Why I hate therapy breaks: part 2

When I started the last post Why I hate therapy breaks: part 1 I knew that I had plenty to say about breaks from therapy and how hard they are to navigate, particularly when you aren’t one of those blessed souls that is ‘securely attached’. But getting down to writing this second part has been proving really hard. It’s like I’m having some kind of mental block on it.

I think I kind of know what’s happened. It’s what always happens at some point in a therapy break – the littlest parts of me have become fully activated, are overwhelmed and terrified, they are screaming and I can no longer pretend that they’re not there because the noise they are generating inside can’t be drowned out. They are sure that she (therapist) is gone and isn’t coming back, and are basically having a full on meltdown about it.

The rational adult part of me that was holding the fort, just about hanging it together, and doing my best to soothe those parts is struggling to contain all the fear and anxiety that’s bubbling inside. It just feels too much. The break feels too long. I hate it.

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This is how it feels today.

 

It’s really difficult carrying on with the normal day-to-day of being a wife and mother with adult responsibilities when there is a significant part of me that feels like a distraught baby crying out for an absent mother who isn’t ever going to come. It’s really quite strange carrying that and still going about the daily routine and all that entails.

Yesterday saw an early morning shoe fitting for both my kids in order to be ready for the return to school and preschool next week; sorting out paperwork; going to the bank; a quick run round the supermarket; getting sports kit washed and ironed ready for classes this morning; a playdate; mowing the lawn and walking the dogs– all totally mundane tasks and not stressful in the least, but they are definitely ‘adult’ tasks. The day’s chores felt more demanding than they really were because not only do I have my real small children to manage, I also have a fair few internal ones playing up!

When I woke up yesterday morning all I really felt capable of was hiding under the duvet with a teddy and having a good cry about how much I miss my therapist. It couldn’t happen, 1) because the kids couldn’t get their shoes by themselves and 2) I don’t cry….but that’s another post altogether!

This level of inner conflict, turmoil, distress, call it what you will is hard to manage. I think perhaps the reason it gets worse towards the end of break (as ridiculous as that sounds) is because it takes a massive amount of energy (both emotional and physical) to contain the feelings that rise up during a break. It’s almost as though when the finish line is in sight I start to stumble because I am utterly fatigued from trying to keep going for so long. I don’t know if that makes sense? I feel a bit mentally cloudy today.

In the early days of therapy I used to feel a bit ‘out of sorts’ and miss my therapist when we were on a break, but recently I became aware of the different parts of myself: Little Me, Four, Seven, Eleven, The Teenager, and The Critic.  And since then breaks have become a whole new level of hell and torment. I’ve noticed that my mind shifts through cycles of different emotions and I have come to associate these varying emotions with the different parts of myself. I’ve noticed that there’s a negative pattern that takes place and when I go back to therapy I really need to make it a priority task to try and work out why it happens and how to avoid it/manage it.

I tend to start a break in my Adult: ‘It’ll be fine. Sure I’ll miss her, but it’s ok, she’ll be back in x amount of time and in the meantime I’ll be kind to myself’. I wish I could sustain that but before very long the little ones start to get noisy. Little Me doesn’t really have words yet but I can clearly see her in my mind’s eye standing in a vast empty space with tears streaming down her face, screaming ‘Mummy, come back’. That’s hard. It comes from a place of real loss and abandonment in my childhood where from the age of four til eleven my mum would be away from Sunday afternoon to Friday evening.

Once you throw in Four and Seven into the mix it starts to get really upsetting. Eleven stands silently on the side lines. She’s been here before. She knows the score. She’s learnt that crying doesn’t get her anywhere so she just doesn’t express any emotion anymore. No one is coming for her. No one knows how much she is hurting. She needs to take care of herself. So she’s quite a little grown up. It’s sad, really.

There’s only so long this level of pain can continue before The Teenager rocks up. Fuck. She is so angry! She’s angry at everyone. She hates the world. She hates that my therapist has done this to the little ones again. How dare she leave them and her to cope alone? She hates that she has to babysit but she always steps in to protect the child parts as though her life depends on it. She shuts everything down. She’s great at the silent treatment and she has cost me quite a lot of money in silent, angry therapy sessions! She is deeply hurt too but she copes by not eating, or self-harming, or listening to music.

