So, I have a couple of hours to kill here in the haematology/oncology shared waiting room at the hospital waiting to find out if my body is still behaving as it ought to and hasn’t decided to malfunction again. I can think of places I’d rather be right now. I hate it here so much. I am an emotional mess anyway (no shit!) but to add to the fun of it all I also have PTSD surrounding the cancer treatment as well as being hospital phobic (that was caused by something else!) so being thrown back into the very place where all the trauma took place is hideous. It’s a shame there isn’t a separate outpatients clinic as I am sure this must affect loads of people.
Being in this waiting room makes me feel physically sick – not just nauseous and a bit iffy, it’s the chemical sick feeling that you get from chemotherapy…it’s horrid. I know it’s all psychosomatic but it doesn’t change how bad it feels. I’ve waited here so many times for chemotherapies and bone marrow biopsies and of course all the follow ups since finishing treatment that I think my body just remembers it all and replays it like it’s happening in the here and now.
It’s harrowing being back here – not exaggerating. I try not to look around too much as there are so many worried faces, frail bodies, bald heads with no eyebrows or eyelashes and it takes me right back to when it was me looking deathly. These poor poor people are all going through this physical and emotional hell and nothing anyone can say or do can make it any better for them.
Part of me tries to hold onto the fact that I am largely well. Sure, I pick up everything that’s doing the rounds but I am not critically ill anymore…but until I get confirmation from the doctors there is always a bit of niggling doubt. Actually, it’s fear. I worry that my night sweats mean the cancer has come back when actually it’s most likely linked to my period. I worry that the enlarged lymph nodes in my neck mean something’s wrong rather than an indicator that I am under the weather. I sound like a hypochondriac!
I’m sitting here physically shaking. I am trying to do grounding techniques. I have my feet firmly rooted to the floor. I am trying to breathe deeply. Although I am actively avoiding the senses….I don’t want to be aware of what it’s like in here! I’m trying to visualise a safe space…and do you know where my mind keeps taking me? Oh but of course, Em’s therapy room. FFS. Why is it now that I’m not seeing her that she feels like safety and when I was seeing her my body and mind were largely out of the window of tolerance?!!!! The irony is not lost on me.
So, yeah, that’s the medical trauma. Hopefully I’ll be seen soon and get out of here.
Still, I don’t think many people follow this blog to hear about my medical woes and I’m guessing most of you are wondering what’s been going on since the termination with Em – mainly with the new therapist Anita- so I’ll try and make a start at catching everything up.
As I keep saying, where I am right now is an emotionally fucking awful place to be. I am absolutely devastated about what has happened and I can’t really get my head round it. I’m surprised there isn’t a meme of my face with a ‘WTf??!!’ caption on it because that’s basically my set expression – well, that and a crumpled face streaming with tears.
Part of me thinks I should be able to move on now, I mean I have a lovely new therapist Anita now and wonderful K my craniosacral therapist so why not let it go? Why am I still longing for a repair with Em? Why do I feel so utterly crushed by the loss of this relationship (well – I know the answer to that #childhoodtrauma!). I guess I honestly never thought that me having a meltdown about what she said to me would lead to this. Not really. As I said in my letter part of me must have believed it was safe to act out because otherwise there’s no way I would have done it.
Having said that there has always been the part that has known this might happen, I once played Em a KT Tunstall song in session (ha – obsessed much?) because I said I was terrified of pushing her too much. The song is called Ashes and it has this line in it,
‘I have pushed you, way too far, and you say, “fuck you little princess who the hell do you think you are?”’
And whilst she hasn’t exactly done that, she did liken me to a tick and terminate didn’t she? …so yeah, there we are!
To be fair to Em, I have been listening back to the sessions we had after Christmas and with a bit of distance and being in a more reflective and adult state I can hear what some of what she was trying to say. She wasn’t deliberately trying to hurt me or reject me. How she delivered what she was saying was far from ideal (!!) and she completely missed the mark so far as jumping into big stuff with both feet when so much had been triggered over the break but I don’t think she was trying to hurt me.
In the end it just seemed to go down like a chain of dominoes – I feel like we both kind of watched it happen and yet couldn’t do anything to stop it. I’m not blaming myself here or defending her – because we weren’t just working with my together adult in session, in fact I was largely absent for December and January, we were working with some traumatised parts and they just did not get anything like the care and compassion that was required and it sent me over the edge – too much all at once to cope with and then boom! Termination.
It’s so hard because my adult really likes working with Em. She is intelligent and insightful. The problem is, she is too academic, too clinical, too rigid and whilst part of me likes that because parts of me are interested in this academic stuff too and I am avoidant as hell so it’s like looking in a mirror, there are now so many parts of me that need more than that now, they need to feel really cared for and accepted and not a burden or ‘adhesive’ or ‘like a tick’, they need connection and for that not to be seen as something to be pathologized.
