Old Patterns: Part 3

I wrote what follows back in early 2013. I’d recently stumbled over the writing I had done in 2009 Old Patterns: Part 1  and Old Patterns: Part 2 which recounted the time of the big breakdown and the scary interventions and decided to start writing again having not put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard in the whole intervening period. I was in therapy and beginning to feel ‘all the things’ with Em 😉  and so this leads up to June 2013 which saw the end of a 16 month period of psychotherapy on the NHS.

This is the last long blast from the past instalment on the blog. Loads has been going on in the here and now lately and I have just started the summer therapy break so I will get to catching up on 2019 soon!

Anyway, here goes!:

Nearly four years have gone by since I wrote here and rereading what I have written makes me so sad. Sad because right now, all this time down the road, I feel totally out of control again. It’s like I’m still circling the pit of doom. I know this isn’t completely true. I have not been stuck in a consistent state of depression since dad died- far from it – but I seem to find myself back down in the depths of despair wondering how, once again, I find myself in such a mess after so much time has elapsed?

How on earth can I be here again?

I have done the therapy – but it’s not enough, I know there is so much more left to process and I do not have enough time.

Still, let’s bring things up to speed before I get to what’s happening now.

After the seven month long nightmare with the breakdown Dr M wrote to get me put on a waiting list for psychotherapy in the NHS. I knew the wait would be a reasonably long time and so in the interim I had been recommended a private counselling service to try. I didn’t really know what I was looking for in a therapist I was just desperate to not feel so bad and went with the suggestion.

I went religiously to weekly sessions with my therapist N for two years but really made no progress on the big big things, not because I avoided talking about them (that’s progress right?!) but because I was told that my issues were too complex for her as she was just training. You would think I would have jumped ship then and found a more suitable match but after so long I didn’t feel able to kick my crutch out from under me. I liked her a lot and just being in the room each Monday night felt helpful. I think the ritual of going and talking for an hour was at times all that kept me going, even though I didn’t really gain anything other than stability. Not that I am underestimating the need for stability.

I terminated the therapy in the end. I was doing okish. Good enough. The eating disorder was quiet. The grief was still there but I had sort of learned to live with it. I was functioning! Life felt pretty good, really. I was back at work full time and enjoying it. I’d moved house. I’d travelled a lot. I’d got married. I was doing ok at adulting and still not yet 30. Win! I had kind of accepted that maybe the stuff I carry around in the shadows was always going to be there and I should just learn to live with it.

To be honest by the time the letter finally came through inviting me to attend 12 months of psychodynamic psychotherapy (30 months after the initial referral!) it came as a bit of a shock. I’d almost forgotten I was on a waiting list!

About six months after my GP had made the initial referral I had two appointments with a Clinical Psychologist in the Psychotherapy Department in the same scary building where I had seen the psychiatrist that wanted to put me on lithium. Same god awful waiting room. The bright yellow woodchipped walls still giving off a luminous glow of doom. Ugh!

When I went to these sessions I didn’t know they were only assessment interviews, no one had told me and it certainly wasn’t clear from the letter. I thought it was the therapy starting. I didn’t really like or warm to the therapist but given there’s not much choice in the NHS I thought I should seize my opportunity and start PROPERLY talking especially as N couldn’t help me with the ED. It would probably take a while to warm to this new therapist because she wasn’t N.

At the end of the second appointment the therapist told me that she definitely thought I needed psychotherapy and that I would now go on a waiting list for long-term therapy. I felt like I had been hit by a bus. What did she mean, go on another waiting list?? I had just spewed some serious bits of a lifetime of shit at this woman and now I was left hanging again. For fuck’s sake! Still, I’m good at shoving traumatic memories down into boxes and pretending they’re not there (you should see my loft!) and so that’s what I did. I went off and got on with my life – and I still had N even if she couldn’t help me with the anorexia.

So skip to January 2012 – As I said, A LOT had changed since my breakdown. For the first time ever I felt pretty grounded, happy, excited about the future. Now really wasn’t when I needed the therapy but I was wise enough to know that the issues that I’ve been struggling with since my teens hadn’t gone away, they were just dormant. And so I arrived at my first psychotherapy appointment 37 weeks pregnant and feeling quite on top of things.

It must have been a shock to Em my therapist.  I suppose reading my notes she might have reasonably been expecting an anorexic falling apart person to show up in the room and  instead she got a blossoming heavily pregnant woman…how did that happen?!

The moment I met Em I liked her. It was a completely different response to the therapist I had seen for the assessment. I felt comfortable with her from the first session. I don’t know what it was…I just really liked her. She had a nice face and smile, her body language was open. I dunno. I can’t explain. BUT it was good news all the same. I hadn’t really thought much around the logistics of therapy with a baby on the way but Em said that we could wait to start the sessions til after I had the baby and as soon as I felt able I could ring and let her know and start coming to see her.

She said that of course it was fine to bring the baby as she’d be little and need feeding etc. Basically she made the whole thing feel really easy – I didn’t lose my place on the list because I couldn’t start that week. So two weeks after my gorgeous little girl arrived I found myself in the room talking and breastfeeding. Turns out my baby needed feeding EVERY SESSION for the first four months.

So.… skip forward again.

I’ve been going to my sessions for a year now and I have made some good progress and uncovered some issues and set a few of  them at rest. But despite Em being really great there have still been things I have felt unable to address with her. Some of this is because I know my therapy must end soon and I feel like I have run out of time.

It’s taken me three months of mentally psyching myself up to tell her that I am really struggling with my ED again – it’s been especially bad since I have gone back to work after mat leave. I think I have passed the glow of having had a baby and now feel like the baby weight is just fat.

For months I have skirted round the edge of this issue, repeatedly being lost for words or filling my session time with insignificant garbage…. I am distracting myself from what is really important and something that is slowly taking over my life again.

Why?