The Teenager secretly likes my therapist but she is so frustrated by her feelings about her and also the lack of availability of my therapist between sessions that often her anger and frustration makes her think that the whole therapy thing is ‘just a pile of shit’. She essentially reaches the place where she says ‘I am done with it. Therapy makes me feel rubbish. I like her but it’s not a real relationship. She doesn’t really care about me’ and so on.

It really is crap being in my head sometimes! It’s a disaster zone when these feelings are kicking about in my mind and it’s a break. This sort of emotional spiral happens from week to week in the normal run of things but generally I can repair once I am back in session. There’s just about enough consistency and contact to manage it. What am I meant to do when on a break, though?!

There’ve been so many occasions lately where I have wanted to reach for my phone and fire off some raging text message and terminate therapy. I did send a completely outrageous message a few months back which in itself should be a blog post, but generally I don’t message her because I can’t be doing with ‘the boundaries’ talk when I go back in to session. I also can’t bear the thought that I would tell her that I am terminating and she would just accept it. You all know I don’t really want to terminate, I need therapy (clearly!), but sometimes it’s just so painful being in the therapeutic relationship.

So, The Teenager is a protector of sorts, but the thing is, there’s a force that is stronger than her and that’s The Critic. The Critic isn’t embodied in the normal sense or gendered. It’s huge. It’s loud. It’s persuasive. It’s soul destroying. All I can liken it to is the Dementors in Harry Potter. The Critic is a force so strong and powerful that it can suck everything good out of me. It batters my self-esteem. It feels like an almighty boiling, sinister voice in my head. A standard line of attack runs something like this:

‘You know you want to hurt yourself. Just do it. You will feel so much better. Just cut yourself. Don’t tell her (therapist) anything. She won’t understand. I promise you’ll feel better if you run further/more often/without eating. Why are you eating that? Seriously, can’t you see what you look like? There’s no point in telling her about me. I’m stronger than she is. I’ll make sure she disappears. Or you will by being such a needy loser. She can’t help you. She doesn’t care, anyway. She doesn’t want to know about those damaged children. Don’t ignore me! You are an embarrassment. You’re pathetic. You are so weak. What makes you think she’s different, anyway? You must be a complete idiot. She will hurt you in the end and then you’ll be back. Haven’t I always looked after you? You need me. Trust me.’

It’s not pleasant for sure! But I have told my therapist about it and she says it needs a lot of attention just like the little ones. We need to work out what has made it so mean. I know it’s basically a shit load of internalised anger that I’ve never expressed and instead turned in on myself….but even so, it’s not easy when it’s going for it.

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So, it’s really only three days until I return to therapy and yet it sometimes feels like time is going backwards rather than forwards. I’m not angry right now. I’m still very much stuck with the little ones, I know it’ll change, it always does, but rather them then that mean bastard above!

 

Why I hate therapy breaks: part 1

So it’s that time of year again. August. The long therapy break. The emotional marathon. The endurance test. Almost a month away from therapy and my therapist. Right now I feel like I am hanging off a ledge and holding on by my fingertips. It’s all about survival!

For many therapy clients, particularly the long-termers and those with attachment trauma I know this is a difficult time. I’ve only got 5 days left until my next session and despite having made it through a good portion of the 22 day break, time still stretches out for what seems like forever. I feel lost and unsettled.

Back in the days before I had children, when I was a teacher, I literally couldn’t wait for my summer break. In those days, the 6 weeks off symbolised a much-needed rest, relaxation, and a nice holiday. It was a shining beacon that got me through the dark winter months. I guess this is, maybe, how my therapist feels.

I used to spend the summer term counting down, and with each week ticked off I could feel the stress ebbing away. At the end of July I could take off my professional hat and be ‘myself’ (whoever that is!) for a bit and then return to school in September full of enthusiasm and energy.

These days I spend the time from April counting the sessions down, one by one, week by week, and dreading the approaching month of August. By mid-July I feel myself emotionally shutting down and protecting myself ready for the therapy break. I guess that it’s all part of the process and often some really good work comes off the back of a therapy break, but I won’t lie, I really REALLY hate breaks.

I don’t begrudge my therapist her holiday (or maybe I do bit!). She more than earns a good solid bit of time off to recharge her batteries. The thing is as much as my adult can see that she is entitled to her holidays and actually wants her to practise good self-care so that she is able to be a good therapist to me and her other clients, there are lots of parts of me that don’t feel quite so understanding and pragmatic about it. There are parts of me that feel like I have been abandoned and that generates a whole heap of difficult feelings.

