holding it together as I journey through therapy – a personal account of what it's like to be in long-term psychotherapy navigating the healing of C-PTSD, childhood trauma and neglect, an eating disorder, self-harming behaviours, as well as giving grief and cancer an occasional nod.
I don’t know about you, but I am so sick of bloody video calls now. I cannot take much more Zoom Doom, Skype Shite, FaceCrime, or WhatsCrap. Sure, technology has been helpful and without it I wouldn’t be able to work right now, but I am starving for real human connection (and that’s not just from a therapy perspective – I need my wife back!!). My world is backlit in blue light and my brain is completely done in. I feel overstimulated and overwhelmed and I am sure this is, in part, down to the amount of time I spend staring at screens (it’s not lost on me that I am at my laptop typing this – but writing is helpful so…!!).
It’s been two weeks- so far- in isolation but honestly it feels like months. My wife contracting COVID has turned our world completely upside-down. To say that I am going slightly (a lot) crazy is an understatement. It’s been a long, hard, scary slog these last few weeks and at times I have felt like I was drowning in overwhelm.
I can usually switch myself into gear for work but this week I have been staring at the screen, knowing I need to start the call, and a voice inside has been crying ‘I just can’t’. I like my students, we have a good laugh, but it’s just felt like the part of me that is funny, and capable, and light-hearted just isn’t available. Of course, I somehow find a way to be the right version of myself in the moment – frankly there’s no choice, we need to eat and right now it’s only me who is earning anything but it’s taking everything I have got to function as I need to. It’s been a shocking week for internet glitches – one session Zoom booted my student out 5 times!
Juggling home-schooling for both my children, trying to do my job competently, looking after everyone 24/7, and trying to not freak out about my wife who has been hit really hard with COVID has been a struggle. When everything feels unsafe and insecure in my day-to-day it’s not very long until the wheels fall of internally. I have been hanging on by a thread and by bedtime I am on the verge of tears (and I am not really a crier). The internal feeling juddering is horrific and I feel like I have electric pulsing through my feet. I really need to see K and get a nervous system reset! God, I wish!
My sleep has been appalling, lately. I rarely fall asleep until after 1am. Then I wake up again at 3am, toss and turn and stress and then drift off again, and that’s when the anxiety serves me up textbook nightmares. It’s happened every single fucking night for weeks: plane crashes, streets of burning houses, being chased… my poor system is just terrified. I’ve had dreams with my lovely dead friend, my dead dad, I mean it’s just been utterly heart-breaking and scary. Several nights I have woken up with my heart racing and in floods of tears. I think it’s fair to say that I’m not doing brilliantly.
And because we’re in isolation it’s felt like everything that I have been facing I have been facing alone. I know I am not alone, not really; I call my wife on FaceTime and I have spoken to Anita but life has become pretty much a non-contact sport. I am so grateful that I have my kids but hugging them is very different from receiving a hug from another adult. It’s me holding my kids and not them holding me (which is as it should be) but the fall out of not being allowed to touch my wife or see Anita face-to-face is that I feel like the baby I was in the incubator all those years ago. No touch, no regulation, just stuck in a box scared and alone.
What I really need is a big containing long holding ‘it’s all going to be ok’ hug. I need to be back in my own bed next to my wife. I need my team mate back on the field because being a woman down is not easy!
I need to be able to leave the boundary of my property and go for a walk. I need some time on my own away from my children – I love them dearly but it’s been intense essentially being a single parent these last few weeks as well as their teacher!
I need to know where we are at with regard to my wide’s job. I need to know if we are going to be facing the possibility of a redundancy next week. I need stability but failing that, I just want to know what we are dealing with.
And yes… I need to see Anita. In person. I need to let the child parts out and let them get some kind of holding and reassurance. I need the energy in a room with her. The body language. Eye contact. Just all of it. A’s been so accommodating to me this week (but then isn’t she always?!). It’s all been kicking off inside for me but yesterday my daughter was losing her shit over something she’d been asked to do by her teacher and was in tears over it. This lockdown is really affecting the kids much more than last year. They desperately need their friends and routine and stability. Schools are asking a lot of children this time around and I really feel sorry for them (this is not just my young kids but all the students I teach 11-18 from many schools).
