Warning: this is quite long and I’m not convinced it makes much sense – my brain is in meltdown!
So, it’s Easter break…which, actually, is not really an Easter break at all, so far as what I have previously had to contend with in therapy goes! Em used to disappear for two or three weeks over Easter and that was that. No contact. Radio silence. It was like she ceased to exist – and this triggered me on so many levels. In addition to this, there was no preparation for the break – I knew when it was coming in advance, but nothing was ever done to help get my system safe and settled before a holiday. The was no talking to the parts about how the break might feel. There were no transitional objects (ha – the pebbles debacle is case in point). There was just silence (which breeds shame) and then absence.
I used to dread the breaks (and I still do, actually) and the closer they got the more my young parts struggled. A few days into a holiday and those little parts felt abandoned (and completely terrified) and then to add insult to injury, adult me would panic because my dad died suddenly whilst away on holiday (when I was 25) and so feared something similar would happen again with Em (hello PTSD response!).
So basically, breaks in therapy have always set off an internal ‘bad weather’ event – it just comes in varying degrees: very breezy/light rain (mildly inconvenient), gale force/heavy downpour (wasn’t equipped for this but I’ll survive!), or complete tornado/shit storm (Run for your life! Take cover! I’m gonna die!). Like I say, sometimes breaks feel just about bearable, just a little bubbling of anxiety and feeling unsettled and other times it feels like it’s unsurvivable danger to the young parts who wailing and feeling completely overwhelmed.
Guess which version it is this year?
It’s disappointing, to be sure. You’d think after everything I have written lately about how good my therapy feels, that my attachment to Anita would be so strong that I would sail through a week off. Only that’s not how it is AT ALL. Far from it. It’s crap, actually. I want it to be ok, but the truth is, I miss her a lot. I’m not surprised though, my life is a real struggle at the minute and my therapy has really been a lifeline so for that to ‘disappear’ (albeit temporarily) it’s totally stirred things up.
When things feel bad on breaks there’s a clear trajectory through the holiday. I know the pattern – I just don’t know what the hell to do about it! To be clear, I also know that it’s my stuff, not the reality of the situation or a reflection of the relationship with my therapist.
So, what happens?
The beginning part of the break sees the youngest parts crying and the attachment stuff is so painful. I have an image of a two-year-old part screaming, alone, abandoned in an endless grey space and it is so powerful. She feels so scared and lost. I can’t reach out to that part- she’s got her back to me. And even if I could reach her, it’s not me she wants. I’m not the attachment figure (yet – but hope to be one day). My body physically hurts and I feel completely ungrounded. It’s basically all the horrible stuff about not mattering, being forgettable, and unimportant swirling around – and it’s just so cold and depressing and lonely. Basically, it’s abandonment and rejection 101 and it feels like I’m stuck in a Groundhog Day.
As the break progresses that young stuff becomes completely unbearable. I feel like I am juddering inside and then nightmares start – usually about the therapist being burnt out, changing, and then rejecting me – which is what happened last night. Groan.
It won’t be long, now, until I move into the next stage where the teen steps in to try and get a handle on the littles. It’s when she steps in that I feel like ‘fuck the therapy, I am done with it!’ I woke up this morning and my instinct was to cancel my session on Friday. I don’t want to feel all this hurt and pain that has so vividly just played out in my nightmare. The anger I feel about the situation is massive – but it’s just a mask for absolute sadness and devastation. The teen feels so let down. So stupid for trusting and attaching to the therapist when actually the reality is it’s easy to leave me and the little parts and I just have to be ok with that.
BTW I get that this is all ‘me me me’ but that’s the teen’s feelings. Adult me understands breaks just fine. We all need them! Our therapists have earned them (mine more than most!) – but I am not talking about my rational adult self here – I am talking about the fucking nightmare that happens for my system on breaks! I wish I could just switch into adult and have all the various parts powered down. It just doesn’t work that way, unfortunately!
So, the cycle continues…
Once teen has had a try and failed to get things under control, I end up with screaming little parts and now suicidal teens who feel like self-harm might be a really good idea, or a trip into anorexia (I am making light of it here – but it’s anything but funny) and then it gets really nasty inside. It is so hard to focus on my life. I try and keep busy and productive but inside it’s just awful. Nothing is contained or safe and it’s agony, actually.
