I woke up this morning feeling sick to my core, again. This has happened quite a lot lately. I become aware of it in my sleep, when I am dreaming (usually about something painful), and then when I wake up, I feel ill. It’s hard to explain because it’s not the sort of feeling I would usually associate with being anxious/stressed/dissociated/the attachment stuff – you know that familiar deep, tight ache in your solar plexus and a heaviness in your chest? It’s really different to that. It’s like the whole of my torso feels ‘sick’, like a whole-body nausea rather than specific patches of ‘ache’.
I’m not ill (I don’t think…although it would be funny if I am making all this fuss and it turns out I have a bug?!), and yet, there’s nothing major going on in my mind today – at least not consciously… having said that, the last few days have been rammed with worry and stress – I’d literally forgotten that I just went for my lovely cancer follow up at the hospital which was fine but is always so draining! – so perhaps it’s just a late move by my system to somatise it all and give my head a break? Who knows?! Either way it dragged me out of bed at 6am on a Sunday morning because lying down made it worse.
Rather than wallow in self-pity and achieve nothing, I dragged my family out for an early morning walk by the river. It was really beautiful today. Autumn seems to properly have arrived now. I love the season but hate what it represents – a long slog of teaching until Christmas, dark evenings, and a big dose of SAD! But I still have a day of holiday left before I have to put on my teacher hat and so this morning, I tried to shove the anxiety to the back of my mind and take in- and enjoy- my surroundings. The air was crisp and the sky was that perfect blue that comes at this time of year. It was great to get out and get some fresh air and it distracted a bit from the nausea…until the ride home with the wet dog stinking in the back! Ha.
I’ve been meaning to write all week but every time I think about sitting down at the laptop, I get a mental block. I have stuff to say but at the same time I haven’t had the energy to go there and look at what’s happening. It’s the worst kind of procrastination/avoidance. Instead of sitting with myself and my feelings I have gone all out with avoidance …so much so, that in two days I have completely decorated a big chunk of my house and had a mad one sorting out the garden.
I like to be productive, and the house has been a job I have been putting off for a couple of years, so spending hours mindlessly painting whilst listening to playlists on iTunes meant I didn’t have to be with ‘myself’ too much and that’s what I needed.
So, what’s been going on? What’s prompted this mad phase of action? Well, part of it is trying to avoid back to work dread (and there is a shit load of it – I genuinely feel like crying) but also, I’m half way through a two-week therapy break – the first one I have had with Anita.
You all saw that one coming, didn’t you?
A hasn’t had a break since I started working with her in January so she certainly deserves some time out but it’s stirred up some unexpected stuff and that’s not easy. The good news is that wheels haven’t completely fallen off just yet! It remains to be seen if I crash and burn as the week progresses and work picks up, though. The heightened anxiety paired with tiredness (oh and PMS week) is sure to throw a few spanners in the works- I already feel a bit wobbly.
There have already been a couple of flat days, but I don’t think that’s purely down to the break, I think it’s my life in general catching up with me and my feeling overwhelmed by it…oh and the hormones of course. They don’t help! I’m beginning to realise that I can’t underestimate the power of the veil that shrouds my rational self when PMS hormone hell is ravaging. I suppose at least I am aware that it’s week where I seem able to blow stuff up in my head to apocalyptic levels of doom: two months ago it was freaking out about feeling like A was ignoring my texts (she wasn’t!), and then last month it was the jealous hell about the walk with the other client…pray for me that I keep my shit together this week as I am really done with overreacting and having the emotional resilience of a fractious three year old!
I didn’t really help myself leading into this break, either. I got to see Anita in person again for our Friday session. Yay, right? Err…yes and no. I didn’t even realise what was happening until about ten minutes from the end when it became blindingly obvious that I had spent the whole session hiding. It was that horrible thing where more than anything I want to connect but there’s that part of me that packs up early and gags all the parts that need to be seen before a holiday. So the needy young parts that are terrified that something bad is going to happen during the break and need reassurance get left high and dry. Then I feel like there is no connection – even though it’s me that has run away from connecting! FFS.
Anita was sitting right opposite me – and we all know how big a deal not being able to be with her in the room has felt during lockdown – but she might as well have been on the moon. I could barely look at her and whilst I was talking, it wasn’t really talking…………….. well it was, but I’m so well practised at filling space with what seems like important stuff, I have such a good disguise, that it’d be impossible for her to know that this ‘stuff’ isn’t the ‘priority stuff’ because there’s just too much fucking stuff! I manage to seem like I am letting her in when actually I am holding her at arm’s length….
FOR FUCK’S SAKE!!
I talked a lot about how bad it’s been feeling in my body; about a horrible dream I had where I was falling towards the earth from space without a parachute, having to fashion something makeshift so I didn’t die, and then landing with a thud on Em’s driveway. She opened her door, looked at me, and then slammed it shut (ouch); feeling like having insight into why I am the way I am is worse than being ignorant of it because I realise there is soooooooooooooooo much wrong and sooooooooooooo much to heal and it feels overwhelming; how internally it’s like a school corridor on change over between lessons – it’s complete carnage…
See, it looks like the important ‘stuff’ doesn’t it?!
And we talked a lot about all these things and A was really lovely but sometimes even her tentatively asking me a question to see what is possible is enough to send my system into lockdown. She asked me if maybe we could ask the parts in the corridor to get in a line because when they’re all stuck together it’s really hard to see who is there and who needs help – especially as there are so many little ones in there alongside the rowdy teens. And whilst that makes loads of sense and is what I need – we need to work with a part or two at a time – it put the protectors on full alert. No way are they going to let that happen ……………..AAAAAAAARRRRRRGGGGHHHH!!!