I know it wasn’t Em’s intention to make me feel the way I do. Her boundaries are her boundaries and are not all that unusual for lots of therapists – the problem is that they are just so rigid that they feel rejecting to the young parts that need to trust she is safe. I really don’t think in therapy that one size fits all and so you surely have to work with what’s in front of you. I still can’t believe that for someone with the core wounds that I have and the lack of object constancy that even a three dot text check in occasionally was beyond the realms of possibility.
It’s Catch 22. If I could stay adult in my sessions we’d be a dream team – problem is, I can’t! I’m not in therapy for my adult!
There’s been a lot go wrong (no shit!) and we ended up in this perfect storm that when it blew out everything was destroyed. One of my very first blog posts was about feeling like I was caught in a storm after a therapy break – I shared it with Em and it gave her a real insight into what goes on for me- I’ve just dipped into it now I can’t believe that this was 2017 and the feelings around breaks are still the same:
When there is a lengthy break my child parts definitely don’t get a chance to be seen or heard by anyone but me and therefore their emotional distress escalates. The metaphorical rain cloud that hovers over my head most of the time between sessions becomes a full-on internal shit storm – sorry- hurricane! It’s just awful and really hard to contain. You’d think, then, that returning to therapy would be the perfect opportunity to start to settle some of the turbulence and anxiety but no…
One of the biggest problems after any significant disruption is that I am never sure when I enter the room whether I am going to be on my own facing the potential destruction that my internal storm will cause when it touches down (and that is terrifying – I don’t have the skills to weather this on my own yet), or whether, actually, she (my therapist) will be there, a professional storm-chaser, ready and waiting to witness it all with me and guide me through it. I’m always hoping she’ll be there, fully prepared – someone who sees beauty in chaos and who will be able to reframe the potential destruction of the storm as something positive:
‘Yes, the hurricane will wreak havoc, but don’t worry! I am experienced at navigating storms – it’s what I do. I know how to keep us both safe. I’m not frightened by these tempests, and I will show you how to remain secure and grounded when everything starts swirling and flying about. It will feel scary and some things will undoubtedly get destroyed. The storm will sweep away the derelict and dangerous structures that currently exist, those that aren’t really fit for purpose anymore, and in their place there is the potential for us to build something so strong that it will be able to survive any future storms.’
(Or that’s the kind of thing I’d like to imagine her saying, anyway!)
The thing is, it’s just not that easy to simply pick up where I left off after a disruption because no matter how secure I might feel when I leave a session, or how welcome the little ones might have been made to feel in the room and in the relationship with her previously, when I return to the therapy room I am not sure if I am still safe with my therapist or if something has changed. I am not sure whether I can still trust her with the child parts who are absolutely desperate to reconnect but are also incredibly fearful of being hurt, rejected, and abandoned. Ugh!
Oh god. I just can’t believe that we’ve got so lost along the way. I feel sad because I wish my adult could have turned up and advocated more for myself and the young parts. I wish we could have worked it through and on both sides been honest about what was going on. I wish Em would own some of her countertransference and see that she hasn’t been behaving in the way that she used to. I get people change but this was different. I feel like she was burnt out and I have since discovered something that would definitely give reason for her to not be firing on all cylinders.
Still, there’s nothing I can do right now except keep reaching out to the supports I have and doing the best I can to look after myself.
So, what can I say about the new therapy/therapist? Anita is warm and caring and is prepared to offer me all the things that Em wouldn’t. I mean I had my wish list this time around: text and phone check ins, being sat next to, hugs, transitional objects, a more relational style, someone who isn’t frightened by the idea of love in therapy… and she’s fine with it all, in fact it was her that told me that touch was ok and that she doesn’t see how therapy even is possible if you don’t love the client, and yet despite getting what I want (I mean I haven’t exercised the list yet – but I know I can in the future if I need any of it) there’s a part inside screaming, ‘You’re not my mummy!’
And there it is. For the little one/s their attachment figure is Em and so putting any substitute in her place, no matter how lovely they are, simply isn’t going to cut it – not yet, anyway.
If I were shopping for a therapist, which I guess I was (!), Anita is just about the whole package. She is very present, calm, grounded and I feel like she is genuinely invested in wanting to help me and willing to build a relationship with me. She knows that might mean getting her hands dirty and that it’s not going to be straightforward especially after what’s just happened. As she said, my antenna is on alert for being hurt and rejected even more than it was before what’s happened with Em and so trust is going to take time to build. I’m glad she understands.
The other thing that has been really nice is that Anita is not at all freaked out by how badly this ending with Em has affected me. She gets it. She has normalised it. She hasn’t made me feel like a weirdo for loving my therapist and having all this childhood attachment stuff and feeling bereaved at this loss. I have done nothing but sit, talk, and sob in these sessions all about my therapeutic relationship with Em. I have let it all out… not a sanitised version of it (I haven’t had the capacity to hide just how upset I am about it or how much Em mattered to me).
Anita has reassured me, validated my experience, and acknowledged that losing someone whom you have been brave enough to show your whole self to, your most vulnerable parts to, and then to be cut dead is a massive rejection and abandonment and it will take a long time to process and recover from it.
