holding it together as I journey through therapy – a personal account of what it's like to be in long-term psychotherapy navigating the healing of C-PTSD, childhood trauma and neglect, an eating disorder, self-harming behaviours, as well as giving grief and cancer an occasional nod.
*Trigger warning: cancer, cancer treatment, and death spoken about in no uncertain terms.
One of my closest friends is, as I type this, dying in hospital and it’s only a matter of time until the phone call comes to tell me that she is gone has died today.
When I started thinking about, and writing, this post this morning it was from the position of knowing that my dear friend was receiving end of life care in hospital and I wanted to express how sad, angry, and frustrated I feel about what has happened to her, and how unfair life seems sometimes.
It seems like an odd thing to be doing, carrying on with this piece of writing now, but I need to process this loss and writing is all I can manage right now. Every time I talk I burst into tears. I’ve cried and cried all day and now the tears have temporarily abated there’s a huge part of me that is grieving but another part that wants to tell everyone about this wonderful lady whilst I shake my fist and rage at cancer.
I feel like I am perpetually being robbed by this fucking hideous, persistent, crafty, bastard thief we know as cancer. I live in fear of it every day of my life, like so many of us. We (my family and friends) try to pretend like it doesn’t exist and that I am/we are unlikely to be burgled again, but I know the truth: it is only a matter of time before someone I love is taken from me or that I will be taken from my loved ones because cancer just won’t leave us alone. It can’t. It’s so deeply woven into the fabric of our existence these days. With 1 in 2 of us now being subject to some form of cancer diagnosis in our lifetime, there is a sad inevitability about it: you will be robbed blind, it just remains to be seen in which way, will it be your life or the life of someone you care about that is targeted…or both?
The fact remains, if you’ve been burgled once you’re likely to be the victim again. Just like my beautiful, darling friend. She had breast cancer fifteen years ago and then got diagnosed with Myeloma (bone marrow cancer) in 2015… and now she is dying. I guess some people might say that she was lucky to survive the breast cancer and get more precious years with her family and friends but it’s hard to see it that way right now when for the last two years I’ve watched the bravest woman I know try every line of treatment available only to watch it fail. We all hoped desperately for success and yet one by one saw each treatment was unsuccessful – now there is nothing left to be done, in her own words to a mutual friend, ‘we’re scraping the bottom of the barrel now’.
I have known this woman for a decade now and feel utterly blessed to have had her in my life. She was an English teacher, like me, and when I took up my first teaching job she promptly took me under her wing and supported me in any way she could. At the end of the first year of teaching my dad died suddenly and she was the one who delivered flowers to my doorstep and planned my cover lessons. She was there for me all through my subsequent mental breakdown. She has always been there. She has two children around my age and she became a great friend but also a mother figure. She never dodged the difficult questions with me. She noticed when I was sinking into anorexia or depression and would always say something caring but not intrusive. She always made me feel normal and cared for and SAFE. Later she supported me in my return to work and then through my pregnancy when I was teaching. Since then she’s been there through it all with me, another baby, my own cancer diagnosis and treatment, and now, sadly, I have also seen her through hers.
I have watched a beautiful, loving, kind, and vibrant soul have her life stolen from her bit by bit by the cancer thief. I was devastated to find out she had been diagnosed with Myeloma just around the time I was confirmed in remission with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. I had more chemo and radiation to go but I knew that my treatment was effective and it spurred me on. The relief I felt to have been successful in my own cancer battle was short-lived because I knew now what lay ahead for my friend. I couldn’t take it away for her and I knew that her odds and stats were not in her favour. My cancer was curable, hers only treatable.
So whilst at the beginning we thought she might get 5 years or more with her and were ready to cheerlead her through her treatment, we are now less than two years in and she is at the end of her life, there are possibly days left but more likely hours remaining. There have been no good spells for her because she has not responded successfully to any of her treatment. She has been fighting a losing battle but hell has she put up a huge fight.
This warrior woman is a rock and an example to us all on how to live life and how to cope when facing death. Now barely sixty years old she has faced her diagnosis with a grit and determination that I know I would have struggled to muster. I know, in all likelihood, somewhere along the line I will either relapse in my Hodgkin’s or get another cancer diagnosis as a side-effect of the ‘kill or cure’ treatment I’ve already had. I am terrified of that happening but my lovely friend has shown me it is possible to smile and live through hell. I just don’t want to. I am scared.
I’m not going to dress this up and if it’s too much for you then stop reading. Cancer treatment for Myeloma is hideous. The treatment regime has been gruelling. I have felt so powerless as I have witnessed her go through bone marrow biopsies (this is the worst pain I have ever experienced) chemo after horrid failed chemo, blood transfusions, infusions, injections, poison after poison in pill after pill, and none of it has been effective. She’s suffered hair loss/thinning (the least of her worries), severe jaundice, crippling exhaustion, desperate anaemia, neutropenia, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, constipation, aching, balance issues, weight loss, bloating, insomnia, physical weakness and pain….and so much more. To watch someone keep going in the face of total agony is harrowing. She has always put a brave face on and yet I’ve known how hard it’s been. There’s a look in her eye: fear, I think, that she doesn’t show to many people but because I have been through cancer treatment she knows I get it, she doesn’t need to hide from me.
Less than a month ago I sent her a message to see how she was as she’d just started on another (last chance) line of treatment and got this in reply:
‘You know the score more than anyone: bad taste in mouth, tired as hell, and a belly like a poisoned pup. Lots of fluid retention with this one so looking pregnant! Hey ho, what a week! At least I got through the five days of treatment. Three weeks to recover now’
Despite the horror of it, and believe me this treatment is horrific she was still chirpy. I have messaged several times over the last few weeks and then two weeks ago my friends and I got a blanket text:
‘Unfortunately I’m in hospital. I’ve been here since Friday and I’m not sure when I’m going home. You know how I feel about that! Hope all well with you x’
I was in hospital on Wednesday 18th in the haematology centre having my regular consultant follow up. Fortunately I am still in remission (phew). I knew my friend was on the ward literally through the door, but that she was too ill for visitors. Since then I have been texting and getting no replies, like everyone else.
On Thursday when I was house hunting in Cornwall I received a call from my friend’s husband saying that she was now too ill even to reply to messages and that he would keep us informed. In my head I couldn’t process what he was saying at all. I couldn’t read between the lines. Maybe I didn’t want to.
I spent some of my therapy session talking about my friend and how I felt about what was happening. I said how I am not ready to lose her yet and that I always thought having time to say goodbye to someone would make it in some way easier when the time finally came. I can tell you now – it doesn’t. I can safely say that watching a person suffer and deteriorate before your eyes is no easier than losing someone unexpectedly. Unfortunately, I now have experience of both types of loss. What I do know is that losing someone you deeply love generates a pain and grief that is inconceivable until it happens.
After my session on Friday I went to Tesco. I was ambling round the shop in a post-therapy daze when another ex work friend/mum replacement (I try and collect these mothering older women!) text me to say that our friend had further deteriorated and is now on end of life/palliative care. As I read the message I felt my world start to crumble. Things suddenly became real in a way that they hadn’t until now. I left my trolley and walked out the store and sat in my car crying. Despite knowing that treatment isn’t going well and that she is desperately ill in hospital, I am not ready to say goodbye to a woman who has seen me through the best and worst times in my life. I can’t lose another person whom I love.
In the early hours of this morning I had a dream about my friend. I was visiting her in the hospital and she was unresponsive in her bed, as she is now. I sat there holding her hand when another version of my friend walked in the door and sat with me. She was as I have known her before her illness, full of life, vibrant, exuding warmth and love. She came in and sat beside me and said:
‘This body in the bed isn’t me, darling. It’s just my shell. It’s what’s left of my earthly body. I am here with you now in the way I always have been. I’ve had a good life. I’ve been so happy. I want you to tell people about me. I was a good teacher, wasn’t I? We had a laugh didn’t we?’
and I replied:
‘We absolutely did! You were the best teacher but you are so much more than that. You are an unbelievable wife and mother. I am proud and blessed to call you my friend. You are without doubt the kindest soul I have ever met and my life is all the richer for having had you in it. I love you so much.’
‘I love you too. I’ve got to go now but I’ll see you soon’.
I woke up sobbing my heart out and couldn’t stop crying for a couple of hours.
I found out that my friend died early this morning.
So today is a bad day. It’s right up there among the very worst days of my life. I am beyond devastated and I miss my friend so very much. I will always miss her but I will always carry her in my heart.
