felt this way, the longest I would have to wait to see you is three days. I could text you and ask for a check-in and we’d probably be able to speak within 24 hours, and you’d respond with something holding in the meantime. But it’s different now. This is your holiday and I don’t want to burden you with my mess. It’s only been 9 days since I saw you but to these little ones that are panicked that feels like a lifetime ago.

Adult me is trying hard to just count it down and get through the days until we meet again. The thing is, this year I don’t even feel like I can take comfort in the fact that I am seeing you on Monday, 5 days from now. I really need to see you. I need to hug you and to cry and let some of this stuff out…but there is no guarantee that will actually happen. I am usually panicked enough on a break that my therapist won’t come back or that something bad has happened or things will go wrong (and they did last year!) but whilst I think you will come back because you care, we still might not get to see each other.

The COVID numbers are going mad here in the UK and I genuinely think we will be put in a strict lockdown again. It’s only a matter of time. And whilst there have been more provisions made for supporting mental health face-to-face in recent lockdowns, even if you don’t choose to go away and bubble with your partner, if schools revert to online learning as of next week, I will be home, here, looking after my kids and still won’t be able to see you face-to-face because I’ll be unable to get out in the daytime. As daft as it sounds there is a part of me that hopes you do go away because the idea of you staying here and my being unable to see you during the week when you are just down the road feels utterly unbearable. I could cry.

And so there it is. All my usual annual Christmas stuff playing out, the attachment pain, break struggles, and the extra cherry on top of the doom of potential lockdown just to add insult to injury. 2020 has been so hard and yet I fear there’s not a great deal to look forward to going forward.

I am so sick of hanging on by my fingertips. Survival mode is … overrated.

I miss you.

x

What A Difference A Year Makes

Well, here we are, it’s Christmas Eve, and well done to us, we’ve almost made it through the shittest, shitty, shit heap that has been 2020! I mean what a year it’s been, and it’s not even done yet. It seems like it’s the year that wants to drag every last drop of misery out of itself – here in the UK a new, more virulent strain of COVID is doing the rounds and more of the country is about to go into a tier 4 lockdown as of Boxing Day. Great stuff.

NOT!

Still, I am not here to go on about the state of all things Covid related – we all know what’s going on, we’re all in the storm together, although to be fair we’re definitely not all in the same boat. Some people are clearly doing ok on their super yachts, others of us are in leaky rowing boats, but there are so many others who are clinging on to driftwood desperately trying to stay afloat. I feel incredibly grateful for what I have this year even though it’s been tough.

Never has this blog name been more apt than in 2020, as I quite literally have been holding it together with rubber bands and chewing gum. I know it’s been hard for loads of you guys, too, so I really hope that you are able to have a decent time this Christmas – when, let’s be fair, it’s not always the easiest time even on a ‘regular’ year. I guess maybe one saving grace this year is that many of us will not be forced into hideous family celebrations and might actually be able to Christmas our way…pjs and a tub of Ben and Jerry’s anyone?!

Work has now ended for the term. I’ve just about got on top of the house (although with kids it never lasts!) and am near enough Christmas ready, and so it’s that time where my brain starts reflecting back over the year trying to make sense of what’s happened and how things have changed…and this year, thank goodness, lots has changed for the better. I can’t really believe how different things are now but what a journey it’s been getting here. Sweet Jesus!

This time last year, I was in yet another rupture with Em – it hadn’t spiralled as far as ‘tick gate’ and ‘I shouldn’t have accepted your gift’ just yet (those delights came in January) but we’d started the Christmas break on a really bizarre and uncomfortable footing. You might remember that she came out in a big 30-minute rant as a Tory (!) in our final session before the break suggesting left wing leaders were ‘communists’ and openly mocked one of the female leaders as ‘Jo Swimsuit’.

That session left me stunned and shocked. I mean I had already worked out we were on different pages politically, but up until now I had never experienced anything like this with Em. Mrs Blank Screen was so vehement in her opinions and ranted at me that day. It certainly wasn’t what I wanted or needed heading into a long break and it also set off a few more alarm bells.

Despite having repeatedly asked to do some work to help stabilise things for the young parts before the break she made no attempt to help me with it whatsoever (too busy ranting!), and when I fell apart after that session, she left me suffering for the three weeks. That’s a really potted history but you can always go back to December 2019 if you missed the steady descent into termination. Ugh!

Anyway, I was just rereading those posts as I was interested to see what was going on (although on reflection it seems like a bit of a wilful act of self-harm as nothing good was going to be there!) and to compare it to now.

Two things I wrote stick out to me. One was a text I had sent to Em on the Friday of my holiday. I was meant to Skype her, but it was just not on the cards so I sent a rather long text of which this is a part:

I suspect that you’ll say something about difficult feelings being stirred up and how you’re ‘just my therapist’. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong after nearly 8 years (on and off) because I feel further away from you than ever right now. It seems like at a time when lots of people like me struggle some therapists are bringing in transitional objects, writing notes, encouraging parts that struggle to communicate verbally to write, offering up text check ins, playing games, sitting next to clients and generally being reassuring etc and I get that’s not how you work but yet again we’ve landed upon a break and it’s, ‘if we don’t speak, I think we’re back on the 3rd or 4th’ and it’s just a world away from what I needed. I hate that it feels like this and disruption is so hard.

Reading this again makes me so sad and I remember how painful it felt. The somatic feeling of rejection and abandonment is just so awful and just gnawed away at my solar plexus and chest. I wish I had known before I got deep into that therapy that absolutely everything I listed above (and touch that I was too ashamed to mention in the text) was ‘off limits’ with her. It was really only once I was deeply attached to her that it become clear she was unwilling to meet me where I was at. I mean it took six loooongg excruciating months to get her to even write some words on a pebble – and they had to be my words, not even hers!! – to serve as a transitional object. I should have left then!

UGH!

For those of you that have followed me for a long time, you’ll know how hard I tried to fit my square peg into the round hole that was on offer with Em (haha – no pun intended!) – even if it meant distorting myself and shaving bits off. I tried to reduce my needs to the absolute bare minimum: remember the three dots in a text that she wouldn’t do? I look back now and just can’t believe I was made to feel like there was something wrong with me for wanting a real and genuine connection with her. I can’t believe that I tried so hard to fit in a mould that wasn’t right because I was told that was what was best… more pears!

