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!
Nice to read how you’re getting on. The lockdown’s been hard going hasn’t it!! Fucking rollercoaster!!
So- ‘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.’ So I wanted to say that, you obv know yourself better than anyone but I’d suggest that it’s because Em was not ethical in many of the ways she treated you. Rather than it being because of the motherwound being triggered. Anna triggered my mother wound but I never felt worse from seeing her… you know? I feel like Em really didn’t treat you the way you needed. She hurt you in so many ways 😔
Also… ‘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.’ This is something amazing that I’ve noticed with working with a different therapist! For different reasons. It’s like it accelerates certain things that have maybe stagnated by working with the same person.
And this… ‘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.’ I’m so glad Anita is able to validate this so much for you and I agree with her so much. You deserved so much more. The way you describe how she rejected you time and again. Not even letting you sit close. Not greeting you. Ffs it makes me feel angry!! I think you will build a beautiful therapeutic relationship with Anita and it will be holding and healing 💕
Thanks L! Yes. Lockdown has been a bit brutal. I can’t even really put into words how stressful it’s been at times. I really don’t do well with instability and financial insecurity so having to navigate the pandemic on 3/4 less money coming in was hard. Fortunately, once the lockdown eased a bit recruitment started moving again and my wife got a new job within days – only it took a few weeks to start because it takes time to get references and process for HR and payroll etc. Ugh. Still, things are looking up… although she’s still in a high risk medical field which means COVID is never a million miles away. PPE 12 hours a day! Yikes. I can see why I had such a huge wobble though and am trying to be gentle with myself and not beat myself up. My friends have been largely amazing and supportive so that has really helped too, and I’ve been better at sharing stuff that I might usually have kept hidden which has actually brought us closer together because they’ve shared more of their vulnerability too. In fact having spoken more candidly about my therapy and sharing a blog post with one of my oldest friends she’s started with a therapist last week! We spent a few days online looking at therapists in her area and alighted on the same one separately!! She sounds amazing. So fingers crossed. Ha. So yeah, it’s all seemingly going well with Anita. I miss Em soooooo much but she’s not good for me, and there’s no going back….which is what my next post is about. 😦 Hope you’re hanging on in there. x
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I completely understand. The pandemic and lockdown has turned everything upside down. I’m so glad your wife eventually got work sorted but nothing is without complications or drawbacks is it. It’s existing.
I’m so glad you’ve had the support from your friends and it sounds like your honesty has had a positive impact on one friend in particular which is wonderful. I’ve found a new confidence in talking more candidly about these personal things and also found that the right friends are hugely understanding and supportive. Your next post sounds interesting! 🧡
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I really love how attuned A seems to be to you, and it makes me sad that it took so long for you to experience this and to know that this is what’s supposed to be normal. You seem to be warming to her nicely and slowly but surely developing that relationship. I think it’s going to turn out wonderfully with her. I’m sorry you’re still stuck doing teletherapy, it’s really just not the same.
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Me too. I have everything crossed that it works out but you never bloody know. Yes, teletherapy is not great. I want to be face to face 😕
I missed the part about you stopping recording your sessions, is that because Anita doesn’t really go for that or because you just decided to stop?
My impression from the outside looking in, is that Anita is a much better fit for you, but in the same way that older couples can sometimes stay together because of their shared history – even though they’re like a destructive whirlwind in each others’ lives – I think your history with Em was like an anchor to you. If you’d had both therapists for 8 years then I have a sneaky feeling Anita would win hands down! But I could be wrong.
Yeah! We’re doing our sessions on WhatsApp video calling on my phone because sometimes I’m in my car so I can’t then recorded it using my phone. When we have face to face I recorded it and if it was Skype I could too. I don’t really feel the need to right now, but I think I used to record sessions largely because I’d spend so long dissociated with Em that I couldn’t remember what had happened or would doubt my experience of the session so having the recording helped so I could go back over and hear it – and it also helped different parts. As they tended experience her in different ways. Returning to a session when my adult was available was useful!
I haven’t tried it, and it might depend on your type of phone, but I wonder if you can screen record the session using your phone by swiping up? Though I take your point that you might not need to quite the same way anymore anyway. I’m the same as you, I’m just not there sometimes. I mean I come away feeling the benefit but it’s only when I listen back I think, bloodyhell, did he really say that?! Where was I when he said THAT?! 😆
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Yeah. I get that a lot! Fortunately these days I feel generally pretty good after a session so I can just take in the feeling rather than needing to hear the finer details of the conversation. Whereas before I almost needed evidence because I felt so bad a lot of the time!
I totally get you there. It’s like something shifts direction but you can’t remember all the details of it, you just know a change has taken place.
I’m finally getting around to catching up with WordPress friends after a long bout of being unwell mentally. Anita is really different from Em, really, and it’s really good to hear how much more containing and supportive Anita is!
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Oh love I am sorry to hear you’ve been having a rough time. Sending hugs x
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