I am conflicted again. Ha! What’s new?! What is it this time I hear you ask? Well, it’s about change. I have some serious grown up decisions to make in the next couple of weeks about potentially moving away and having a complete change of scene. Right now I am swinging wildly between ‘yes let’s do this’ and ‘fuck no, let’s stay here forever and ever!’ I am totally unable to work out what to do for the best despite devoting the entirety of Monday’s therapy session to the dilemma.
It’s good to have plenty of choices and options but right now I feel like I have a steady head of steam escaping out my ears. The cogs in my brain are whirring and generating a plethora or possibilities. I seem not to be answering any of my questions, only generating more and more ‘what ifs?’ For once I am not ‘overthinking’ things…in fact my usually annoying trait is actually very proving useful now that I am on the verge of making a life-changing decision for me and my family.
Honestly, even though I am thirty four years old I still feel like a pretend adult and just wing it most of the time. I can’t believe that I am responsible for so much when I feel so haphazard and disorganised! At some point I feel like the bank is going to turn around and say, ‘sorry we made a mistake, you are not a grown up and as such we should not have given you a mortgage’; or social services will rock up and say, ‘you cannot be responsible for two minors, you are still one yourself’; or the police will stop me and say, ‘young lady, get out from behind the wheel of the car, joy-riding is illegal, what is your parents’ phone number?’ I can hardly believe I was let loose in a classroom and taught secondary school kids for years. Surely not!
See, that’s the thing, I do a bloody good show at ‘adult’ to the rest of the world, but really I do feel like I make it up as I go along. I guess it’s something to do with the idea you have as a child that when you are a grown up you will have your shit together…..and I so clearly don’t have my shit together at all and by definition I therefore cannot be a real adult! It doesn’t help that I have some really active little ones running around my head either! A lot of the time lately I have felt like a child running around in a grown up’s body.
So, change…let’s be absolutely clear here, change is not something I am keen on these days. I used to be far more impulsive and adventurous than I am now and would seek out adventures and variety, but since my dad died unexpectedly, having my kids, and getting cancer I find that I am far less inclined to want to change things in my life than I used to be.
I think part of it is that I feel so unsettled in my mind so much of the time that I try and control external factors and keep everything on an even keel where I can. I’ve had so much thrown at me in the last decade that I have been unable to control, or anticipate, that I am now quite rigid in how I approach my existence. I basically have become quite boring.
I used to think I wanted to be really successful and wealthy and yadda, yadda, yawn… But now, all I really want is a quiet life and to be happy…oh and healthy (if possible, but I know that’s not a given these days). I like routine. Do I? Actually I’m not sure about that statement….all I know is that when my routine is disrupted (thinking about therapy sessions here) I get totally thrown off balance.
I guess I just like to know where I am, and how things stand, and so any kind of instability or change can negatively affect me. I like a plan. I want to have all bases covered. I’m sure that some of this aversion to change also stems from needing/wanting to feel safe and secure because as I child I never felt those things. I was always moving around, I had lived in fourteen different houses by the time I left for university and so never felt settled either physically in my environment or emotionally in my relationships.
From what I have just said it seems stupid to even be considering changing things. But then sometimes an opportunity comes along and you have face your fears and wonder if change could be a good thing in the long run.
To cut a long story short my wife came home on Thursday and told me that a job that we ignored, that she didn’t apply for, has been readvertised. It’s quite a specialist role and it is exactly what my wife does now so she’d be a shoe in if she wanted it. It’s not the job that is appealing. It’s the area where the job is based. My dad used to live there and I have spent many many happy weekends as a child escaping the hell that was Monday to Friday with my mum and so feel so at home there.
Whenever we go to visit or go on holiday my wife tells me that I seem so carefree and alive. I feel relaxed – and that is not a feeling I am all that familiar with. I feel like my heart is home when I am there.
So this time around I said, ‘why not let’s have a think about this. I’ll have a look online and see what properties are like in our budget. If we like any we could go down and view some with the kids as it’s half-term week’. So that’s what I did. I stuck in a search on a property website with a ten mile radius of where the job is. First house that came up? My dad’s old house! The place I LOVED when my parents broke up. Is that fate? I know it is ridiculous coincidence.
There are good houses on the market well within our budget. What’s stopping me then? Surely it should be all systems go. Sell up and get moving quick! Well yes. Who wouldn’t want to live beside the sea, be able to walk out their front door and surf every day? The thing I hate most about where I live right now is that despite having loads of great scenery and coastline, it’s a good hour to a surfing beach and so I rarely go surfing these days – it’s such an ordeal packing up the kids and heading to the beach for a wave. This move could change all that. Being by the sea makes me feel calm and grounded. Must be the pisces in me!
Part of me was excited by the news on Thursday, and part of me felt instantly sick. I think you know where this is going! Whilst a huge part of me relishes the idea of ‘going home’ there are several young ones who are absolutely terrified, ‘Plleeeaasseee don’t move us away from Em. We need her’. And there is the big gut-wrenching problem. Moving away would mean I couldn’t see my therapist anymore. Just typing that makes me want to both puke and cry.
On Monday I had meant to go in a talk about trying to feel more connected in session. Em had got the pebbles out ready when I walked in the room but instead I started up about the move and what I was thinking about it all. We spoke a lot about the options and pros and cons of making the move. I turned up on Monday and inhabited my real world persona: together, confident, articulate, rational, sensible and distant/emotionally removed. It must’ve been a relief for her after what’s been going on since the summer break. She commented on how different I was.
Em eventually asked me if I had had any thoughts about the therapy if I moved inviting me to talk about my feelings around what it might mean. This is what I should’ve said:
I am really anxious about moving away because whilst I (adult) know there are loads of positives to this move, there are parts of me (little ones) that cannot see how they could possibly survive without you. I struggle enough getting through the week without having contact with you but at least I get to see you each week in person. Even if the sessions are hard I still get to be in your presence and that in itself is soothing to me. The idea of not seeing you anymore fills me with dread. It feels enormous. I feel it could kill the little ones. I really don’t think I could cope.
Even though it would be me leaving you when I think about it, it somehow feel like an abandonment. Maybe it’s me abandoning myself? But I guess it highlights the reality of the therapeutic relationship to me and that is really painful. To you, I am your client nothing more, nothing less, and as such it makes no odds to you whether I leave or not. You can easily let me go. You’ve done it before. You are not attached to me. BUT to me, you are everything. I can’t just walk away and not look back. I know this because you were on my mind throughout the three year break we had. I always wanted to find a way back to you. I still needed you then and I need you even more now.
I literally feel ill at the thought of not sitting here with you from week to week. I know I am not ready to leave therapy, or you yet, and so whilst the move might be right, the timing just isn’t. I still feel like we have so much to work through together. I feel like we are only just touching the tip of the iceberg. I don’t know what to do. Can I let this opportunity for me and my family go because my childhood trauma and attachment issues are so here in the moment in the therapeutic relationship? By extension can I let what my mum did to me as a kid and the effects of that ruin my happiness now?
There’s definitely a part of me thinks I should go, move away, because being realistic I know that my needs are never going to be met by you. You cannot fill that hole that was forged years ago. I could be throwing money at therapy for the next five years and there is no guarantee that I will be better then. I really hope to be over the attachment stuff and feel more whole but part of me feels like I am chasing rainbows with you right now. I want so much more from you than you will ever be prepared to give me. Maybe I should just walk away now and focus more on my life and less on therapy. Perhaps I can just shut all these feelings down and carry on like I did before.
The truth is what I feel right now is grief. It’s the pain of not having the mother I needed. You won’t tell me you care about me or that you would be affected by me leaving. You will remain distant and detached and let me find my own way which is what you are supposed to do, but part of me needs to hear that the almost 6 years we’ve known each other has meant something to you too.
Thinking of you being gone, well it also reminds me of the loss I felt when my dad died. That huge gaping hole that opened up inside me is right here again. It is scary. I miss you so much now and so how can I possibly survive without you? Right now my little ones want to crawl onto your lap and cuddle in close to you. They need to be held. I need to be held. I don’t know what to do. I love you.
I know. I know. It’s saccharine isn’t it? Feel free to roll your eyes or play your mini violins. I know it’s dramatic… but it is how it feels and that is why I am having so much of an issue trying to work out what the hell to do. Of course, I have been highly aware of those feelings since Thursday night when my stomach fell into my feet, and yet when Em asked about if I had had thoughts about therapy I said, and wait for it:
‘Yeah. It wouldn’t be ideal moving, but…[sigh]… I dunno’
Yep. That was what I said.
