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.
This week has totally kicked me in the tits…is that even a phrase?! I mean, wow. What can I say? I feel so utterly knackered and overwhelmed at the minute that I could cry. Actually, I have cried, which is really unlike me.
The alarm went off this morning. I ignored it. It went off again. I ignored it again. I left it until the last possible moment and then dragged my arse out of bed and tried to get the kids up and out the house without too much fuss. I was on autopilot going through the motions of the morning, all the while I felt like that attachment wound, the dark pit of doom and need, was wide open and sucking my life force down into it. I’d been dreaming about Em (this two year anniversary of termination is whooping my ass) and felt devastated. I wanted Anita but it’s only midweek so I felt in the limbo zone so far as emotional support goes: the time between sessions seems to stretch out endlessly at the minute.
Having dropped my kids to school I should have got set for work, but I just had nothing. The young parts were so activated that I didn’t know what to do with myself. Most of the time I can muster some kind of ‘get up and go’ and reach down into my bag of masks and fix the teacher one on with rubber bands and chewing gum – but today it just didn’t feel possible. Woeful Wednesday is a heavy day, anyway, with 6 hours of 1:1 lessons and I knew that I wouldn’t get through to 8:30pm in one piece.
Sadly, here I was again, staring at that all too familiar emotional landscape: the deep ache of emptiness and loneliness, coupled with a deeply uncomfortable sick feeling – like a heavy dread. It was so somatic that I genuinely wasn’t sure if I was going to sick. I felt young and lost and actually I think, quite dissociated.
What could I do?
Self-care is something I have been notoriously bad at. I think I have always been a people pleaser and so my needs have often been shelved in favour of looking after the needs of others. To be honest, for a long time I didn’t even know what my needs were and didn’t know what I was doing, running on empty, was burning me out.
Over the years I have pushed myself so hard, taken on more than I can handle, and given every last ounce of myself to do a good job. I have never let people down even if it’s come at a heavy price to me. Humans aren’t machines, though, and I have found that people extend the same kindness to me when I can’t do something as I do to them when they are ill so really it’s been me pushing myself too hard, not actually the expectations of others keeping me at the grindstone. I know this patterning comes from a fear of being deemed ‘inadequate’ and ‘not good enough’ but that’s not the reality now. I am really good at what I do and so that narrative is outdated and needs reviewing…when I get a minute!
When you look online you could be forgiven for thinking that self-care is all about bubble baths, and reading good books in bed, journaling, and going out walking in nature, decluttering your space, or drinking two litres of water a day, cooking healthy meals, and treating your body as a temple. And yes, it can be that stuff, without doubt – and so much more. But sometimes self-care is as simple as just saying “No” and doing nothing (which actually can be quite hard for me).
Listening to your inner wisdom and honouring what’s being said inside is self-care. And today, that voice told me, “I just can’t.” In the past I would have made myself power on through, but it would have come at a cost. I’m so low on spoons at the start of the day right now, that I would have been without cutlery for the school run, dinner, and bedtime – and this is not fair on myself or my children. They get a grumpy mum and then I feel guilty afterwards for not being what they need. I also suffer because it takes a vast amount of energy just to hold myself together on a daily basis and if I am left with just my hands – it’s no good. I need those spoons!
So, knowing where I was at, today, I gave myself permission to opt out and cancelled my first teaching session of the day which meant I now had until 1pm to rest and regroup. I took a shower and got back into bed and called my best friend. We chatted, caught up, and she gave me a much-needed pep talk (I’ve been getting my head in a mess about therapy and tying myself in ever tighter knots) and it was such a good thing to have done.
I limped through my double lesson at 1pm and realised that I was not going to make it through the afternoon lessons as things stood. When I got off my Zoom call at 3pm, I looked at my phone to see that my 4:30 was cancelling as they had tested positive for COVID. That gave me a bit of breathing space. I went on the school run and felt utterly exhausted. The child parts we really vocal and desperate for Friday to come and to be in the safety of the therapy room with Anita and I burst into tears in the car as I was driving to my kids’ school for pick up.
Adult me was trying to calm those poor distressed parts but it was like the old days where those young parts had no concept of Adult Me at all, and so there was no way of communicating, or soothing. I think this is a product of me (Adult) being so tired and thinly spread that my capacity to contain my various parts isn’t going quite a well as usual… and this has spilled into therapy, too.