Well, I guess it’s for many reasons. After giving it a lot of personal thought time- the time when the lights are out and the demons take root in my mind- I think I have reached the conclusion that I haven’t felt able to talk about my eating disorder because I am embarrassed and ashamed about it.

I am ashamed that for 15 years I have been secretly starving myself, on and off, when I can’t cope with my life. I am scared to admit that apart from my pregnancy, I have never achieved a healthy BMI and that I consider anything close to 18 fat whilst still knowing that it is at the bottom end of the healthy.

Part of it is that I don’t want Em to judge me.

I judge myself harshly enough already.

But today I realised with only a few sessions remaining I had to say something otherwise I will be 45 and still battling with these issues which doesn’t even bear thinking about, especially when my daughter will look to me as a role model.

I need to change.

I know it’s going to be really hard.

I know I cannot do this on my own.

Today, I sat down in the chair and soon realised that I couldn’t even speak. I felt myself getting angry with myself. How could I have mentally planned what I wanted to say, dreamt it every night for a week, and yet again find that I was mute? What was stopping me just telling my truth? Why is it so hard to open up and trust someone with this stuff?

I know she could see I was struggling again and, thankfully, I just sat there and she filled my silence and led me along. She told me that she felt like I was holding back and that the need to cry was really strong and that she could see that everything was too much.

She was right.

Somehow, I falteringly began to get my words out. I told her of how I hated myself and how I had become really self destructive and how I didn’t see the point of being here. She asked me if I felt suicidal. I said yes. She asked me if I had thought about ways of ending it. I said yes. She asked how. I told her: crashing my car, overdosing, cutting myself. She asked me if I had ever done any of those things before. I told her yes. She asked what stops me from acting on it, and I pointed to my baby girl. And from there the words kept coming, albeit messily and not always coherently.

I told her about how people have told me I look ill, that I am too skinny at work. I told her how I felt like I am losing it. I told her how I feel I am battling with myself all the time. I never know if I want the part that wants to be well to win or the critical self-attacking part to win. I told her that I struggled to talk because I have been in the situation before and been told I did not have an eating disorder after skilfully answering questions that meant the end score did not add up to ‘anorexia’.

She seemed to understand and acknowledged that I am skilled at letting people see what I want them to and understood hard it must be. I told her how I was sick of always falling into similar patterns, how every time things get overwhelming I start hurting myself rather than helping. She asked what I want to look like and I told her I didn’t know, only that I can never see how bad things are at the time and it’s only afterwards when I look at a picture that I can see how thin I am. I told her that the more weight I lose the less I see how thin I am and focus on the areas I perceive as fat and the number on the scale.

I was inarticulate and confused but I did it. I FINALLY told someone what I am carrying around and now the door is open to deal with it…. I feel nervous and exposed and know that next week I will have to keep myself in check and stop myself from playing what I have said down in a defence and actually let myself remain open. The embarrassment is ebbing away and I feel finally like I might get the help I need with this….I just hope I have enough time. That’s what really frightens me. For the first time I have opened up, but I think maybe I’ve left it too late.

I am scared of being left hanging in June, in crisis and having to leave the security of the room and the weekly safe space I have to unburden myself. I am worried I will not cope. Things are bad already without the only support I have being removed. Truthfully, I am terrified.

A week on, another session, and another mild failure in my ability to build on what I said the previous week. I am so painfully aware that in a few sessions my safety net is going to be completely removed that I think I’m probably withdrawing into myself a bit trying to protect myself from another loss. I have lots to say but don’t think there’s time now and as such I think I am wisest trying to put my armour back on and get ready for life ‘out there’ without my weekly check in.

Interestingly, today, Em commented on how I seemed different today than last week (where I was completely flustered and anxious but just about able to talk). I was behaving differently, but actually, in the last week, nothing much has changed for me. I am feeling anxiety about leaving my job, my brain is in a million places and actually what’s happened is that I have ejected my emotions out into space to allow me to function. I have been obsessing about my weight, I even found an app that allows me to track exactly what I am eating and how this will or will not impact my desired weightloss.

I now spend time inputting what I eat into the app and watching the calories go down….I’m aiming for 1000 a day at the minute which is manageable and won’t draw any attention. It also allows a steady weight loss. I am currently 7st 5 which gives me a BMI of 16. I am not happy with my body. I am not happy with myself. I never am. I guess next session I should address this deliberate food restriction. Oh but the shame. God.

I wondered today about something she said to me. She commented on how despite everything, I’d still been able to function and things hadn’t fallen apart and I should be proud of that. Why would I feel proud? I’ve succeeded in reigniting my fiery eating disorder, I’ve taken sick days when I’ve felt unable to cope, I’ve been struggling to sleep, on more than one occasion I’ve had suicidal thoughts, but I haven’t fallen apart. What does that even mean? I haven’t physically harmed?

In the build up to termination today she said that a year of therapy is not a long time and that there are organisations that I can use to find another therapist in the future if necessary. It felt like the rug was being pulled out from under my feet. Something inside felt really painful, like I had been kicked in my solar plexus and my chest went so tight. I felt sick. It felt like I was going to fall apart. I sat there still and tried not to look affected.

I really am going to lose her in a few weeks. I can’t even go there. The loss feels too huge. She is just my therapist but for some reason this ending feels immense- so much worse than ending with N. It was never my intention to let Em matter to me. I knew this was a relationship that had a time limit and yet here I am faced with the reality that somehow or other she does matter to me, I do need her, and oh the fucking irony I can’t stay.

After years of therapy at different intervals, I really can’t envisage starting over again with another therapist. Let’s face it, it takes me an eternity to truly open up and I don’t want to start the process with another person in the future. Maybe she isn’t allowed to promote her own private therapy practice (I looked online this week to see if she exists outside that dingy room!- and she does!) but I would really like to continue working with her if I could.

The PCT dictates that the maximum time available for therapy here is a year, and I have already had this extended by two months because things have got so shit lately, but I know that realistically, had I been in private therapy, we would not be terminating right now.