FOR FUCK’S SAKE.
Shoot me now!
What the fuck is wrong with me?! I so clearly know what I want/need to say but it’s just too mortifying to even consider saying that aloud in person.
Shame and embarrassment win again, it seems. I really suck at therapy!
Despite my complete inability to engage with the question or show any level of vulnerability Em at least talked to me about what could happen if I move away. She works by Skype so I wouldn’t have to stop therapy, it’d just change. After the session we did by Skype recently it’s not something I would relish doing. I much prefer the face to face experience, but I guess some contact is better than nothing, and hey, if I was 120 miles away from her then I wouldn’t be perpetually feeling hurt about not getting a hug as it wouldn’t be physically possible for that to happen…silver linings!
I really don’t know what to do. It seems so ridiculous that my therapy is the biggest thing standing in my way of moving. Yes, of course there are plenty of other considerations in the mix: leaving my friends, moving the kids’ schools, finding a place to live that feels as much like home as my current house…but the biggest one, if I am being really honest, which I am here, is doubting whether or not I can cope with losing my therapist.
Fortunately, I have an extra session booked in for this Friday. I text her last Friday morning asking if she could see me as I had something big to discuss that was not childhood trauma related but that I didn’t want to lose momentum on that stuff. She got back to me a few hours later, although I wish she’d turn the ‘read’ receipts off as I know she saw the message within minutes of my sending it! I know it may well have been that she wouldn’t have known if she had space available this Friday until she’d seen her clients that day – i.e some may be taking time off due to it being half term…but you know what it’s like, ‘she’s ignoring me. She doesn’t care…fuck her!’
Anyway she eventually text me with a time and asked me to confirm if I wanted it. I did . ‘Yes please. See you on Monday’ (I have to work really hard at business-like text messages in this situation as all I really want to do is splurge heartfelt gush at her!) She responded ‘ok’… which sent me through a loop. ‘Ok’? Is that all? Argh! Would it have killed her to end with ‘Ok. See you next week. Have a good weekend’ or something like it? See this is the bonkers thing: I get wound up over the tiny details of a cold feeling text reply and yet would potentially pass up the chance to walk out my door onto this beach every day (I have a small property here already – my dad left it to me) until we found something more suitable.
What to do?
If anyone has anything to say about this I’d be glad to hear your opinions in the comments.
So, since my last post When therapy hurts: part 1 my week has been a bit up and down but I’m in a significantly better place than I was on Monday evening, thank god! I think I might rename myself ‘Flux’! Perhaps it could be my online name. It’s got a good ring to it, don’t you think? -and slightly less of a mouthful than rubberbandsandchewinggum!
I’ve been meaning to get on and write this post all week but just haven’t been able to for some reason. I’ve not been very busy, I just can’t really think of anything to say. I’m not very motivated to write. I can’t really be bothered with it. I know there’s no one forcing me to do it. There’s no pressure. It’s daft really. I am procrastinating. It almost feels like this is a piece of ‘homework’ I have to do but am resisting doing it. I think there’s a lesson for me there, don’t put ‘parts’ to posts. Last time I did it I had exactly the same predicament and got blocked.
I think maybe there’s another element in play too: ‘What’s the point in writing about it? Saying how bad I feel about things in the therapeutic relationship isn’t going to change anything, so fuck it all’. This attitude and reluctance to write makes a lot of sense to me, now, because I have finally identified the part that has been so dominant lately both in sessions and out of them. It’s an older teen part. She’s broken and pissed off.
I guess I feel about 17 years old which was a really tricky (also read ‘fucking horrendous’) time in my life: home was hideous, my mum was incredibly abusive ALL THE TIME, my anorexia was in full swing, self-harm was the norm, and I was in so much emotional pain that I could barely function.
I know it’s a huge cliché, but I had fallen in love with an older woman (a student teacher in my school -oh but of course I had!- huge huge eye roll!) and couldn’t tell her, or anyone for that matter, about how I felt. She’d moved away when I was 15 but we were very very close for a couple of years, speaking every night on the phone but as ‘friends’. I’d visited her a few times up country, being very intimate but not in a sexual way, and then the shit hit the fan when I became so ‘intense’ and needy that she basically cut off all contact with me.
At the time it was meant to be a ‘three month break’ from contact but it devastated me like a breakup and once I’d been hurt I couldn’t go back to that relationship in the same way. I came out the day after the ‘let’s have a break from each other’ phonecall because I literally couldn’t stop crying and was beside myself. It didn’t get much better when I did come out, though, as a large chunk of my social group stopped talking to me and silence used to fall whenever I walked into a room…. So yeah, all in all it was a fairly traumatic time in 2000!
So when I am in that teen state I trust no one and shut down but am also hugely on guard, devastated, hurt and angry inside. I won’t let anyone in because I will not be hurt again like I was back then. I won’t express my feelings, in fact I’ll try not to feel anything at all, because I don’t want to be abandoned and rejected again by someone I love.
My therapist doesn’t stand a chance when I am in this state because the parallels of the relationship I had back then and have now with her are all too clear to me. She’s another woman, ten or so years older than me, who I talk to a lot but don’t get to see in person outside of the focused time, someone whom I am very attached to but the power in the relationship is unbalanced. I don’t want to ever feel like I did at 17 again and so I won’t make the mistake of telling my Em how I feel her when I feel like this.
Fortunately, I am not physically attracted to my therapist, I absolutely see her as a mother figure (which isn’t easy either is it?!), but it’s also more than that. It’s quite hard to define exactly what she is to me. Of course, she’s my therapist, but I’m sure you know what I mean, it’s kind of the mother/big sister/best friend/fairy godmother idealised sort of thing and sometimes it’s none of those things. It’s a strange relationship, for sure!
I always really worry that my therapist will read my feelings and behaviour from the perspective of me having erotic transference because I am gay. She may not, I don’t know. I guess it is a sensitive issue for me. I have been rejected on the basis of my sexuality so many times. I worry that she only tolerates me because she has to. Unconditional positive regard is a cornerstone of therapy and yet part of me wonders if she is repulsed by me and just can’t show it?
It’s horrible to always be doubting the quality and authenticity of the therapeutic relationship. I know it shouldn’t matter even if I did feel attracted to her and that it would form part of the work but I just feel so fragile about this, even having come out 17 years ago, I still feel really vulnerable talking about my sexuality with her and I have only once brought up that massive heartbreak I had in my teens in all the time we’ve been working together.
I appreciate that I am rambling here and not really saying anything about ‘when therapy hurts’. I think this is what happens when I am fairly buoyant or in denial or both. I’m not really sure how I feel today – disconnected from myself is probably a good way of describing it. I know all those horrible feelings are inside and that the little ones are struggling but somehow they feel completely detached from where I am right now, they’re not front and centre.
It’s not a bad thing. I am functioning and frankly there have been too many days lately where I have struggled to. The teen part doesn’t need to be on guard and ready to fight because she doesn’t need to protect the little ones quite so much.
Since Monday I’ve been yo-yoing which totally follows my usual pattern of emotion after a session. I am always distressed, doubting, and devastated the day after the session. I feel abandoned, rejected, and hopeless. Ugh. It’s crap. I feel generally pretty rubbish until Thursday. By Friday daytime I feel as though I have survived the bulk of the week and can count down to the session on Monday. Friday evenings can be tricky, though, and so can Sundays. It’s almost like hope in the relationship and its potential is rekindled towards the end of the week, but then because I feel open and hopeful doubt can creep in again because she could hurt me.
Another blogger, who I’d like to think I can call my friend now (you know who you are), has been really helpful in giving me another perspective on things and challenging how I have perceived what’s happening in my therapy this week. She’s annoyingly perceptive and her input has certainly helped me get my head together a bit.
I complained to her on Monday about how I’d felt my session had gone. I’d basically not been able to talk for the first 15 minutes and then handed over my laptop and asked my therapist to read the blog post I’d written. I sat there crying behind my hands as she read it and yet when she’d finished we didn’t really talk about any of it. I felt frustrated that I had shared all that content and yet we weren’t talking. Or that’s how it felt at the time.