In the same post I wondered:

The question I guess I have to ask myself is whether the things I feel like I’m missing out on are deal-breakers or whether or not I think what is on offer with her is enough. What I do know is that I have given so much time and energy to this therapy and yet I feel like I’m stuck. I feel like I’m trying so hard but just keep running into walls which makes me reinforce my own walls.

And that was it, wasn’t it? No matter how I tried to make what Em was offering ‘enough’ it simply wasn’t. I was never safely held in that therapy and it just left me in a state of perpetual ache and anxiety. It was retraumatising and kept me stuck in what felt like a huge re-enactment of being unimportant and unwanted as well as being too much… but despite knowing this, there was still part of me that wanted to believe if I just tried a bit harder then maybe it’d be ok, that at some point something in me would shift and it would feel better…it was just part of the process.

There was another part of me that was steadily gathering momentum and was slowly reaching the point where actually I couldn’t do it to myself anymore. Those things I mention above weren’t complete deal breakers but the no touch boundary was killing me – it was a fast track into dissociation time and again, and the key ingredient that was missing was that actually I just didn’t feel cared for. I wanted a therapist that was prepared to think outside the box a bit. I wanted to feel connected to Em. And I get that there are a zillion ways to forge a connection but being in the emotional dead zone for so long I was willing and wanting to try anything – in reality it shouldn’t have needed anything in the listed stuff above. Those individual things aren’t deal breakers, but feeling genuinely cared for is!…and that was what was lacking.

It was over this Christmas break that I realised I needed something different and started looking around for another therapist. Anita had been on my radar for a couple of years (!!) but I had never taken the leap to contact her, which looking back now is a huge regret – imagine how much better things could have been! Still, I am a great believer in things happen when they are meant to.

The first session back with Em in the new year was a disaster and at that point I approached Anita to arrange an initial meeting to see how it felt and try and work out of a way of moving forward. It went really well and I wish-wish-wish that I had gone with my gut at that point and left Em- that way the ending would have been completely on my terms. Instead, I decided that I wanted to try and work things out with Em and, although I knew I would probably have to leave, I thought it would be better to work through the rupture and create a decent ending and transition into therapy with Anita in a more gradual way…I guess a kind of weaning off process!

It obviously didn’t work out that way in the end as we rapidly descended into her calling my child parts a tick and then her telling me she’d reached the limit of her competency when I challenged her on it…and then terminating via a two-line email… before conceding that maybe a termination session might be ok! January was absolutely fucking horrific!

My system is still in shock about it all and I still have to do a lot of work on this with Anita- but really this year has been mainly about stabilising and creating a sense of safety and trust in the new therapeutic relationship, which is easier said than done when having just experienced harm in the previous therapy!

I feel so lucky to have met Anita. I genuinely feel like we are a good fit- a great team…and it’s not just because of the hugs (but of course they help)! It’s been a complete revelation to be in a therapy where, as she told me the other week, ‘I am in the driving seat’, where I can express my needs and know that they will be listened to, probably met, but if not, I’ll certainly not shamed for them.

Therapy doesn’t make me feel ill or sick or anxious like it used to. I mean I literally used to drive to Em’s with my heart pounding and feeling like I was going to be sick. The attachment stuff is there with A (a lot!), and it gets activated (especially when we’ve been working online) but the difference is Anita responds to me with care and compassion and like it’s ok to be attached to her. It used to repulse Em. And because I feel safe with A, all the parts do – the youngest ones, the angry teen, the protectors- there is a LOT less dissociation in sessions than there ever was with Em. I don’t need to leave so much now because I am not left feeling endlessly alone. Anita is attuned to me and comes and takes my hand before I disappear.

I said recently about how it feels like she has a big bucket of ‘soapy shame remover’ and keeps steadily dousing me in it. It is working. More and more I am able to ask for what I need. I don’t need to get swallowed up in shame for wanting connection or holding. I don’t get flooded with shame when I send her a text. I don’t feel unworthy of her care and attention. I know that I am accepted and loved as I am. I don’t need to pretend to be anything other than who I am with her. And that’s incredible.

I’m not going to write up my recent sessions because there’s really not much to say that’s any different from the others, recently. They have been holding and helpful and deeply connecting. I feel settled. For the first time in years, I can say that I feel ok about the Christmas break. The little parts of me miss her already, of course they do, but what’s different this year is that the separation is bearable because I know, deep down that Anita is going to come back, that she cares about me, and that I am held in mind.

I am loved.

And it is through Anita’s love and care (And K’s too!) that I am beginning to see that I am worthy of love and care. My internal narrative is starting to change bit by bit…finally! And it is because of the transformative power of relationship. Anita doesn’t do anything fancy, doesn’t bombard me with theory, or techniques…she’s just highly present and connected, she’s doesn’t hold herself back from me and she gets me, gets it, and for a child that has been emotionally abandoned and neglected this is therapy gold.

After our last session on Monday she sent me this…

and alongside my beating heart necklace and all the patient hours Anita has sat with my witnessing my pain I feel that my little heart that has been so badly hurt on so many occasions is safe now.

What a difference a year makes!  

Sending love to you all xxx

Back In The Therapy Room. ‘Hold My Brain; Be Still, My Beating Heart’

*Tea or coffee recommended alongside this post!

I wrote most of this last night and have just finished up this morning…I find it staggering how much my mood can change in just twelve hours. Yesterday I was stuck in the pit of doom – it was awful, and today I feel fine. It’s like bloody Jekyll and Hyde. Or rather, today I think my adult has come back online after a week of being dictated to by the young parts and the protector. I am not going to go back and edit this again to reflect my, now, better mood!

