I knew that the return to online sessions, after so much deep work and holding had taken place in the room, was going to be challenging but even I couldn’t have predicted quite how difficult it was going to feel being back on screen again with Anita. Oh, the irony of the pre-emptive message I sent at the end of our last face-to-face session!:
The next few weeks is going to be really tough and I’m going to try really hard not to have another meltdown over it, but I’ll just apologise in advance for myself now just in case. Please take elephant with you and don’t forget about me xx
Eek! Let’s just hide!
During the first lockdown Anita and I worked together from mid-March through to mid-August online and whilst it wasn’t ideal, it wasn’t a complete train crash either – well not initially, anyway. There are a few reasons I can think of as to why this is.
Firstly, in March we had only been seeing each other for a couple of months. We were building the relationship and it was feeling good but I was still very guarded, still very much in my adult- the really vulnerable parts hadn’t made their way into the room yet.
Secondly, in March I think a lot of us were just in a panic about COVID, we really didn’t know what to expect, or how bad it might be- I mean people were bulk buying bog roll and stripping the super market shelves of pasta for goodness sake! (Not me personally, but you know what I mean!) Everything stopped: we were properly locked down – not this bizarre non-lock down that we’ve had the last month where B&M and all sorts of places have managed to call themselves ‘essential retail’!
The rules and guidance were so strict last time round that there wasn’t any room for manoeuvre. It was online therapy or nothing – it was as though mental health provision was completely overlooked and therapy was lumped in with hairdressers and nail bars. I mean, my hairdresser is fab, and I certainly needed my roots doing at the end of lockdown but not getting my hair done didn’t send me over the edge, whereas not getting to see A did, in the end.
I think the government has maybe learnt a few lessons this time round and has made it clear that mental health services can run face-to-face because actually even ‘normal’ people have struggled this year. Of course, this guidance doesn’t really help people who have been stuck online throughout, or whose therapists think they are doing fine online (when they really aren’t!), or don’t feel willing or comfortable to return to the therapy room just yet…or go and bubble somewhere else! I get a lot of emails from people with C-PTSD saying how bloody awful working online is – and I get it. I really, really do.
Anyway, online therapy only started to feel really tough at the end of June although I have friends who have been in therapy for a long time and it was hell from the start (which is what’s happened this time for me). Even when the relationship is built and the attachment is strong not getting to be in the room is really traumatising for the young parts who haven’t yet developed object constancy. Most of us struggle from week to week, or certainly on breaks, so a protracted period of disruption to therapy is hard. I actually don’t think therapists realise how bad it has been.
Things only started to feel difficult for me in the summer when the attachment stuff really kicked in and the child parts were now present and invested in the relationship. As I said to Anita in a text, at the time, up until that point she could really have been anyone, I needed a therapist to process what had happened with Em but I wasn’t attached to her yet. I liked her a lot. I thought she was a good fit for me, but my protectors had been taking it slow and so working online felt ok, the distance was manageable because I was distanced anyway – to an extent.
But then suddenly it wasn’t ok anymore. Like a switch had been flicked. Suddenly those online sessions felt painful and distanced and not enough. Nothing had changed from Anita’s side but EVERYTHING had changed from mine. And it was from that point that the mini-ruptures started to happen. I felt disconnected over some text exchanges and cancelled a session (for about half an hour until we sorted it out!) and then I had that epic meltdown when I found out A had been for a walk with another client.
All these big reactions stemmed from those young parts feeling hurt and abandoned. I had spent so long being cagey and disconnected, ‘talking but not really’, protecting those vulnerable parts that when those parts felt safe enough, they attached in the biggest way to A. It must have been like witnessing a change of seasons from summer to winter overnight. Watch out – here comes the crazy tantrums!
I know I am lucky because eventually I could resume face-to-face sessions but that six weeks or so where things had shifted felt like an eternity for those little parts who just wanted to be close to her and hug her and who got triggered by the screen.