However, on reflection it is clear that I was dissociated. My therapist asked again which part had come to session. And she very gently talked with me. She commented on lots of areas but it was me that couldn’t/wouldn’t engage and she didn’t push me. We just sat with how things were. She actually did a good job. I just couldn’t see it at the time because I wanted more. When I feel like that and am pushing her away it’s almost as though I am testing her to see if she’ll stay with me.
She can’t win, though. She cannot communicate effectively with all my parts in a session because they all need such different things and approaches. What is right for one is completely wrong for another. It’s a minefield. The little ones need holding and soothing with that soft, warm voice that feels like a virtual cuddle; the teen needs reassurance and care and to be listened to and for her feelings to be validated; the adult needs to be told everything is ok and that there’s no need to be embarrassed or ashamed about the feelings that are coming up; the critic needs to be heard and wondered at. It’s not easy for her and I know she is doing her best although sometimes doesn’t get it quite right…
Shortly after she’d read my blog post she brought up something about payment – it was crap timing but I suppose there’s never a good or easy time to talk about money in therapy. I’ve been really poorly for a few weeks and on one of the session days I had done a Skype session because my son was ill, I ended up getting sick that day too.
I have basically been floating around on autopilot with no voice and propped up on pain killers and antibiotics for the best part of three weeks. Anyway, apparently for that Skype session and the one following it ,she hadn’t received my payments and yet last week did (but for just one session not the three I’d had) so she brought it up. I had been sitting in silence,not really, and I think the conversation was meant to engage my adult but also open up a conversation about resistance in the therapy.
The thing is, I hadn’t not paid her to send her a message. Hand on heart it was just a complete accident. I know what had happened because I’ve done it before making online transfers. I hadn’t confirmed the final page of the online transaction. I always go online shortly after the session and pay but obviously on these two occasions my brain was not fully in the game. I’d gone through the process, got all the details up on screen and just not scrolled down to confirm.
My therapist commented that I always pay promptly and suggested that maybe it was some unconscious communication about not really wanting to be there with her or something. I’ve said it enough lately that I haven’t wanted to be there (teen part can be quite dismissive of her) but that wasn’t what had happened in this instance. It was just a cock up and my autopilot had malfunctioned. It kind of threw me off balance a bit.
It made me think about a recent post by Life In A Bind – BPD And Me: How do you pay your therapist? The answer could be part of your therapeutic work. about payments and what they can reveal about the therapeutic relationship. I honestly don’t think I was unconsciously trying to send her a message by messing up the payments. I think, no , I know I was ill and just not functioning very well. In fact I am usually so quick in making payment to her when I get home or sometimes even before a session, despite the fact that she says she is happy to bill me monthly, because I value her so much. So meh, it was a bit of a weird conversation to have in the middle of the session.
What else has happened this week? Well another ‘interesting’ thing I’ve done is started looking around and researching other therapists. Uh huh. Yes. I know!
Of course it’s all a reaction to feeling so completely lost in the relationship and like things are disintegrating between us. Googling therapists came from a place of sheer desperation. That was Wednesday. After a bit of research and contacting a therapist I realised that I really don’t want to work with anyone else. I don’t want to chuck three years of therapy away. I just want to get things sorted in the relationship I have….if I can. I just don’t know if it’s possible.
I certainly know what it is that I need to feel more secure between sessions and in the relationship more generally. Essentially, I need to ask for some boundaried contact outside the sessions, whether it be a midweek text just to ‘check in’, or a quick phonecall later in the week just to maintain the connection. Basically I need some form of confirmation that we are still connected in the relationship so that the sessions don’t bomb on a Monday because I have lost all sense of her in the week and don’t trust her to be there and not abandon me.
Monday is going to be hard because I am completely rubbish at expressing my needs. I don’t like feeling so dependent and needy. But mostly I am massively fearful of her refusing to do either of those things when it will take a serious amount courage to ask in the first place. I asked for a double session just after Christmas and she said no and I basically ended up self-harming because I feel so stupid for expressing a need and not getting it met. I know that I will feel so rejected and uncared for again even if there is a good reason for not engaging in either of those activities, from her perspective.
I guess looking for another therapist was about rejecting my therapist before she has chance to reject me. This therapy business really isn’t easy is it?…particularly when your attachment style is disorganised and your cumulative life experiences/relationships have only heightened your fear of abandonment and rejection. Looking back over some of my close relationships, it’s almost as though my attachment style acts as a map to create these issues time and again. I either push people away, shutting them out so they end up leaving or I cling on so tightly that they feel smothered, or yo-yo back and forth between the two. I hope my therapist can handle my volatility. I think she can.
So back to the title, which I really haven’t stuck to at all – therapy hurts sometimes, a lot of the time actually, and sometimes it doesn’t. Right now I feel ok about how things are, like I might have turned a bit of a corner as I head into the weekend. I really hope that I am able to go to session and talk it out with her on Monday. The problem is, I have no idea who will arrive in session, how long they’ll stay for, or who else may show up along the way.
Honestly, I think I am ready to chuck in the therapy towel right about now and that’s not something I thought I would ever say. I’m so deeply attached to my therapist that I didn’t think there was any level of emotional hell that I wouldn’t endure to at least sit in the room with her once a week.
I thought I’d always want to go to session, in fact there have been times when I have really panicked at the idea of therapy ending (how on earth can I live without her?!). The weeks between sessions are always tough but I somehow felt that if I could just go to session, be there with her, and try and charge myself up with her warmth and care, take enough of her in to sustain me through the week, then I could cope. Hopefully over time things would get better – they surely have to improve.
I’ve said before that I need that weekly interaction, or simply needher, like I need air to breathe. It’s always been intense but now I am recognising that it’s increasingly damaging to me. I am not managing my feelings at all well and it’s causing me a great deal of pain. My adult has gone AWOL. Emotionally I am a complete mess and it’s the therapy that is fuelling it. I know I have issues – lots of them – but I think I would rather a life of denial right now than be staring down the barrel of this attachment pain that’s being aired in the melting pot of the therapeutic relationship.
Things are bad because I can’t cope with my little ones. I don’t know how to make things better for them.They love Em so very much and they are distraught when she is gone. I can’t soothe those parts of me in the week. Theyjust absolutely need to see her in person, they can’t handle the idea of her not being there, and I think that’s partly why I keep dragging myself to therapy each week even though I know it’s hurting me a lot of the time. I just hope that somehow those fifty minutes will be enough to get us all through.
In the past, no matter how bad things might have felt in session, I have always clung onto the sense that how things are in the moment is only temporary and have held out hope that if I just stick at it things will get better, that somehow the relationship will develop into something that is sustaining and nurturing rather than painful and triggering.
I want to believe that therapy will be helpful in the end and that once the foundations are laid we will be able to work through my attachment issues and developmental trauma. It’s not working like that, though. It’s not that straightforward. The relationship didn’t get soundly constructed with the therapy work following on neatly behind. It’s all thrown in the mix and we’ve got half-built structures and some really flimsy materials.
All my issues coming to the fore right now before I have got the safe base sorted and so I’m completely at sea. The push/pull of my feelings towards my therapist leave me exhausted. I have reached saturation point with how much emotional pain I can endure right now. I am stuck right in the thick of attachment pain, trust issues, and trauma. I can’t seem to get round it. I feel like it’s literally driving me mad.
I know that if I could just learn to trust in the relationship and my therapist, if I could just start to feel secure and safely held then some good work could be done between us because there have been times when I have felt safe with her, where I have been able to trust her, and have felt that we are connected….but it doesn’t last. It never stays. The negative feelings, the doubts that invariably flood in after a session decimate any positives. I feel like I am constantly having to build the relationship from scratch as it is repeatedly destroyed by my emotional storms.
I want to believe that this is just a ‘blip’ and that things will feel better again before too long. That one day soon I will walk in the room and she’ll smile at me and something in me will see that I am safe and I don’t need to fear her. At the minute, though, I seem to be drifting further away from her and the security I long for. It’s terrifying. I feel like I am losing her just when I have shown my most vulnerable elements. I am pushing her away because I feel like she is already gone. Maybe that’s just in my head. Maybe she is the same as she’s always been. It’s just me.
Whatever the reason, all I know is that the hopefulness I had has disappeared. Why? Well, probably because I am fucking mental and emotionally volatile and generally unhinged- but right now it feels to me that my sessions really aren’t going very well at all. In fact it’s all a bit of a disaster zone in my therapy and it’s getting worse.