——————————————-

It’s been one of those weeks where everything has just felt terribly wrong and shit. I’ve been drowning in shame and loneliness, and generally just feeling crap in my body: overwhelm, panic, dissociation… the usual attachment stuff – disaster zone!…

And then just to top it off today, the blog post I was about twenty minutes from finishing and posting has disappeared from my laptop without a trace. I hadn’t saved the Word document (I always write on Word first) but usually these things are retrievable… not this time! I mean it’s not the end of the world, losing the post, but having spent a good couple of hours writing I feel like part of me just wants to say, ‘Yeah, the return to face-to-face again has been interesting – good, bad, crazy, and things are going ok-ish’.

I’m actually exhausted and honestly feel like I am playing in my own little orchestra and creating a cacophony of noise with tiny, whiny, little violins! 😦

Anyway, no one wants to hear me rattle on like this, so let’s give this post a whirl (again). Come on RB – get your shit together (my mantra for the last twenty years!!)!

So, last Thursday saw the return to face-to-face therapy (thank god!). Usually, I see Anita on Mondays and Fridays but I am such a monumental loser that I couldn’t actually wait until Friday to see her after how the three weeks online had been. I have been hanging on by a thread and was just desperate to see her again and wanted to try and fast track my way out of the pit of doom and disconnect that I had fallen into online. Frankly, my nervous system needed a break. It’s been in perpetual flight mode this whole time (although that’s pretty much my default…along with freeze!) and needed regulating.

My heart was beating rapidly as I walked up Anita’s drive. I was anxious but another part of me felt like I was coming home after the weeks away and working online. She had decorated her garden with Christmas lights and my inner child  – who loves sparkly lights and snowmen – was delighted. Anita opened the door and I hugged her immediately, she told me it was great to see me and I smiled inside and then walked into the room and sat down.

It was so nice to see her but a part of me was terrified that things would have changed, that my complete meltdowns online would have pushed her away (even if she says she’s a boomerang), that I would go in and face some kind of ‘talk’ about boundaries and being ‘intrusive’ and ‘demanding’ – the painful narrative that is branded into my brain.

I appreciate none of this is coming from anything Anita has said or done – I have Em to thank for this –  but I’m noticing more and more that I am struggling with the fears around being rejected and abandoned as we’ve moved into December. I guess it’s hardly surprising as we approach the anniversary of everything going wrong with Em, but it’s not easy to cope with. It’s exhausting in fact. No matter how many times I tell myself that it’s going to be ok, or Anita does, there’s that young part inside that is just absolutely beside herself in a panic…and that can set off a chain reaction inside where all the parts lose their shit!

After all the time online, I really desperately wanted to reconnect with A in our session. The young parts just wanted to cuddle into her and find some sense of safety again after what has been such a destabilising time.

Oh, if only it were as simple as that!

I have been on overdrive panicking about being ‘too much’, ‘too needy’, and ‘too intense’ and so whilst I really wanted to be close to Anita, there was a part of me warning me to stay away because they are terrified of everything going wrong. I may really need and want to be held by Anita but surely at some point she’s going to get fed up of me and push me away. The idea of being rebuffed or kept at arm’s length sends me into a shame spiral – so it’s easier to keep my distance – at least that way I am in control. It might cause me a lot of pain to keep back but at least it’s me that’s causing it.

I know how mental this all sounds but it really is the product of my system being flooded with genuine terror that history is going to repeat itself this year. I’ll lose another therapist…unless I tone it down a bit. And so over this last week, on and off, there has been a desperate battle inside: there’s the part that just so badly needs touch and holding and reassurance and the other part who is trying to make sure we don’t lose that by being too much now- the need is still there but I am trying to hide it – and failing miserably and feeling shit in the process.

I told you I was mental! I understand what’s going on inside but I seem absolutely powerless to do anything about it in the moment. As I have said so many times, adult me just isn’t bloody there when she needs to be and it’s the younger parts and protectors battling it out in the room.

Anyway, back to the room. Anita had sat down in her chair and immediately my system had gone into a panic. ‘Why is she over there? What’s changed? Why does she want to keep her distance?…’ It’s amazing how the smallest of things can trigger and internal meltdown. Anita was warm, open, smiling and yet because she’d sat in her chair everything fell apart inside. Somehow, I managed to tell A that I didn’t want her to sit where she was and she came and sat beside me. It was better, but because my system had triggered into worrying that she wanted to be away from me, it still felt like she was a desperately long way away. I couldn’t look at her and internally it was mayhem.

I felt awkward and just incredibly needy. I wanted to reach out, but there was that internal resistance kicking in fuelled by the doubt of those beginning couple of minutes. What if she doesn’t want me near her now?

I was determined not to get sucked into a huge dissociation and tried to dig myself out before I disappeared. During the break, if you can call it that, I had ordered Anita a sloth Christmas decoration and card to give her when we finally got back to the room and I had it ready to give her when I saw her.

I can’t remember what I wrote inside the card but it was something about thanking her for putting up with me recently (!!!). The sloth was a throwback to a kind of ‘in joke’ we have about having an inner sloth sometimes (all the time!). I really wanted to give it to her because I wanted her to know that I value her and am grateful for what she does for me and that I am aware of how challenging it must be working with a fruit cake like me.

I wish it was as simple as just handing these things over – but it’s not. I felt a wave of nausea and shame engulf me as I gave Anita the envelope. This is the legacy of working with Em and what happened last Christmas and the rejection of ‘The Velveteen Rabbit’. There is now so much anxiety around giving gifts that it feels utterly awful – which is such a shame because I definitely think my love language is gift giving. When I give people things it’s never about the cost, it’s about the symbolism, and so a rejection of the gift by Em last year felt like a rejection of me and my love. It’s little wonder I feel nervous now giving A things. Having said that, she seemed to really like the crystal egg I gave her when the first lockdown ended so that’s a start of repairing the damage.   

I really need to get it into my head that Anita, is not Em (repeat repeat repeat…when will it sink in?!) and she responded so positively to the card and sloth. You’d think that would be enough for me to go, ‘Phew! It’s safe! She’s the same. Nothing has changed. The relationship is real. There’s no need to be scared.’ But that would be far too logical and straightforward. Because I had been braced for rejection, even when Anita was anything but rejecting, I found it hard to take her in. She felt a million miles away – or I did. I guess I was protecting myself for a possible rejection and had retreated.