So, as I approach the point where it’s all totally fucked inside, the Critic steps in and shuts everything down. The level of self-attack and shaming is just utterly horrendous. It makes the little parts want to die. The teen is already there. And so, it’s just like being in a torturous boot camp. The Critic is so mean.
This is where the narrative about Anita not caring, it all being fake, that I am too much and that’s why she’s gone away comes in. It says that actually Anita’s glad to see the back of me, I’m responsible for burning her out and now she won’t come back. I am stupid for hoping things would be different – because ultimately, I am the same ‘tick’ that Em saw and anyone in their right mind would find me too much and want to escape eventually.
Even though she’s a complete tyrant I do realise now that the Critic is just trying to protect me from getting hurt. Shut down the vulnerability, hide the need, and cope…I can do it on my own…I always have.
Only the little ones don’t want to be alone anymore.
So it feels like I have ended up on the emotional waltzers again. Waltzers are way worse than the rollercoaster.
I’ve been thinking about what has happened that has made this break feel so hard. It all started a couple of weeks ago. I knew the holidays were coming (I count the weeks down for time off work!) and I was glad that I would be able to rest and recharge a bit as it’s been so so hard lately – in fact I was looking back over messages to see and it’s been 5 solid months of hell now. I need to sleep. I am so so tired. The thing is, holidays don’t feel restful because whilst my work goes on a low gear my maintenance plan stalls.
When it’s school holidays I am automatically plunged into a childcare situation, or rather ‘lack of childcare’ and so therapy gets disrupted and so my ‘rest time’ actually feels massively stressful because that consistent therapeutic space for me is just gone and so the system gets thrown into chaos. Anita is only taking the bank-holiday off, but I still can’t see her as much as I’d like because I simply can’t get to her in the daytimes. In some ways this feels worse than if she wasn’t working and was unavailable. The little parts know she is there and it’s just them that can’t see her when other people can. This stresses me out and sends the little parts into a really bad place.
It’s horrible because I really don’t want to be ‘that client’ (or this client!). I don’t want to be having a meltdown over this. I don’t want to be so unbearably needy. I don’t want to make a big deal out of something that neither of us can do much about. It’s just embarrassing and I am so over it! So, I try and hide what’s going on inside. And this is where my ‘False Adult’ steps up.
The last couple of weeks I have gone to session and talked…and talked…and probably seemed fine. I have, I think, come across as mildly annoyed about stuff in my life, tired, and same same…but also pretty ‘together’ given what’s been going on. Anita probably has no idea that there is anything going on underneath, probably thinks I am doing pretty well all things considered.
Only, it’s that swan analogy – on the surface everything seems fine enough but underneath the legs are going like the clappers.
I am not ok.
So, what do I do when it’s like this? First thing is retreat. Part of me knows I am not going to be able to see or be close to Anita over the holiday so I start protecting myself from that loss before it happens and go into hiding (which is bonkers).
There was a session recently where, despite desperately wanting to reach out and ask for a hug, I just couldn’t. If I am shutdown and dissociated, I think it’s pretty clear what I need and Anita generally offers me a hug or to hold her hand in order to bring me back. This False Adult is different, though. I seem ‘fine’ and engaged and there are no silences. I think I even do a pretty good job at masking how I feel with ‘reasonably relaxed’ body language. On the surface it seems like I am coping and don’t look as though I need anything. It’s smoke and fucking mirrors, though.
Inside the young parts are still there and wanting connection and holding so badly, but I just don’t let them out. I guess I know just ‘how big’ the need of those young part is and I don’t want to be too much for A, or overwhelm her before her break. I don’t want her to go on her break and it be such a huge (and welcome) contrast/rest that she realises that working with me is draining and so she decides not to come back or to refer me on.
It’s stupid though (and I really know this – but am trying to show the process in all its bonkers), because all that happens is this young, needy stuff builds and builds and then when the break comes it explodes all over the shop and is more likely to encroach into the break. Realistically, it’d probably annoy Anita more reaching out during a break than if I was just needy and clingy in the time leading into a break. So why does it still happen? I don’t think what happens before breaks is conscious but it’s definitely a pattern. It’s easier to pretend that I don’t need Anita than actually have to say, out loud, ‘I miss you already and I hate that I feel like you’re gone and it scares me’… because … ugh… puke. Vulnerability overload and eeekkk it’s not safe!