It’s always been a bit of a problem on and off but now, when I get in the room, I seem to instantly shut down and freeze. I long to connect with my therapist but can’t. I feel too exposed and vulnerable to talk about what’s on my mind and so spend most of the time feeling shit and am painfully aware of the clock ticking down. Today I couldn’t even look at her. It was torturous.
Sometimes I manage to talk as we approach the end of session but today, well, I just bombed and now I feel utterly distraught. Every one of my parts is hurting….so so much. I feel like I have been repeatedly punched in the stomach and attacked with some kind of weapon. My body aches and my head feels like it might explode. I am scared to go to sleep today because I think once the lights are out I might start crying and just not stop.
When the time with my therapist ‘in the room’ doesn’t help make things feel any better or more manageable then the time ‘not in the room’ feels even more catastrophic. Since coming back off the summer break I can see how I’ve slipped further and further into this depressed, self- and therapy-doubting state. I feel like I am hanging on by my finger tips and not even really living right now. I’m caught between wanting to run far away and clinging on tightly to her.
The thoughts about self-harm and not eating are very present and I am desperately batting them away. I don’t want to be in this place anymore. I don’t want to feel so sad, and uncontained that it seems like a good idea to hurt myself. My Inner Critic is ready and waiting to launch into a full blown attack. It’s not good at all.
I really feel like am existing in some kind of negative bubble. Even my autopilot is faulty- more on that later in the next part of the post I think.
Thinking about it, it’s almost as though I desperately hung on over the therapy break, I endured how painful it was not seeing my therapist because I knew sessions would resume and felt that the connection could be restored….only it hasn’t really happened. I don’t feel connected at all. I feel so very disconnected that it’s like I am floating around in some kind of space-like vacuum.
Every now and then I send off a distress signal (i.e take a blog post into session) to try and communicate through the silence and yet I generally feel totally alone. I am sharing so much of myself and yet it feels like it’s not being heard and I think that’s why I find myself here. I have tipped my bucket of broken pieces out onto the floor and we are staring at the ceiling pretending like it’s not there.
It’s seems to be a bit of a negative downward spiral: sessions are hard, don’t give me what I need, leave me feeling lost and uncontained, as a result I feel more disconnected from my therapist during the week, because I feel more disconnected in the week I am then more shut down in session, I don’t talk, don’t get what I need, leave feeling rubbish and so it repeats on and on.
I am sure I will feel differently tomorrow and be able to see the bigger picture but right now I am totally wallowing in ‘woe is me’. There’s a part of me that is totally saying ‘get a fucking grip woman, seriously this is beyond ridiculous’ but it can go do one right now. Today I just wanted to be close to Em and because I couldn’t be I want to run away.
*I wrote the bulk of this post over the course of the day yesterday. I can totally see how the tone/mood of this post fluctuates as I go through it which highlights to me just how up and down my emotions are at the moment. Ugh. I’m so bored of feeling like I am on an emotional rollercoaster.
Help, I have done it again I have been here many times before Hurt myself again today And the worst part is there’s no one else to blame
Be my friend, hold me Wrap me up, unfold me I am small, I’m needy Warm me up and breathe me
Ouch, I have lost myself again Lost myself and I am nowhere to be found Yeah, I think that I might break Lost myself again and I feel unsafe
(Sia -Breathe Me)
It’s one of ‘those’ days again (although I fear this may not just be a 24 hour thing). You know how it is- you wake up physically exhausted and emotionally…fucked.
Today I feel everything and nothing all at once. Somewhere inside I am overwhelmed and terrified but externally I am NUMB. I am here but I am not here at the same time. I’m both in my body and not in it. Part of me is a spectator and part of me is long gone.
Actually, it reminds me of some of the lines in Romeo’s oxymoronic speech, where he’s out of sorts and lovesick at the beginning of Romeo and Juliet:
O heavy lightness, serious vanity,
Misshapen chaos of well-seeming forms!
Feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health,
Still-waking sleep, that is not what it is!
Opposing forces are violently clashing together creating one very uncomfortable conflicted state. I don’t really need to resort to Shakespeare to know that basically I feel like total shit today!
I’ve known it was coming, this… what is it? Depression? Probably. This feeling, place, space, whatever you want to call it, has been lingering just on the edge of my peripheral vision for a few months now, quietly stalking me. I’ve felt its presence but I have been coping, or surviving, or somehow evading it – to an extent. Something like that. I don’t know, really. My brain is so fuzzy….. and yet, oddly, strangely clear. I’m a complete contradiction today which probably won’t make for an easy read. Sorry!
Maybe today’s feeling is simply depression BUT I feel pretty low most of the time and I think ‘depressed’ is essentially my normal. It’s hard to say what this is. This ‘something’ is more, it’s deeper, more saturating somehow … it’s like I’ve been running and running and running for such a long time and today through sheer fatigue and exhaustion I’ve finally tripped and fallen. FLAT. ON. MY. FACE.
I feel like I’m face down in the mud, a thick fog has moved in along with the darkness and I am stone cold and shivering. I am so desperately lost. There’s a part of me wants to be found, picked up and held (probably the child) and a part of me just wants to lie here and give into it – stop fighting against ‘it’ and myself (the exhausted adult). I’m done.
Today it feels like I’ve finally given up hoping that there is someone to rescue me from myself…because there isn’t. There never has been. I’ve got to do it for myself and the little ones inside, but I just haven’t got the first idea how to achieve ‘recovery’ right now. Nothing I do works. I always just teeter along the edge- surviving, desperately clinging on. Part of me is losing hope. Has lost it, maybe. I just cannot do it.
Is this just capital letters DEPRESSION rather than lowercase depression? Is what I am feeling just the bigger, badder version of what I’m used to living with day to day? Is this the one that signals a proper breakdown- again? The entity I am always terrified of meeting after the last collision that sent everything so far off track I never thought I’d find the path back to the road again? I just don’t know. I literally can’t make sense of it right now. All I know is I just feel itand it is horrid. I am scared.
What am I meant to do when it’s like this? Dig even deeper? Keep going? Hang on tight? Hide? Stop? Ask for help?- who from? Who can understand this or help fix it? Who wouldn’t run in the opposite direction if they saw the reality of what I am carrying inside myself?
I know from experience that letting people see even a hint of this stuff doesn’t work out well. It doesn’t suit other people’s agendas. I am not meant to be like this. This is not who I am (apparently). I am the one with the plan. The glue that holds the pieces together. I am reliable. I am solid. I am a safe pair of hands. NOT TODAY I’M NOT.
It is inconvenient when I act like a ‘victim’ and ‘broken‘. Let’s face it, I’ve already put everyone through enough with the cancer diagnosis and treatment….we don’t need another breakdown on top that.
Surely I should be jumping up and down for joy having survived something that could very easily have killed me? Yes, of course I am. But I am so tired now. I have had enough of battling. I am strong but, fuck, I am so exhausted. I have nothing left.
Part of me just wants to reach for a razor blade and cut – to stop feeling and to feel. I will try not to act on that thought. I made a promise to myself in April but right now I ‘have lost myself again and I’m unsafe’. It’s easy to keep promises when things are ok, it’s much harder to keep them when things feel like they are falling apart.
I’ve talked about my internal soundtrack thing a few times in various posts, and about how important music is to me. Well Sia’s Breathe Me (YouTube link at the bottom of this post) is what’s inside today on loop. Strangely, I hadn’t heard it before until yesterday night – I know, I’m very late to the party on this one I think! Sometimes I hear a song and I know it’s one that’s going to stay with me for a long time, not just some passing thing on the radio.
Something about this song, the music and the lyrics, as well as her voice just really resonates with me right now. It basically is how I feel… which is both comforting and terrifying. It’s offering me a sort of outlet and yet, perhaps this is the last thing I should be repeating internally or listening to (although that’s not really how it works, there’s no choice, it just plays in my head regardless). Perhaps I need to try and find something uplifting rather than something that accurately conveys how I feel in this moment?
How the hell did I end up here again?
I had my therapy session yesterday and today is Tuesday which is usually when the therapy hangover starts or, perhaps, the therapy/therapist withdrawal symptoms begin. Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised by how I feel right now given how things have been lately post-therapy session….i.e dreadful.
So, to yesterday’s session then! Because I still sound like someone with a serious smoking habit, when I sat down I spoke about how bad I have felt physically in the last week and how ‘tired’ I have been. I spoke about how last Tuesday my lungs had decided to give up and I spent the week wiped out.
