This post should really be called ‘I don’t know if…’ because everything is in flux and I seem to have no concrete understanding of what’s going on with me. I couldn’t even think of a title for this post – it’s like my brain has turned into gloopy porridge.
My memory is really, really bad at the moment, too. I don’t know why it’s happening, but it’s making everything quite challenging. Imagine teaching and not being able to bring technical language or specific details in texts to mind (in exam season!). I have been coming back to this blog on and off all week (don’t seem to have the attention span to sit down and bang a post out) and I have to keep rereading it each time I sit down at the laptop because I have no clue what I have already written!
I was laughing (crazed, nervous laugh) about this stuff with K last week. When she asked how I was doing, I said that I felt like was having a relatively calm time, internally. I said I felt pretty chilled, but didn’t know whether I was genuinely ok or just dissociating a lot of the time (especially as I can’t remember anything!). Sometimes it’s hard to know. Trauma really is the gift that keeps on giving, isn’t it?! In the moment I thought I was calm, felt quite still and grounded, but then about half an hour later I burst into tears and was physically shaking (it felt like it came out of left field – there was no obvious trigger) and K ended up holding me until it passed.
This episode made me realise that there’s still a lot buried under the surface that is needing to come up and out. The little girl/s inside are still very distressed and the pain hasn’t really gone away. Those child parts can still arrive out of nowhere and hijack my adult…which is a bit scary!…but then I suppose it’s not necessarily hijacking if it happens in a therapeutic space???
Like I say, I don’t know if I am just massively dissociated or whether my feelings are just more fluid than they used to be and so I experience periods of genuine calm and being more embodied but then the internal tide can change and the other painful stuff comes up and I’m back in the danger zone and stuck in survival mode. I definitely don’t feel locked in a perpetual state of distress and panic and abandonment where my stomach and solar plexus ache ALL THE TIME now. Yay! There’s definite movement in and out of that horrible place. I think, too, that my system is learning that there are safe people to experience these difficult feelings with. So when I feel contained and cared for and supported with, and by, those safe people, I can get in touch with the feelings more fully and have them witnessed and attended to.
I have no idea, really! I am just making this shit up as I go along! Lol!
Don’t get me wrong, the distressed child parts still make enough appearances when there’s no one around to soothe them. Sadly, I’m still frequently left feeling small and lost and on my own in the week between sessions. Wednesdays are still fucking hideous and I don’t know what to do about that…
So things aren’t perfect but they are much much better than they were a couple of years ago.
Anyway, as I said a minute ago, whole chunks of time are just gone from my mind at the moment. I don’t know whether it’s because after months and months of intense stress that my life now appears to be settling down (please let that be the case!) and so because it’s ‘quieter’ I feel like I’m missing stuff. But perhaps, I am not forgetting stuff because maybe there’s just fuck-all going on! Or nothing that is going to threaten my actual existence, anyway…
I have no idea…
Anita asked me on Monday about my weekend and it took quite a long time to dredge up the memory of the preceding 72 hours. In the initial moment there was just a void where memory should be and this is also how it feels when I try and bring the last few therapy sessions to mind, too. Again, I don’t know whether it’s because things are actually really ‘ok’ and therefore not memorable or whether it’s just gone into the black zone.
I’ve always been someone who has an almost photographic memory for situations and conversations – who knows when you might need a soundbite to back up an argument?! – but lately this is happening less and less…it’s a bit unnerving to be honest.
I guess I’ve either got early onset Alzheimer’s, a bad bout of dissociation, or maybe, just maybe, my system is beginning to settle down here and there when I am with Anita (or K) and so feels safe enough not to be on mega alert ALL THE TIME and therefore doesn’t have to remember everything that happens between us in finite detail. I am leaning towards the last one because when I think about it and do a body scan at the same time, there is nothing freaking out inside (well not today anyway!).
Right now, (I think) I feel settled inside…but hey, it could be dissociation, couldn’t it?! I think the parts are quite calm today (Monday) because I have just had a really grounding connected time with Anita and so it’s as close as it gets to feeling safe inside as it can. It doesn’t last all that long (yet) because invariably those little parts start missing her and begin to panic when they can’t see her and then freak out believing that they’ve been abandoned or that she’s dead – but for now, today – it feels nice. So, I’m trying to make the most of it.