It wasn’t her, it was me.

The intense shame I feel for needing her, needing to be close to her, was rising and I could feel myself slipping away.

Anita said, ‘It hasn’t been difficult to put up with you’ – in reference to what I had written in the card.

‘It has. It has been difficult to put up with me’ I moaned.

Anita was using the calm, soothing voice – you know the one – and replied, ‘I think it would be if I didn’t understand it but I do. I really do.’

And I know she gets it. She frequently demonstrates just how much she understands complex trauma and why I am the way I am. As I have said before, she has this amazing capacity to drain the shame away. She talks to me like there’s nothing wrong with me, that how I am is completely reasonable given what’s happened to me. It’s a world away from the pathologising that happened with Em at the end.

‘It’s been hard for you hasn’t it?’ Anita asked.

I nodded.

‘It’s really good to see you’ she said.

I could hear her words but I just had nowhere to hang them.

Silence.

Overwhelm was creeping in.

Anita was giving me all the cues that things were ok and that we were ok still, and yet there was this part of me that just couldn’t move towards her. When it’s like that I need her to physically reach out to me and give me a definitive green light that it’s ok to be close.

I sat there frozen saying nothing for a while. My body felt tense and I wanted to cry. It was agony being so close to A but essentially as far away as ever. ‘What’s happening for you now? You look like you have an internal battle going on’ she wondered. A small voice said, ‘I don’t feel like I am here’ I felt like retreating deep inside myself – I guess trying to find some sense of safety.

With so much understanding and warmth A said, ‘You are here and I am here…. But it feels like it’s not real?’ I sighed. Inside the little part was longing to be told it was ok to come closer. The possibility of sitting there feeling disconnected for very much longer made me feel sick. ‘I don’t feel very good.’ I groaned.

I still hadn’t managed to look at Anita. I think if was able to make eye contact it’d probably make things feel much better but again there is that part that is too scared to look in case there’s something negative to read in her expression – or maybe worse still – no expression at all. Still face is so triggering to my young parts.

Gently Anita asked, ‘Do you want a hug?’

I nodded.

‘Come here and have a hug.’

Hooray – green light, right?

Yes. But no.

Fuck.

I was fixed to the spot. I so badly wanted to move but I couldn’t allow myself to go. You can imagine the wailing that was coming from the little ones inside. How can it be that Anita is reaching out with open arms and yet there is a part of me that can’t trust it, or actually it’s not that, it just doesn’t want to risk it being withdrawn – and I suppose the reality is, in not a great deal of time, the next break begins and so there’s a part that wants to protect against the vulnerability and attachment because when she’s gone the child parts are all at sea again. It makes sense, but disconnecting when I’m in the room makes things so much worse outside it- and yet it’s a pattern I fall into time and again.

‘I’m not going to push anything on you’ she soothed  ‘I am here for when you’re ready – a bit like the story with the rabbit, I’m here to be whatever you want me to be’.

I don’t think I have mentioned about the book, ‘The Rabbit Listened’ here yet, but recently I came across a children’s book (oh but of course!) about a child that was having a bad time, lots of animals came to offer advice on how to get through it but none of it helped. In the end a rabbit showed up and just sat and waited until the child was ready to do whatever he needed to move forward. In the end because it was on the child’s timeline and not the animals’ that had given advice, and he could do all the grieving and raging and feeling that he needed.

I sent Anita the link and told her that she was my rabbit, and just like the sloth had been one of ‘our things’ the rabbit is now another. My young parts really like it when she signs a message with a bunny emoji.

Do you know, writing this now, I feel like such a colossal dickhead behaving the way I have this last week– because thinking about all this here just really demonstrates how safe Anita is. I just wish my system would get the memo and file it somewhere rather than keep getting stuck in this agonising hell hole.

Anita told me a story about a time with her grandson when he’d hurt himself and he’d pushed her away and how she had waited on the floor next to him until he was ready and then eventually he hugged her. She said she felt like what was going on with us, now, was similar. ‘I don’t know what you need’, she said, ‘but you do, so I’m just going to sit here. I can guess what you need and can offer it, but only you know. It might be hard to access it…does this make sense?’

Yep.

Crystal clear.

But, still, I was frozen. I so desperately wanted to reach out. But I was so dysregulated that it was reaching the point where I wanted to run away because it felt like I was torturing myself. It is so fucking painful when this stuff happens. It’s like being trapped. Why is it so hard to be vulnerable and get what you need- even when it’s being given to you on a platter? I mean thinking back to an earlier metaphor, Anita was literally showing me the cupboard full of chocolate, offering me it, had actually unwrapped a bar, and yet the part of me that is so conditioned to only being allowed pears couldn’t reach for it.

‘What’s happening? What are you thinking?’ she wondered. ‘I can’t come into your world if you don’t let me… What do you need?’ she asked.

‘I don’t know.’ I whispered. At this point I was so far gone that there weren’t even the words to say, ‘I need a cuddle’ but actually whenever I go silent and frozen that is what I need. Always. Touch is such a powerful tool. It tells me I am safe, that I am accepted, and that I’m ok as I am. It reaches through the protector and soothes the youngest parts.

It was quiet for a while and Anita asked me again what I was thinking. I managed to tell her that I didn’t feel safe. I don’t know what wasn’t feeling safe, I think probably the feeling of being disconnected and alone. I find that really scary. Being in the presence of another person but being unable to connect with them feels really awful to me even when it is me that is in hiding. Anita asked me what would help to make it feel safe and again I couldn’t respond because there is so much shame wrapped up in, ‘I need you’.

‘I want to tell you’ Anita said, ‘I’ve bought you a present as well. I’ve bought you your own beating heart necklace. I just haven’t collected it yet…’

Wait…

Whatttttt?!!

I literally could not believe what I was hearing. I mean…that’s huge…MASSIVE huge…in that couple of sentences it was like Anita had taken a great big sledgehammer to the wall that I had built around myself and was showing me in no uncertain terms that she cares about me – a lot. I mean I honestly cannot believe that she would do this for me. I couldn’t even drag so much as ‘I care about you’ out of Em and here is A thinking about me and buying me something that is meaningful and significant. Blown away doesn’t even cover it.