Anyway, I was just about to have my call with A and was sitting in the living room when I heard sobbing coming from my daughter’s room. My phone started ringing as I was walking down the corridor to her room. I picked up and explained that I couldn’t talk because I needed to sort out my little one. Anita was fine about it and said she was free all morning and just to call when I was free and to take my time and do what I needed.
We were scheduled to talk for half an hour (because of my fucking lack of money!) but it ended up being an hour (I didn’t realise – the time just went because there has been so much to hold this week) and Anita said to just pay her for half an hour. I was so grateful to her. We spoke about how hard it is to get things squeezed in and she suggested moving my Friday morning session to after the kids are in bed so I can talk freely and not be up against it. She is really so kind and I absolutely can’t believe how lucky I am to have found her after Em.
This year has been so tough in so many different ways but I know for certain that I would have been in a far worse state had I still been working with Em. At least the attachment stuff and the agony of it hasn’t been too bad with Anita and if it has got triggered, I have been able to tell her!
What else?…aside from the immediate life crisis, it’s been a weird few weeks internally, too. It’s been a year since the stuff with Em ending. The 3rd February was our termination session. And whilst I am in no way desperate to see Em or go back to that hell I am still reeling from how it ended. Currently, if anything, I seem to be enveloped in a protective rage about it all and just want to let her know exactly what I think of her!
So….that’s just a moan and a ‘this is where I am at’…I’m sincerely hoping for my wife to get a negative test result, and to go get tested myself so that I can perhaps get back to Anita on Tuesday evening.
Love to you all and big thanks to those of you have emailed to check in and offer your support. It means a lot xx
It’s been a complicated, stressful, and emotionally messy week. ‘No change there, then’, I hear you say! To be honest, I thought I was close reaching my breaking point these last few weeks. It’s certainly felt like I was at rock bottom – but as it turns out, there was a hidden trapdoor I didn’t know anything about just waiting to spring open and give that extra little bit of depth and doom to plummet down into. I really need to stop saying, ‘how much worse can it get?’ because invariably the universe seems to think I am issuing it some kind of challenge.
My wife came home sick late last week with a fever and by early Monday morning we got the confirmation that it’s COVID – we knew anyway, the rapid deterioration and the developing symptoms were there and clear to see. This is unbelievably stressful on many levels- she’s actually very unwell with it, struggling to breathe and I can see that’s she’s scared – and nurses don’t tend to get scared with health stuff because they’ve seen so much shit in their careers that they shrug most stuff of as ‘you’re not dying so you’re fine!’ To see my wife in tears via FaceTime (because she’s isolating) is heart breaking. She is the solid rock in this household and suddenly she’s more like a jelly than a chunky bit of granite.
I’m trying not to let myself run away with what could happen but it’s hard not to – you all know what I am like. I know it won’t help anyone if I start catastrophising and so I keep on keeping on because I have to hold it together and remain calm for the kids, but there are things that are a disaster already just a week in. Like me, if my wife doesn’t work, she doesn’t get paid. She doesn’t get sick pay in her job and SSP doesn’t come anywhere close to covering what’s not coming in from her salary. So, once again, we are on a really financially precarious footing. We’re still not recovered from her losing her job last year and every day she’s not in work is another bill that becomes a challenge. Like many people in their 30’s and 40’s we have no savings and a lot of unsecured debt.
I text and cancelled my Monday session with Anita on Friday because that’s the only area where I can cut anything from our budget– everything else is already on a knife edge, every pound accounted for. It felt rubbish because, now more than ever, I really need my sessions. I am not in therapy twice a week because it’s ‘something to do’ I am there because without it I don’t function. Therapy is a huge part of my maintenance plan but also my fucking healing!
I really hate that mental healthcare is so exclusive and based on your ability to pay for it. I hate that my system is so traumatised that without that routine of my Monday and Friday sessions I swiftly fall into a place where I don’t cope. I did once-a-week sessions for years with Em and it was horrific for those young parts that just don’t have any sense of object constancy. I spent the whole time anxious and spiralling in the abyss between the appointments. Twice a week is much better but even that’s not perfect.