So school is finished. I cannot believe I have walked away from teaching but I know right now this is what I need. I need to regroup and rebuild. I want to spend time enjoying my baby and focusing on my family.

Today I had another therapy session. It always takes me by surprise on a therapy day how I wake up buzzing as though there is an electric current flowing through my body. It’s not a pleasant feeling. It’s as though I am adrenaline filled and there is no outlet for it.

I noticed, as I sat in the waiting room that my hands were shaking. This was not due to low blood sugar, but rather, nerves. Was I nervous? I suppose so. I worry sometimes that she’ll think I am wasting her time. I always feel like I am waffling my way through and not saying what I should be.  I feel like I am boring.

We talked today about ending work (school not the therapy) and how I don’t ever feel calm. I mentioned how I so easily forget positives about myself and fill myself with doubt. I talked about the tutoring that I have been approached about and how I have felt unable to respond to the email despite knowing it will generate income. I know it is because it feels like work is still there and all the negative associations I have about being judged and failing despite never having performed badly in my work.

She broached the subject of food today. I didn’t build on that opportunity but did talk about obsessive behaviour patterns like running at 5am and how I have had to reign myself in, knowing that one run will become alternate days, then daily, then add in a bike ride etc. I suppose I could then have talked about the food and the app – another tool for me to berate myself with.

I have 4 sessions left now, one of which will be closing up and I have to address this fucking albatross ED. I know it’s tied to self-esteem, perfectionism, sexuality, lack of control….the list goes on….the thing is I need to unload it. Perhaps if I can let this secret out it will make it less of a monster and more of a mouse?

Something else that’s new: I feel more in my body lately. I feel more. I’m not stuck in my head or dissociating. That scares me a bit because what I feel in my body is horrid and overwhelming.

I talked today about remaining firm when people ask me what I am doing and telling them that I don’t know, and that it’s ok not to. She said this is known as ‘negative capability’ where a person can challenge the norm or go against convention and that it can be really healthy and shows that I can assert myself.

Oh man. I like her. I think maybe, if I am honest, I love her. She sees me as I am and doesn’t run away. To feel accepted as I am is novel and addictive. The more time goes on the more worried I feel about the termination of therapy. I really don’t want to be the tortured anorexic but I don’t feel able to be any other way at the moment. I don’t feel like I have the coping strategies to deal with what feels to me like another enormous loss and not eating is a way that I have always coped with emotional pain. I feel like I am losing H and Dad all over again and added to this, someone who has not flinched when I show them who I really am.

Walking into my session today I felt like I didn’t know what I would say or where it would go. I sat down and immediately felt the loss I am beginning to grieve before it has even happened. I could barely look at Em. I did, however, outline just how bad things feel right now. I told her how I take to my bed when little girl is asleep and lie under the duvet just to hide away from the world. She totally seemed to get the need to feel safe and she understood how I never feel soothed.

I explained that hiding in bed allowed me to be safe and not to harm myself. I told her about how I worry about hurting myself and I haven’t done that in years. She asked how and I told her about cutting and burning. These methods have been running through my head for a few weeks now. I have been looking of self harm websites. I guess that is a visual outlet rather than actually hurting myself.

Towards the end of the session more and more came out, as it always does and she picked up on that. I wish it didn’t take so long for me to get to what I need to say. We talked about the impact of ending and how I felt. She suggested that maybe I would feel angry or let down. I don’t feel either of those things, particularly. I just feel lost and sad that I don’t have more time to really unpick this….this self-destructive part that rears its head periodically. I didn’t say this.

I came home and tried to cut myself. The knife wasn’t sharp, though, so there are only superficial lines. No real damage done. I also heated a metal spoon and burned my skin. That really fucking hurt. Neither of these acts makes me feel like I have been able to find an outlet for how shitty I feel, though. I almost feel like I have failed and can’t even damage myself successfully. I feel pathetic.

I had no idea when I started this process that I had so many attachment issues. Em has suggested I have trouble with intimacy – well duh! I had no idea that so much was tied up in abandonment issues and dependency. I guess what has happened in the therapeutic relationship is that for a long time I have held back from allowing myself to get close to Em because I knew that the relationship would come to an end and I didn’t want to feel like I was alone and abandoned when the time finally came.

Fortunately or not, in December I guess I began to experience transference with her and then began to shut down a little for fear of frightening her and replaying issues. As it turns out this has happened anyway. It feels a lot like H, not being able to tell her about how I feel. I suppose what happened last week was the bit that I was terrified of, suddenly being so needy and dependent that I feel like I can’t function without that safety net. Argh. I know I have a lot to work through now about how this has all come about and why. We have a month break now and then it is the last session.

I decided to send Em an email to her private practice email asking if I could see her privately when we finish. She replied that she’d be happy to work with me but that she’d have to find out what the rules are and will let me know in our next session.

June 5th 2013

So today was the last session with Em. I went with a feeling of dread and nervousness after the email and also knowing it was the last session. I was worried that I had overstepped a boundary contacting her. She thanked me for my email and quickly told me that I could see her again but that it would have to be in 3 months or so in order for there to be ‘an ending’ with the NHS and fresh start with her privately. As much as I don’t want a gap, I do understand the theory behind it.

The session today was a bit bizarre as after a month away I felt like I couldn’t just open up and do it, particularly knowing it was the end and I would have to manage. I did talk through some superficial stuff and tried to remain upbeat and together – my outer world persona. I talked about how I have been trying hard to look after myself but that I don’t find it easy and it is easy to be critical. I know that that is the big thing I need to work through next time. I can’t avoid it anymore.

I have come away from today feeling numb – I know I am just shelving how I feel because I know I can’t deal with the idea of being alone with myself for a quarter of a year.