A couple of weeks ago I sent Anita a brief email telling her that I was feeling really bad and struggling with wanting to send Em an email but instead of doing that was reaching out to her to avoid walking into more pain. She replied quickly and kindly:
Endings are hard and you’re more than welcome to contact me rather than face more hurt and rejection from Em.
Looking forward to seeing you on Friday and don’t forget to try and do something nice for you to try and ease the hurt and pain.
With very best wishes,
I mean she couldn’t respond any better…but I still want Em…even if Em isn’t right for me anymore.
(Just so you know, I really want to slap myself and say, ‘Get a grip!!’)
The nice thing about that email was that the next session Anita checked in with me about how I was feeling having sent the message because I’d talked about how awful the contact with Em had been because it was basically forbidden and so every time I reached out I was filled with shame. I told A that I had been freaking out, and that even though she CLEARLY wrote in that email that it was fine for me to reach out AND had told me in the session we had on boundaries (did I talk about that yet?? I asked for session to talk explicitly about what the rules were so I didn’t end up tripping over them) that it was ok for me to reach out and check in that part of me was still worried I was going to get told off (nice legacy from my last therapy!). She put my mind at ease and it was fine – it’s not a big deal to her and she understands why occasional contact is necessary and how it can help build trust in the relationship.
Ummm, so it’s been going well. I can’t believe how much I have talked. Having a sixty minute session is also huge. It really makes the session feel solid and contained…like there’s enough time settle in, unpack, and then put everything away. Fifty minutes goes so quickly and when you’re dealing with the complex trauma tangled mess it really isn’t long. I really would have liked one double session with Em rather than two fifty minute sessions…although I wonder whether that would really have made a difference?
I was in a right state on Monday (24th) in my session with A – the Em stuff had reached a new level of ouch. I have been free falling deeper into that black hole the longer time has gone on- and she was so caring and attuned over and over again. One of the things that has stuck with me is when she said, ‘I wish I could take some of this pain away from you. I know I can’t. But I can be with you and I can see it’. Honestly, I almost fell off my chair. It doesn’t sound like much but to have that acknowledgment of how terrible it was feeling and her expressing that she wants to help me feel better felt really lovely and connecting.
It’s such a stark contrast from being dissociated and stuck in a young part feeling alone and upset and being told by Em that could see that the young part needs a cuddle and maybe I could imagine that for myself… that always felt so abandoning and distancing. I know it was meant kindly but when you’re stuck in that god-awful barren space feeling like a three year old it’s just hideous being asked to hold that when the adult in you isn’t even there to do it. It literally keeps you stuck in that traumatised space. It’s when it feels really isolated and scary that you most need that relational healing and holding experience.
This is one of the things I really like about Anita, how she keeps bringing me back to her and the room asking ‘what we can do together’ to help me – again it’s just words but there is a sense that this is a collaboration and that she is right there with me. She also asks me things like ‘what do you need from me right now?’…and internally I’m like, ‘What do you mean? I am allowed to ask for things from you and you might actually meet the need?’ Honestly, it’s like being on an alien planet in that room at times!
I was feeling pretty dissociated on Monday towards the end of the session because I had fallen into a big load of feelings about being rejected by Em, and so we did some grounding exercises ‘together’ (!) and when we’d done that and the session was up she asked me if I was ok to leave.
I’ve been so dissociated and dizzy leaving Em sometimes and she’s never once asked if I am ok to leave or drive. I would never stay, I know it’s time to leave, but to be asked if I am ok again feels like she actually cares about my well being and that in itself helped to bring me back to a more settled state. Winner!
As I said though, right now my young parts are not interested in Anita, really. Their attachment is firmly with Em. I mean to be fair, it’s not surprising. Anita and I have had like nine sessions (wow already?!!) and Em and I have known each other eight years. I know some of it is that the various little mes inside aren’t ready to let Em go yet but I suppose over time they will. However, the work Anita and I are doing is laying the foundations of the relationship and she is helping me dig and build rather than being a site foreman telling me to do the work by myself which is sometimes how it’s felt with Em.
I don’t actually want Anita to be yet another replacement ‘mummy’. I’m hoping, somehow, I can avoid doing mummy issues in this way again…because, let’s be fair…IT’S HELLISH!
Btw, I am very aware that I am very triggered by what’s happened with the breakdown of my therapy with Em and I suspect I am fluctuating a lot in what I say here – I guess it’s just the nature of the beast. There are so many parts feeling so many different things that it’s hard to communicate it clearly. I suspect I will look back in a few months and cringe at all this but it is how it is in the moment and I have always tried to be authentic here. It is hideous feel like this. It’s embarrassing too. But I also know from the comments and emails I receive that this helps some of you feel less crackers when I tell it how it is for me. These feelings do happen in therapy. It’s normal(ish!).
There are sooooo many of us navigating this stuff and yet it can feel so lonely when you have nothing to peg your experience on. I just want to say thank you too, because whilst I write this stuff and send it out into the wild of the internet it is the interactions with you guys that also helps me feel less alone with my feelings.