I felt really stupid for sitting there silent and distanced when it was clearly not coming from Anita. I mean I do get it, this is my messy system doing it’s thing, but here was yet another enormous reminder that Anita is real and genuine…and gets me…and isn’t going anywhere.

I instantly moved over to her and cuddled her. My body was shaking and all the stuff I had been holding for the last few weeks came up and out. The tears…oh my fucking god…for someone that has never cried in therapy until this year I seem to be crying quite a bit! The rest of this session was lots of crying and sniffing and generally being an emotional wreck and feeling all the feelings. All the grief and the stuff about fear of abandonment was right there but I was only able to get to it because I was close to A. The littlest parts can’t say what’s wrong or let themselves express this stuff if they aren’t held. I guess this comes from a lifetime of no one being there and so learning it’s not safe to feel.

‘I feel stupid’ I moaned.

A replied, ‘You’re hurt, that’s what it is, you’re not stupid.’

And having gone from feeling like I was on a completely different planet to A a few minutes before I now felt so connected that I was able to tell her that I loved her.

‘I love you too, I do’ she said.

That was exactly what I needed to hear and it felt so settling but then behind that, a sadness washed over me. I told A what I was feeling. She asked me what the sadness was about but I didn’t know or have words for it at that point. I think it’s something about how kind and nice Anita is to me and yet Em was repulsed by me and my child parts. Trying to take in the love and care that Anita gives so freely is bittersweet, in a way, because the contrast against what I am used to is so enormous.

How can one therapist be so cold, mean, and dismissive (her last words to me were, ‘I’m sorry I couldn’t help you but it is what is and it’s time to stop’. There wasn’t even a ‘goodbye’ or a ‘take care’.) and the other so warm and loving… when I am the same? Or actually, I am a fucking clingy, needy nightmare now (!) and yet Anita still loves me despite all this. I am really, really struggling with it because to hold the idea that Anita actually can love me means that I have to change the patterning that is ‘there is something fundamentally wrong with me’ and somehow adjust it to, ‘it wasn’t my fault’ (what happened with Em).

Easier said than done, that’s for sure.

As the young parts had settled in and felt safe, the gushy stuff flowed, ‘I missed you’ I whined. I find it amazing that I can even say that, when expressing anything remotely vulnerable used to make me feel sick because it was never met well.

‘I missed you too.’ Replied Anita ‘And you’re right it’s not the same as on a screen’ and she hugged me closer into her body. I said how hard it had been working online and A acknowledged it and agreed that it has been tough for me.

The conversation shifted and we spoke about all sorts of stuff from books to emails from my blog readers.

‘I’m sorry’, I said. Sometimes I smack face first into the reality of how I have behaved and reacted and I realise just how bloody difficult I have been. I don’t mean to be. I am not planning to be a nightmare but so much has been triggered lately that it’s been hard to hold it. It’s all coming out in a tangled mess.

With so much feeling and kindness in her voice A said, ‘You don’t need to be sorry. You haven’t chosen any of this. It’s not your fault. And you’re ok. And I’m ok with you. I really am. I don’t have to be here. I am here because I want to be. There’s a big difference. And you are worth it.’ Those words felt like another warm, soapy bucket of ‘Shame Remover’ had been thrown over me and it felt so nice. I appreciate it’s nuts just how much reassurance I seem to need but these buckets need to fill an empty reservoir and it’s going to take time.

A and I both seem to like nature. Or at least we both own dogs and have to go outside quite a lot! Sometimes we send each other photos of the walks we have been on and recently A sent me some of a place she had been where lots of trees had been felled. It looked so barren and empty. I don’t know why I asked about it in the session but somehow it came up and we spoke about how it looks awful now but it will make way for other things to grow. A said that actually that was a good metaphor for me, ‘Once the scars of the abuse have been healed you’ll see how beautiful you are.’

The problem is, it feels like that healing is such a long way off. I mean part of me knows it’s not. Part of me sees it happening every day, in little bits…but sometimes when things feel so desperately hard and I am struggling to keep all my plates spinning and am down to my last spoon, healing this complex trauma feels like an impossible task.

The other week I sent A something about Object Constancy – it really explained how it feels to not be able to hold ‘the other’ in mind and the panic that happens as a result. I asked A how she thinks something so fundamental can heal. Like if you miss a foundational developmental milestone then how on earth can you mend it?

‘How does it fix?’ A asked. ‘I’m going to sound like Carl Rogers here, but I really believe it’s all in the relationship, it makes a huge difference.’ She talked about how the need for unconditional love was important because that’s the area where the damage had occurred. Our parents should have done this and yet instead this is where things went wrong. She talked about how our relationship was different from others in my life which is something we had spoken about at the very beginning when we met. I told her, then, that I wanted a real and genuine relationship that felt connecting but that I needed her to be my therapist…after Em I was clear what I was looking to avoid!

Anita continued, ‘I want to say it’s a healing relationship -because that’s what I want it to be. I really want it to be that.’ She went on, ‘I know sometimes along the path -as I have already- I’ll say and do things that may not be helpful, but it can be healing if we work with it well.’ Essentially, I think what this comes down to the transformative power of relationship, the healing capacity of rupture and repair, and the balm of ‘unconditional positive regard’ or what the rest of us like to call ‘love’. Anita commented that she thinks that Em works differently to her and we giggled. I mean talk about chalk and cheese!

We talked a lot over the next few sessions about how painful it has been, being separated and working online, how it hooks into so many painful areas of my past. As I said there was a lot of crying alongside the cuddles but also there has been a surprising amount of narrative coming out that I hadn’t shared with Anita before.

Talking about needing to collect my kids on time led to a load of stuff about how no one was ever there for me as a child and about all kinds of horrible experiences of being left and the craziness that has been part of my growing up. We’ve touched on the eating disorder, self-harm, the violence, hiding under the bed…I mean it’s all leaking out now! It’s funny, really, how you get used to your own story and sometimes it’s only in the retelling that you realise that it was completely fucked up. I mean we know it’s damaged us, but it’s not until you share it that you understand just how messed up things have been.