So – that was way back in 2013. I didn’t end up going back to Em until three years later (June 2016). When I finished the therapy I had six solid weeks of horrific nightmares and then one night I had dream where I was night swimming in a lake. I was feeling suicidal. I was cold and tired. I decided to drown myself. I calmly put my face down in the water and floated on my front. I waited. Just as things started to go black someone pulled me up and out of the water and into a boat. It was Em. She quickly wrapped a blanket around me. She said ‘you don’t have to do this to yourself anymore’ and held me close. And that’s when the nightmares finally stopped.

I picked myself up after that dream. I didn’t contact Em when the three months wait was up. Part of me wanted to but part of me was scared of ending up back in that dependent, unsettled place. I had another baby in 2014 and life actually was really very good until I got cancer in 2015 and then had to go through a year of treatment…cue a complete meltdown when that had all finished! The wheels really started falling off. All the old stuff started to become live again. So I approached Em and since then we have been working together solidly for the last three years working on so much shit. We’re still not done yet! But I am so glad I have her reliable, calm, non-judging presence in my life. And even though I am still trudging through trauma I can really see how far I have come.

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Old Patterns: Part 2

Here’s the next instalment of ‘writing from the breakdown 2009’ you can read the earlier post here . This jumps all over the place, but reflects how hard everything was back then. Reading this back I feel so desperately sad for myself. I was in such an almighty mess and yet desperately clinging on to the belief that if I appeared ‘normal’ enough I would be ok and not end up being sectioned. My fear of mental health services prevented me getting the help that I so desperately needed. I wish I could go back in time and advocate for myself properly rather than being dictated by the fear of losing all control:

Here I am again, another appointment, sitting across from my doctor inwardly crying out for help but outwardly showing that I am totally pissed off at another intrusion into my life. I am reacting badly to having been referred unexpectedly and without consultation to the Crisis Team or as I fondly renamed them ‘The Nut Squad’.

The Nut Squad is quite a step up the crazy tree in mental health terms where I live. This time I had bypassed the ‘Access and Wellbeing Team’ which is where you go when you are maybe only partly crackers: I’d been there before, but this time, whatever I had said to my doctor, or maybe not said,  had been a real cause for concern and I had ended up with a psychiatrist and mental health nurse sitting in my living room asking me a series questions. Things have been really bad, but knowing how stretched mental health services are to have  the NHS send people to see me in my own home feels unnecessary.

Questions I can cope with, though. In recent months I’ve answered the same set of questions on multiple occasions and my answers never deviate:

“On a scale of one to ten, one being the least and ten being the most, tell me where you feel in terms of happiness at the moment” (or something along those lines).

“Three” I respond mechanically.

“Still three?” they exchange concerned looks. I had just reported feeling ‘better’ whilst talking in a measured fashion so as not to look manic. How could it possibly be three? My definition of ‘better’ was that I had started to notice the spring buds and had read a book, which were markers in my mind that things were improving for me. It had been months since I had been able to direct my attention towards anything or look outside myself. I thought this would be ample deflection for the fact that I’d been out and blown almost £45,000 in two weeks and pretty much decimated my entire inheritance in less than a year since my dad died.

I think it was probably this insane spending that had led my GP to refer me to the Crisis Team. It had all followed an appointment where I had splurged at the GP that what I was doing wasn’t normal. I left feeling like I had been honest for the first time, and then shat myself with ‘what ifs?’ and devised my plan of action. How I thought I was helping myself, I have no idea. I think in hindsight it was something about being absolutely terrified of being carted off in a straight jacket and being sectioned so I told them what I think they needed to hear and it seemed to work.

To an outsider that would seem like an incredible leap of the imagination that feeling wobbly could result in incarceration. A person exhibits slightly unusual behaviour and so steps are taken to help them, right? Doesn’t mean they’ll end up locked up on a psych ward. I’m sure this is the case, but I have a fear of mental health services. They terrify me. Why? Let’s just put it this way, growing up with a close family member being perpetually in and out of mental health institutions doesn’t do wonders for your confidence in the system.

I would sooner die than end up in a mental hospital. Although looking back on this, perhaps it’s where I belong? I’m sure if I had have been completely honest with all the professionals from the start I would be in much better place now – but it’s hard going from being someone who on the outside appears successful, confident, and independent, to admitting to someone that all of a sudden you feel a failure, have no self belief and feel unable to participate in life. That is the truth of my situation. When I got ill at Christmas the wheels fell off in a big way. I could not cope and yet, instinctively I felt like I had to, to pretend that I was at least managing on some level.

I know, now, that I came across as resistant and inconsistent bouncing from uncommunicative, to dismissive, to out of control, to needy and back again – often all in one appointment. Hats off to my doctor, if the roles had have been reversed I would have given up long ago.

So, back to the psychiatrist and nurse house visit. They looked around the room and commented on how immaculately tidy it was, asked me about all the books on my shelves and noted that they were all placed in alphabetical order (surely this is normal for most English graduates?!) Of course the out of control spending came up in the conversation and I tried to justify the totally abnormal behaviour as if it was normal – cue ‘telling a lie like it’s the truth’ again. Bingo. It seemed to be working:

“If you had the money wouldn’t you go and buy things you’ve always wanted?” I asked, looking at them both imploringly. It’s sort of like the question which you mull over time and again. ‘What would you do if you won the lottery?’ The thing is, I haven’t won the lottery and this money I have doesn’t make me happy. Money can’t make you happy and it can’t fill the void left by a human being. No amount of spending eased the depression or the feelings of helplessness and hopelessness but god, I was willing to try anything to take me out of that dark dark place.

The camper van I had just purchased I did want, but the £8000 diamond ring, first class airline tickets to New York, mountain bikes and snowboards for me and my partner, new windows and guttering, laptop, multiple pairs of shoes, a surfboard, and enough clothes to open my own shop were more what you might call ‘impulse buys’ – funnily enough I didn’t think now was a good time to mention any of that.

