Honestly, it feels like a lifetime since I was last here having a meltdown and lamenting how hard things felt. If only I had known then what it was going to be like now, I don’t think I’d have moaned quite so much! I mean it really felt awful when I wrote my last post – stuck in the horrible limbo that happens each year between Christmas and the return to work in early January – but at least I could have my mental health crisis in relative peace!
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!