I know I was really unsettled last weekend when I blogged here. Partly because of the episode with the ‘box’ the week before and all the cumulative shit that had gone on since Easter break, the ‘vet’ thing, the ‘being busy’ thing, the ‘COVID daughter’ thing, the ‘session cancellation’ thing the ‘break in June’ thing…bleurgh…
In and of themselves these are all small things but as I text Anita on Friday it’s what it all taps into that makes all this stuff feel enormous and scary:
And that kind of sums it up. I know why this stuff triggers me but it really doesn’t make it any easier when it’s happening. I’ve felt like a rag doll in a washing machine for a lot of the last month but thankfully I seem to be more or less over it! The majority of the ‘small’ stuff that was bothering me had sorted out by the end of the week which left the main ‘big’ thing that was upsetting and unsettling me ready to be looked at on Friday.
What’s the big thing?
Well, it’s my friend terminating with her therapist of many years under horrible circumstances. I’m sure she’ll write about it soon, here, so I won’t go into details because it’s not my story to tell – but I feel so sad for her as none of what’s happened is her fault. What’s happened to her has brought all the stuff with Em back to the surface again and then, of course, has led me to feel really scared about the relationship with Anita because my friend’s therapist used to be so much like Anita.
In fact, it was my friend’s relationship with her therapist that made me realise that I could expect more from therapy and saw that it is possible to bring all the parts to therapy and have some of your needs met by someone else. You don’t have to be left squirming and alone in the room and can be in a caring relationship. So, of course, now that it’s all blown up parts of me are terrified that if I really and truly let my guard down, fully show all of myself and the extent of the wounding, then it’s inevitable that Anita will get overwhelmed and disappear, too…because even the good therapists can’t go the distance.
It’s so hard to feel safe when it feels like everywhere you look there’s some poor client being harmed in therapy and it’s all just too close to home right now. The Em stuff is still so recent and unprocessed for lots of my younger parts that what’s happened has lit the touch paper on my fear and sent everyone inside into meltdown.
When I went to see Anita on Friday, I felt like everything was wrong inside. It feels like everything is being shaken up and it makes me feel sick. Adult me knows she’s safe and trustworthy and the youngest parts feel like she is, too, but the teens and other protectors inside were freaking out,
“We cannot withstand another rejection or abandonment like what happened Em…or H…it’s not safe…we’re still not over what happened last year…please be careful with us all.”
And then young parts started wailing,
“Don’t keep us locked away in the dark. We don’t like being alone. It’s scary. Anita feels safe and when she can’t see us it feels horrible…and she’s going away soon and then we will really be alone.”
I am so aware that when I go into a panic about being rejected or abandoned it can really go one of…errr… three ways. First is, I disappear altogether into the black abyss frozen and silent; second is the False Adult takes charge and does some kind of smoke and mirrors exercise to keep Anita off the scent; and third – if the wind is blowing in the right direction- I can tell her what’s going on, or what the parts are trying to do and thinking.
On Friday, I let her know what was happening and how bad it felt and we talked it through. And as usual she was so calm and understanding and REASSURING that it allowed those really shaky, scared parts to calm down and regulate. Where I would have felt massive amounts of shame and embarrassment with Em (because she was so uncomfortable discussing our relationship) and so I’d keep this stuff to myself, I can feel it with Anita and let it out in the room with her. She gets it and helps process it.
I don’t feel like a massive weirdo telling her that the breakdown of a therapeutic relationship is painful and talking with her takes the edge off the panic. She’s been so understanding about what happened with Em and again just really tuned into why what’s happened to my friend has sent things into freefall.
As the session was ending and I said,
“It’s going to get easier, isn’t it?”
We had already discussed how for the young parts it feels really scary when the same stuff seems to happen over and over as if it’s evidence that it will happen again to me. Anita couldn’t have been more emphatic or straightforward in her reassurance. She held me closer to her and replied, “Yeah. I’m a great believer in that. I’m not going to go anywhere. You’re not too hard work. And I have no intentions of ending.”
She went on, “That’s what I mean [referring to what had happened with my friend]. It fucks it up for everybody. Excuse my language! But it really does. It takes all that trust from everybody. That’s what makes me so angry [harmful experiences with therapists]. It’s so fragile. It takes a long time to build trust…”
This last week Anita told me that we are on this journey together and she’s signed up for the whole ride not just the easy bits. I joked/groaned that she thought she was getting the bus to the beach and instead we’ve ended up in a swamp with a flat tyre. Anita said that she knew from my very first e-mail that the journey wasn’t going to be straightforward, that there was a lot of trauma, and that sometimes the best memories come from hard journeys that don’t go exactly as you’d planned.