I so wish that I could take a step forward when I am invited to. I wish I was able to really look at what’s going on but those gatekeepers are so bloody fast and strong. I wish I had been able to talk because there’s the story that doesn’t get told because it just feels excruciating to feel so vulnerable and needy. I wish I could say:
‘I’m anxious about the break because the last therapy break I had was a disaster and ended with Em and I terminating. Our relationship completely disintegrated over two weeks. Part of me is frightened that you might go away and something will happen whilst you’re gone. I’m worried that the narrative will change from ‘I am happy to work on this with you and the therapy will only end when you want it to, or if there are unforeseen circumstances in my life’ (just like she said) and you’ll go away, realise I am too much to cope with, be reminded of how nice it is to not have to see me, and you’ll come back and end it saying something about how you’ve reached the limit of your competency (like she did).
I know it’s mental, but the youngest parts of me are terrified and recent history has really made this feel scarier than it might otherwise have felt. I am not very good with breaks anyway – fear of abandonment was massive before this year but now it’s…huge. Part of me wants desperately to cling on to you but another part doesn’t want to freak you out with the need and then push you to the point where you terminate. I know this is really messy and comes from a really young place – it’s so embarrassing and totally overwhelming’
So, I guess that’s what I would have said if the words had have been available to me, or if the protector part of me hadn’t have shut things down so that the young parts were locked away.
However, it wasn’t a complete disaster because the light flicked on near to the end and I became aware of what was happening with my inner dynamics, like I came out of autopilot and was in control of the plane again. And there was the realisation: ‘Ooooh fuck, it’s this bloody shit pattern again’. I told A that I felt like I wasn’t there and felt disconnected. She asked if part of me felt threatened and so had taken myself away (when she’d suggested making the parts line up). Yes. Always yes. But not only then…
I managed to tell A that I had disconnected early, because even though she was sitting opposite me, she would be going away. A was really understanding and said how it made sense that part was getting ready because it feels like it’s protecting me. I said I understood this but that it isn’t helpful. I didn’t say it, but I do this so often. I go into shutdown early, batten down the hatches readying myself for the storm, but in doing so I deprive the youngest parts of myself the connection they need and so that actually makes any separation much harder.
When will I learn?!
It was time to finish and A said I could write to her if it would and asked me if there was anything she could give me do for me before I went…
Ha…we know where this is going, right?
The ‘I don’t give a fuck about anything, teen part’ stepped up and was so dismissive (she’s only trying to protect the littlest ones). I don’t think I could have been any more combative in the, ‘like what?!’ answer I gave. Oh god I just want to die of shame thinking about it! But I have to love Anita, she didn’t seem put off and asked if I maybe wanted to take something from the room like a stone or a shell…but after the hell six months with the pebble with Em the idea of a hard transitional object like this just feels awful. It’s too much of a reminder of what happened before. And when the youngest parts are falling apart they just want to curl up in a blanket or cuddle a soft toy that has some kind of link to A– but voicing that just feels cringey.
Anyway, I declined the transitional object because I am a grump, but also because I don’t think it would really have helped the parts that struggle with breaks… I dunno.
Whilst all this was going on there was a total meltdown happening inside with the little parts, ‘What if she doesn’t come back? What if she forgets us?’ Etc. I think A must’ve noticed because as I got up to leave, she asked me if I wanted a hug.
There is only ever one answer to this question!
And fortunately, the dismissive, connection severing part of me sat back down and folded her arms and waited for the other parts to get what they needed. As we were hugging, A said, ‘I’m still here’ – and that was so soothing and reassuring.
I don’t think I can really put into words what getting a hug with A is like – because whilst it is just a hug, it feels like so much more than that. It feels like it repairs a little bit of the feeling of being untouchable and unlovable that has been so present in my relationship with my mum (who has only hugged me once in the last 23 years… and that was the day my dad died). It also makes me feel like the feeling of being physically and emotionally abandoned time and again over the last 8 years with Em when I have been distressed and dissociated might have been more about her rather than there being something inherently wrong with me… anyway, it’s a big HUGE area…and there’s a lot of work to be done round it in the therapy – oh god…I can’t wait for that! LOL.
I walked away from the session feeling a bit frustrated with myself but also so much more connected than I had earlier in the session. It really is amazing how something as simple as leaving on a hug can do enough to settle the young parts who worry so much about whether the relationship is real but also who are freaking out about a separation. Anita actually asking me if I wanted a hug makes those parts that feel untouchable think that perhaps she is safe, and perhaps she isn’t disgusted by them… it feels nice.
Physical touch really does help when stuff feels off and I think this is because when young child is terrified and having a tantrum you don’t try and have a big dialogue right in that moment. First, you pick it up, hold it, help it regulate, and then when it’s settled you try and talk things though and make sense of it all. And I think this is where I have got so lost for so long in therapy.
My system is so fragmented and there have been so many times where the attachment stuff has been activated in a session and then I’ve been stranded in a very young, often pre-verbal dissociated state and have been expected to find my way out of that by myself. It’s impossible. It’s abandoning and traumatising being in that state and having a therapist do the still face on you, or tell you that you need to hold that part for yourself.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting for one minute that I see myself as some kind of ‘adult baby’ …it’s fucking mortifying enough experiencing the range of feelings so intensely and having to talk about it – BUT – there are definitely times when words are simply not enough and being physically held really helps regulate the system and bring the adult coping parts back online so that maybe we can work out what’s going on. The work can’t be done when you’re not in your window of tolerance – and as I have said before, my window is more like a letterbox!!
Anyway, that was our last session. I’ve checked in a few times with A via text since then…and that is another thing that has made this break more bearable. For the parts that genuinely can’t hold her in mind she almost ceases to exist and so these little reminders, that ‘she’s still here’ really help.
I feel like A understands how this stuff works, like she speaks my language…and that really is amazing.