I don’t know why I am so surprised that the Inner Critic has decided that now is a good time to show up and get super vocal in my head. I mean, let’s face it, the Easter therapy break starts on Monday and any time there is some kind of emotional upset or disruption on the cards it never fails to jump in quick and take control in the only way it knows how: by attacking me. It’s not as though this hasn’t happened before; it’s an established pattern. Sigh.
So maybe ‘surprised’ isn’t quite the right word to describe how I feel about the rapid return to power of my least favourite part. Maybe ‘disappointed’ is a more accurate reflection of how it feels to have that nagging voice taking over my brain again. Don’t get me wrong, the Inner Critic never truly goes away; it’s always there inside me waiting, as if on standby, for whenever things feel difficult. It’s just, lately, I’ve felt as though the adult has been able to manage the taunts from the angry one a little better, and so it’s unfortunate that the centre won’t hold now.
The Critic sees itself as a protector, the best, and feels it does a smashing job in its role; only I recognise, these days, that it feels less and less protective and more and more destructive… and that’s why I am disappointed. I am so aware of my coping strategies now; not only do I have awareness of them, importantly I know what triggers a descent into not eating and/or self harm.
I have tried really hard to keep in my adult head and talk with the critical voice, listen to what it has to say, and try and accept it. I try and tell it that whilst I understand what it’s saying, I’ve got this, and we don’t need to go on the attack anymore. That’s all well and good most of the time. If things are reasonably settled for me (ha! Remind when that was again?!), the Critic keeps a reasonably low profile. Rather than running the show full time, like it used to, these days it just takes on some consultancy work here and there – generally when the big shit starts to fly!
What constitutes ‘big shit’?: anything that feeds the attachment trauma stuff – so right now that is the therapy break; anything that makes me doubt myself and my ability – recently it was returning to tutoring; anything that leaves me feeling negatively judged – ummm not sure about this; oh, and CONFLICT, let’s not forget conflict!
So here’s the pattern that is repeating itself AGAIN now- it’s all about the therapy break and insecurity in the therapeutic relationship:
- The Child parts feel anxious and scared. They fear a real abandonment and annihilation as my therapist is about to go away. They scream and scream incessantly and it feels difficult. For a period of time adult me can cope with this because it’s not a lot different to how it is between sessions. It takes a shit tonne of energy and I feel powerless to make things better for the little ones as the reality of a protracted amount of time without therapy hits home. I can make it through a week but I can’t do four weeks on my own.
- The Adult reaches saturation point and a thick fog of depression sets in making day-to-day living incredibly difficult. It’s barely functioning, bare minimum, and totally draining. Basically it’s hell in my head. I feel hopeless. I feel pathetic that after so much therapy that I can’t find more resources to cope with things in a helpful way. I want to contain the child parts but they just don’t want me. They don’t even know who I am.
- The Inner Critic is alerted to what’s happening. It knows that I can’t wallow in self pity forever; I have to get on with life. I have to function. So it wades in. It will not allow a return to the needy child state because that will only result in more depression and repeating the cycle. It threatens them and tries to shut them down.
So the Critic, in its infinite wisdom takes charge and here’s how:
The Inner Critic is bit like one of those army boot camp guys you see on TV. It has a fixed plan and it’ll shout at me to ‘motivate’ me to do what it wants. I think the intention is good: ‘you need to get up and start participating’; it is a protector part, after all. The problem lies in how the ‘participation’ is achieved. It’s not good. The Critic whilst well-meaning at the start has become a bit of a sadist:
‘Look at you! For god’s sake, it’s pathetic. It’s no wonder you always get left. Needy. Whining. Woe is me! No one is interested in that. Grow up. For fuck’s sake! I go away for a few months and look at you! What did you do? Eat the entire McDonald’s menu every day? Fuck. It’s disgusting. How can you let yourself get like that? Don’t you ever learn?…’
Essentially it gives me a right bollocking, tells me I am worthless, and bullies me into action. That action isn’t simply ‘get up and do your best’ or ‘be gentle with yourself. It’s tough now but you’ve got this. Breathe and take it minute by minute’. If only it were that simple! Oh no. The price I pay to be able to function, to find the necessary energy to get on with life, is by attacking my body in various ways.
Yep. It’s mental. I won’t lie. It fills me with shame and embarrassment.
I really don’t feel good sitting here typing about this when I am now 35 years old. (I’ve written before about whether it is actually possible to really recover from self-harming behaviours). Sure, in my late teens and early twenties it wasn’t great, either, but it felt marginally more acceptable to be in the throes of an eating disorder and battling against the desire self-harm back then. Somehow it feels way less acceptable to be a proper adult with kids and still dealing (or not dealing) with this bullshit. I should, surely, by now have found a way out. And that’s the thing. I feel shit and then I beat myself up for it over and over. It’s a vicious cycle.
In my last post I said how I was in stuck in a depressed state and also suffering with being ill. I have a stinking cold and feel rotten – even now. The sensible thing to do would have been to go back to bed after dropping the kids at preschool and school on Thursday. It would have been a good idea to try and rest and recharge a bit. Recover!- you know, do some of that self-care business that I am utterly pants at.
The thing is, when my head is in that horrid, bleak, depressed place I just want to get away from it. I feel so utterly awful and defeated that I can’t bear it. Lying in bed trying to rest with panicked thoughts about the month that lies ahead as well as feeling the pressure to have ‘a good connecting last therapy session on Monday’ would’ve only sent me into an anxiety attack and I really didn’t want that to happen again after what happened at Christmas. I am so conscious of not having some huge meltdown and then creating some disaster (rupture) with my therapist as we head into the break.
