Oh man – I am so behind with this blog. It’s getting ridiculous now! A lot has happened these last few weeks so I think I’ll try and write a few short posts in quick succession to bring myself up to speed. Now that I don’t record my sessions I can’t even listen back and remind myself what’s been going on in any detail, but what I can say is that generally speaking, therapy has been moving in the right direction. I’ve had a few avoidant moments (well not avoidant exactly, but spending a whole session last Friday, talking about the global pandemic and systemic racism when I had been bleeding out about Em rejecting me all week, wasn’t probably what I needed to be talking about!) but on balance it’s felt good, really good, actually.
Well…good for online therapy…!
I honestly cannot wait to get back to face-to-face because I know it’s going to be so much better and also, I just want to give Anita a huge hug (or perhaps a tentative first one)! And knowing that it is fine to ask for that and that I won’t be rejected by her for wanting that has literally taken so much stress out of therapy. I mean wanting a hug from Em, not knowing what the boundary even was for two years led to so much stress and internal upset, especially for the young parts.
I mean, you guys have been here with me – I spent hours, days, weeks, months… years… wondering about whether I could have a hug and then when I discovered it was a ‘no’ but with no discussion other than ‘you know it’s a boundary I won’t cross’ left me wondering what’s wrong with me and why I am so untouchable, and why the boundary was what it was …and I never got to express my feelings about how rejected I felt because of it. It was only after Christmas this year that I mentioned that I would sometimes like her to sit next to me and she said she doesn’t do that either…again no discussion of how that might feel to me.
So, anyway, the finer details of my sessions with Anita are a bit of a blur the last few weeks, but then my life in general has felt that way too. It’s felt like I have been on an emotional rollercoaster in my day-to-day world and yet I always seem to feel a bit shocked or bemused by the fact that I am struggling with stuff when I get to speak to Anita. I have had several huge emotional wobbles lately – or maybe just one protracted one since January with small areas of slightly less jiggling about. My mood has been pretty low but I have also felt really angry at times. I guess it’s just like everything is out of control and that there’s a kind of relentlessness to my life and it’s exhausting. Just as I thought I had put things in place to make things better Em and I terminated and then there was the pandemic!
Generally, when things have been emotionally shit and dark like this in the past, I have hidden in my shell until it’s felt safe enough to come out a bit. I have a tendency to go it alone when things feel this bad, shut people out, don’t communicate with friends, point in a forward direction, and just keep going the best I can often with a bit of self-harm or anorexia thrown into to help me on my way. Some people might call it avoidance but actually it is simply survival when it gets to this point.
I find it hard to trust people and unfortunately when I have needed people, in the past and more recently, they’ve not always been there – or actually disappeared – so I tend not to ask for help. I get it’s not easy loving someone when they are in a crisis or not being their best selves but unfortunately that is the problem with mental health issues. Sometimes, we can get so tied up in knots that we seem to get frustrated with essentially ‘nothing’ because the ‘big things’ feel unmanageable. We project onto others. We lash out. And then sometimes we run because it feels like it’s all caving in around our ears.
My protective shell has taken a complete battering over the last six months, losing Em, the coronavirus crisis, the panic around PPE and lack of accessibility to it whilst my wife was at work knowing I am in a clinically vulnerable group, then my wife losing her job and the financial shit storm that has come with that, losing a close friend… it just felt like I was being attacked on all sides and there have been times when I have totally fallen apart, sobbing uncontrollably on my bed and just wishing there was a way out of this. So when I am in session with Anita, I say things to her and then wonder out loud ‘what’s wrong with me? I don’t know why I am so affected by this…’
I can’t tell you how many times she has responded by telling me that it’s years and years of trauma, as well as current big stresses, and that I am in survival mode and therefore my flight response is engaged. To be honest it’s my default! It’s like my window of tolerance is so narrow – like a letterbox- that I miss landing in it a lot of the time and either veer off into a flight response or completely shut down and dissociate.
Fortunately, in my therapy sessions with Anita I am much more able to stay in the window of tolerance and maintain some kind of observer self than I was ever able to with Em. I am able to tell her what’s been happening for me (the unbearable feelings, the dissociation etc) without actually plummeting into the states I am discussing with her. Rather than therapy triggering all the mess it feels like an island in the stream where I get to rest and take stock of things a bit in relative safety. I guess this is, in part, because Anita doesn’t trigger my mother wound in any significant way (yet!) and so I can perhaps be more present with her.