I know I am not the only one that feels like this. I feel angry that I am saddled with the bill for trauma that was done to me and it’s the reality for so many of us we’re left footing this enormous bill. When you exhaust your ‘quota’ of NHS therapy you’re left to manage by yourself. Discharged. ‘Goodbye and good luck!’ A lifetime of trauma doesn’t just get resolved in 12 months of once-a-week sessions with a psychologist (and that’s if you are even lucky enough to be given that and not just 6 sessions of CBT). When I start reeling off my history and the coping mechanisms I have built over the years it’s clear as day that this isn’t short-term work.
So what do you do when you hit the end of your NHS entitlement? Essentially, you’re faced with a choice – accept that this is the best it’s going to be for you or take on the equivalent of another mortgage to try and help yourself some more…and cut everything unnecessary out of life to facilitate it.
If you had a broken leg that wasn’t healed the hospital wouldn’t say, ‘well, you’ve had one cast, and that’s your lot – hobble on’, they’d look again at how to try and mend you. When I had cancer they didn’t say, ‘We thought based on your initial scans that you would need 8 rounds of chemo. However, looking at your most recent scan we can see the treatment is working and the tumour is shrinking but the cancer’s still there. We now think you need another 4 rounds of chemo and radiotherapy, but tough, we don’t have the budget…’ I mean, can you even imagine? – Of course they booked me in for more chemo and the radiotherapy and because of this I am still here. And yet when it comes to mental health it’s tough shit and that withdrawal of support feels so abandoning and rejecting which again taps into a lot of the trauma for childhood – not being worthy of care and support, being too much etc.
It’s hideous, really.
It stresses me out to think about how much debt we have accrued over the years just so I can go to therapy. Sometimes it feels counterintuitive because the financial lack of safety negates the benefit of therapy. I hate feeling unsafe and financial insecurity really impacts my well-being. I panic about money a lot. I take on more and more work to try and cover the shortfall but in turn I feel exhausted and burnt out. It’s a vicious cycle but I literally don’t know what else to do.
My wife can never understand how we never have any money when we both work so hard, don’t drink, don’t eat out, don’t socialise, don’t buy presents for each other even at Christmas and birthdays. We make sure the kids have what they need but it stresses me out when their feet grow or they need new clothes (which seems to be all the time!). Our holidays (which we didn’t have any at all for 6 years) go on credit cards piling on the mountain of existing debt. It’s hard to explain to her that all this is down to the fact that she is married to a basket case whose system is so fucked that therapy is like life support.
I feel bad about it, but what’s the alternative?
Anita text me on Sunday evening to see how I was and said we could do our session if I wanted and arrange payment later. When I cancelled my session with her I told her that we just couldn’t afford it. I declined her off because it’s not like there’s a magic money tree in the garden that I can shake in a few week’s time and miraculously find another £50 hanging off a branch. It was kind of her to offer but really it just moves the problem.
We got confirmation in the early hours of Monday morning that my wife did have COVID and by Monday lunchtime she had deteriorated so much that I text A in a panic and asked if we could check in during the week. Maybe there’s a treasure chest lurking under the patio?! Suddenly, everything just felt really unsafe and out of control because the COVID diagnosis directly impacted another medical procedure and ugh…it’s just too precarious…but of course it also sent my brain on ‘we just cannot afford this’.
Anita and I fixed up a time to talk on Wednesday and I just ploughed on in survival mode – feeling increasingly ‘not ok’ and also panicky and disconnected from A. The last session we had face-to-face had been a nightmare for my system and the fallout from it has been huge. I feel like I am just fizzing with nervous energy. My nervous system is wound up like a tight spring and I feel like I am going to either explode or collapse soon.