I’ve felt disconnected from Anita lately and like things are spiralling (for the parts). At least Adult Me has a reasonably good handle on the fact that Anita and I are solid and fortunately Anita noticed what was going on on Monday, when I was in False Adult, and wrapped me in a cuddle after about ten minutes. That’s how it stayed for the remainder of the session. I talked about no end of shite but to be physically close felt so much more stabilising and containing than those sessions recently where I’ve been on my own private island of misery.
I collected the kids and felt done in. Driving home I decided that I was going to cancel the remaining sessions of the day and give myself the night off from being teacher. My wife is away for work this week, so it’s just been me doing everything and I needed a break. Financially it’s not great to have done this – being self-employed there’s no sick pay and so mental health self-care days cost me. But I figure the cost of not listening to myself today would have been far greater in the long run. I don’t like feeling strung out and anxious which is what happens when I go too hard.
To be honest, I still feel like I am on my edge and the next couple of days will be a real struggle, but at least I have done what I can to try and get to the weekend in one piece.
So, that’s my act of self-care. I’m financially worse off. There was no bubble bath involved. My house is still a mess. I’ve eaten complete shit all day and not drunk enough water. I have done no exercise. My body is certainly not a temple – or if it is- it’s one of those ancient ones that needs propping up with scaffold and a $10million renovation fund! But I looked after me today in the only way I could and that was to take some time out and give myself space to be how it is without expectation. In the ideal world I guess I’d have done that and done all these nurturing things above and be absolutely glowing now. But today, going back to bed and talking with a friend beat sitting with cucumber on my eyes shaving my legs (and it always will!).
Happy New Year 2022 everyone…it’s been a little (looong) while since I’ve made it here to post but it’s ok, I am not dead, just hanging on by a thread. The fact I’ve not blogged since Christmas is really a reflection on just how fucking busy my life has become not about my interest in my blog or writing. I really miss this space.
I seem to be running on treadmill that’s about two (hundred) speeds too fast for me, and there just aren’t any adequate windows of time in the week to sit down and reflect in my writing (or get any other pressing things done!)…hence the fact, today, I’m sitting here at 7am on a Saturday in my dressing gown carving out some time.
There’s a bloody cruel irony here, though. Every weekday I have to be up at 6am to stand any chance of getting us all out the house and honestly, I feel like I am scraping my half dead body out of bed when the alarm goes off, yet on the weekends when I can sleep in if I want, I wake up automatically at 6:20am and my brain and body goes, “We’re good, LET’S GO!!” If I tried to go back to sleep now I couldn’t, despite the fact I have yawned four massive yawns since starting this and really need to catch up on about a decade’s worth of sleep deficit.
Might try for an afternoon nap a little bit later!
As you can see, nothing has changed with my waffling and rambling ability…get to the point RB!
It’s been an ‘interesting’ month in therapy since coming back from Christmas holiday. The lead into the holidays was a bit tumultuous after Anita had a break at the beginning of December as well as Christmas and it took a good while for me to properly find my feet…well, actually, I am not sure I fully did, I just wasn’t completely on my arse. I said at the time that there were a few sessions where I struggled to connect with her and in one didn’t hug her until I left which really felt bad for the young parts. It’s been more of the same in January. Ugh.
I haven’t been able to put my finger on what has been wrong – only that something feels off. My body is tense, I am getting pins and needles in my hands and feet during the sessions, and I feel like I am drifting away from A…or like she is far far away. Part of me knows that this isn’t the case, she’s right there, she’s present and trying, she says the right things but they seem to bounce off me, I can’t take them in a lot of the time and so it ‘feels’ like there something wrong. My brain can’t find words but my body is in panic.
It’s the child parts that are struggling. Adult, or sometime False Adult, has been showing up quite a lot to cover this up – and for two successive sessions there was no touch in my sessions until walking out the room at the end which was fucking disastrous for the time between the sessions – and I think has led to this spiral of doubt and fear about the relationship.
