So, here I am, back in the here and now and writing about my (mental health) life in 2019! My last few blog posts have been blasts from the past (old diary entries) tracking the horrible crisis period that saw me finally start therapy with my therapist Em in 2012. I haven’t seen her consistently through that time – there was a three year break between 2013-16 where I was doing okish, had a baby, got myself together a bit… and then unfortunately got diagnosed with cancer and had to go through all the treatment for that which sent everything off kilter again.
Ironically, there’s not a lot to say right now about therapy because, yes, you guessed it, it’s the most dreaded time of the year: SUMMER THERAPY BREAK!
This year Em has raised the stakes for triggering my feelings of abandonment (#sarcasm) and is taking not one but two breaks of a fortnight each over the summer. To be fair, I did get months and months of prior warning about this year’s holidays (in order to give me plenty of time to dread and brood about the inevitable separation! 😉 ) but no amount of mental preparation ever really helps me feel ready for the reality of being in therapy limbo in the summer.
I find longer breaks (anything more than a week) quite challenging at the best of times and so two separate two week breaks falling almost back to back at a time I historically find incredibly challenging due to my dad going away on his holiday and never coming back is really tough. Every summer I get a knot in my stomach in the lead up to the holiday. I panic that Em might just go away on holiday and die, too. I know the odds are very slim but PTSD brain doesn’t understand that does it? It’s happened once to someone I love so surely it can happen again.
These days, at least, I can talk about these anxieties in my therapy and Em is very aware of just how hard July and August are for me. In fact this year she has regularly brought up the topic of the break and we have spent time talking about how it feels especially in relation to everything that happened a decade ago with my dad. I think regular checking in has made it feel a bit better although I do still struggle to really say exactly how I feel about her holiday.
These days I feel like I should be ok about breaks because we’ve been working together for such a long time now and she always comes back. I should see that she does return… and yet I still can’t quite believe she will be there in the room after a holiday. That massive panic is never far beneath the surface. I can’t imagine how I would cope if one day I was told she was gone gone not just away. Eek.
There is still a very active part of me wants to beg her not to leave me, to promise that she will definitely come back, and to tell me that she isn’t going away because of something I have done to push her away. I want her to reassure me that she’s not going away because she’s had enough of me. I have said this stuff to her before on more than one occasion and she has reassured me many many times!! I know how young these thoughts/feelings are and so that’s why I struggle to articulate them – it’s mortifying – but these feelings are completely understandable based on my history and Em has helped normalise them and washed a bit of the shame coating off them.
The last session before holiday (Friday 19th) she asked me again how I felt about the break. All week I had been stressing about the final session. Therapy (and life) has been hard lately. I have been talking about the very real stresses of the here and now in my sessions – my wife’s job loss and the quickly diminishing savings can’t help but take centre stage.
I haven’t been avoiding the other big things I just have been more concerned about the possibility of having to move away and downsize than the attachment stuff. Actually, maybe that’s not quite right – I haven’t had the capacity to allow myself to feel and explore the attachment stuff and so have had to sideline it for a while. It’s still there, swirling about, but I can’t manage it all if it’s not active. I can’t invite in those difficult feelings because I don’t have enough reserves to safely contain them. I know they always catch up in the end, though!
I feel really sad that my therapy has gone off on an unexpected tangent even though the work we have done has been connecting and helpful. I feel sad because the two sessions before we got the shock of my wife’s job loss I had really started to open up to Em about the eating disorder and it felt like we had really started to tackle a very delicate area that I have avoided looking at head on for a long time. It was big work and scary but felt like it was going to be ok and helpful. It’s work that has been waiting to be done for twenty years. Still, there is time for it and it will happen eventually.
The last session before the break began with more of the adult talking about being an adult with adult concerns. It was ok. Useful even. BUT. Not for all of me! When I arrived at the session I was already in self-protect/shutdown/adult mode and replied and so when Em asked me after half an hour about how I was feeling about the break, I replied, “It’s fine.”
(It’s not fine – NOT FINE AT ALL!)
It almost comes out on autopilot doesn’t it? ‘Fine’ Such a well-worn response. There have been many times I would say that and then quickly change the conversation because frankly I don’t want to admit to being a big wobbly pile of need when she’s leaving. She’s more than earned her break and surely I can just suck it up and let her go without disintegrating every time she does.
