So, Monday’s therapy session was supposed the hail the start of the Christmas therapy break. No prizes for guessing how it went. Ugh! Same old pattern: I started off quite chirpy and present and then somehow when my therapist suggested that perhaps the dream I was talking about might actually be about how I felt a sense of loss around the break and how I was worried about things falling apart…. well, it took me by surprise and I felt a massive shift in myself.
I thought the dream was about grieving the loss of my friend…which it also probably was. Damn why are dreams so multi-layered?!
Up until that point I had been sailing through the session firmly locked in my adult. I’ve notice that I try and do this as I head into a therapy break. I think it’s something about wanting to try and ground myself firmly in a coping place before I am ‘left’ (or abandoned!). I don’t want to dredge up hard feelings, awaken the child parts, or really even let my therapist in when I know I am going to be left without contact for a period of time.
Sometimes this strategy works just fine and sometimes it really doesn’t at all! If I don’t have complete control over the conversation, then my therapist can say things that trigger a response in me and override the adult’s ability to keep things surface level. That’s exactly what happened when she brought up how I might be feeling about the break.
It’s not as though I didn’t know we would be addressing the time away from therapy in some capacity. I mean Monday was going to be the day to do the pebbles, to create a holding message for the therapy break. But before we even got to talking about them I had shut down.
As soon as she mentioned the break there was a part of me was really raging and angry. I think my therapist even commented that I might be angry about the coming disruption. I hate it when she says ‘maybe you are angry’ because it’s one emotion that I am not very good at expressing and it’s only recently that I have noticed what the feeling is. My way of feeling and expressing anger up until very recently has been against myself: self harm and anorexia are the products of internalised anger!
Usually I say, ‘I’m not angry’ but when I think about it, yep, there is always a part of me that is and of course she is right. I think in part it’s the frustrated teen part who knows that it’s going to be her job to run the show and protect the little ones but there is a far darker more pervasive part, too, that steps up and that’s the inner critic. That voice is terrifying and scary but it has also acted as a protector (of sorts) over the years.
The problem with the sessions before breaks is that if I can’t hang on to adult then team ‘Fuck You’ turn up. They simultaneously want to fight and run. I know I sat for a very long time in silence in the session desperately hoping that my therapist would reach out to me. I know she tried repeatedly to find a way to connect with me but when I am like that she has no chance because the critic has me on lock down. The parts of me that crave closeness (mainly little ones) are imprisoned by the hard one.
At one point I could hear its voice saying, ‘Just leave. She doesn’t care about you. Fuck this. You don’t need her’. My therapist asked what was happening in my head and I finally said that a voice was telling me to leave. She asked why hadn’t left and I replied, ‘because that voice has even more power over me when I am not here’. And that is frightening for me. I told her that I knew that the moment I left the room it was going to be very difficult. She said ‘because there are things that need to be said?’ and I nodded.
To be clear, I have never attempted suicide and yet recently there have been several occasions where I have mentally planned out how many pills I would need to take to put an end to feeling this way. I don’t think I would ever act on the plan. Although I am writing this from a place of feeling ‘okish’ and I don’t think suicide attempts usually come from this place.
Ultimately, there are several reasons why I can’t see myself taking an overdose. First and foremost: I just will not do that to my kids. I know what it is like to lose a parent and I will never willingly put my children through that, or put them through a failed suicide attempt. Even when I looked, and often felt, like I was dying when I was going through chemo I drew on every last ounce of strength to keep it together and present an ‘I’m ok’ front for my kids.
My daughter still worries every time I have to go to the doctors, even if it is totally unrelated to the treatment. That’s a hell of a burden for a five year old to carry and I am not going to deliberately add to that. With my history of cancer and the heavy duty treatment regime I underwent it is not beyond the realms of possibility that I will get ill again, either through relapse or as a side effect of the treatment. One day I may not be here for them anyway so I will not take myself away from them through my own volition.
This time two years ago I was being radiated to my chest every day for three weeks. I had a two day break from radiotherapy over Christmas but by which time I couldn’t swallow anything that was in any way crunchy because my oesophagus was essentially microwaved and red raw. Christmas dinner was a disappointment!
As much as I don’t like to look back at what I went through then because I just find it totally overwhelming, I do have to remember that when I got diagnosed there was a part of me that was terrified and part of me that dug deep, really deep, and that’s what I have to do now.
I made it through, bone marrow biopsies, CT guided biopsies through my chest wall to reach the tumour, multiple PET and CT scans, several lung function tests, heart echo tests, oh, and don’t forget twelve chemotherapies and radiation!
The treatment stripped me back and my immune system is still knackered. Which is why I am almost always ill now. I lost all my hair. I knew I would lose the hair on my head but nothing quite prepares you for it coming out in your hand in huge clumps and blocking the plug hole as you shower.
Even when I made the choice to shave my head there was something about sitting in the salon watching my lovely long hair fall to the floor that was awful. I wasn’t prepared to lose my eye brows, my eye lashes, and ALL MY BODY HAIR. I am sure there are some women who would like to look like a nine year old downstairs – indeed I know many pay for the privilege, but I hated the whole thing.
So, what am I saying?
If I made it through all that and survived then I must survive what I am going through right now. I have to believe that things will get better. Experience tells me that it will be the case. Each time that I hit the deck emotionally and/or physically, there is something that picks me up or I, at least, navigate my way to a more secure space to catch my breath a bit.
Ok, I’m not soaring through the clouds by any means today, but the sense of feeling like I want to die isn’t there. It doesn’t ever last. It’s just an extreme response to some really difficult feelings. It’s almost as though I feel like I cannot hold the emotion and so the only way is out. But it’s not. The only way is to go through it and wait to come out the other side because it happens eventually.