I thought I had managed the Crisis Team fairly well.  As my consultation came to a close there was a shock. I was told that I couldn’t drive. Not that I can’t drive, I am a competent driver; no, I had been advised not to drive. In that moment I stared at the psychiatrist in disbelief now stripped of my independence and my wheels. The Nut Squad had clearly taken one look at the Jaguar supercar (another part of my inheritance) outside and thought ‘no way– this one is a liability’.

As the psychiatrist left my house she told me to keep my life “boring”. “Not a problem” I replied with a wry smile. In recent months my life had become mundane and really fucking boring. At least this was one promise I could keep.

It was eventually agreed with my GP that neither of the antidepressants that I had tried had worked for me, if anything they had been to my detriment, the first killed my appetite and my will to live, the second sent me on a hyperdrive where I was like a bee in a jar buzzing around out of control and spending like I had a shopping addiction. It was decided that I should not take these pills and I was given a prescription for a different type of drug, from a different family of medications.

I was to be given a mood stabiliser or anti-psychotic. Yes, when I heard the phrase ‘anti-psychotic’ I did panic a little, which I am sure anyone would. It sounded way more intense than ‘anti-depressant’. I dutifully took the pills and slept soundly for the first time in months. As well as this, there was a further but less desirable side effect: the munchies.

It is a well documented side effect of this particular drug that you feel like you are starving all of the time. It’s like stoned munchies without the relaxation of a joint. For two weeks I swear I did nothing but eat. It was totally uncontrollable which did not make my anorexic self feel at all happy and so, I took to cutting myself to regain some of my control and exorcise my self-loathing. In that two week period I gained a stone and hated myself for it.

My body image is completely screwed anyway and this rapid weight gain really sent me into free-fall emotionally. That is the only sensible way of describing it. I have never in my life been overweight, but the moment I hit the region of 7 stone I start to feel bloated and fat. I am having a battle with my 15 year old self right now. I am determined to hold onto my body mass. I am determined to prove my GP wrong and keep myself away from the anorexic label.

Part of my new ritual is each day looking in the mirror at my naked self and telling my reflection that I am not fat. I then go to the fridge and eat my way through something highly calorific to spite my teenage self and then continue with my day. It may seem like a totally insane approach to healthy living, but right now I have exhausted ‘sane’ and this, although not healthy in the long run it works for me and it has stopped the doctors asking me about my eating! Thank god!

Awareness of physical self is something I have always tried to avoid because the moment I become aware of my body I fixate on all that is wrong with it. I know that anyone reading this will still see that I am in denial. Just because the weight is back on does not change the ideas that swirl inside my mind. I have an eating disorder, only right now it is in the stage where I have it hidden again and that is a relief. I am not a skeleton anymore but I hate myself now more than ever.

Some time elapsed after the Crisis Team’s intervention and I eventually received an appointment with another psychiatrist in the mental health hospital. The building which houses mental health services is a gothic style grey stone Victorian affair with a central staircase leading up to the entrance. It has a certain grandeur which is imposing and more than a little intimidating. It is a beautiful piece of architecture, the sort of place that a developer would have a field day with and could turn into some great apartments. But today, for me, it is still a mental health hospital and walking up the steps and into the jaws of the building saw another panic set in.

The interior of the building was dark and depressing and was exactly as I had imagined – ‘Girl Interrupted’ has a lot to answer for! It was as if something had sucked the life and light out of the place. It was eerily quiet and seemingly unoccupied except for the few staff that walked with purpose along the echoing corridors. There was a clinical, hospital smell, cold metal on metal, disinfectant, and I hated it. I have always hated hospitals. The moment I walk inside one I always feel sick to my stomach and as though I could pass out at any second, this is not because I am actually ill, I just cannot stand them and what they signify to me: illness and death.

I was directed by the receptionist on the desk to take a seat in the waiting room a little further down the corridor. It was a tiny, claustrophobic room with four chairs on each side of the door. I took in the sunny, yellow wood-chipped walls and fading green carpet and felt the tendrils of anxiety creeping over me; like a smog it saturated my being and I felt suffocated.

Someone had clearly thought that a bright colour would make depressed people feel optimistic and ‘light’ inside. The colour made me feel chaotic and overstimulated and I wanted to get out of the room as soon as was humanly possible.

As I sat there, watching the clock ticking down to my appointment I wondered what I should do?: Tell the truth about how I felt: flat, sad, depressed, anxious, sometimes suicidal or to rationalise my feelings and make light of the situation. Perhaps I should  tell them that I’m sad but I am managing it and I don’t need pills to grieve.

I was eventually called into the psychiatrist’s office and the nice male doctor sitting opposite me began asking me questions. It was those same questions that I had become so used to over the last few months. A few days before this meeting I had had a particularly dark day which saw me sitting in my doctor’s surgery bereft with depression and as close to suicide I have ever felt. For the first time I felt as though we had made progress, I showed her the depth of my pain and she seemed to get it. She insisted I kept my appointment with at the hospital and made a further time to see her to discuss the outcome. She commented on what she perceived as my lack of self esteem and I thought ‘finally, she sees me for me, minus my front’ .

I alluded to this dark day and my lack of confidence with my consultant when he asked me if I felt gifted. ‘Gifted?! Me?! Are you serious?’ I shouted inside my brain. I told him of my feeling like a fraud, like someone who by fluke had got where I had got to, and someone who was on the verge of being found out all the time. My truth.

He then proceeded to read through the notes of the psychiatrist who had visited my home and who suggested I was, in her opinion, very confident and had good self-esteem. In that moment I felt abject disappointment. I guess I should have felt pleased that my acting skills are so good that I can even fool a mental health professional into believing I am in control and happy with myself; but that wasn’t the case at all. I felt like at a time when I needed someone to see through my defences, all that they had seen was the persona.

I have become so skilled at presenting a confident, together version of myself that no one can see through it. I know it’s my own fault.