She said in real life she likes walking off the beaten track and through brambles because you often find surprising things and beautiful things and it’s the same with the therapy. She said she gets a lot from the journey, too, it’s not just me that is changed by the relationship and that we are learning together. She said that she won’t always get it right but that she will always be alongside me. And I really believe her when she says it. It’s not meaningless platitudes and empty reassurances. I genuinely feel like she means what she says. Anita feels really authentic and human and that’s great after so long working in a vacuum with a blank screen. And sure, sometimes she gets it wrong BUT she always does her best to put it right when she does and her apologies feel genuine.
I haven’t described any of that very well but basically recently Anita’s been on a loop of ‘don’t panic, you’re not too much, and I’m with you for whatever comes our way’ lately. Personally, I’d quite like to go to the beach but am resigned, now, to the fact that sometimes we go off-roading through the shit and are slowly making it through the swamp! – can’t go over it, can’t go under it, oh no, we’ve got to go through it!
I know I say it a lot, but the reason so much of this work can be done is because Anita lets me so close to her. The fact that I go in and she sits beside me rather than on the other side of the room in her chair goes such a long way to settling and regulating my system. Those parts that have felt so alone and abandoned and full of shame, see that this person is not put off by them and is happy to come close despite the narrative that has been playing for a lifetime about being too much, and unlovable, and untouchable… and more recently ‘adhesive’ and ‘like a tick’.
We sometimes laugh together about me being like a rescue dog but it’s true – although I think I bark a little less than her actual rescue dog! Anita keeps holding out her hand to me and using the soothing voice and little by little the scared parts are moving towards her. She said in our very first session that she knew it would take time for me to trust being in therapy (and with her) after what happened with Em. She said I was brave for even trying therapy again.
She said she would wait for me to feel ready to come to her because if she forced it, it would be like her telling me to put my hand back in a fire having just sustained third degree burns. I’d have to be mad to do it! And so, she waited and honestly, I cannot believe how things are with her now. She’s not a fire though, she’s a fire blanket – the complete antithesis to Em. She puts out the fire and makes it safe to be there with her. There is nothing at all threatening about Anita. Pretty much everything I get panicked about is served up by my own trauma brain running to worst case scenario, not actually any genuine vibe that Anita has given off.
These last few weeks, I have been stressed about her getting fed up with me and wanting to get rid of me – especially because finances have been a real problem. Despite working things out with that, and her promising she’s here for the long haul, I feel even less worthy of her care. Like, surely, if someone who is less complex (and that’s basically any other person who wants counselling!) and demanding comes along and can pay her full fee then she’d be stupid not to take the money and ditch the stress, wouldn’t she?
It’s shit feeling this way.
Anita assures me that I am worthy of her time and care, that I am lovable and all the nice things but ugh…it’s tough, because there are so many parts in play, and there are so many that already have such a low opinion of themselves that it’s going to take a lot of repetition for it to wear a deep groove inside.
Having this conversation, the other day, Anita turned things round and said, “You might get fed up with me.” I felt every part of my system shake their heads. Like, “Not gonna happen, lady!” Anita said that perhaps sometimes when I text her and she doesn’t always reply I might feel fed up. She said that she does try to reply because she’s aware of how unsettled I get with this kind of thing but also acknowledged that sometimes she’ll see a message and be in the middle of something and mentally register to reply when she’s free and then will forget.
She said that she has a terrible memory (looks like that’s both of us then!) and that if she doesn’t reply to a message, it’s not because she doesn’t want to, or doesn’t care, but sometimes she just forgets. It was a really human interaction and it went a really long way down into those parts who so often feel like maybe something has changed or gone wrong if there is no reply when actually it’s just life. We all do it.
I don’t tend to text long deep stuff very often, it’s more about checking in (‘are you still there?’), I am the queen of GIFS (have you noticed?) and so largely communicate through pictures – but to hear that Anita isn’t staying away or being distant because I’m too much or ‘bombarding’ her is huge.
These conversations would have felt (were!) impossible with Em and yet they just happen with A. She really thinks about how this stuff and what she says and does (or doesn’t do) impacts me. It’s not about how my texts are a hassle to her or are a boundary crossed. Being able to call that conversation to mind these last few days (we’re at Thursday now!) has been really helpful as the really painful feelings of being lost, alone, and abandoned landed with a thud yesterday morning and were chased up by a horrible dream about Anita so I’ve felt really vulnerable and needy.