I have been trying hard to look after myself through all this – eating properly etc (which is a fucking miracle given my ‘go to’ under stress is to starve myself) but even with self-care I was totally done in and exhausted by Tuesday evening and took myself to bed early – like 8pm. I couldn’t sleep, though. My brain was whirring and I just felt like talking to Anita online was going to make everything worse. I have been hanging it together with rubber bands and chewing gum but this is only possible because the child parts have been locked away. There was a very real possibility that an online session could trigger them, there’s no space here right now, no privacy I could end up falling down another trapdoor.
I felt incredibly unsettled – so much so – that I text Anita at 10pm to cancel our session:
A, I’m really sorry but I don’t think I can do tomorrow. I’m sorry it’s short notice to cancel. Things here are really hard and I just haven’t stopped running since Friday. I’m completely exhausted, stressed out, and drowning. Tomorrow is my crazy busy day and we’ll be up home-schooling from 7am. I can’t see how I can fit it is and talk to you – there’s no private space to speak to you either. I can’t escape to my room.
Also, I know that I am on my edge and as much as I want to talk to you, I think given how bad things feel it might actually make things worse because distance doesn’t help and I feel really far away from you already. It’s that thing where my brain doesn’t even think you exist or believes you are dead. I’ve sort of thrown all the non-coping parts in the cupboard because I can’t do my life right now. I need to be armoured.
I don’t know if you got the email I sent you last week but it’s very much in the needing to survive it by going it alone. I know that that’s not ideal but, actually, I can’t give space to the parts that are terrified and spiralling because I can do nothing for them – but what I can do is not trigger myself further by putting a screen between us. I cannot afford to fall apart. I hope you understand. X
She replied a little later with:
I am so so sorry to read your message and do totally understand. Please do let me know if there is anything I can do to help. Think of you with lots of love xx
I didn’t reply as it was 11pm and there was nothing to say anyway.
I could not sleep despite being absolutely exhausted. I tossed and turned and felt absolutely awful. My brain wasn’t consciously thinking of anything but my body just would not relax. I got cramp in my feet. I felt hot and cold. The anxiety was horrendous. That feeling of falling through the black abyss, the young stuff about being unsafe and uncontained was massively activated but it wasn’t really in regard to Anita even though I felt somewhat disconnected from her. It was 4:45am the last time that I looked at the clock and then I finally fell asleep for an hour and promptly had a plane crash dream (and have had it every night since).
I woke up feeling terrified and my heart was racing. And then my brain clicked. 20th January. A year since the horrible session when Em compared me to a tick, and the session that led to our termination on the 3rd February. This time last year was absolutely fucking horrific. It’s been on my radar that January was the anniversary of it all going to shit but somehow the date of ‘tick gate’ crept up on me. Of course, I am worried and stressed about the here and now but there’s also a big undercurrent of anxiety about this stuff with Em and that, I think is why I feel like everything is life and death. It’s that early annihilation stuff being tapped into.
I responded to Anita’s text when I woke up. Honestly – I’m like the tide changing all the time. I briefly outlined what I had realised when I woke up and asked if we could speak at the time we had arranged. We spoke yesterday for half and hour. It was very adult and I didn’t mention any of the stuff about Em or the attachment stuff or feeling disconnected because opening it up didn’t feel like a brilliant idea given I had a solid run of 10 hours ahead of me juggling my kids and teaching my lessons. However, it was connecting enough and I am so glad I have her in my corner.
I don’t know when I will get to see Anita face-to-face again. I have to isolate until Sunday and so far, I feel fine…so fingers crossed I don’t get sick, too. But ugh. It’s all too much stress not knowing how things are going to work out and money…fucking money man…
I know this is just a rant but actually I realised that money is such a huge thing and I know for a fact that I am not the only one struggling with the price of trauma – and therefore the price of therapy. I think what’s hard, too, is that we value our therapists so much that it’s not a case of thinking the therapy is ‘too expensive’ or ‘not worth it’ – it’s just simply unaffordable sometimes and that’s far from ideal when you REALLY NEED IT! It’s not easy to talk about this, either. I feel incredible amounts of shame around being unable to afford therapy – and this leads to all the stuff about not being worthy of it, deserving of it, good enough…it’s a vicious cycle but then £100-150 a week for years and years and years is just not realistic for lots of us is it? But like I said before, what other options are there?