Don’t get me wrong, I feel attached to A and I would hate to stop seeing her now, but seeing her doesn’t make me fall down into the emotional abyss. Our interactions don’t trigger me into feeling desperate or out of control or rejected or abandoned. If at any time I have got close to the edge when talking about Em she’s noticed me going and has held out a hand to stop me falling.
As you can see, it’s such a different experience doing therapy with A. I actually feel like she genuinely is interested in me and cares about me. I find it hard to understand why she is so kind and warm especially seeing as we’ve only been working together since mid-January. Part of me is like, ‘she’s just doing her job’ but then it was Em’s job, too, and she was never like this.
I have told Anita things that I have never shared with Em – big things that just lay lurking in the shadows for the last eight years of therapy – and a lifetime before that. I have opened myself up completely and have really talked about the feelings of loss around what’s happened with my therapy ending. I’ve spoken about all the ‘embarrassing’ feelings that there are. I have spoken about love. I have spoken about shame. I’ve spoken about my mum A LOT. I have just told it is – and how it is changes a lot depending on who is present. But I can even tell Anita who is there when I would stay silent with Em.
Don’t get me wrong, part of me has felt wary doing this, like what if I say this and show myself and I am too much for her? What if my neediness and reaction to what’s happened with Em makes her feel uncomfortable? What if she sees me as I am and she leaves just like Em did? But then part of me is like what have I got to lose now? I spent years filtering myself and ‘behaving’ and I still got dropped like a hot potato, had my heart broken, and my sense of self decimated by someone who I dared to trust with the most vulnerable parts of myself, so if that’s going to happen again let it happen sooner rather than later. I don’t want to find out years down the line that I’m too complex! Refer me on now because you already know what you’re dealing with!
But there’s not even the slightest hint that Anita feels overwhelmed by me. Far from it. She is so unbelievably validating and present. She makes no bones about the fact that what happened at the end with Em, in her view, was unethical and unprofessional and that I am therefore bound to be massively impacted by the way things ended – especially given my trauma history. She sees it as yet another occasion where I have been failed by someone who was meant to care and tells me that she doesn’t think I am too much and I don’t make her feel uncomfortable in the least.
The more I bring my feelings to her and she responds in a positive way the safer I feel with her and so, therefore, I am able then to bring more to her. It’s a positive spiral. Being met well makes such a significant difference to my system overall and I feel like we are getting work done but in a safe, contained way. I’m not stuck. I seem to talk about all kinds of things from my past, filling her in with the back story and then will launch stuff about what’s happened in therapy with Em. It always seems to come up in one way or another because in some ways I am retelling stories that have been told before and so I am noticing and comparing the different responses which are like night and day.
There is a lot of, ‘If I said this to Em she’d respond like this/not respond and then this would make me feel x, y, z or dissociate’. I said the other day how nice it was to not feel stressed out in my sessions and how safe I feel with her. I was telling her about how I used to drive to my sessions with Em and feel sick to my core, or buzzing with nerves, often having to stop en route to use the toilets at Tesco (I didn’t say ‘therapy shits’ but the inference was there!). I told her that I would feel anxious and my heart would race when I would arrive at therapy.
I explained how it would take ages to settle because when Em would open the door she would never greet me or even smile when I arrived. She never said ‘hello’ or ‘come in’ and so I would awkwardly walk through the front door, down to the therapy room, sit down on the sofa, and wonder what was going to happen – young parts who missed her so much fearing the worst. Em never started a conversation and would wait for me to speak. And I know that this is common in some types of therapy, the therapist doesn’t want to lead the conversation and allows the client to begin how they want, but for me it was awful. What it usually meant is that I would launch into some detached day-to-day small talk about what had been going on in the week because there was no reconnecting and I didn’t feel safe enough or comfortable enough to let her know what was really bothering me. Although there was one session where we just sat in silence for twenty minutes! AGONY!
Her ‘still face’ immediately set my young parts jangling – and the feeling of abandonment to those parts felt huge. So, to not be invited to talk or given a way in felt really neglectful because a lot of the time it must have been really clear I was struggling. I wasn’t deliberately being difficult. I wasn’t locked in some kind of power struggle. I just needed help. I told her how I had seen the still face experiment and how it had resonated with me so much because it’s how I felt in the room with her and yet nothing changed. Ugh.
Anyway, enough of that for now…because there’s a shit load more of that to come next post!