The shame and the embarrassment around acknowledging that her absence REALLY impacts me is just unbearable despite how often Em tells me there is no need for the shame. That’s why I think I had decided to try and keep things ‘light’. Last week as I heard the words come tumbling out of my mouth I could feel the betrayal of my young parts. I could feel that sadness as they realised they were going to have to suffer in silence again over the whole break. I felt the physical ache in my chest and stomach hit.
Surely, I wasn’t going to do this to them again?
Why is it so easy to starve myself of connection and an opportunity to maybe make things feel a bit better because part of me finds it easier to be aloof than vulnerable?
I didn’t want to be vulnerable. I wanted to continue with the ‘fine’ – but as I said in a previous post fine is really just code for ‘Fucked up, Insecure, Neurotic, Emotional’ anyway … so maybe I was fine after all!
I looked up and met Em’s gaze (man sometimes it feels like her eyes are burning holes into my soul). And tried again, “It’s fine, but for some parts it isn’t fine at all.” She was really gentle and kind and acknowledged that for the younger parts any separation is really hard. Basically she did the reassurance thing about how she fully intended to come back, and that everything is ok between us, then talked about my dad dying and what it was like being left when I was little by my mum – and it felt ok, good even despite the painful feelings that were swirling – so much loss.
Then I said, “I hate this” (meaning still feeling so affected by her going away even after so much time) and she said she understood how hard it was and asked what was the hardest part. “I shouldn’t feel like this” I moaned. “Why shouldn’t you?” she questioned. I sat there mentally listing all the reasons I mentioned above – basically that she always comes back and so I am wasting my energy feeling shit about her going away and that she is just a therapist so why do I even care?
I didn’t say any of it aloud and merely replied with “I don’t know” because there was another part that realised there really isn’t a ‘should’ or ‘shouldn’t’ about the feelings I have – they just ‘are’. Why beat myself up about it? I miss her when she’s gone and that’s how it is.
We talked a bit about how it is ok to have needs and feel loss and miss people. She said that as I child I wasn’t kept in mind and had to hide or shelve my needs and so it’s no wonder this all feels crap because it feels like I’m being abandoned and neglected all over again even though that isn’t the case – and so expressing feelings of sadness about my needs not being met is something I am not used to doing.
Em is really good at making things feel a bit better. She doesn’t fix it. She can’t. She can’t stay. She can’t promise to come back because life might deal an unexpected blow but she always says that it is her intention to come back on whatever the date is – this time 5th August. She can’t fix what happened in the past but she can bear witness to my story. She normalises my feelings (the ones that make me feel like I am crazy!) and in doing so she removes a bit of the shame that acts like toxic layer of fog around me.
Yeah, I’m gushing again! ha! I love my therapist 😉
The problem is, when I can’t see her, when we are on breaks, the shame that surrounds me gets thicker. It distorts my view again. I lose sight of myself and her. This makes the system inside panic. Young parts feel terrified. Everything feels scary and shit. ARGH attachment pain!! Then critic steps in and then I’m done for: I feel stupid, weird, abnormal.
So, where am I at now? Well I’m halfway through the first break of the summer. One more week until I am back in the room. I feel like I have so much that I want to say. It’s not a long time to wait and yet it feels an age because in the last couple of days I somehow got unexpectedly steam-rollered by the attachment ache – a couple of ‘therapy dreams’ and the young stuff activating and boom it’s all a struggle again! I had been doing fine until then and yet now I am in that place where I am desperate to reach out in some way – frustrated that I can’t – and sad too. Bloody minefield isn’t it?!
I’ve been trying to do things to take my mind off the horrible empty feeling that sits in my chest. It’s glorious weather right now and I am lucky enough to live in a beautiful area so this morning I went off to the river and woods for an early morning walk and since then I’ve been relaxing in the garden watching the kids play and generally trying to enjoy the fact that I am not teaching until Thursday. I guess I am trying to do self-care even though it really doesn’t come naturally to me. I feel like I don’t deserve to be cared for and so looking after myself really seems an odd thing to do. I know it’s insane.
Anyway, I will get through the next week. I won’t lie, though… I am really looking forward to the 5th.