I know that not being physically close for a couple of sessions doesn’t sound like all that big of a deal. I mean we’re on the same sofa, it’s not like she’s on Mars! In fact, there will be people who will be reading this who desperately want to hug their therapists and that not be an option to them (you know I’ve been there for 8 years with Em and I understand how painful that is), or people who only ever get a quick hug at the end of their sessions who wish they could have more will probably think I’m just moaning and not seeing how lucky I actually am to have Anita and her open season where touch is concerned. I do get it. And I also get that what’s happened in these sessions has been my doing not Anita’s. It’s not like she’s suddenly become withholding or changed the boundary on touch.
There have been sessions where I have done nothing but talk, or as Anita said the other day, “download” in the session… which is partly because my life is so fucking hectic and sooooo much is going on and I haven’t left space for the littles. I pay for it in a big way afterwards and really we need to make time for those young parts in each session, even if it’s only to acknowledge they’re there, in hiding.
The main problem that has arisen is that because there were two successive sessions of the child parts not getting seen they feel like Anita has forgotten about them. Outside the sessions it’s felt like the interactions Anita and I have had have been a bit, I dunno, just not like they used to be?! Again, this is me just being sensitive. When the child parts are really struggling, they need more and yet Anita would have no clue the child parts were there from the types of messages I’ve sent. Unless I am explicit, her responses are never going to meet the need of those little parts that feel scared and forgotten about because they don’t seem to be there communicating.
When I do send a clear message she responds as I need. I think maybe I need to tell A that even if there’s a really adult seeming message, or something very random (something about passports this week), could she please include the young ones in a reply because there’s a lot of shame around how much reassurance the young ones need at the moment. Or maybe I should just warn her that right now there’s a lot that the little ones want to say and to brace for it! I know she’s busy, though, and I don’t want to overwhelm her with, ‘I miss you, I feel like you’re far away, I want a cuddle’ every day! Sometimes, I think a quick five minute check in on the phone during the week would help as it would be a proper connection point…
Anyway, the last few of sessions have been a bit challenging. The child parts just haven’t been let out, whether that’s through endless moaning and chatter (that seems ok on the surface) or through a full on shut down where I feel like I am stuck in jail. Yesterday was a shut down. It was soooo bad. I’d felt really disconnected from Anita during the week, which is hilarious looking back as we have been in touch a lot…but as I said…it hasn’t been for the little ones, or not enough for them, and because there hasn’t been physical reassurance in the sessions (my own fucking fault!) it has led this shitstorm.
You’d think I’d bloody learn by now, wouldn’t you?
By Thursday there was a part of me that really didn’t want to go to therapy on Friday. It felt like Anita was a million miles away (even though she assures me that she is not and has repeatedly tried to reach through my walls over recent weeks). Instead of allowing myself to fester in that, I looked inside and wondered about what was happening, and actually it really boiled down to feeling like I haven’t seen Anita enough. I know that’s nuts, because of course I have seen her. But there has been a lot of disruption for the little parts that really struggle with separation on breaks.
As I said, it takes a while to bounce back from a break and December had two of them. It really destabilises the young ones. I am getting better with breaks (without doubt) but they do still have an impact. It’s so important after a break to work at the reconnection over the next few weeks and for some reason something has just not felt right since January. Often before and after breaks we have done 75-minute sessions which seem to buffer the separation a bit as it gives plenty of time to attend to the child parts who might struggle to come out knowing there’s a break and they have to go away, or after a break when they don’t know if things are still safe.
There’s something about that length of session that really works. I think for people with C-PTSD it takes us a good while to settle/ground into the space as there is so much mental checking that goes on before we ‘relax’. I’ve said lots of times about how I notice insane details, like a light switch, or a different set of fairy lights outside, or what lights are on in the room, or the other tiny things that normal people just wouldn’t see, notice, or care about.
It takes time to orientate to the room and alongside that, orientate to the therapist: is she tired? Is she in a good mood? What is she wearing? Is she sitting further away than last week? Is she listening? Am I safe here? And on and on and on… I linked a great post about this from my friend over at Girl In Therapy and I’ll put it here again because it really does highlight the journey we go on EVERY SINGLE TIME WE ENTER THE ROOM.
So, 75 minutes really takes the stress out of feeling like there ‘isn’t enough time’. In the normal run of things, sometimes half a session can disappear before I feel like I am ready to be how I need to be. And sometimes it’s longer than that. There is nothing worse than glancing at the clock and realising there is only 15 minutes left of a session but knowing now that there isn’t enough time to get what you need. That’s kind of what’s happening at the minute. I honestly don’t know how I managed 50-minute sessions. Well, I didn’t, did I?!