The little parts of me feel absolutely distraught that she has gone and left me on my own. They quickly lose their sense of trust in the relationship and doubt the connection. They don’t understand that she’s away but will be coming back. To them she’s disappeared off the face of the earth and isn’t returning and it’s probably because of me, something that I’ve done wrong, or that is wrong with me: I am annoying, irritating, and too much for her. It’s not a nice place to inhabit. It’s exhausting feeling like a tiny child who is screaming for her (therapy) mother to return and then at times being further harassed by my Critic who makes me feel unworthy and undeserving of her help and care and that I am pathetic for feeling anything about her.

I appreciate how bonkers that sounds to the majority of the population but I also know that there are plenty of people who suffer this separation anxiety, people who suffer with object constancy, people who rely heavily on their relationship with their therapist and just don’t cope very well with disruptions and ruptures. I am one of those people.

I’m trying to put in place strategies for coping with the breaks but at the moment it is hit and miss whether they are successful. I guess this is part of the problem with disorganised attachment and trauma. It really depends which part of me is most active at the time as to whether my self-care strategies work.

The next part of this post can be found here: Why I hate therapy breaks: part 2

The backstory- or how I met my therapist.

This is long and in no way an essential read. It’s just the backstory of how I find myself here.

I’ve always struggled with my mental health. Anxiety and depression have been almost constant companions since my teens, albeit to varying degrees: sometimes barely noticeable and at other times totally debilitating. I’ve seen various counsellors over the years but never really got anywhere with them.

After spectacularly falling apart following a bereavement I was allocated a year of psychotherapy in the NHS. I was told there was quite a waiting list (turned out to be 2.5 years!) so in the intervening period between being put on the waiting list and actually getting therapy I saw a nice ‘tea and sympathy’ counsellor, privately, who quickly told me that she ‘didn’t have the skills’ to really help with my issues (that did wonders for my self-esteem I can tell you!).

I kept going for a year anyway because I needed to talk to someone even if I couldn’t work through the deeper issues with her. She helped me with my feelings of loss about my dad which enabled me to get back on with my life to an extent.

When I finally got the letter to see my current therapist, I’d just about patched myself together with my trusty rubber bands and chewing gum. I was functioning ‘fairly’ well: I’d moved house, gone back to work after 17 months off sick, got pregnant with my first child, indeed I’d pretty much forgotten that I was waiting for therapy as I was caught up in all that life, work, and pregnancy brings!

How could it take over two years to see a trained psychotherapist anyway? I guess if I had have shown my doctor, the psychiatrist, and the community mental health teams how bad it really was for me when I was at my lowest then things may have moved more rapidly, but I was terrified of being sectioned or something. I played everything down at the time and just picked myself up like I always had done in the past, not really dealing with anything and just running away from my issues. Idiot!

I’d sort of resigned myself to continue living this sort of half-existence – accepting that I would suffer regular periods of depression and anxiety; that not feeling good enough and like there was something fundamentally wrong with me was just my personality type; that I would never really be happy and I would continue to use restriction of food, too much exercise, and self-harm to cope. I guess I felt that I would have to carry on with the show in the way I always had done and accept that this is how it is for people like me and maybe this is what life is really like. I doubted if anyone could really help me with what seemed like a lifetime of cumulative traumas and crap coping strategies.

I’ve always been a private, reserved, and introverted character and even during my breakdown nobody knew about any of these feelings I carry inside because what I had always presented to the world was a confident, in control, high-functioning adult. It’s served me well, to an extent, but it’s taken a ridiculous amount of energy.

When I first met my therapist in 2012 I liked her instantly although I doubt she would have known because I was really resistant and guarded. I spent the first 9 months of therapy weighing her up and not really talking to her. Sure I spoke, but not about the real issues, not my well-guarded secrets. I didn’t even mention the eating disorder I have had for half my life, or the fact I self-harm until three sessions before the end of the therapy!

Trust is a huge issue for those of us with attachment wounds. Although there was certainly part of me that wanted to get better and heal, I just couldn’t risk really letting her in. I didn’t want to show my vulnerability. I didn’t want her to know how messy it was underneath my cool exterior. I didn’t want her to confirm to me that I was ‘beyond help’. I didn’t want to identify with all my broken parts or admit that they were even there. I essentially sabotaged the therapy – not because I was being difficult, but because there is a part of me that is so battle ready that it serves to protect me against any intrusion. It used to ward off the enemies but somewhere along the line it also got caught up holding off the allies too.