There’s been a lot of grieving in the last week. I feel so sad for the little parts of me. Nearly every session has felt like a battle at the beginning. I have wanted to be close to A but the fear of her getting fed up with me and leaving has escalated session on session. Anita has been patient and sat with me in it, reassured me, ‘I’ll be here no matter what’, but the toll it takes on my system is immense.

The other day I was frozen AGAIN and the young parts were crying out (inside) to cuddle into her and yet the powerful feelings of being too much and possibly pushing her away were just totally debilitating. As Christmas approaches this panic is escalating. Anita held out her hand to me and yet I couldn’t take it. I told her she felt far away and she offered me a hug and again I couldn’t accept it. It feels like I am punishing myself for having a need and yet in those moments I can do nothing to help myself. On Friday she put her hand on my leg and I still couldn’t feel it. When it gets bad, I retreat so deeply into myself that it’s like being lost in the dark and I need someone to come in and grab me and shine a light on the pathway out. Fortunately, we always seem to get there in the end and so I don’t walk out the room feeling completely bereft.

On Monday Anita handed me a little package wrapped in tissue paper. It was my beating heart necklace. I opened it and it is gorgeous. I absolutely adore it. I love silver, and blue is my favourite colour so it could not have been better for me.

I gave her a massive hug. I felt completely overwhelmed. I am still utterly stunned that A would do this for me. I don’t know if she realises how massive it feels to me or the impact that it has had on me. I wear it all the time. It’s a reminder that we are connected and evidence that she is not freaked out by my need to be close. Hearing her heart beating settles the young parts (I still cannot believe I told her this) but when she’s not there I have this beating heart from her.

I think some of my panic this week is really coming from what it would mean to lose her now. Anita has seen me at me most vulnerable and needy…and horrid! (eek) … and the attachment to her is strong. I feel like I don’t want to put a foot wrong by being too much because the loss would be just unbearable and so as I said at the top, there’s a part that feels it’s better to brace for it, even if it hurts.

I guess it’s just going to take time to settle and I’ll need to be patient with myself over the next few weeks. Maybe I should keep a diary of all the nice things A says to me so when I am freaking out that she’s going to leave I can remind myself that she says things like,

‘I wish I could have been there when you were small and made things different for you back then, I wish I could take the pain away, then but I am here now.’

Did you know that I really love my therapist?

Three Weeks Online…

I knew that the return to online sessions, after so much deep work and holding had taken place in the room, was going to be challenging but even I couldn’t have predicted quite how difficult it was going to feel being back on screen again with Anita. Oh, the irony of the pre-emptive message I sent at the end of our last face-to-face session!:

The next few weeks is going to be really tough and I’m going to try really hard not to have another meltdown over it, but I’ll just apologise in advance for myself now just in case. Please take elephant with you and don’t forget about me xx

Eek! Let’s just hide!

During the first lockdown Anita and I worked together from mid-March through to mid-August online and whilst it wasn’t ideal, it wasn’t a complete train crash either – well not initially, anyway. There are a few reasons I can think of as to why this is.

Firstly, in March we had only been seeing each other for a couple of months. We were building the relationship and it was feeling good but I was still very guarded, still very much in my adult- the really vulnerable parts hadn’t made their way into the room yet.  

Secondly, in March I think a lot of us were just in a panic about COVID, we really didn’t know what to expect, or how bad it might be- I mean people were bulk buying bog roll and stripping the super market shelves of pasta for goodness sake! (Not me personally, but you know what I mean!) Everything stopped: we were properly locked down – not this bizarre non-lock down that we’ve had the last month where B&M and all sorts of places have managed to call themselves ‘essential retail’!

The rules and guidance were so strict last time round that there wasn’t any room for manoeuvre. It was online therapy or nothing – it was as though mental health provision was completely overlooked and therapy was lumped in with hairdressers and nail bars. I mean, my hairdresser is fab, and I certainly needed my roots doing at the end of lockdown but not getting my hair done didn’t send me over the edge, whereas not getting to see A did, in the end.

I think the government has maybe learnt a few lessons this time round and has made it clear that mental health services can run face-to-face because actually even ‘normal’ people have struggled this year. Of course, this guidance doesn’t really help people who have been stuck online throughout, or whose therapists think they are doing fine online (when they really aren’t!), or don’t feel willing or comfortable to return to the therapy room just yet…or go and bubble somewhere else! I get a lot of emails from people with C-PTSD saying how bloody awful working online is – and I get it. I really, really do.

Anyway, online therapy only started to feel really tough at the end of June although I have friends who have been in therapy for a long time and it was hell from the start (which is what’s happened this time for me). Even when the relationship is built and the attachment is strong not getting to be in the room is really traumatising for the young parts who haven’t yet developed object constancy. Most of us struggle from week to week, or certainly on breaks, so a protracted period of disruption to therapy is hard. I actually don’t think therapists realise how bad it has been.

Things only started to feel difficult for me in the summer when the attachment stuff really kicked in and the child parts were now present and invested in the relationship. As I said to Anita in a text, at the time, up until that point she could really have been anyone, I needed a therapist to process what had happened with Em but I wasn’t attached to her yet. I liked her a lot. I thought she was a good fit for me, but my protectors had been taking it slow and so working online felt ok, the distance was manageable because I was distanced anyway – to an extent.

But then suddenly it wasn’t ok anymore. Like a switch had been flicked. Suddenly those online sessions felt painful and distanced and not enough. Nothing had changed from Anita’s side but EVERYTHING had changed from mine. And it was from that point that the mini-ruptures started to happen. I felt disconnected over some text exchanges and cancelled a session (for about half an hour until we sorted it out!) and then I had that epic meltdown when I found out A had been for a walk with another client.

All these big reactions stemmed from those young parts feeling hurt and abandoned. I had spent so long being cagey and disconnected, ‘talking but not really’, protecting those vulnerable parts that when those parts felt safe enough, they attached in the biggest way to A. It must have been like witnessing a change of seasons from summer to winter overnight. Watch out – here comes the crazy tantrums!