The return to the room was so great in August and it’s been mind-blowing, really, how much things have moved on and the level of vulnerability and emotional intimacy that has happened. I almost don’t recognise myself…or…I do recognise myself but I am staggered that I am letting someone else see these parts of me.
The fact that I have been able to cry with A is huge. All those years with Em and I never felt safe enough to connect with my feelings like I do with Anita. It was only in our termination session that tears came with Em– how on earth can you sit in a room with someone for all those years, talking about the stuff we do, and not be able to let it out?
It wasn’t safe.
I had suspected all along that if I cried, she would leave me high and dry and, on that day, when my heart was breaking, she saw my pain and looked away before walking away. It was utterly horrific. It felt cruel, actually.
Anyway, ugh, enough of that. What a lot of preamble to get to the point where I talk about the last few weeks online with A.
Where to start, though? I mean I guess I’ll begin by saying I’m not proud of how I have behaved at times. As I said, whilst I knew it was going to a challenge working online, I had no idea that I was going to lose my shit in the way I did, as frequently as I did. Fuck! Poor Anita!
This is going to be a sort of summary because I actually can’t remember what happened in each specific session or even what happened in a chronological order. It’s kind of a blur. My system was so dysregulated and triggered that all I can say for sure is that RB was a handful and Anita deserves a medal for putting up with me….and also that I am so, so glad it’s over and we are back face-to-face. Well, that is until Christmas break which is imminent.
Please pray for me!
I think, probably, as I can’t remember what was going on it’s probably best to describe what happens online and why it’s triggering because it’s pretty much always the same. Basically, the screen goes live and immediately my system inside feels a million miles away from A. It’s a painful reminder of how far apart we are, or how alone I am. I so badly want to see her, and feel connected but it just feels like there are so many barriers. I struggle enough with Anita sitting in her chair in the therapy room and feeling like it’s too far away so being in completely different locations behind a screen is just a total nightmare.
As I said in the post the other day, remote working hooks back into the separation of being away from my mum between the ages of 5-11 and then I guess my dad being gone 11-16, or even when I was 9months-3.5 years. My whole life has been punctuated by caregivers not being there. Although I do think it’s the bit from being 5 with mum that is the biggest trigger.
I used to speak on the phone on a Wednesday with my mum and it was rubbish. Never enough time and always disrupted by the beeps. It just felt like I was perpetually hanging on to feel safe and connected (not that this actually happened when she was home but I guess that’s what I hoped for). This is exactly how it feels online with A. We both know it’s not the same online. We both know it’s triggering for the young parts. There’s not a great deal we can do about it other than sit it out. I guess the positive is that when we do actually see each other in real life there is sense of re-connecting and holding… but the waiting is horrendous.
If I can manage to stay in my adult then online is just about ok. The last/final session of this lockdown we had online was like this, but at the same time I just feel like I am disconnected from myself and actually kind of hiding from A. At least, though, if I can do that and talk about stuff that is hard but not impacting the child parts I don’t get the rage and hang up the call…which happened a few times in the last few weeks.
So, yeah, the feeling of disconnection online seems to get worse and worse as the calls go on. No matter what A says or does, no matter how much she tries to reassure me, tell me she’s still there, or that she’s coming back, or loves me – none of it goes in, it just bounces off. I can hear it but I don’t feel it. At all. It’s so painful. The longer this goes on, the harder it becomes, and then eventually the teen part comes online because those child parts are in agony. This is where the fun really begins. Jesus.
The teen’s protective anger is like lighting the touch paper and…BANG! Everyone take cover!!
It was Friday 13th November the day that everything went off the rails…I mean omen or what?! I can’t even remember what Anita said on that first day I put the phone down on her but I think it was something really innocuous like, ‘you’ve survived this before (as a child) and you’ll survive it again now. Sometimes it’s hard to keep know what’s in the here and now and what’s in the past’. Adult me knows what she meant but, unfortunately, I wasn’t here then and that sentence was like a red rag to a bull.