I hate to be so doom and gloom but I just feel rubbish right now.
Things felt especially bad this year with my annual breakdown. It’s a year since all the shit really started falling apart with Em and I couldn’t help think about it and turn it over and over wondering if I could have done anything differently. I couldn’t. And things are better with Anita than they ever were with Em, but there is still a profound sense of loss as well as all the feelings of rejection and abandonment around how things went down last year.
There’s still a lot to process and try and heal where that’s concerned, but 2020 didn’t really allowed a great deal of space for that. I mean Anita has held the space, but other stuff has got in the way. I mean who would have imagined we’d have been desperately surviving a pandemic in 2020 (and now 2021)? COVID and the associated lockdowns have caused so many disruptions to therapy (and we all know how shit I am with change – and working remotely!) and so a lot of the time I’ve actually been trying to work through the ‘here and now’ issues that have been brought up with A, not stuff that happened last January (although I more than appreciate that my reactions and responses to A have been informed by what’s gone on with Em…and my bloody mother!).
Working online for half the year hasn’t exactly been ideal. However, bit by bit Anita and I have built a good, strong therapeutic alliance. I’m staggered, really. I’ve had my fair share of tears and tantrums, been needy, been avoidant and felt and expressed all the feelings and throughout Anita has remained solid and strong. I think she saw parts of me that would have otherwise taken a really long time to surface in the room when we couldn’t do face-to-face in November. I was so triggered by the remote sessions and it gave us both a really clear understanding of exactly where my sore points are. I knew already, but being safe to express how I really felt and not be told I was too much or ‘like a tick’ was huge for me.
Throughout all the upheaval I have felt Anita to be on my side, like she genuinely wants to help me and cares. I also feel like the power dynamic is more in my favour than it ever was with Em -I felt so powerless in that relationship. I trust Anita with all the parts of me. I feel safe with her and that’s really testament to how she is as a therapist – especially given how hard I find it to trust in relationships.
When I am drowning in shame and pickled in embarrassment, she always normalises my responses in relation to the level of trauma I have experienced. When I am mortified about how I have reacted or behaved she tells me it’s ok and that it’s to be expected. As I said recently, she’s like a bucket of soapy shame remover and that’s so accurate. I had a horrific session this week, the critic totally derailed me but Anita was steady, and calm, and found a way through to me and I left feeling connected. I never leave the room feeling abandoned or dissociated. I know I shouldn’t think that that is something unusual or noteworthy, but it really is after all the years with Em.
Anyway, get to the frigging point RB…!
Last time I wrote here, I was winding myself up anticipating the government announcing a lockdown and freaking out at the prospect of more online therapy. After how bad it was in November, I just really, really didn’t want to have to do it again – especially as I knew that another lockdown would be harder this time around because I felt it was inevitable that schools would close and I would be back trying to manage home-schooling for my primary aged kids as well as still working my job teaching online. I certainly didn’t relish that proposition, but the main thing that was upsetting me was knowing if my kids were home from school then I would have to wave goodbye to face-to-face sessions as I have no childcare. Ugh. Part of me hoped that Anita would go and bubble with her partner again to take the decision out my hands.
I managed to go to my session on Monday 4th January because my wife had already booked annual leave as I had therapy and the kids weren’t due back in school until the Tuesday. To be honest I can’t tell you much about it because it feels like so much has gone on since then. I know that it was nice to see Anita and we reconnected. It was so lovely to have a proper cuddle and to be able to talk about how fucking hard it had been over the Christmas break but other than that, I can recall nothing about the content of the session.
Obviously, at that point the lockdown hadn’t been announced yet and I left the session feeling ok but also slightly anxious that that may be our last session if I was correct in my assumptions. There were rumblings on social media when I got home that something was going to be said that evening by the prime minister. I sent Anita a text:
‘Forewarning… if we go into a proper lockdown from tomorrow – or minimally schools close – after Boris announces whatever the fuck he’s going to say tonight at 8pm, I’m actually going to have a breakdown. You can join my club if you like!‘
Roll on Monday evening and BoJo confirmed my fears, yep, it’s time to lockdown. My heart sank. I was instantly all over the shop, internally, even though I had known it was coming.