The next shocker came a little while after this bombshell I was still reeling from the notion that I was a confident person when the doctor suggested that because I was ‘a lesbian and wouldn’t be having children’ that he recommended putting me on lithium. Suddenly alarm bells started ringing in my head. I recognised this drug – my aunt having been on it for years and years. I also was shocked that a doctor would make a judgement that I would not have children because of my sexuality. Most of all though, I was staggered that I had clearly had a breakdown and rather than refer me to psychotherapy it seemed more appropriate to offer me a cocktail of pills. How can that ever be right?

I left the appointment feeling stunned and proceeded to write a letter to my GP. I outlined exactly what had happened when my dad died because no one had ever asked. I explained all the complications: dying abroad, the body being in heat of 40 degrees for a week on a remote island because there was no hospital or morgue, battling with insurance company to move him to the mainland and start a process of repatriation, the unexpected post-mortem, finding out that it could take up to six months to get cremation rights in the UK even if we flew the body home, opting for a cremation abroad and the time being moved, the ashes being flown home and then left outside on a driveway for me to collect along with my dad’s backpack, my family refusing to attend the celebration of life….and so the story poured out of me including the stuff about not eating and self-harm…in the end there 14 pages of it!

I received a letter in the post shortly after this from the GP inviting my in for an extended appointment before the surgery opened. As I sat down, she thanked me for my letter, and said how sorry she was to hear what I had had to go through and that actually she now believed that I was experiencing PTSD. She said, “Let’s remove the psychiatric label shall we?” and then  “You are just really unhappy – aren’t you – and I am not surprised. I think we should refer you into psychotherapy because it sounds like you need to talk and there’s a lot to process. You can stop taking the medication because it hasn’t helped and I agree, lithium is not the way forward especially as you want babies.”

So, that’s what’s happened. I’ve had 7 months of bouncing around and now they think I need time to heal and someone to talk to. And this is all I ever wanted, really. I just wish I could have expressed this sooner rather than behaving like a deer in the headlights. I know waiting lists are long for psychotherapy and I plan to find a therapist in the meantime and see what I can do.

x

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Old Patterns: Part 1

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Yesterday I was looking for some writing I had done around the time that my dad had died in 2008/9. It’s coming up to the anniversary and I am very aware that there is still a great deal of work to be done in therapy around everything that happened at that time hence the poking around for info.

Whilst I was searching I actually stumbled across a load of notes from when I was doing psychotherapy with Em in the NHS back in 2012/13, basically I started writing again about the time that I realised there was a massive attachment to her which neatly coincided with the time therapy was just about to end. Not good! I will share some of that over the next few weeks because I think it’s interesting to see how different things were (in some ways) and yet how many issues remain live.

Anyway, I did eventually find the document/diary of the time when I had my actual mental breakdown in 2009 following my dad’s unexpected death in July 2008. I was in denial for the first few months and then basically fell apart at Christmas and couldn’t function thereafter for a significant period of time.

I saw a lot of my GP in the early days because I was being signed off from work and had to visit her on a regular basis in order to check in and get the sick certificate which said ‘bereavement reaction’. In the end I was out of work for seventeen months. After the first six I actually took an unpaid sabbatical because I knew I wasn’t going to be ok any time soon and the stress of having to keep contacting work to explain that I wasn’t fine even though I might look it was really anxiety provoking.

Reading my notes again I am staggered that it took three years on a waiting list to get seen for psychotherapy on the NHS. In the interim I did get offered a lot of pills and had some interesting appointments with psychiatrists and the Crisis Team before they realised I wasn’t actually psychotic and instead was experiencing PTSD and had an active ED amongst other things! Basically my dad dying was the trigger that made EVERYTHING reactivate and fall apart. Not only was the way he died and everything that followed fucking horrific in its own right but all the years of childhood trauma suddenly came alive too.

Anyway, I found this next piece of writing about my interactions with my GP. I think, looking at what I have said, I must have seemed really ‘treatment resistant’ but the truth is, I was just scared and couldn’t trust anyone…ha that old chestnut!

It’s a long read so I’ll break it into parts and a bit (a lot) embarrassing but actually the stand out thing for me was just how entrenched the attachment patterns and defensive behaviours were even then, and my how go to coping mechanisms were alive and well. Ugh.

It’s clear as day to me now that if you put me in front of a caring woman who is in the range of possibly being old enough to be my mother then boom I am utterly screwed. I mean anyone that follows this blog can see what a disaster it can be with Em!! I get attached but I also start behaving in a defensive, scared, ‘don’t hurt me’, ‘don’t leave me’ kind of a way, oh, and try and pretend that everything is just fine!! …AND in the case of my GP I was also massively attracted to her. I know why this is, now, having spent all these years working with Em but I had no idea back then! I was utterly mortified then – now not so much. I see the attraction now as another desperate search for care and intimacy (the things that have been lacking my life from the word go). I hadn’t uncovered my child parts then and I suspect really what I craved was a cuddle but could only see my need for intimacy through a sexual lens.

Please don’t judge this too harshly! I wanted to put this here because it forms part of the journey I’ve been on and I think also demonstrates just how potent the transference can be and how scary mental health services can feel oh and how god awful it is to be in the grips of an active eating disorder. It seems insane that the people that are meant to help can feel so dangerous to me but it is how it is. I guess my biggest fear is losing control, and these people have the power to take control (or care) of you.

So back, to 2009- I realise it’s not hugely coherent but I think that certainly reflects what  a mess I was in:

“You seem to be incredibly defensive and I feel we are stuck”. Ouch. Not the words of my partner (although they certainly could be), these are the words of my GP. These words come 4 months into treatment for my breakdown and clearly I am not making the progress I should be. She looks directly into my soul, well, my eyes, and says, “It’s unusual for someone your age to be off work for a term”. Another stinger. Yet again time and lack of being better is thrown in my face. I should be ‘well’ by now. I should have picked myself up, brushed myself off and be participating back in the real world. I should be over it. I should be teaching. So why am I struggling to function when everyone else bounces back quickly?