Like, ok, sure, I survived this stuff as a kid – but look at the damage that it’s done!! And now you’re saying I’m supposed to be comforted by the fact that I have a fucking great survival skills and can tolerate just about anything because I have learnt to? But the detrimental impact on me is enormous: my nervous system has been totally battered; I can’t sleep, and when I do sleep I jolt awake at 2am feeling sick and like there’s a black hole in my chest; I’m dissociated to the point that I am burning myself by putting my hands in the oven not realising I haven’t got a tea towel or oven glove; and I feel tearful and unsafe ALL THE TIME…but sure, I’ll get through it because I have no other choice…
It just gave me the rage because, yes, this is familiar territory – but let’s be clear here, this was triggered because A had gone away (which she is totally entitled to do btw!)! And, ok, yes it was hooking into all sorts from the past, but I was hurting in the here and now because she was gone and I had thought she wouldn’t be.
We’ve since talked about how these kinds of statements- ‘you’ll get through it’- don’t help. I don’t want her to fix it or tell me I can cope with it, I need her to sit with me and accept my feelings and validate my experience of what’s going on. Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself…
I think I said, ‘I don’t want to talk to you’ – we were only about ten minutes into the session- and hung up. I think in person I would have been able to say why I was so upset by that comment but when I don’t feel connected online I just can’t. Everything feels wrong. It feels like everything is falling apart and the relationship isn’t real.
There was so much conflict going on inside as a sat in my living room – I felt so angry, but underneath that, just really hurt and unseen. The little parts were distraught. What had I done?
The reality of this, for those parts, is if the teen expresses anger is that’s the therapy finished. I did this just once, last January, and look what happened. GAME OVER. The absolute terror that flooded my system when I realised what I had just done with A was huge.
Then a message came up on my phone:
I’m still here if you want to talk. I can hear you’re angry and that’s ok. I still love and care about you and am ok to hear your anger. I accept you as a whole, good and bad xx
I stared at my phone for a minute. What on earth was I meant to do with that? The shame that was building felt huge. I felt like such a fucking idiot. How many times does A need to prove herself for me to understand and be able to hold onto the fact that she is there with me and is safe?
I wanted to talk to her, I didn’t want to be hanging onto this crap all weekend and so I rang her back and pointed my phone up to the ceiling. I couldn’t bear to be seen – not after this performance. The child parts were right there and it was so hard to talk.
I can’t remember if it was on this occasion where I disconnected the call or the next time I did it on Zoom…
(OMG I JUST WANT TO CRAWL INTO A HOLE AND DIE THINKING ABOUT HOW IT’S BEEN!)
…but it’s all one and the same, the teen part was so angry – and said, ‘you have no idea what you’re dealing with’ and Anita responded, ‘not up to the job?’ and I replied ‘yeah’. Oh, fuck me! I cannot believe I said that. Because let’s be clear, if she’s not up to the job then there is no one out there who will be and I don’t want to do this with anyone else!
I told her I was angry. ‘At me leaving?’ she asked. Yep. Of course. But we quickly understood that the anger is just Sad’s bodyguard. Things started to feel better and I apologised for pushing her away. I think this might have been the day where A told me she wasn’t going anywhere, ‘I’m like a boomerang – you can push me away but I’ll keep coming back until you decide you don’t want me anymore’ but like I say, I have totally lost my chronology because it’s generally felt like one long drawn out struggle all about the same thing – I don’t do separation well!
I wonder what it feels like to them (therapists) when are like this? Because I know I’m not pleasant. I know that really, when I push away it’s because I need connection so badly and I can’t feel it, so it feels safer to run away then sit in the discomfort of feeling alone/abandoned and find out that what I fear is actually real. I’d sooner cut and run than be dumped. But how must it feel to be trying your best to be there for someone and nothing that you do be good enough – and then get a personal attack because of it?
I really hope Anita knows that I value her, love her, and am so grateful for everything she does for me because honestly working with her has changed my life.
I might have fallen on my arse this month but, actually, overall things are SO MUCH BETTER!