The next day A replied to my text with, ‘Yes it’s not going to be easy. I guess we need to go back to WhatsApp’ ended with a crying face emoji.
To be honest that really didn’t cut it. I mean, sure, ok, I get it but NOOOOO. Having sessions whipped away again like that just felt sooooo bad. I would really have liked to have talked to her to discuss it and settle the chaos that was going on inside. I get that she must have also been taken by surprise and would have had to have cancelled or rescheduled all her clients for the week but I just needed a bit more than that in her text – some reassurance, I dunno.
I responded by telling her that I felt sick and just wanted to cry because I couldn’t believe we were in this position again.
She sent me a cute gif with a hug but, again, it just didn’t cut it because by now my system was having a complete meltdown. Things escalated internally as the day went on as the reality of what this lockdown meant hit home. I asked A is we could speak and have a check-in before our Friday session and I think this is where she got the memo and recognised that I was flailing like a fish out of water.
She offered me a time the next day and I took it. When we got online, I genuinely had only intended to talk for ten minutes and then go… somehow, we ended up at an hour! I literally let it all out in the biggest way. It was like the floodgates opened. The Christmas break and this latest disruption had seen me really fall into the depths of the doom. The stuff around eating (or not!) had reawakened, and even thoughts of self-harm were doing some serious time in my head. It wasn’t good.
I told A that I felt like an unset jelly that had been dropped on the floor and was just spilling out everywhere and that I felt enormous amounts of shame for reacting so strongly to this lockdown. Ok, not the lockdown, but the separation. My young parts just couldn’t fucking cope. I asked her when she was going away, assuming that’s what she was doing this time around, and she said she’d definitely be here until the weekend and told me that if I wanted, I could see her face-to-face on the Thursday or the Friday if I could get childcare.
Internally, there was a lot of relief when she said this, but also a dread. My wife is flat-out at the moment – you only need to look at the news to see what a state the health and social care sector is in right now – 14 hour days are the norm for her right now (in fact looking at the clock she’s still not home and left 15 hours ago) and then endless calls to mobile when she’s home. There was no way she could take time off for me to go to therapy – and I didn’t want to have to explain that despite seeing Anita on Monday, and having spoken to her on Wednesday, that I now needed ANOTHER session on Friday because I wasn’t coping.
I have spoked a lot to a friend of mine that lives a few doors down about what’s been going on for me this year. After the shit with Em I just couldn’t cope on my own and needed support from friends. Our children are friends and we’ve basically dragged each other through this year by meeting at the park in a socially distanced way and letting the kids let off steam. I’d spoken to her just before lockdown and told her how precarious it was feeling. She text me after my session to see how I was and I told her what had happened. When I told her what Anita had said she immediately said that she was happy to form a childcare bubble with me if it would help me to access the support I needed.
I tell you what, not all superheroes wear capes! Thank god for friends.
So, on Friday I went to see Anita. It felt bittersweet. I so needed to see her to work out a plan for getting through the next few months but was painfully aware of how this was going to be the last session for a while. I sat there not really knowing what to say. How many ways are there of saying the same thing – ‘I really struggle when you aren’t here and my young parts are giving me hell! I literally cannot do this again. It nearly killed me last time!’…
Imagine my surprise when Anita told me that having spoken with her partner, that this time they were planning to stay here. She said she may need to go to their other place to check on the house every now and then just to check pipes etc but the plan was to be here most of the time and so, therefore, I could have my face-to-face sessions if I wanted them because she knows how I need them and that we could find a way to make it work.
Honestly, I could have cried.
She said she understood that I wouldn’t be able to make daytime sessions and that two sessions a week would probably be tricky for me given how much I work, but she wondered if we might do a longer session one night a week and then have one online to keep touching base? I mentally scanned my timetable. I work every evening of the week but knew that I could move an evening session or two to during the day, during lockdown, as my students are not in school. I just needed to run it by my wife and see if she could commit to being home from work by 6pm one night a week.