Unlike at home when the accusatory words ‘how long is this going to take?’ function as the equivalent of a red rag to a bull, today I just feel lost and as she so rightly says ‘stuck’. Today I am too wound up and anxious to come back with anything that would paste over my cracks or, alternatively, help her make sense of my situation and so I sit and say nothing, muted and desperate.  I feel so sad and unseen. Her words will be turned over in my mind for the next month and I will slowly beat myself up for my defence mechanisms berating myself for lack of progress.

I act defensively and shut down because I am terrified of losing what little control I have over my life. Weeks ago I sat there, in that consulting room, metaphorically laid bare, and she asked me how my eating was and did I have an eating disorder? My fight or flight instinct kicked in, “No, I eat loads” I lied whilst staring directly into her eyes. This is a trick I have mastered over the years. My dad used to check if I was fibbing when I was a kid by saying, “look me in the eyes and tell me the truth”. This was meant to catch out a lie but, the thing is, over the years I taught myself to tell a lie like it was the truth and in that moment looking into the eyes of my doctor that lie was my truth.

I make eye contact and categorically deny having an eating disorder. I deny restricting my food intake and further deny taking laxatives and don’t mention the insane exercise routine I have started. She is not stupid and I am clearly sitting there with a BMI of 14: my body, now, looks more deathly skeletal than anything like a living human being. My clothes hang off me. I look ill. I am perpetually cold. It’s horrendous. I know I am on a losing streak but something in me at the moment feels my lies really are the truth. “You don’t believe me, do you?” I say defiantly. How can she possibly respond to that?- I am, after all, a fully grown adult and should not be lying to her – or to myself.

She softly says, “Happy people do not have eating disorders”, and I think to myself ‘No, and they don’t self-harm either’, but that is a conversation for another day. I am not able to articulate this to her yet, or really even to myself. She has not, yet, won my trust and I cannot show my true vulnerability. I am in denial with my own self so how can I be true to the woman sitting opposite me even if there is a part of me that longs to crawl into her arms and be held? There is so much shame. I can feel it coursing through my veins like acid.

As the weeks and months roll on, my eating habits become a regular topic in the appointments with my doctor and I consistently maintain that, “I am fine”. FINE: Fucked-up, Insecure, Neurotic, Emotional! I am fine and yet I am CLEARLY NOT FINE AT ALL. I am struggling. It’s horrible. But the eating disordered self thinks we’re doing great. Everything is under control. I can no longer recognise the person in the mirror but I know she is not me. It’s so hard to navigate.

Of all the mental things that have happened in this nightmarish saga, fancying the pants off my GP must be up right there with the best of them. It’s not even funny. I seem to have a thing about older women that exert some kind of power over me. Over the years I have had my fair share of crushes: teachers, lecturers, and now, bloody hell, my fucking doctor. Apart from the power thing, another common factor that these women share is that they are all also straight – or at least say they are. In other words they are all totally unattainable and maybe that’s why this happens? Maybe when everything can remain a fantasy there is no danger of really getting hurt again?

I can’t help but feel butterflies when I have an appointment with my doctor and this, at least, balances off the unbelievable anxiety which overtakes me a week before each meeting where I not only can’t sleep, but also basically fail to function in anything like a normal way. I know now that what I was experiencing was transference. I projected who I wanted her to be onto her and then, sadly, was always really disappointed when she didn’t hear my so very desperate silent cries even when she was clearly doing her absolute best, offering me early morning extended appointments, seeing me sometimes twice a week…but it was never enough. There is a gaping hole in me that cannot be filled and there is absolutely no chance of this healing if I refuse to let people in and hide from them.

And so my appointment with the hot doctor goes on. She continues tentatively, “Some people don’t eat to punish themselves; others don’t eat to punish other people; and some people feel eating is something they can control in a time where other things in their lives are out of control”. I nod as if this is all a revelation to me using my honed special teacher skill: smile and nod. She is not telling me anything I don’t already know.

Having battled with an eating disorder in my mid teens and at intervals during my early twenties, I know exactly what she is saying and, I know that I fall into parts one and three. I punish myself and try to control my world when the world is spinning round me out of my control. I think she knows this is the case but has learnt that I am not open to discussing this yet. I am, after all, ‘defensive’.

I’m used to it now but I absolutely hate it – she weighs me every time I see her and plots the numbers on a graph on the computer. I can see that the line has a sharp downward correlation. Part of me feels happy about that and part of me is terrified. I stand on the cold metal scales and see that I have succeeded in losing another kilogram in weight and tell her the number on the scale. I am trembling again with anxiety and probably, in a larger part, due to low blood sugar. There is a part of me feels secretly thrilled to have lost weight when there is so little left to lose and the other feels cross that in my 2 weeks I have only managed to lose a little bit of weight.

My regimented approach to food and exercise has taken over my existence and dictates where and how I operate in my daily life. I walk everywhere, cycle every other day, and I categorically avoid large meals out, but ensure I spend enough time in the presence of others and eat a little, just enough, to prove that I am eating and that my GP is actually wrong about me. I realise that this behaviour is totally insane and it is crazy that at 26 years old I am behaving in much the same way as my 15 year old self. I hate this secretive, self-deluding, self-attacking ritual I get caught up in. I am crying out for help but am also unable to accept it.

I guess we stick with our so-called coping mechanisms throughout our lives even when they really do not help us cope at all. There is a look of concern pervading the face of my doctor who looking at her computer screen comment,s “You’ve lost another kilo”. Nothing more is said on the food front after the earlier conversation and we move onto a a discussion regarding my current antidepressants – I know they are not working. I’ve already tried two other types and now I feel suicidal and this, surely, is not right. Still, we agree that I will continue to take the pills a little while longer and see if things improve.

The end of our appointment draws near and on cue comes, “It will get better” she says kindly. “I hope so” I reply, “things can’t get much worse”. I try to smile through my hopelessness. I wonder if she is speaking from experience or just because it is an anodyne statement designed to comfort me in my mental pain before I leave the safety of her room for another two weeks.