But, as is so often the case with therapy, one day I was blind-sided, something massive shifted, and my defences crumbled. I didn’t see it coming. I don’t know if it was the realisation that time was running out, or what, but suddenly I felt like I couldn’t survive without this woman. I needed her like I needed air to breathe. She really mattered to me. I missed her between sessions in a way that made my stomach ache. I had become deeply attached to my therapist.

This should have signalled the start of something good, right? A flood of positive and connected feelings? Well, it didn’t because my brain doesn’t work like that, unfortunately. Feeling dependant and needy triggered a huge amount of anxiety. It re-activated some really deep-rooted fears that I must have buried somewhere back along the line. All of a sudden I became aware that she was going to leave me right at the time I needed her most. She would be gone. I wouldn’t see her anymore. It was beyond overwhelming.

Now that I wanted to tell her what I had been holding in my entire life there wasn’t time. I felt like I was going to disintegrate. I was also really embarrassed that I had somehow got so emotionally reliant on a professional (ugh!), someone who could never be what I suddenly felt I lacked. I’d spent my whole life avoiding getting close to people in order to not get hurt and here I was fixated on a therapist. I wasn’t just fond of her in a ‘we work well together’ kind of way, it was as though some really primitive, young emotions had surfaced, I loved her, and I just didn’t know what to do about it.

How do you explain to someone that you feel like you are empty inside and have a bottomless pit of need that only they can fill? That you need/want them to hold you like a small child and soothe you even though are a fully grown adult? How can you express that when you know there is no chance of it ever happening? How do you cope with the huge sense of rejection and abandonment if you ever manage to pluck up the courage to ask for that and then get a refusal even though it is just protocol not to touch/hold?

It’s beyond painful because it is a child’s needs that are coming up and the inner child that feels the massive hurt and rejection. The likelihood is that this is all replaying something that happened in the past: not being held, contained, seen –essentially being emotionally abandoned. I didn’t know anything about transference back then and so struggled against my feelings, too ashamed and embarrassed to talk about them.

I still find it all a nightmare but at least I sort of know what’s going on and that I’m not completely mental for having these intense feelings towards my therapist. I also know now that these issues are the very things I need to bring into session and work through! It’s easier said than done sometimes and part of me wants the ground to open up and swallow me when I start to talk about how I feel about her. I wish my adult censor would leave the room sometimes to allow the little ones space to talk.

Anyway, back to the first episode of therapy… She realised how difficult things had become for me as I started to share my story, though I never told her how I felt about her which was really what was hurting me the most at the time. Somehow she managed to extend the therapy for a further three months but even that wasn’t enough time. This kind of deep-rooted trauma and all the coping strategies you build up to survive don’t just repair in a few sessions, in fact maybe not even a few years. It takes a huge amount of commitment from both client and therapist to do this kind of work and it’s not easy. In fact this is probably the hardest work I have ever done.

Time was ticking away and before my final session I had sent her a rather long email. It was like I had taken a dose of truth serum and let a lot out on the screen. It was weird, the whole time I had been in therapy it had never occurred to me to Google her or try and discover anything about her. It was almost like she only existed in that room. I think it’s a bit like when I was a teacher and kids I taught would see me in the real world and do a sort of double take.

Desperation had kicked in as the end of therapy drew near and that’s when I searched for her online. It turned out that she also worked privately and that’s how I got her email and asked if she would see me in private practice. She agreed but said there would have to be a three month break between the NHS setting and her private setting. Argh.

Even though I planned to meet in three months, I was absolutely devastated leaving my final session. I didn’t show it. I’d sort of shut down and put on my ‘it’s fine’ face in order to cope. I just walked away and didn’t look back. I’m not sure if I even said thank you. I’ve never been good at endings. I’d rather pretend that they’re not happening.

The idea of a three month break was just too much. I’m rubbish at therapy breaks! (more on that later!) I started having really graphic, distressing nightmares and sunk into a pit of depression. The nightmares lasted a couple of months and then abruptly stopped following a dream. I was in a lake, swimming in the dark, about to give up and drown myself when my therapist pulled me from the water onto a boat, wrapped her arms around me and held me tightly cuddled up in a blanket. She told me that I didn’t have to do this anymore and that I was safe.