I told Anita that this would be amazing. I felt the tension I was holding in my body lessen and promptly burst into tears. The relief was palpable. Anita came and sat beside me and I cuddled into her and cried and shook for ages. My system finally settled after about twenty minutes as I tuned into her heartbeat and her breathing and I could feel myself almost drifting off to sleep. The week leading into this session had been absolutely exhausting. I was emotionally done in.
My wife agreed that she could get home on a Tuesday night and I went ahead and arranged my sessions with A. We booked in 90-minute sessions for these times…although next week I can’t go Tuesday evening but will go during the day on Friday as my wife is home. It makes an impossibly long stint between sessions, though.
I even struggled on Monday not having my regular session this week. I just think that there has been so much upheaval that my system is off its tits. I’ve been so unsettled and jumpy and generally just struggling to get through. It’s been absolutely manically busy trying to teach my children and fit in work. I was actually a couple of minutes late to two of my own lessons last week (shudder) because I was caught trying to sort out technical issues on my kids’ devices trying to access live lessons on Microsoft Teams. It’s felt relentless and stressful and I just can’t sustain it for very much longer. The nightmares started up last night so I know I am dangerous ground.
Anyway, I was so so so relieved to be able to go and see Anita on Tuesday evening. But FFS…parts of me had other ideas about it when we got there. It was so dark, and I was so tired driving that when I arrived, I was just flaked out. The room felt really bright/light and A made the fatal error of sitting in her chair. It was the last thing I needed. Everything instantly felt wrong. I had so hoped to just be able to go, relax, and talk about the stuff that was bothering me – the Em stuff…and the fact that it was a year since Anita and I had met, the relief I felt about being able to see her in person…but no…ugh!
The critic stepped up really quickly, instead. That hasn’t happened in ages. My ‘false adult’ talked about shit that had gone on in the week – filler – for 30 minutes, all the while hoping that the critical part would move out. But it didn’t. It had all the vulnerable parts locked down. From then on it just all started falling apart inside. I couldn’t connect at all because the critic was so on her game.
Anita was amazing, so calm and kind. She asked me if I wanted her to come and sit with me and I refused. Of course I wanted her to sit beside me but how could I admit that? The critic would never allow that need to be shown. The young parts, by now, were absolutely distraught. Anita kept steadily reassuring me and asking what I needed but I couldn’t say. I was so overwhelmed. It was agony. I could see the clock ticking down. I felt awful.
I managed to ask Anita if we could turn the light off and put the little lamp on instead. I felt so exposed under the bright light and so distant. Immediately, things felt a bit better. It felt more intimate and less exposing being in a softly lit room. It was a relief to have a gentle orangey glow rather than the ‘big light’ in the ceiling doing its thing.
Anita told me that she felt like we were a long way apart and asked me if it would be ok, now, if she came closer to me. I barely nodded but at least it wasn’t a flat refusal like earlier. Maybe the critic was backing off a tiny bit? A kept gently talking to me, telling me she was still here, and did I want a hug.
But the critic said ‘No’.
FOR FUUCKKKK’S SAKE!
I told Anita that I couldn’t feel her and I felt like I wasn’t there either. It was that impossible situation where you are so disconnected from yourself that you cannot connect with others. It’s shit.
Finally, my barriers came down enough that I let out a huge sob and my body convulsed. I couldn’t hold it in anymore. Anita moved over to me instantly and held me for the last ten minutes of the session whilst I sobbed and convulsed in her arms. It was so fucking painful. I needed her, that holding, so much and yet I had deprived myself of it for 80 minutes. WTAF?
I settled just as the session was coming to an end, which is something at least, but what a fucking performance! I left the session feeling so confused and upset with myself. What had just happened? I drove home trying to work it out in my mind and wrote this email to A first thing on Wednesday morning:
I’m trying to work out what happened last night so I can try and put it to one side before the craziness of the day kicks in. I feel really sad about it.