So I didn’t sleep or relax on Thursday, instead I allowed (did I? doesn’t feel like ‘allowing’), ok, maybe succumbed to the demands of the Critic in exchange for some functionality – some energy – an escape.
I had looked in the mirror in the morning- as you do- and had seen nothing but faults. Everything was wrong. I felt fat. And fat is not something I handle well especially when I am going to be in a swimsuit on holiday in two months time. Stupidly, I proceeded to get on the scales (whhhhyyyy???) and as suspected I have put on weight in the last week (birthday cake and chocolates hasn’t helped!)- I already knew this. I can feel it when I put my clothes on. I can see the cover of fat over my tummy that is never usually there.
There it was on the scales, confirmation that I’d ‘properly let myself go’: 47.6kg. Not acceptable (in my mind at least). I am 168cm which is neither short nor tall – it’s just average and so I really shouldn’t be concerned about my weight at all yet… but anyone with a history like mine knows what feels ok and what doesn’t. I am in the ‘what doesn’t’ bit now. Whilst the BMI calculator tells me I should be aiming for a weight somewhere between 52.2kg-70.8kg (70.8kg Really?!) I know that it’s never going to happen. I freak out at 48kg…ok, I clearly freak out at 47.6kg too.
The sad thing is, I can eat well, normally even, for quite a period of time, I dare to believe that I am over the eating disorder… but before long a switch flips in my head and I stop eating right. I can’t sustain it – especially when I feel emotionally on the brink. On Thursday, despite the streaming cold, I got on my treadmill to tackle my body. Yeah, I know…
I haven’t done any running since that pigging chest infection took hold last September (finally gone!) – but despite that severe break in exercise it didn’t stop me hitting a straight 50 minutes work out – oh and on an empty stomach. I was doing intervals of 8 minutes running, then walking for 4, and repeating – not really very much when I have previously been used to solid running outdoors for 10km+ every other day but it’s clearly not sensible when poorly. I (adult) know this but I wasn’t available yesterday morning. I was gagged and bound in the corner along with all the vulnerable parts.
My friend and I were chatting on Whatsapp whilst I was on the run – and in the end she refused to talk to me until I got off the treadmill. She could see the Critic was front and centre – and she doesn’t like it (neither do I)! I did stop running in the end and had a shower but had it not been for my friend coaching me through what was going on I would’ve stayed there another hour, easily.
Unsurprisingly, my body crashed shortly after and I spent an hour lying on my bed. Idiot. I’m not sure where I am going with this really. It’s so hard to think about it when I am caught up in it. I know that not eating and over exercising is not a good combination. I know that under-nutrition ends up negatively effecting my mental health. I know I become obsessive. I withdraw. I feel suicidal. I get it. I have been here a million times before.
I know, too, that this is all a reaction to the upcoming therapy break. I feel mortified that that is the case. I hate that I can’t handle my emotions better than this. I can’t stand the overwhelming feelings that come up around therapy breaks. I mean it’s pretty dire in the week between sessions but compared with how it feels right now that separation anxiety is just about manageable. But when there’s a break it feels like I am thrown slap bang back in the thick of the trauma of childhood: I am always left. I don’t want to be left. No one is there. No one cares. I am alone. I am scared. I need an adult and no one ever comes. …. and that’s how it feels.
Don’t get me wrong. I do totally understand I am a grown up now. I am not that child anymore. I have resources and a level of resilience that little girl didn’t have. I need to work harder at remembering that and keying into my strengths… but I do try. I try hard every day to keep on keeping on. I don’t know what the hell else to do now. And despite having a high-functioning adult, the little girl is still there inside me. For her having the new attachment figure disappear activates all the feelings that she suppressed back then when mum disappeared in the week.
I really want to be able accept those feelings and nurture that little girl but sometimes her fear and emotional pain feel too much and so because I can’t settle or soothe her, I suppress her in the only way I know how. It’s the only way I know how to survive.
In addition to this, having had my dad go abroad on a month long holiday and die there when I was 25, there’s a very real adult anxiety operating simultaneously around breaks. Sure my mum would go away in the week when I was a kid and it would feel like an impossibly long amount of time between Sunday and Friday; but my dad went on holiday and he came back as a box of ashes alongside his backpack and diving gear. I can’t even begin to explain what that is like. I am terrified that my therapist will go away and never come back.
Not eating, exercising to the extreme, and self-harming are not the answer to this problem, I know that, but right now it’s all I’ve got.
I guess I need to really talk to my therapist on Monday about this stuff. We’ve been discussing these kind of behaviours in the last month or so but I haven’t told her that it’s an active thing – because it hasn’t been until now. It was a problem at Christmas but once we repaired the rupture it’s been largely ok. I’ve had the odd couple of days here and there where I have restricted what I eat when I’ve felt stressed but generally it’s been pretty good – although of course I am not the right ‘healthy’ weight so I guess you could say it’s not all that good.
I find it much easier to tell her about not eating and self-harming when I am not engaged in it. When I’m not eating and being self-destructive in the here and now I hide and I push her away. That’s the Critic’s input. It’s all about secrecy and keeping people out. But I need to reach out of this place, don’t I? I know that my therapist can’t fix this for me. She won’t be able to make it stop. But I hope that if I can find the courage to expose this, and let her see me when I am actually suffering, she might at least be able to make me feel less alone with it and maybe reassure me that she will come back.
I hope that on Monday we will be able to talk to all the parts that are struggling, the Critic included, and find some way of helping me get through the next four weeks because right now I can’t see how it’s going to happen.
I absolutely hate therapy breaks!