My therapist asked how it’d been emotionally, ‘rubbish’ I said. She said it sounded like there’d been a ‘double-whammy’ of difficulty and acknowledged how Tuesdays can be emotionally hard for me anyway… let’s not forget to mention Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday though eh?!
I suppose in all of this dark pit of despair/nothingness/ugh/yuck I need to remember that I have been really unwell for a couple of weeks now and it’s really taken it out of me. Perhaps this emotional flat-lining is feeling so much worse because my physical stores are so depleted. I know I talked in my last post Why does physical illness always go hand in hand with a mental health crash? about how aware I was of my little ones feeling activated, distressed, terrified, emotionally unanchored and totally overcome by it all.
Maybe how I feel now is just an extension of all that that was going on last week? I don’t know. I really struggled to talk about how things had been emotionally last week, in session, yesterday. I could say how physically ill I had been but not how bad things had been in my head. I couldn’t say exactly what the problem was.
I’m guessing my therapist can probably work out that my silences or avoiding her questions have something to do with the vulnerable child parts and the feelings that come up in relation to her,and my adult feeling really exposed, ashamed, and embarrassed about the whole thing. But who knows?
I felt strangely calm in the room yesterday (even though there was a new sofa and a view change). Usually, I am agitated or anxious or some other uncomfortable mixture of feelings and we’ve spent ages trying to work out how to make me feel safe in the room in order for me to be able to talk rather than freeze -hence the visualisation stuff. Ugh.
I think part of the reason I felt more settled yesterday was because I had been down to the beach before the session and picked out some pebbles to write the ‘holding message’ we’re going to work on on. The sea was calm and still and the beach was empty. I would have liked to have stayed longer, actually.
Once I’d decided on the actual ‘therapy pebbles’, I spent some time writing some of my feelings and things I struggle to say in therapy on some other pebbles and then threw them into the sea which was quite cathartic. I’m just hoping they don’t wash back up with the tide! ha!
I guess my beach visit was, in some way, me being proactive about trying to fix the situation that I’d, yet again, found myself in during the week. I can’t go on repeatedly feeling so disconnected and rotten in the week because I can’t hold onto the sense of my therapist being there. I can’t keep hitting that place where I doubt the relationship and then steadily dismantle any sense of security and trust in her because I think she’s gone or that she is going to hurt me. Something has to change before I go completely mad and the little ones destroy me. It sounds dramatic but that is how it feels.
Because I felt ok in the moment, in session, I found it hard to connect with how bad I had felt during the week when I was actually with her in person. I was almost too removed from all that horrible, painful, aching attachment stuff to be able to talk about it…or at least that’s what I thought at the time.
It’s hard to talk about how much you miss someone when they are sitting in the same room with you because you don’t miss them then, do you? It’s also hard to talk about the child’s emotions when you are sitting in adult. I mean, really, I still cringe even writing this. Why does she matter to me so much? How can a relationship that takes up 50 minutes of my week have such a massive impact outside that time?
I feel like such an idiot for getting attached to someone who really couldn’t care less about me. It’s ironic that I have spent my whole life being on guard in order to avoid getting hurt and pouring salt in already gaping wounds, and yet somehow find myself in a situation that mirrors the relationship I have with my mum. The therapeutic relationship stirs up all that pain and anxiety all over again. I know it’s transference. Great. But what do I do with that? The feelings are real and the pain is palpable.
I hate the distance between us because I read it as lack of care, and actually worse, that there is something fundamentally wrong with me that makes my therapist keep her distance. I hate never knowing where I am. I hate feeling insecure. I hate feeling like I am not good enough and that I have no power in the relationship.
Ultimately it doesn’t matter if I fall apart in the week because outside of that 50 minutes she doesn’t want to know, and that’s fine because she is just my therapist. I know that! But in so many ways what is happening feels so damaging, so re-traumatising. I don’t feel like I am repairing I just feel like I am reliving, or re-enacting the pain of the past in the here and now. I’m stuck in it and it’s awful.
Really all I want is to feel safe and secure in the relationship between sessions and have some sense that I am not too much, but that’s not how I feel. When it’s all going off in my head I can’t find a way out of it and it just spirals into something utterly horrendous. All the fear of abandonment stuff and attachment stuff has so much power once it’s in full flow. Sometimes I can feel myself starting to wobble and all I want to do is check in, ‘are we still ok?’ or ‘I feel like you’ve gone, are you still there?’ , get some reassurance before it all gets too bad, and yet I can’t do it. Well, I could but there’s no point because she won’t reply.
I hate being this vulnerable and having that need for reassurance leaves me hating myself and feeling stupid. It’s bad enough to have that need in the first place but not having it acknowledged makes it ten times worse because it tells me that, as I have always suspected, I am too much. It feels so rejecting.
So, perhaps the real issue about not being able to talk about this is not so much about feeling safe or not, or agitated or not, perhaps I just can’t talk discuss these feelings because it’s just too excruciating. I can write about them, hint at them, but I can’t engage in a proper conversation about them because I feel so exposed. I mean it really isn’t easy to lay this stuff out and trust that the other person isn’t going to run away. It feels too much. It’s too intense.
I get that therapists are faced with this kind of thing all the time. You only have to look at the blogging community to see how widespread these issues are! Knowing this doesn’t make my therapy any easier, though! I know I have to find a way of getting this stuff out properly because maybe then it will have less power. Maybe I will feel less pathetic. Maybe things will improve.
I so desperately want to find a way of feeling secure in the therapeutic relationship because I think if I did then maybe the time between sessions wouldn’t be so emotionally fraught. The problem is that I don’t seem to have the password to access ‘secure attachment and emotional intimacy’. I don’t know who has it or how to get hold of it. It’s so frustrating. I don’t know how to make this feel better.
I understand why I feel like I do. I totally get it. I get that developmental trauma and attachment issues often come out like this in therapy. Knowing why I feel like this doesn’t ease the anxiety and hurt I feel, though.
I try so hard to cling onto that bit of me that isn’t a complete emotional wreck, who isn’t caught up in a whirlwind of emotions about someone who, in reality, I know absolutely nothing about, but it’s not always possible because that part is rarely dominant at the moment.
I know I need to help the ones that are in a blind panic and I can’t keep running away for forever but sometimes I just want to be halfway normal in session, just to prove that I am not a complete fucking loser who can’t converse. I don’t want to be needy ALL THE TIME…it’s so grating.
The child parts were absent for most of the session – probably hanging out wherever they had been in the previous week or having a nap. I seriously need to give them a memo about where they need to be on a Monday morning, though. I need to find a way to get those vulnerable parts of me to attend therapy, because essentially they’re who I am there for. I also need to have a word with the censoring Gatekeeper part and tell them to allow the little ones chance to speak when they do actually turn up rather than shutting them down and banishing them to the corner. It’s all so difficult. It all sounds so mental.
My therapist asked who was there in session yesterday. I couldn’t identify it. I still don’t know. All I know is that I was finding it really hard to connect with any of those hard feelings and was really frustrated by it. Who is that?
The child parts eventually made an appearance about 10 minutes from the end of the session (usual pattern- sigh). It was like I had been hit by a truck which is something we had been talking about in the session. I’d said how all of a sudden those overwhelming feelings come crashing in and knock me over. There is no steady slip into overwhelm – it’s WHAM, and then I am overcome and pretty much unable to speak. I get so caught up in the feelings and the images that present themselves to me that I lose sense of time and how long I have been silent for.
My therapist had asked me a question about whether I recognised when this ‘hit by a truck feeling’ happens, i.e is there a common thread that activates the emotion….all of a sudden I felt myself go. I felt completely exposed and little and as though the ground had opened up beneath me and I was in freefall. I sat there in silence…same old same old. I knew I didn’t have time to explain what had just happened.
I eventually returned to myself. I asked what the time was and if I could play a song that we’d spoken about in the previous session before I left.
Listening to the song really helped settle me and calm me down. At the end my therapist asked me what the impact of the song had had on me, i.e was it soothing? I couldn’t really articulate it at the time, but I realise now that sitting with music made me feel like me- whole in some weird way.
It was as though in that moment all the parts of myself came together and were able to just sit in the moment and that was fine. I guess I felt present. There was no need to be anything other than myself, how it was, no front – just me. That’s what music does for me, I think.