I know I am lucky because eventually I could resume face-to-face sessions but that six weeks or so where things had shifted felt like an eternity for those little parts who just wanted to be close to her and hug her and who got triggered by the screen.

The return to the room was so great in August and it’s been mind-blowing, really, how much things have moved on and the level of vulnerability and emotional intimacy that has happened. I almost don’t recognise myself…or…I do recognise myself but I am staggered that I am letting someone else see these parts of me.

The fact that I have been able to cry with A is huge. All those years with Em and I never felt safe enough to connect with my feelings like I do with Anita. It was only in our termination session that tears came with Em– how on earth can you sit in a room with someone for all those years, talking about the stuff we do, and not be able to let it out?

It wasn’t safe.

Simply that.

I had suspected all along that if I cried, she would leave me high and dry and, on that day, when my heart was breaking, she saw my pain and looked away before walking away. It was utterly horrific. It felt cruel, actually.

Anyway, ugh, enough of that. What a lot of preamble to get to the point where I talk about the last few weeks online with A.

Where to start, though? I mean I guess I’ll begin by saying I’m not proud of how I have behaved at times. As I said, whilst I knew it was going to a challenge working online, I had no idea that I was going to lose my shit in the way I did, as frequently as I did. Fuck! Poor Anita!

This is going to be a sort of summary because I actually can’t remember what happened in each specific session or even what happened in a chronological order. It’s kind of a blur. My system was so dysregulated and triggered that all I can say for sure is that RB was a handful and Anita deserves a medal for putting up with me….and also that I am so, so glad it’s over and we are back face-to-face. Well, that is until Christmas break which is imminent.

GROAN!

Please pray for me!

I think, probably, as I can’t remember what was going on it’s probably best to describe what happens online and why it’s triggering because it’s pretty much always the same. Basically, the screen goes live and immediately my system inside feels a million miles away from A. It’s a painful reminder of how far apart we are, or how alone I am. I so badly want to see her, and feel connected but it just feels like there are so many barriers. I struggle enough with Anita sitting in her chair in the therapy room and feeling like it’s too far away so being in completely different locations behind a screen is just a total nightmare.

As I said in the post the other day, remote working hooks back into the separation of being away from my mum between the ages of 5-11 and then I guess my dad being gone 11-16, or even when I was 9months-3.5 years. My whole life has been punctuated by caregivers not being there. Although I do think it’s the bit from being 5 with mum that is the biggest trigger.

I used to speak on the phone on a Wednesday with my mum and it was rubbish. Never enough time and always disrupted by the beeps. It just felt like I was perpetually hanging on to feel safe and connected (not that this actually happened when she was home but I guess that’s what I hoped for). This is exactly how it feels online with A. We both know it’s not the same online. We both know it’s triggering for the young parts. There’s not a great deal we can do about it other than sit it out. I guess the positive is that when we do actually see each other in real life there is sense of re-connecting and holding… but the waiting is horrendous.

If I can manage to stay in my adult then online is just about ok. The last/final session of this lockdown we had online was like this, but at the same time I just feel like I am disconnected from myself and actually kind of hiding from A. At least, though, if I can do that and talk about stuff that is hard but not impacting the child parts I don’t get the rage and hang up the call…which happened a few times in the last few weeks.

So, yeah, the feeling of disconnection online seems to get worse and worse as the calls go on. No matter what A says or does, no matter how much she tries to reassure me, tell me she’s still there, or that she’s coming back, or loves me – none of it goes in, it just bounces off. I can hear it but I don’t feel it. At all. It’s so painful. The longer this goes on, the harder it becomes, and then eventually the teen part comes online because those child parts are in agony. This is where the fun really begins. Jesus.

The teen’s protective anger is like lighting the touch paper and…BANG! Everyone take cover!!

It was Friday 13th November the day that everything went off the rails…I mean omen or what?! I can’t even remember what Anita said on that first day I put the phone down on her but I think it was something really innocuous like, ‘you’ve survived this before (as a child) and you’ll survive it again now. Sometimes it’s hard to keep know what’s in the here and now and what’s in the past’. Adult me knows what she meant but, unfortunately, I wasn’t here then and that sentence was like a red rag to a bull.

Eek!

Like, ok, sure, I survived this stuff as a kid – but look at the damage that it’s done!! And now you’re saying I’m supposed to be comforted by the fact that I have a fucking great survival skills and can tolerate just about anything because I have learnt to? But the detrimental impact on me is enormous: my nervous system has been totally battered; I can’t sleep, and when I do sleep I jolt awake at 2am feeling sick and like there’s a black hole in my chest; I’m dissociated to the point that I am burning myself by putting my hands in the oven not realising I haven’t got a tea towel or oven glove; and I feel tearful and unsafe ALL THE TIME…but sure, I’ll get through it because I have no other choice…

It just gave me the rage because, yes, this is familiar territory – but let’s be clear here, this was triggered because A had gone away (which she is totally entitled to do btw!)! And, ok, yes it was hooking into all sorts from the past, but I was hurting in the here and now because she was gone and I had thought she wouldn’t be.

We’ve since talked about how these kinds of statements- ‘you’ll get through it’- don’t help. I don’t want her to fix it or tell me I can cope with it, I need her to sit with me and accept my feelings and validate my experience of what’s going on. Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself…

I think I said, ‘I don’t want to talk to you’ – we were only about ten minutes into the session- and hung up. I think in person I would have been able to say why I was so upset by that comment but when I don’t feel connected online I just can’t. Everything feels wrong. It feels like everything is falling apart and the relationship isn’t real.

There was so much conflict going on inside as a sat in my living room – I felt so angry, but underneath that, just really hurt and unseen. The little parts were distraught. What had I done?

Fuckkk.

The reality of this, for those parts, is if the teen expresses anger is that’s the therapy finished. I did this just once, last January, and look what happened. GAME OVER. The absolute terror that flooded my system when I realised what I had just done with A was huge.