My partner was not supportive of me having more therapy and it caused a huge row. ‘How much therapy does one person need?’ I was just oversensitive and needed to move on and be thankful for what I had now. The past was in the past. I knew then that I wasn’t going to be able to see my therapist again, no matter how bad I felt. I would have to just carry on as I always had, only knowing now that help was possible and that I couldn’t access it.

Life moved on again, things were ok, good even, but as always the good times were punctuated by periods of anxiety and depression, not eating, over-exercising, and occasionally self-harming. And then when my new baby was 6 months old I got diagnosed with cancer having been misdiagnosed for the previous two years with other conditions. I was too young for cancer, apparently! I had an enormous tumour and my life turned upside down.

I spent 9 months battling the cancer with chemotherapy and radiotherapy. I lost my hair but I was one of the lucky ones and kept my life. It was the most terrifying experience to be faced with the reality that I could die and leave my children without a parent before they’d even started school. A couple of months after completing treatment I fell apart. I just couldn’t manage anymore. Cancer was the straw that broke the camel’s back and my partner told me then that I needed therapy. PRAISE BE! So that’s what I did. I was back with my therapist within two weeks. What a relief.

 

If you’ve made it to the end of this, well done. I’ll try and be brief in the future.

Got to start somewhere…

I’ve been procrastinating. A lot.

I meant to start this blog when I re-entered therapy with my old therapist in June 2016. We’d had a three year break and plenty had happened in the intervening time: a baby, a cancer diagnosis (chemotherapy, radiotherapy, hair loss – the whole nine yards), almost a mental breakdown.

I thought I’d start a blog as a way of keeping a record of what happened in my sessions and to chart my (hopeful) progress out of cancer, chaos and depression! Needless to say it’s now August 2017 and I haven’t posted anything.

I don’t know why I haven’t got round to writing. I’ve had plenty to say and no one to really share it with in the real world where I pretend to have my shit together and function. I put on a good show and unless I told you, you’d never know what a mess it is underneath the cool exterior but in truth, I really am holding it together with a bunch of rubber bands and chewing gum! It’s a little precarious to be sure. I feel like a crap swan: I’m not even really gliding along and my feet are going like the clappers beneath the surface just to stay afloat and keep moving forward.

The thing is, I may have been back in therapy for the last 14 months but actually it’s only really started to get ‘interesting’ (scary/terrifying) since Easter, in that I have started to really unpick things that I’ve been to afraid to even acknowledge before. I’ve also become aware of different parts of myself: Little Me (she’s about 2 years old), Four (her age), Seven, Eleven, The Teenager, and The Critic (a really mean bastard).

So I guess now is the time to start sharing with you lovely people on the internet because I need to let it out somewhere and talking through your therapy session isn’t run of the mill conversation at a playdate with small children- although part of me would love to see the faces of mums if I dropped the ‘so, I’m on a 22 day therapy break and I feel like I might die because my little parts are beside themselves and think they’ve been abandoned’.

To be honest, I’m a bit protective of my therapy so maybe that’s why I’ve had this blog page for ages and not said anything. Part of it is also because I wasn’t really sure what was wrong with me. I’ve been borderline depressed since I was a teenager. I have a history of self-harm and an eating disorder both of which I manage to varying degrees depending on how bad things feel.  I am a perfectionist. I don’t trust people. I feel alone most of the time even when in company. I’m highly sensitive. I like to be in control. I feel like I am not good enough. I have a dysfunctional relationship with my mother (who doesn’t?) … I mean basically I’m a high-functioning fuck up.

The deepest wounds I have are invisible and were formed in infancy and gouged further throughout my childhood and adolescence. Not many people understand what childhood attachment trauma is like, not many people have even heard of it (I hadn’t until therapy took a nose dive and I started doing some reading) but for those of you who do know exactly what I am talking about, this is for you too.

I have wanted to write and share my experience, what it’s like to have these wounds and what therapy is like as a result of this because I get the sense that therapy is quite challenging for most of us. I hope my experience makes you feel less alone even if it’s identifying with some really tough emotional stuff.

So here I am. Today. Taking the plunge. Here goes. Wish me luck.  It’s probably all going to be a bit haphazard but I’ll try my best to tell it like it is… and right now, ‘like it is’ is pretty hard. 8 days of the therapy break remain and:

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