Sometimes, by the time the young parts feel safe enough to move towards Anita there just isn’t time. Like Monday, for example, another day where we hadn’t touched (ARGH!), she asked if I wanted a hug but also said we were nearly at time to finish. I declined because it would actually have been more painful to cuddle for a minute or two and then have to leave when I wasn’t ready to let go. It would actually be more dysregulating. I mean, I am rarely ready to let go, but it would have really hurt those little parts to feel pushed out before they were ready. And yet had that been a longer session, that time to connect would have been there and we could have had that 15 minutes of safety and holding before I left. Instead, I left feeling sad and abandoned – even though that’s not what was going on.
So, rather than run for the hills yesterday (which was what part of me was wanting to do) I decided to instead ask Anita if we could maybe do a longer session on Friday, for the reasons I have just listed. I text her on Thursday and she didn’t respond. Ugh. And, so, of course this fed back into all the stuff about her ‘being too busy’ for me now, and the young parts feeling abandoned and forgotten about and unimportant. Joy. It’s just a perfect storm situation.
I didn’t sleep well on Thursday night and woke up really upset at 4am and couldn’t drift back off. I went through the motions of getting the kids to school and then left for my session. Because Anita hadn’t responded to my message the protectors had come in…you know, the mature one first (the teen 😉) and basically all the way there was going, “Why the fuck are we going? Just turn round and go back to bed! She doesn’t care and is happy to ignore you. You’re such a fucking loser.” Adult me was trying to tell her to “Calm the fuck down” and explain that it’s not the end of the world. But y’all know how this shit plays out inside, right? In the end the teen sat with her arms folded, brooding, staring out the window, and giving me the silent treatment.
I knew this didn’t bode well for my session. When I arrived in Anita’s town, I decided to go and get a drink. (And thinking about this, now, it’s only just clicked how MUCH my teen was present yesterday!) I had time as there was no traffic on the roads and I’d got the kids to school in good time and not had to dash home to pick up stuff, or go have a shower! When I stopped the car I noticed that Anita had sent me a message:
I’m so sorry. I’ve only just seen this message ☹
Part of me completely understood and the teen just rolled her eyes.
So, the place I went to get my drink is a small chain in the area where I live. I could have gone to Costa or somewhere else closer to Anita’s but I knew there was this particular place where A lives as well as in the city where I live. I basically spent most of my A Levels in there revising or chatting with friends. These days (I mean since I’ve been at Uni which is twenty years ago!) I drink decaf skinny lattes – no sugar…. But yesterday I ordered a steamer with a hazelnut shot as if on autopilot – this is basically steamed milk with a very sweet shot of syrup. And it was autopilot…. for my seventeen-year-old self… man!! Sitting in the café I felt that familiar sense of not being good enough that pervaded that period of my life and honestly, I didn’t feel like a 38-year-old with kids!
By the time I got to Anita’s I didn’t think I felt anything much about it at all. I thought I was fine. To Adult, it is what it is. Sometimes it works out when you ask last minute for things and sometimes it doesn’t. No big deal. Only inside those young parts were scared – as they have been for a while now. Jesus.
Anyway, yesterday I got in the room, and I froze. I couldn’t take Anita is AT ALL for AGES. I know she was trying really hard to get to me. She moved closer to me on the sofa, but I must have been giving ‘fuck off’ vibes and it seemed like I wouldn’t let her close. Of course, the young parts were absolutely beside themselves inside, but I was so trapped and couldn’t reach out or let her in. I really wanted Anita to cuddle me and make things feel better – and bridge that gap that seems to be getting bigger and bigger week on week – but another part was convinced that she wanted to stay away and so I couldn’t accept her care. In these situations, it’s never that I don’t want a cuddle it’s more I feel unworthy of the care, or ashamed that I need Anita so much, and so say no.
I think maybe when this happens, we need to think of a way around it. Like, Anita might say, “Can I give you a hug? I’d like to give you a hug” and that sad, lonely, not good enough part shakes her head and pushes A away, and so Anita respects that- but it isn’t what I need in that moment. If I start crying or trembling, then Anita always shuffles over to me and wraps me in a cuddle, but it’d be better if it didn’t escalate to the point where I am so distressed that my body is having a meltdown before she realises it’s safe to come closer and is actually what I need -as it’s so hard to come back from.