Then a message came up on my phone:

I’m still here if you want to talk. I can hear you’re angry and that’s ok. I still love and care about you and am ok to hear your anger. I accept you as a whole, good and bad xx

I stared at my phone for a minute. What on earth was I meant to do with that? The shame that was building felt huge. I felt like such a fucking idiot. How many times does A need to prove herself for me to understand and be able to hold onto the fact that she is there with me and is safe?

I wanted to talk to her, I didn’t want to be hanging onto this crap all weekend and so I rang her back and pointed my phone up to the ceiling. I couldn’t bear to be seen – not after this performance. The child parts were right there and it was so hard to talk.

I can’t remember if it was on this occasion where I disconnected the call or the next time I did it on Zoom…

(OMG I JUST WANT TO CRAWL INTO A HOLE AND DIE THINKING ABOUT HOW IT’S BEEN!)

…but it’s all one and the same, the teen part was so angry – and said, ‘you have no idea what you’re dealing with’ and Anita responded, ‘not up to the job?’ and I replied ‘yeah’. Oh, fuck me! I cannot believe I said that. Because let’s be clear, if she’s not up to the job then there is no one out there who will be and I don’t want to do this with anyone else!

I told her I was angry. ‘At me leaving?’ she asked. Yep. Of course. But we quickly understood that the anger is just Sad’s bodyguard. Things started to feel better and I apologised for pushing her away. I think this might have been the day where A told me she wasn’t going anywhere, ‘I’m like a boomerang – you can push me away but I’ll keep coming back until you decide you don’t want me anymore’ but like I say, I have totally lost my chronology because it’s generally felt like one long drawn out struggle all about the same thing – I don’t do separation well!

I wonder what it feels like to them (therapists) when are like this? Because I know I’m not pleasant. I know that really, when I push away it’s because I need connection so badly and I can’t feel it, so it feels safer to run away then sit in the discomfort of feeling alone/abandoned and find out that what I fear is actually real. I’d sooner cut and run than be dumped. But how must it feel to be trying your best to be there for someone and nothing that you do be good enough – and then get a personal attack because of it?

I really hope Anita knows that I value her, love her, and am so grateful for everything she does for me because honestly working with her has changed my life.

I might have fallen on my arse this month but, actually, overall things are SO MUCH BETTER!

I do generally apologise in session, or text afterwards when I have had a meltdown and I feel really lucky that I can send her a message as sitting on this stuff feels hard, because that part that fears abandonment will run riot if I feel like I have left things on a rupture because I’d convince myself that she would leave. This is one of my many, many messages over this period:

A, I really love you and I am so sorry that I push you away. It’s just utter hell. As I said before, the more I need you or miss you – but feel like I can’t reach/feel you – the harder I push away. It’s a desperate self-protection strategy. If I say I don’t want to talk to you or do this anymore, please don’t agree with me and say that’s ok because it ISN’T OK and just adds to the feeling that there is no connection and you’ll just let me go which is what that part is testing – do you actually care enough to reach out and stop me hitting self-destruct? … and that triggers all kinds of hurt from January. ‘I don’t want to do this’ / ‘ok fine’…it’s too painful. Anyway, I need you to know that I am sorry and I do understand and see what you do for me, I get you’re human. And I don’t want to lash out because I am hurting. When you come home can we have a long session and just cuddle please x And then these…

It’ll come as no surprise to you guys that A always responds warmly and shows how much she really gets it. She has this amazing way of just draining the shame and embarrassment I feel away:

Of course, we can have a longer session. I know it’s your defences that push me away and I respect them for the job they are ‘trying’ to do. That’s why it’s ok for me but that doesn’t mean I am going to go! Just like I called you back the other day and didn’t leave today when you tried to push me away. My saying ‘it’s ok’ means it’s so understable you’re feeling the way you do. Not ‘ok I will leave then’ because I know that’s not what you really want. I want to be with you for the whole journey, through the storms and the sunny days.

You’d think that getting messages like that and multiple hug gifs and little demonstrations that she’s still there would have been enough for me to not have any further meltdowns.

You’d be wrong!

By the 23rd of November my system was totally tanking. Talk about walking, talking, pile of disaster and need! I just really needed for A to come home and to cuddle her. Or at least to know when she might be home. I had started to panic that lockdown might be extended and that I might not end up seeing Anita until the new year. It was catastrophising 101 in my brain but it was a product of the panic and feelings of disconnect that were swirling inside. I know December and January are going to be hard this year. My brain is already serving me up flashbacks to what it was like in those final sessions with Em last year ☹ and so the thought of online on top was just awful for the little parts.

I haven’t the feintest clue about what triggered me into disconnecting the call that Monday. I have absolutely no recollection of the call at all. All I know I can see on my phone records that A tried to call me back twice and I didn’t pick up. The only reason I know what’s gone on is from the texts we exchanged afterwards. I was so triggered that I text her and told her that I didn’t want to do this anymore… it felt really, really bad.

As usual A was there, solid, supportive, reassuring and somehow it came out in the texts that she would be back next the next week whatever happened, lockdown or not. The relief I felt was palpable but there was also anger. Why hadn’t she told me this before? She genuinely thought she had, but somewhere along the line things got missed. Either way, it was enough to help me just about get a handle on myself – and for the distressed young parts to see some kind of light at the end of the tunnel. It was like counting down sleeps until Christmas – not even joking!

These online sessions have been hard (understatement) in lots of ways but I guess one thing I would say is that if Anita was in any doubt of the terrain we are working on before this lockdown she isn’t now. I suppose if I put the shame and embarrassment to one side and try and find the positives in what’s happened over the last month, it’d be that I must trust and feel safe enough with A to be able to express myself in this way…i.e whatever is there comes up in whichever way it needs to. Part of me must know and believe that she is what and who she says she is, and is in for the long haul otherwise there’s no way I would let this stuff out. I’d still be ‘a good girl’ and not a show her the ‘hurt, angry girl’.

Anyway, this is bloody enormous again – and not even that good of a summary of the last month or so! Thankfully we’re now back face-to-face which has been awesome but also … exhausting. I guess almost a month of holding everything in (or at least trying to) means it has to come out now!  

p.s I’m sorry about the GIF overload!! LOL!