So that was yesterday. I took myself off to bed last night and couldn’t sleep. I ended up on the sofa at 1am and lay awake until 4:30am. I could feel that the little ones had moved in fully again and actually they just wanted a cuddle. Then I had this dream:
I arrived at therapy (i.e this coming Monday’s session). I sat down on the sofa and sighed a long, deep sigh and wrapped my arms tightly around myself. ‘Are you ok?’ I looked up briefly to meet my therapist’s gaze and said, ‘No, not really’ I was silent for a while and then asked, ‘Can you sit with me today?’ and then averted my eyes as a wave of nausea and embarrassment flooded my system.
To my surprise she got up out of her chair and came and sat beside me and took my hand. ‘This is really hard for you, isn’t it?’ she said. I nodded and just started sobbing. I told her about how awful the week had been and how close I had come to self-harming. She rolled up my sleeves and traced the lines of my tattoos with her finger. ‘Your protectors have worked, though’ and smiled.
I asked if I could hug her and she agreed. I held on tight and didn’t want to let go. I was still crying but I felt calmer and more contained. I sat talking about what had happened during the week and how I felt. There was a feeling of connection and safety with her and I felt my system settle down. I felt like I was going to drift off to sleep. I was so relaxed.
Suddenly, there was a commotion in the hallway and then it moved outside the house. I got up and turned around to look out the window to see what was going on. There was a private ambulance, it was black, backed onto the driveway and its doors were open.
A paramedic (dressed all in black and wearing a balaclava) was carrying a screaming child out of the house using a fireman’s lift. The child was struggling and fighting against it. The paramedic violently threw the child into the back of the ambulance and went to the front cab leaving the back doors open.
The child was all alone in the dark (it was early evening) , it was terrified and crying. I couldn’t work out what was going on and stood frozen trying to make sense of it. I didn’t know what to do.
As I looked closely at the tiny figure I realised that this child was my three year old son. That’s when I lost it! I was totally filled with rage. At that moment, the ambulance started moving away and my son fell out of the back smashing his tiny body on the metal steps of the ambulance on the way down, and then cracked his head on the drive. Everything was in slow motion.
I ran out the house as quickly as I could to get to my son. I scooped him up in my arms. His head was bleeding and he was unconscious. My therapist and her husband were standing at the front door and stared at me but said nothing. ‘What have you done to him?’ I screamed. ‘Why is he even here with you?’
My child parts are really active and feel scared and lost. Part of me desperately wants to reach out to my therapist and check in but part of me feels like I can’t trust her after that dream. It’s the usual emotional push/pull. Hmmm disorganised attachment you say?!
Is it really as simple as that? Is this really where all this deep-rooted depression stems from- just a basic lack of containment and holding throughout my life? Can it be that not having a reliable caregiver has left me unable to trust in relationships or behave in a normal way? It seems so small and insignificant when written in words but it is massive, isn’t it?
I’m not sure if any of that makes any sense at all.
Look, I apologise in advance for this. It’s basically an, ‘I’m really poorly, am feeling sorry for myself, and I really miss my therapist’ ramble written from under the duvet, on a Friday night, whilst my wife is out at a gig that I am too ill to go to.
My immune system is beyond crap. My blood levels have never fully recovered despite it being nearly two years since I completed my last round of chemo. As a result of depleted lymphocytes, my infection fighting capacity is pretty non-existent. The doctors had hoped that things would’ve improved by now, but unfortunately my body is stubborn and has decided it would rather pick up and fight every bug that is going! I’ve been ill for almost two weeks now with the exhausting cold, cough, chest infection, no voice thing that’s doing the rounds. I’m so so bored of it. I just don’t have capacity in my life to be ill and still.
I thought I was getting better at the start of the week, hence the fact that I managed to drag myself to therapy on Monday albeit sounding pretty husky. By Tuesday, though, the dry, croupy sounding cough headed south and turned one of my lungs into some kind of gurgling swamp and I suddenly felt like I’d had all my energy burgled from my body during the night.
I finally made it to the doctors on Wednesday. By which time both my lungs sounded like crackling Autumn leaves being trodden on every time I tried to breathe. I’d spent the whole night trying to sleep propped on the sofa in between coughing fits but it was all a disaster. I know that I need to get better at seeking help before I am completely on my knees but I always worry about people thinking I’m some kind of malingerer or hypochondriac….which is I guess a hangover from all the doctor visits when I was misdiagnosed with my cancer where I was repeatedly sent away (fobbed off!).
I didn’t see my GP (apparently she’s retired) instead I saw a stony-faced misery guts with GP qualifications. I was really only there about the chest infection so it didn’t really matter that she had the bedside manner of a cadaver. The annoying thing is, though, that I could’ve been there about anything: my mental health, or illness, depending on which way you look at it has been pretty bad for the last six months or so.
Realistically after the huge anxiety attack I had a few weeks ago, coupled with the negative feelings I’ve been having about my body and the urge to self-harm it would have been good to air some of those concerns and discuss the possibility of medication for the times when things get out of control. Of course I didn’t say anything, I just took my prescription for antibiotics and went home. I didn’t feel comfortable telling her anything about my emotional state. I wonder how many people feel like this about their doctors?
By the time it got to yesterday I couldn’t even get out of bed. I was absolutely knackered and felt like my body was made of lead. My wife had to take the day off work to look after our son as I just couldn’t move or function in any meaningful way.
I’m not really here to moan about how ill I feel, what I wanted to talk about is how I’ve noticed that when I am poorly my ability to function effectively in a mental/emotional sense is seriously compromised. I wondered if any else has noticed this in themselves?
I’ve said before that I struggle to maintain the connection with my therapist between sessions and that I hate midweek especially. It’s so tough. It’s essentially when the little parts of me are most active and start to overwhelm me. It’s the time when I most feel like I need to check in with Em, to ask whether she’s still there, that things are still ok, and that something hasn’t happened that has changed the relationship.
It’s a really tricky position to be in because that tiny, screaming, terrified bit of me that is totally uncontained is desperate to reach out to her and seek reassurance but the thing is, when I do that, she doesn’t respond and so that desperate little girl feels completely abandoned and then can’t trust her when we go to therapy.
So this week has been hideous. Because I have been so poorly it’s felt as though my adult has jumped ship or died. I haven’t had the physical or emotional strength to hold it all together and my little ones have had free run of my mind. I’ve felt like I am completely emotionally unanchored. I feel like I need grounding and holding tightly. I have been so ill that I’ve stayed in bed and hugged pillows to try and settle and soothe those little parts, but it hasn’t helped and I just feel lost. This small inner child is desperate to be held close and I don’t know how to do that for myself so it’s become overwhelming. I really could use a transitional object – not that I’ve said this before!
I always miss my therapist between sessions but this week it all feels unmanageable, like a life and death situation. I feel like my filter is down and I desperately want to tell her how I feel and how much I miss her. I want to tell her how scared and vulnerable I feel. I basically want some kind of reassurance from her that things are safe still. Rationally I know that everything is fine and that we can work through some of this stuff on Monday but the child parts don’t get any of it. They just want to be cuddled…by her…NOW!
It’s tragic really and I know it’s basically my wonderful friend ‘maternal transference’ doing the rounds. I know that this desire to be taken care of and nurtured back to health comes from my childhood where I was never cared for or fussed over when I was sick. More often than not I was packed off to school because my parents were busy, or sent down to a relative because, ha, my parents were busy. Always too busy.
When I was a bit older and my parents had split up I was left at home in bed when I felt unwell. My day would be spent drinking Lucozade, making toast, and watching Supermarket Sweep and the lunchtime episode of Neighbours….and then watching the repeat again at 5:40pm. There was no one there to take my temperature, hold me close, bring me treats etc. There was never anyone there.
I think so much of how I feel when I am ill (or well for that matter) stems from this feeling of my not being important or worthy of care and affection. I always felt like an inconvenience, something to be managed (when ill) and so now, it’s little wonder that when I feel like there is someone who maybe does demonstrate some care and compassion (Em) I want to latch onto it and hold it greedily against my chest, or place it inside myself. I want that person to be there when I am sick.
I feel like a whiny kid writing this, but actually that’s exactly what it is, I currently have a bunch of whiny kids loose inside that want to be held and contained and my adult who is really just a crap babysitter isn’t even available to try and do the job.
I hope I am well enough to go to session next on Monday – pray to the antiobiotic gods! – as I don’t think I can cope with a missed session right now. As the title of my blog suggests, I’m ‘holding it together with rubber bands and chewing gum’ – it’s fairly precarious.
