Yesterday I was looking for some writing I had done around the time that my dad had died in 2008/9. It’s coming up to the anniversary and I am very aware that there is still a great deal of work to be done in therapy around everything that happened at that time hence the poking around for info.
Whilst I was searching I actually stumbled across a load of notes from when I was doing psychotherapy with Em in the NHS back in 2012/13, basically I started writing again about the time that I realised there was a massive attachment to her which neatly coincided with the time therapy was just about to end. Not good! I will share some of that over the next few weeks because I think it’s interesting to see how different things were (in some ways) and yet how many issues remain live.
Anyway, I did eventually find the document/diary of the time when I had my actual mental breakdown in 2009 following my dad’s unexpected death in July 2008. I was in denial for the first few months and then basically fell apart at Christmas and couldn’t function thereafter for a significant period of time.
I saw a lot of my GP in the early days because I was being signed off from work and had to visit her on a regular basis in order to check in and get the sick certificate which said ‘bereavement reaction’. In the end I was out of work for seventeen months. After the first six I actually took an unpaid sabbatical because I knew I wasn’t going to be ok any time soon and the stress of having to keep contacting work to explain that I wasn’t fine even though I might look it was really anxiety provoking.
Reading my notes again I am staggered that it took three years on a waiting list to get seen for psychotherapy on the NHS. In the interim I did get offered a lot of pills and had some interesting appointments with psychiatrists and the Crisis Team before they realised I wasn’t actually psychotic and instead was experiencing PTSD and had an active ED amongst other things! Basically my dad dying was the trigger that made EVERYTHING reactivate and fall apart. Not only was the way he died and everything that followed fucking horrific in its own right but all the years of childhood trauma suddenly came alive too.
Anyway, I found this next piece of writing about my interactions with my GP. I think, looking at what I have said, I must have seemed really ‘treatment resistant’ but the truth is, I was just scared and couldn’t trust anyone…ha that old chestnut!
It’s a long read so I’ll break it into parts and a bit (a lot) embarrassing but actually the stand out thing for me was just how entrenched the attachment patterns and defensive behaviours were even then, and my how go to coping mechanisms were alive and well. Ugh.
It’s clear as day to me now that if you put me in front of a caring woman who is in the range of possibly being old enough to be my mother then boom I am utterly screwed. I mean anyone that follows this blog can see what a disaster it can be with Em!! I get attached but I also start behaving in a defensive, scared, ‘don’t hurt me’, ‘don’t leave me’ kind of a way, oh, and try and pretend that everything is just fine!! …AND in the case of my GP I was also massively attracted to her. I know why this is, now, having spent all these years working with Em but I had no idea back then! I was utterly mortified then – now not so much. I see the attraction now as another desperate search for care and intimacy (the things that have been lacking my life from the word go). I hadn’t uncovered my child parts then and I suspect really what I craved was a cuddle but could only see my need for intimacy through a sexual lens.
Please don’t judge this too harshly! I wanted to put this here because it forms part of the journey I’ve been on and I think also demonstrates just how potent the transference can be and how scary mental health services can feel oh and how god awful it is to be in the grips of an active eating disorder. It seems insane that the people that are meant to help can feel so dangerous to me but it is how it is. I guess my biggest fear is losing control, and these people have the power to take control (or care) of you.
So back, to 2009- I realise it’s not hugely coherent but I think that certainly reflects what a mess I was in:
“You seem to be incredibly defensive and I feel we are stuck”. Ouch. Not the words of my partner (although they certainly could be), these are the words of my GP. These words come 4 months into treatment for my breakdown and clearly I am not making the progress I should be. She looks directly into my soul, well, my eyes, and says, “It’s unusual for someone your age to be off work for a term”. Another stinger. Yet again time and lack of being better is thrown in my face. I should be ‘well’ by now. I should have picked myself up, brushed myself off and be participating back in the real world. I should be over it. I should be teaching. So why am I struggling to function when everyone else bounces back quickly?
Unlike at home when the accusatory words ‘how long is this going to take?’ function as the equivalent of a red rag to a bull, today I just feel lost and as she so rightly says ‘stuck’. Today I am too wound up and anxious to come back with anything that would paste over my cracks or, alternatively, help her make sense of my situation and so I sit and say nothing, muted and desperate. I feel so sad and unseen. Her words will be turned over in my mind for the next month and I will slowly beat myself up for my defence mechanisms berating myself for lack of progress.
I act defensively and shut down because I am terrified of losing what little control I have over my life. Weeks ago I sat there, in that consulting room, metaphorically laid bare, and she asked me how my eating was and did I have an eating disorder? My fight or flight instinct kicked in, “No, I eat loads” I lied whilst staring directly into her eyes. This is a trick I have mastered over the years. My dad used to check if I was fibbing when I was a kid by saying, “look me in the eyes and tell me the truth”. This was meant to catch out a lie but, the thing is, over the years I taught myself to tell a lie like it was the truth and in that moment looking into the eyes of my doctor that lie was my truth.
I make eye contact and categorically deny having an eating disorder. I deny restricting my food intake and further deny taking laxatives and don’t mention the insane exercise routine I have started. She is not stupid and I am clearly sitting there with a BMI of 14: my body, now, looks more deathly skeletal than anything like a living human being. My clothes hang off me. I look ill. I am perpetually cold. It’s horrendous. I know I am on a losing streak but something in me at the moment feels my lies really are the truth. “You don’t believe me, do you?” I say defiantly. How can she possibly respond to that?- I am, after all, a fully grown adult and should not be lying to her – or to myself.