Nearly all the time now, (unless something really is really triggered) I can ask Anita for a cuddle and she never says no or pushes me away. If I am triggered, shut down, or far away she always finds a way to get to me. So, whatever happens the young parts get what they need. Anita holds me for as long as I need and even comments on how much I need the holding which makes me feel less like a tick clinging on than I might otherwise have felt. She says how she can feel the change in my body/system as the session goes on and how grounding it is for me to have that closeness and proximity.
It takes quite a long time to ‘land’ in the room and I think this the case for quite a few of us with C-PTSD. It’s often not until the 45-50 minute mark that my system settles fully.
This is why 50 minute sessions just didn’t work for me (alongside having had a therapist that didn’t care!). Even an hour feels a bit too short and I seem to finally arrive and then suddenly it’s the end. I find when we do 1hr 15 minute sessions I feel way more settled and grounded because it really gives those young parts time to rest and feel safe in that holding before having to go back out into the outside world and go it alone.
When everything feels like it’s swirling about inside being physically close really helps bring things back to a manageable level. The young parts, especially the ones that have no words, get such a lot from the cuddles. I’ve said before how listening to Anita’s steady heartbeat feels really settling. I have noticed, too, how often, when I am upset, I barely breathe and yet over time mine and Anita’s breathing becomes synchronised – I mean I start to breathe, not that she holds hers! It’s coregulation in action.
The other thing that brings my system into the window of tolerance aside from the touch is smell. Oh god this is cringey, but it’s true.
Anita smells really nice. It’s the smell of fresh washing and I associate it now with feeling safe and connected. I was thinking about this the other day – and whilst it might sound really weird going on about how she smells (!) and why I like it, I think on a biological level there’s something in this.
When babies are born, they can’t really see very well, but they know who mum is, they know her smell and they’re like little breast/milk seeking missiles. I know when I had to give up breastfeeding (so I could start chemo) I couldn’t be anywhere near my son whilst my wife was transitioning him onto a bottle and formula. She’d be feeding him, he’d be snuggled into her, but even if I quietly entered the room he’d rear up and try and move towards me and get unsettled because he wanted me (or at least to be breastfed not bottlefed) – I’m guessing we must give off some kind of mummy milk smell that trumps the bottle.
Anyway, I think in some kind of way this is what happens with smell now. I associate Anita’s smell with feeling safe and secure. Obviously, it’s not the same as a baby seeking a breast but I think on a biological and unconscious level there are at least some similarities. I think this is why so many people find either spraying something with their therapist’s perfume or taking a scarf/item of clothing or some other item that smells like their therapist helpful on breaks. One of my friend’s therapist gives her a blanket that she washes specially just before a break and it really helps her. When the young parts are wobbling and dysregulated closing your eyes and being able to breathe in that smell that is associated with feeling safe and held must go a long way.
I’ll just leave that there as feel like I have probably descended into the ‘eyebrow raising’ area for some readers! – although I know that many others will be nodding in agreement and completely get it and so this is for you guys!
Ummm. Even though I am on my arse today and struggling with the separation and young parts are not having a good time at all, it’s not because I think Anita has changed or is about to abandon me (which is what used to happen). Now it’s more about missing her and just wanting to be contained in that safe bubble.
I think for the longest time I have carried everything on my own. It’s been hard and uncomfortable but it’s known. Now, I am starting to trust someone else and let them hold some of the pain with me and it feels really good when I am safe and secure in the room but it’s just really hard being outside that space. Rather than being stuck in perpetual pain and powering through, it’s like swinging on a pendulum. So now when the hard stuff rears up and I am on my own, it feels even more difficult because I know now what it is to feel safe with someone but I can’t access that when I need it.
I know this is all part of the process right now, and it’s just the stage I am at but ugh… help!!
When things feel hard it’s not surprising that I want to retreat into the sanctuary of the therapy room and be with Anita because she feels safe on so many levels. We talk about all kinds of shit. Like, literally, we can swing between serious trauma stuff, to dogs rolling in diarrhoea in the blink of an eye. I love how it feels so easy and connected. I like how we laugh together (or perhaps she’s just laughing at me!) and the serious stuff sits alongside the lighter stuff. It always felt so painful with Em. So sterile and formal. So isolated. With Anita I feel like the experience of just being together in the room is so much of the work regardless of what we’re talking about. All the time I am with her my system is learning what it is to be with someone safe -someone who accepts me in whatever state I am in.
Healing takes place in relationship and Anita is giving me one amazing relational experience.