I do generally apologise in session, or text afterwards when I have had a meltdown and I feel really lucky that I can send her a message as sitting on this stuff feels hard, because that part that fears abandonment will run riot if I feel like I have left things on a rupture because I’d convince myself that she would leave. This is one of my many, many messages over this period:
A, I really love you and I am so sorry that I push you away. It’s just utter hell. As I said before, the more I need you or miss you – but feel like I can’t reach/feel you – the harder I push away. It’s a desperate self-protection strategy. If I say I don’t want to talk to you or do this anymore, please don’t agree with me and say that’s ok because it ISN’T OK and just adds to the feeling that there is no connection and you’ll just let me go which is what that part is testing – do you actually care enough to reach out and stop me hitting self-destruct? … and that triggers all kinds of hurt from January. ‘I don’t want to do this’ / ‘ok fine’…it’s too painful. Anyway, I need you to know that I am sorry and I do understand and see what you do for me, I get you’re human. And I don’t want to lash out because I am hurting. When you come home can we have a long session and just cuddle please x And then these…
It’ll come as no surprise to you guys that A always responds warmly and shows how much she really gets it. She has this amazing way of just draining the shame and embarrassment I feel away:
Of course, we can have a longer session. I know it’s your defences that push me away and I respect them for the job they are ‘trying’ to do. That’s why it’s ok for me but that doesn’t mean I am going to go! Just like I called you back the other day and didn’t leave today when you tried to push me away. My saying ‘it’s ok’ means it’s so understable you’re feeling the way you do. Not ‘ok I will leave then’ because I know that’s not what you really want. I want to be with you for the whole journey, through the storms and the sunny days.
You’d think that getting messages like that and multiple hug gifs and little demonstrations that she’s still there would have been enough for me to not have any further meltdowns.
You’d be wrong!
By the 23rd of November my system was totally tanking. Talk about walking, talking, pile of disaster and need! I just really needed for A to come home and to cuddle her. Or at least to know when she might be home. I had started to panic that lockdown might be extended and that I might not end up seeing Anita until the new year. It was catastrophising 101 in my brain but it was a product of the panic and feelings of disconnect that were swirling inside. I know December and January are going to be hard this year. My brain is already serving me up flashbacks to what it was like in those final sessions with Em last year ☹ and so the thought of online on top was just awful for the little parts.
I haven’t the feintest clue about what triggered me into disconnecting the call that Monday. I have absolutely no recollection of the call at all. All I know I can see on my phone records that A tried to call me back twice and I didn’t pick up. The only reason I know what’s gone on is from the texts we exchanged afterwards. I was so triggered that I text her and told her that I didn’t want to do this anymore… it felt really, really bad.
As usual A was there, solid, supportive, reassuring and somehow it came out in the texts that she would be back next the next week whatever happened, lockdown or not. The relief I felt was palpable but there was also anger. Why hadn’t she told me this before? She genuinely thought she had, but somewhere along the line things got missed. Either way, it was enough to help me just about get a handle on myself – and for the distressed young parts to see some kind of light at the end of the tunnel. It was like counting down sleeps until Christmas – not even joking!
These online sessions have been hard (understatement) in lots of ways but I guess one thing I would say is that if Anita was in any doubt of the terrain we are working on before this lockdown she isn’t now. I suppose if I put the shame and embarrassment to one side and try and find the positives in what’s happened over the last month, it’d be that I must trust and feel safe enough with A to be able to express myself in this way…i.e whatever is there comes up in whichever way it needs to. Part of me must know and believe that she is what and who she says she is, and is in for the long haul otherwise there’s no way I would let this stuff out. I’d still be ‘a good girl’ and not a show her the ‘hurt, angry girl’.
Anyway, this is bloody enormous again – and not even that good of a summary of the last month or so! Thankfully we’re now back face-to-face which has been awesome but also … exhausting. I guess almost a month of holding everything in (or at least trying to) means it has to come out now!
p.s I’m sorry about the GIF overload!! LOL!