The one positive from being this poorly is that I haven’t got the energy to think about physical self-harm and I am not eating much because I feel rough and so that in itself is enough to take care of the anorexic voice for now. It’s a sad day when you feel lucky that you’re only dealing with illness and attachment issues!
I literally just want to be held. I know it can’t happen. I want to cry.
I wrote this poem over the Easter break and gave it to my therapist (must’ve been having a brave day!). It still feels really relevant today:
I am not in your presence
how painfully aware of your absence I have become.
Time and distance
You are so far away.
The holding place in my mind
struggles hard to keep you whole
Are you merely a figment of my imagination?
A hologram, perhaps?
Even when within my reach
you always feel so very far away
I can see you,
feel you, but
I cannot touch you.
That small space
opens up like a vast ocean
I stand on one shore
you on the other
You beckon for me to join you
promise to be my guide
and to witness the lessons of the Self
that only I can teach
For the longest time I have waited
assessing the dangers that might lurk hidden
in the deep.
I believe I will reach you –
(is it misplaced confidence or simply wishful thinking?)
and so I begin the swim.
My muscles relax into a familiar rhythm.
The hardest, aching parts of me begin to soften
as the distance between us lessens.
It’s farther than I thought, though, and
sometimes strange –
The horizon keeps shifting.
I tread water a while
rest and catch my breath.
I look up and discover that
I can no longer see you.
a sudden shiver
a lightning bolt
Both sea and sky shift rapidly
calm blues now rage-filled greys
Angry, turbulent clouds roll heavily in
raining hot tears down like shiny silvery bullets.
This morning I have woken up to the sad news that Tom Petty, music legend, has died. Don’t get me wrong, I know there is a tremendous amount of crap going on in the world right now, and on balance a rock star dying is not the end of the world, but it’s what his death has stirred up for me that is important rather than the death itself, if that makes sense, and that’s what I want to write about.
I had planned to write about yesterday’s therapy session today which, to be fair, wasn’t all that great. It has left me feeling pretty uncontained and wondering whether my therapist and I are on the same page. I’m not sure we were even looking at the same book, yesterday, actually. But instead I think I want to talk about the significance of music, its therapeutic strength, and how I want/need to incorporate it more in my own healing, although no doubt I will find my way back to what happened in the session at some point!
I have always LOVED music. I guess this is largely thanks to my dad who always had something playing in the car: Tom Petty, Fleetwood Mac, R.E.M, Bruce Springsteen, The Eagles, Pink Floyd, U2, Counting Crows to name but a few. Needless to say, the soundtrack to my childhood was epic! I was spoiled with fantastic music and lyrics from a young age. When I look back over my life there is definitely a soundtrack to accompany it. I have some brilliant clear memories of time spent with my dad and also songs that go with it.
Music is amazing. It functions in so many different ways on so many levels: it can offer escape, or an outlet, or a mirror for all kinds of feelings and emotions. It is magical.
I have always been drawn to great poetry, and lyrics definitely form a huge part this. I’m so music mad that I used to do a whole module on ‘lyrics as poetry’ in school! The kids loved it as much as I did.
When my dad died, the music abruptly stopped. It became too painful to listen to anything we’d shared because just simply hearing a few lines or bars would transport me to a place of absolute grief and loss. The memories of times together would be instantly evoked and then immediately came the crashing realisation that he had gone. It would floor me. With hindsight, it might’ve been a good idea to immerse myself in that a bit more rather than running from the feelings, but in order to function I just couldn’t. I’m not great at expressing emotion!
It’s literally only been in the last year or so, since resuming therapy, that I have really got back into music and have actually also been able to listen to everything I associate with my dad. I think maybe it’s because I am slowly getting in touch with my feelings again. I often cry when I hear a track but there is also now a lovely sense of connection. I guess, it’s a bit like how the smell of his aftershave brings him clearly into my mind. The music makes it feel like we are together somehow, even if it is in the memories of the past.
Music doesn’t just help me connect with my dad. It’s always been something to help me connect with myself. Recently, I have found that songs from long ago pop into my head or even into my dreams. They can tell me a great deal about myself and how I am really feeling, which is partly why I want to try and incorporate this into my therapy if possible.
I’ve said before how hard I find it to settle in sessions or feel grounded and I definitely think that occasionally bringing a track, i.e what is currently invading my head, into session would be a great way of a) relaxing into the space at the beginning and b) potentially opening up a dialogue if I freeze or go blank. It has to be better than battling with visualisations that JUST DO NOT WORK. FFS!
So I guess that, kind of, leads me to yesterday’s session. For some reason that is completely outside my realm of understanding, my therapist started talking about working on a visualisation to try and create some emotional containment. She did ask me how I felt about her suggesting it and if I felt like she was pushing something on me. In the moment I didn’t feel as though I had a strong feeling about working on it because my mind was sort of blank. I don’t know if I just shut down really quickly and didn’t even notice or what. I was very much in my adult yesterday and being ill I just kind of went with the flow.
I ended up creating this space that was very relaxed and serene, only I was looking down on myself in the space. I wasn’t truly part of it. Basically the usual dissociated scenario for me, seeing myself from outside myself. By the end my therapist realised it hadn’t worked. I’m not sure why she thought it would given how clearly I spelled out my inability to do the last one and how terrible I had felt over the summer as a result of not being able to visualise a space with her in it. She had said that that visualisation hadn’t worked because the young ones hadn’t understood it and that it hadn’t reached me where I needed it. Which is why I am staggered that she suggested this again yesterday.
We were a couple of minutes from the end of the session and all of a sudden it hit me. My ‘calm but empty’ feeling was gone. All of a sudden my little ones woke up and were totally distraught. It’s like they’d realised that they’d missed the session, that they weren’t going to be seen or acknowledged by Em, and that they now had to manage a week without her. I felt a wave of nausea and, I guess, grief fill my body. It was too late to say anything about it, but that’s what I’ve been left with. It’s rubbish.
I find it really strange. We had two really revealing sessions prior to last week’s Skype session (i.e I showed her two of my blog posts and talked about them) and it’s almost as though the content has been lost somehow. All the work about knowing we need to encourage the little ones into session, to make them feel safe with her, and to put things in place to help them stay connected in the week between has just disappeared. I feel really confused about it and how we got to where we did yesterday. Don’t get me wrong, I know I am there in that room and should have the strength to stop her in her tracks and redirect a conversation but somehow, sometimes, I just don’t know how to bring it back around to the child parts and their needs when she seems so focused on the adult.
So yeah, I’m feeling quite frustrated today. I don’t even really know what to do with myself. In the big scheme of things, yesterday’s session wasn’t a complete disaster because we both now know for sure that visualisations don’t really work for me. However, as my little ones become more and more active in my system it’s going to be increasingly difficult to convince them that she hasn’t abandoned them and that she does care about and want to see them too. Ugh.
I feel so mental sometimes. My adult part is like ‘seriously, it’s not a big deal, it’s just one of those sessions where it doesn’t work out’ but the little ones just feel completely left, alone, disregarded, uncontained…..you know all that stuff right?!! haha.
So anyway, back to Tom Petty. Learning to Fly is one of the first songs I really remember hearing with my dad. We used to go surfing when I was little and we’d get out the sea, get dry, grab some fish and chips, sit in the car with the doors open overlooking the sea and put on the cassette tape:
Learning To Fly Well I started out down a dirty road Started out all alone And the sun went down as I crossed the hill And the town lit up, the world got still
[Chorus:] I’m learning to fly, but I ain’t got wings Coming down is the hardest thing
Well the good ol’ days may not return And the rocks might melt and the sea may burn [Chorus] Well some say life will beat you down Break your heart, steal your crown So I’ve started out for God knows where I guess I’ll know when I get there
I’m learning to fly, around the clouds But what goes up must come down
I have always loved the song, but today I think I can read it as a metaphor for my therapy journey, not just life!:learning to fly and nowhere near my final destination yet!
The great thing about music – it never dies. Thank you Tom Petty for nailing it over and over again!
Musing on counselling-related issues in the UK. I am a counsellor/psychotherapist and a client too. As the blog title suggests, my counselling journey began in the client's seat. For information about my counselling and psychotherapy practice see my website: www.erinstevens.co.uk
holding it together as I journey through therapy - a personal account of what it's like to be in long-term psychotherapy navigating the healing of C-PTSD, childhood trauma and neglect, an eating disorder, self-harming behaviours, as well as giving grief and cancer an occasional nod.
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