Driving home last night all I could come up with is how when I feel overwhelmed, I disconnect from myself just to survive day-to-day life because it’s too much for me…and that’s how it feels right now. I feel like I am hanging on by my fingertips. When it’s like that I want more than anything to feel safe and to feel connected to you, but my autopilot kicks in and some part of me feels it’s safer to go it alone than let you in or reach out.
In the past when I have felt scared and stressed and anxious there has never been anyone there to help me. No one has seen how hard I struggle – of if they have, they’ve ignored me and left me to manage on my own or shamed me for my need. And my brain hasn’t updated and got the memo that I am not completely on my own now, and that you aren’t going to shame me or reject me. I get that the isolation I feel is created by me, now – not because it’s real anymore but it doesn’t make it feel any less real in the moment.
When I disconnect from myself it’s meant to be protective. I am numbed enough to get through the days. Only I’m not quite cut off because I feel like my senses are being attacked even with my armour on. My nervous system is on alert. I get jumpy and feel unsafe – last night even you speaking sometimes or moving in your chair made me physically jump. It’s nothing you did – you were nothing but gentle and kind but my system is on overdrive. It’s crazy hypervigilant. Everything is heightened – my sense of smell is off the chart at the moment. And I understand that this is a somatic response to feeling threatened (as in life is too hard right now) but it’s hell to be in it. My brain works overtime trying to work out what’s going on and if things are ok – so even something as simple as you sitting in your chair gets filtered through my distorted lens and gets read as ‘she doesn’t want to be near you’.
There is definitely a part that is trying to protect me from being/feeling abandoned. Change and disruption is just about the worst thing for my system (that’s not new news!). Seeing you last night, at night wasn’t all that big of a deal – yes it felt a bit different but it wasn’t that that destabilised me. It was the realisation that, when I stopped and stepped out of my life for a minute that I feel like I am not coping and actually it was going to be ten days until I see you again in person. That feels like a lifetime right when every day is a struggle – especially to the young parts. And I know this is not your doing, this is my life and my commitments getting in the way of things but try explaining that to the young parts that just don’t understand it at all.
I know it’s counterintuitive to stay away, not connect, and not let myself get what I need when you are sitting there in the same room with me, but there’s a part of me that feels as though if I get close to you then it’ll be harder when it’s taken away again and I think this is also part of the hangover from the last lockdown and Christmas break.
You’d think, by now, I would know that this actually doesn’t help at all but it’s not conscious when it’s happening. I am not deliberately putting myself in a prison cell. I want to get out but as I said it feels like I have my hands tied behind my back. I can’t override that part because it’s so powerful. I know you were there, you kept telling me, and yet I can’t hear it when I am like that, I can’t feel it, but even when I do start to hear it, I can’t move towards you because I’m frozen. The only thing that seems to break through that numbness is when you touch me.
I wish it didn’t feel so painful and exposing to say, ‘I feel shit, things are hard, it feels like it’s falling apart inside can you sit next to me and can I just cuddle you tonight to try and make things feel better?’ I get that was what you were trying to tell me I could ask for, but it’s impossible when I feel gagged and bound.
I know that what’s going on now really isn’t helped by the events of this time last year. I feel like my level of need has ramped up again…(how much higher can it get?!) and I really, really don’t want that to show…I mean I know it does…so I am wasting my time…but actually I really, really don’t want you to reach your limit and tell me I am too much and send me away. I can’t get that ‘tick’ comment out my brain and the critical parts has latched onto it.
Anyway, that’s about it.
Speak to you on Friday and thank you for persevering with me xxx
And so that’s where we are at. Online session tomorrow and eekkk…I don’t even know where to start!
Musing on counselling-related issues in the UK. I am a counsellor/psychotherapist and a client too. As the blog title suggests, my counselling journey began in the client's seat. For information about my counselling and psychotherapy practice see my website: www.erinstevens.co.uk
holding it together as I journey through therapy - a personal account of what it's like to be in long-term psychotherapy navigating the healing of C-PTSD, childhood trauma and neglect, an eating disorder, self-harming behaviours, as well as giving grief and cancer an occasional nod.