It’s certainly not much fun feeling like I am at the emotional fairground. It’s like part of me can see exactly what’s going on and just wants to cringe in the corner because it’s so predictable, so familiar. But at the same time, I can’t help but feel some compassion for myself. It’s such an exhausting situation. I just want some time out from my system and to properly rest. I feel so sad that this happens over and over again.
So, I seem to have digressed a bit. The day False Adult turned up I talked my way through the entire session…because that’s therapy, right? But no. It was the first session (face-to-face) in months and months that I hadn’t had a cuddle with Anita during the session. And OMG was that a massive problem afterwards! As I got up to leave, I gave Anita a hug but…it wasn’t the same, or enough, or what I needed and the young parts were in bits.
The time between sessions that week was fucking hideous. I mean, really bad. It was me that didn’t reach out and yet, somewhere in my poorly wired, misfiring brain, it felt like it must be something wrong with me. Maybe Anita didn’t want to be near me anymore. Maybe she was glad that I didn’t ask for a hug. Maybe she was relieved that she could keep her distance. Maybe something has changed between us. My mind went to town on me and it sent the child parts into freefall. They couldn’t understand what had happened and why Anita hadn’t seen them.
It was agony.
And this, remember, is all because a break was coming up. The lens I view myself and the therapeutic relationship through at this time distorts everything… and I hate it.
After that session I felt awful. I almost text Anita the morning of the next session to ask her to keep an eye out for the young parts and to ask if we could have a cuddle at the beginning of the session so that they knew it was safe to be there. But I didn’t. It felt too exposing. Too vulnerable. I hoped I would be able to ask for that myself.
I didn’t leave this next session or those thereafter without a hug but it took me a really long time to ask and to get what I needed. And before I knew it, it was time to go. And when that happens it’s like being ripped out of the safety before I’m ready. I know this is my own fault. I know that Anita isn’t going to shame me for wanting to be close to her or for struggling with separation anxiety – but there’s a part that is terrified of exactly that. There is so much inner conflict.
Just writing this makes me feel mental.
As I said, adult me can see what the processes and patterns are…but insight doesn’t actually help much when I feel like this. It’s only Tuesday today and so it’s a few days until I get to see A. I have managed to get a friend to have the kids for me this week so I can get to my session, but god knows what I am going to do next week – and that stresses me out when I feel so unsettled.
I realise all I have done here is moan in a confused way. I’ve actually really struggled to write this so I do wonder if I am a bit dissociated because I can’t hold anything in mind properly. I’m trying to work out what to do next but also trying to work out what I could have done differently leading into the break to maybe make this more of a ‘breezy with a bit of drizzle’ break rather than a total ‘shit storm’.
I guess, I should have told Anita how I was dreading the break (that isn’t really even a break). I should have been honest about what was going on for the young parts because that might have invited a conversation about why they are so terrified and perhaps we could have put something in place to make it feel less bad. I should have sent the text before the session knowing it was likely that False Adult would turn up and hide the reality of what was going on.
I am so lucky. I really know that. I am reminded every day of Anita’s love and care. Sitting in bed writing this by the glow of the light she bought me for my birthday is a huge transitional object, as is the gorgeous necklace she gave me after the Nov/Dec lockdown but right now, the youngest most traumatised parts just feel like she’s gone…dead gone. It’s the object constancy stuff again and I don’t know how to get round it. I know it’s not all my system that is having a meltdown (thank god) but when this really young stuff is activated it’s just pure hell. I am so tired of feeling overwhelmed. Right now, I just want to listen to a bedtime story and fall asleep. I know some people have voice recordings of their therapists reading stories, or saying something reassuring and I do wonder if this would help those very young parts…but again, it’s hard to ask for that when you’re drowning in shame and feeling like you’re already too needy and demanding.
I’m trying to shake off the horrible feelings I have been left with after last night’s dream/nightmare. I hate when I dream of A and she embodies all the things I am panicking about. To be rejected in a dream is just so painful…and waking up it just adds fuel to the fire.
Anyway, that’s the break so far…fun times eh?!