I’ve said a few times when I have commented on other people’s blogs that I liken therapy and life to the story of Michael Rosen’s, We’re Going On A Bear Hunt. It’s a great young children’s book. A group of children set off on an adventure to find a bear and on the way they encounter several obstacles:
‘We’re going on a bear hunt. We’re going to catch a big one. What a beautiful day! We’re not scared.
Uh-Uh! A snowstorm! A swirling whirling snow storm. We can’t go over it. We can’t go under it! Oh no! We’ve got to go through it.’
And that’s how I see it. I journey through life on my ‘bear hunt’ and a lot of the time it is a ‘beautiful day’ and when things are good I don’t feel ‘scared’ at all. But then sometimes I am faced with obstacles, sometimes it’s ‘thick oozy mud’ and other times I am caught up in the ‘swirling whirling snowstorm’.
What I do know for sure is that the obstacles are all part of the journey and I can, and will, overcome each and every one that is thrown at me….ok, a cancer relapse may be a bit out of my control, but barring that I will keep going forward because there is always the chance of the beautiful day in between the challenges.
It’s all about trying to hang onto that knowledge when it feels bleak. It’s not at all easy because when things feel bad I suffer from optimism amnesia. Last Monday, in session, I was caught up in an emotional storm and part of me felt frozen. Actually, I did. I was physically stone cold. But what I mean is, the fear, or shame, or whatever it was made me freeze. In the moment I couldn’t find a way out of how bad it felt. It was impossible to imagine that things could ever feel better when I was locked in that headspace and I just couldn’t talk. So rather than run from it, I just sat with it.
I used to get really annoyed with myself when I would shutdown and freeze in session but my therapist is great (gush, I love her!) and is really working with me to notice when this happens and how it feels when I leave the window of tolerance…or as a friend and I joke ‘letterbox of tolerance’ (because that space is so narrow).
I used to feel like these responses: fight, flight, freeze were a barrier to the therapy but now I see that it is all part of it. Processing how it feels when I get to that place, not necessarily in the moment because it is not always possible, is important and bit by bit we are doing that.
We didn’t do the pebbles. We touched on them briefly and I said that I was feeling anxious and stressed about them. I can’t really remember what we said, actually. I know I said something about how it was difficult for me to express the need for them (or the message) and part of me was really attacking that part of me for being needy. I think my therapist asked me if I had any ideas what to put on them and said she’d had some ideas but didn’t elaborate on what they were. I think I just went so deep into my shell that we didn’t get anywhere with it.
On reflection I know what it is that has been bothering me about the pebbles. It’s fear. I am scared that she isn’t going to say what I feel I need her to. Above all, I want a message that comes from her, not one that I have crafted with her. I don’t want to help script the words. Essentially the message I am asking for/need is a demonstration of care on her part. I am asking her to prove that there is a connection in our relationship.
Sounds ok? Well, it did ought to be after all these years but there is a big part of me that is terrified that what she will write will prove something entirely different to me – a lack of care and connection. Part of me can’t bring myself to go through that. Part of me would sooner live in the hope that just maybe she cares rather than have my heart broken by her showing me in black and white that I don’t actually matter at all to her.
I totally get how dramatic that seems.
I felt a bit frustrated at the end of the session because the critic/(asshole protector) part had taken so much of the session and had side lined the little ones that needed holding and containment in preparation for the break. But my therapist told me that the part that had shown up in session was as valid as all the others, and had a place there. She acknowledged that it often shows up around breaks and disruptions and that she has a far clearer picture of it now….which I guess is a good thing.
Leaving the session felt pretty awful but actually this week hasn’t been too bad at all. I have been really really busy and really really ill. I haven’t had capacity to look inwards or think too much. I can feel there are some little ones feeling a bit upset and in need of a cuddle but generally they are coping ok.
At the beginning of this I said ‘Monday’s therapy session was supposed to hail the start of the therapy break’ and perhaps that’s why I am not in full blown meltdown about last session.
A few weeks ago my therapist offered me a session on Thursday 21st to see her (because she couldn’t do our regular Monday slot on the 18th). Usually she works in the NHS in the middle of the week but must have started her Christmas leave by then and so had a session slot available if I wanted it.
Of course I wanted it!…but I knew the moment she said it that it was going to be pretty much impossible. I went home to check but I knew my wife is in meetings that morning and wouldn’t be able to work from home. Both my kids are off school as of Wednesday and so as much as I would like to have cut the break down a bit by having that session it wasn’t going to happen. I considered Skype but to be honest it would have been a nightmare with a 3 year old and 5 year old tearing around.
Then I had an idea.
Is it wrong that I invited someone to come and stay for three days under the guise of a ‘Christmas get together/catch up’ because I knew they would be here to look after my kids on Thursday morning so I could go to therapy??!
This is not one of my proudest moments.
It’s also a time where I really hope that my therapist doesn’t read this blog! Because that’s a whole other level of crazy right?!
Don’t get me wrong I am very much looking forward to seeing my friend and spending some quality time with her and her son (my kids’ half brother) in the lead up to Christmas. I am excited about taking the kids out to do fun things together. I am looking forward to chatting and watching Christmas movies. But I won’t lie. I am fucking delighted that I can go to therapy on Thursday and have another stab at a decent, connecting session to get through the remainder of the break!
Right, I’m going to go hang my head in shame now before I go and see Father Christmas!
I am shining my weird light brightly today so the rest of you know where to find me! 😉