She softly says, “Happy people do not have eating disorders”, and I think to myself ‘No, and they don’t self-harm either’, but that is a conversation for another day. I am not able to articulate this to her yet, or really even to myself. She has not, yet, won my trust and I cannot show my true vulnerability. I am in denial with my own self so how can I be true to the woman sitting opposite me even if there is a part of me that longs to crawl into her arms and be held? There is so much shame. I can feel it coursing through my veins like acid.
As the weeks and months roll on, my eating habits become a regular topic in the appointments with my doctor and I consistently maintain that, “I am fine”. FINE: Fucked-up, Insecure, Neurotic, Emotional! I am fine and yet I am CLEARLY NOT FINE AT ALL. I am struggling. It’s horrible. But the eating disordered self thinks we’re doing great. Everything is under control. I can no longer recognise the person in the mirror but I know she is not me. It’s so hard to navigate.
Of all the mental things that have happened in this nightmarish saga, fancying the pants off my GP must be up right there with the best of them. It’s not even funny. I seem to have a thing about older women that exert some kind of power over me. Over the years I have had my fair share of crushes: teachers, lecturers, and now, bloody hell, my fucking doctor. Apart from the power thing, another common factor that these women share is that they are all also straight – or at least say they are. In other words they are all totally unattainable and maybe that’s why this happens? Maybe when everything can remain a fantasy there is no danger of really getting hurt again?
I can’t help but feel butterflies when I have an appointment with my doctor and this, at least, balances off the unbelievable anxiety which overtakes me a week before each meeting where I not only can’t sleep, but also basically fail to function in anything like a normal way. I know now that what I was experiencing was transference. I projected who I wanted her to be onto her and then, sadly, was always really disappointed when she didn’t hear my so very desperate silent cries even when she was clearly doing her absolute best, offering me early morning extended appointments, seeing me sometimes twice a week…but it was never enough. There is a gaping hole in me that cannot be filled and there is absolutely no chance of this healing if I refuse to let people in and hide from them.
And so my appointment with the hot doctor goes on. She continues tentatively, “Some people don’t eat to punish themselves; others don’t eat to punish other people; and some people feel eating is something they can control in a time where other things in their lives are out of control”. I nod as if this is all a revelation to me using my honed special teacher skill: smile and nod. She is not telling me anything I don’t already know.
Having battled with an eating disorder in my mid teens and at intervals during my early twenties, I know exactly what she is saying and, I know that I fall into parts one and three. I punish myself and try to control my world when the world is spinning round me out of my control. I think she knows this is the case but has learnt that I am not open to discussing this yet. I am, after all, ‘defensive’.
I’m used to it now but I absolutely hate it – she weighs me every time I see her and plots the numbers on a graph on the computer. I can see that the line has a sharp downward correlation. Part of me feels happy about that and part of me is terrified. I stand on the cold metal scales and see that I have succeeded in losing another kilogram in weight and tell her the number on the scale. I am trembling again with anxiety and probably, in a larger part, due to low blood sugar. There is a part of me feels secretly thrilled to have lost weight when there is so little left to lose and the other feels cross that in my 2 weeks I have only managed to lose a little bit of weight.
My regimented approach to food and exercise has taken over my existence and dictates where and how I operate in my daily life. I walk everywhere, cycle every other day, and I categorically avoid large meals out, but ensure I spend enough time in the presence of others and eat a little, just enough, to prove that I am eating and that my GP is actually wrong about me. I realise that this behaviour is totally insane and it is crazy that at 26 years old I am behaving in much the same way as my 15 year old self. I hate this secretive, self-deluding, self-attacking ritual I get caught up in. I am crying out for help but am also unable to accept it.
I guess we stick with our so-called coping mechanisms throughout our lives even when they really do not help us cope at all. There is a look of concern pervading the face of my doctor who looking at her computer screen comment,s “You’ve lost another kilo”. Nothing more is said on the food front after the earlier conversation and we move onto a a discussion regarding my current antidepressants – I know they are not working. I’ve already tried two other types and now I feel suicidal and this, surely, is not right. Still, we agree that I will continue to take the pills a little while longer and see if things improve.
The end of our appointment draws near and on cue comes, “It will get better” she says kindly. “I hope so” I reply, “things can’t get much worse”. I try to smile through my hopelessness. I wonder if she is speaking from experience or just because it is an anodyne statement designed to comfort me in my mental pain before I leave the safety of her room for another two weeks.
This relationship is so frustrating for me. Or rather how I am behaving with my doctor is. After months of emotional struggle and subtle deterioration from July to January I finally had a meltdown and went and asked for help (something I don’t do) and then actively failed to take help on repeated occasions.
That really is fucked up.
The more time goes on I realise that I am, walking a fine line between sane and nuts. Catch me on a bad day and I have both feet in Crazyland on a better day I bear a reasonable resemblance to something coherent and normal. Still, today after 4 months of bi-monthly visits to the doctors, I am fully gone and am resident in Crazyland, which is not unlike Disneyland actually – lots of people acting happy to try and make out everything is ok.
Part 2 to follow.