I think if she said, in follow up to her question about a hug, “is there a part of you that feels like you don’t deserve to be cuddled, or that I don’t want to give you a cuddle, really?…and are the little ones inside ok? Do they need a cuddle? – because it feels like they are hidden away but we both know they are there watching.” it would go a long way to circumvent the part that is terrified of being too much, and then being abandoned and rejected.
Anyway, I could feel myself drifting away yesterday. It felt like I was in the sea and the current was pulling me further and further away from A. Somehow, I asked if we could read a story – thank god, as this is what I have needed for weeks. Anita got up and went to get the books and said she also had ‘The Velveteen Rabbit’ if I wanted to read that. I instantly bristled inside and felt sick. I said I hated ‘The Velveteen Rabbit’ and Anita asked me why. I didn’t have the words in the moment for all that the book now signifies. When we hadn’t connected all session and I’d been silent how could I jump into all the stuff about Em and how awful it had been when I gave her the book for Christmas?
Anita didn’t push it and asked me what I’d like to hear. “I don’t care” I replied. Honestly, I was like a brick wall, but the unexpected mention of T.V.R had rattled me. Anita read , ‘Barbara Throws A Wobbler’ and I could feel the little parts inside start to settle. I wanted to move across the sofa and snuggle into A but I couldn’t move. There was another part keeping me frozen and thinking about the stuff with Em.
When the story was finished, I asked Anita if I could read her something. I don’t know what possessed me, but I think it was starting to click that it wasn’t Anita that was the issue and it was the stuff around the anniversary of Em and I terminating. I got out my phone and found the blog post I had written on ‘The Velveteen Rabbit’ and scrolled down to the part where I started talking about the book and what it felt like for me in the wake of the therapeutic relationship with Em ending.
I cuddled into Anita and read the post. I could feel myself shaking. At times I had to stop reading because I felt so upset but I persisted, all the while Anita held me tightly into her body. We didn’t have time to discuss the , but I don’t think we really need to. Just having her hear it was huge. I felt incredibly vulnerable sharing that with Anita but also it felt good to have her know about this stuff.
After the session my brain started whirring and overthinking shit – like it always does. I wish it would just rest in the moment and be content with how things are, realise that mine and A’s relationship is solid, and it doesn’t matter what she does or is like with other clients because when I am with her it’s only me and her in the room. Only it doesn’t work like that does it? There’s always that client sibling rivalry whether we like to admit it or not.
So, my mind got to wondering where ‘The Velveteen Rabbit’ had come from. Had another client brought it with them to therapy? And if so, does Anita read ‘our’ story books to other clients? And, of course, that felt horrible because the young parts hate sharing Anita, as it is, without thinking that ‘our’ stories are not just special to us. And so many people have emailed me since I wrote that blog post on ‘The Velveteen Rabbit’ saying how they’d bought it and taken it into their therapy that I thought it seemed fairly likely that this is why Anita has the book – it is therapy gold, after all…and whilst part of me knows this, part of me doesn’t want it confirmed because the idea that Anita is just going through the motions with me and that she has a conveyor belt of books and cuddles………..
For Fuck’s Sake RB when will you just chill out????
Anyway, I sent a message to Anita after session explaining a bit about why ‘The Velveteen Rabbit’ was a trigger and she sent a lovely message back and things felt ok.
Last night I took myself up to bed and then it hit. Floods of tears out of nowhere. I was sobbing for ages. What was happening? Then the penny fully dropped about why things have been so difficult this week. The body remembers even if the brain doesn’t. I went back over my emails with Em and saw that the date for ‘tick gate’ was two years on Thursday and “Sorry I couldn’t help you, I wish you well for the future” was yesterday. I’ve been aware that this time of year, round Christmas is hard because it was when everything started to blow up with Em but the sucker punch of ‘adhesive’ and ‘like a tick’ and then being dropped like a hot potato is still so painful.
On a positive, it’s two years since I met Anita…and we got on this crazy ride. I don’t think either one of is especially fond of rollercoasters, but we haven’t got off yet!
I’ll leave this here for now. Sorry for the novel xx
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.