This relationship is so frustrating for me. Or rather how I am behaving with my doctor is. After months of emotional struggle and subtle deterioration from July to January I finally had a meltdown and went and asked for help (something I don’t do) and then actively failed to take help on repeated occasions.

That really is fucked up.

The more time goes on I realise that I am, walking a fine line between sane and nuts. Catch me on a bad day and I have both feet in Crazyland on a better day I bear a reasonable resemblance to something coherent and normal. Still, today after 4 months of bi-monthly visits to the doctors, I am fully gone and am resident in Crazyland, which is not unlike Disneyland actually – lots of people acting happy to try and make out everything is ok.

Part 2 to follow.

 

 

Therapy Is Hard Work…

Therapy is hard work! But we knew that already, didn’t we?! It’s funny – not funny ‘haha’ more funny ‘strange’ to think a lot of  people still assume that therapy is just going and talking to someone who listens, says nice things, and makes you feel better each week – basically a ‘paid for’ friend. Ha! I wish it were as simple as that!

I can’t tell you how many times I have tried to explain to people whom I know that know I am ‘still in therapy’ (‘how much therapy does one person need?!’) that doing depth work isn’t about pasting over the cracks or simply patching the hole in the roof for a few months and then sending you off out in the big wide world again only now with a thin veneer of ‘coping’ laid on top of whatever the issue is. I’ve done this short-term work in the past (in my early twenties) and I can say it only took a few rainstorms for the problems to be exposed again.

I am sure, for some people, CBT and short-term work is totally fine. Maybe if you just have one small hole in the roof, or a bit of wallpaper that keeps flapping in the corner of the room (or you’re just a pro at doing therapy!), then working on some strategies to fix the leak/paste the paper back might be quick work and that’s therapy done. When I first entered the therapy room I hoped my problems were largely cosmetic. Unfortunately, this seems not to be the case. Having undergone a full survey it’s pretty apparent that the issues are structural and abundant.

I mean let’s be real here, despite first (misleading) appearances, when you get close, my building is bordering on derelict. There’s more holes in the roof than slates on it, everything has a distinctly precarious off-centre lean, there’s woodworm, rising damp, and all manner of missing bits and pieces: floorboards, doors, windows…! It’s not what you’d call ‘habitable’ right now but it’s all I have so I have to camp out whilst I do the work.

Therapy, for me, is a bit like undergoing a complete renovation. The therapy/my therapist is providing a scaffold to sure up the main frame of the building whilst I painstakingly, bit by bit, strip layer after layer back ready to rebuild from the ground up a solid, storm-proof me… it’s taking a while, longer than I had anticipated, and I’ve gone way over budget (!!! OMG I wince at the $£$£), because every now and again just as I start some delicate reconstruction work a bloody great tempest whips up and starts shaking everything with force and then more bits and pieces fly off and I realise I haven’t actually got back to the base on which it is safe to build. Ugh. Annoying!

Every floor of the building is pretty fucked – so much work to do!… and the central stair well is rickety as hell too. Every tread has an issue on it: C-PTSD, Anorexia, Anxiety, Stress, Depression, Fear, Doubt, Shame, Panic, Lethargy, Grief… I hate walking up and down these stairs but it is unavoidable if I am to sort the building out. I am trying to install a handrail at the minute and make sure there aren’t any sneaky holes on the stairs that I might get my foot wedged in. I’m aware that certain areas are more dicey than others: anorexia looks solid but it’s a bloody nightmare and I can find myself waist deep and dangling if I misjudge my step.

As my holiday approaches in two weeks time signalling a two session therapy break I can see that I need to be especially careful not to go arse over tit as I carry my suitcase out over the C-PTSD step…I want to enjoy my holiday. I want to leave this ramshackle project behind so I can have a rest, regroup, and start again on my return with renewed vigour and energy. I guess we’ll have to see what happens, though.

One thing I can be sure of: no one is going to burgle me whilst I’m gone!

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I Thought I Was Coping…

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Most of the time I think I manage ‘life’ pretty well; I somehow function in the outside world and do a reasonably good job at appearing like a competent parent and professional adult (although I get a big whack of that imposter syndrome in doing so – surely someone will notice that I am winging it soon and everything will come crashing down!).

Anyone who reads this blog will know that things aren’t perfect…not by a long shot…but generally the issues that I face (thinking about both physical and mental health here – i.e HEALTH) don’t completely incapacitate me on a day-to-day basis…they just tie both my legs together and blindfold me 😉

I have to pinch myself when I remember that I have come out the other side of a gruelling cancer treatment more-or-less in one piece. The heavy emotional weight I seem to carry or, as my therapist put it on Monday, am ‘tortured by’ (jeezzz tell it like it is why don’t you?!) is managed just about well enough these days, in a large part thanks to the therapy.

I know it doesn’t always look like it but know that I would be way worse of a mess if it weren’t for the therapy. I don’t really talk here about the massive mental breakdown I had in 2009 which saw me in a right state, off work for 17 months and dangerously underweight, but I know having been to in that place where things can spiral down if left unchecked. If I take my eye off the ball for too long so far as self-care goes things start to slip really quickly (and I am utterly shite at self-care!)

I’d like to say that I am past that really harrowing knock-out stuff, that I’ve moved beyond it, that I have learnt enough strategies to live well, and that the breakdown was just an unfortunate incident triggered by a terrible bereavement; but the reality is actually doing life (living) thoroughly exhausts me. It always has. I do my best but sometimes I just can’t manage as well as I might like.

For as long as I can remember I have felt like it takes a lot of effort to maintain the persona of whoever it is I am meant to be – who I am…who am I?! To a greater or lesser extent I struggle with these things:

  • I feel on guard all the time;
  • I feel like things are going to go wrong at any minute;
  • I spend time overthinking/brooding on things;
  • I worry that I am going to fall apart;
  • I find it hard to let stuff go;
  • I worry about people’s perceptions of me;
  • I have unrealistic expectations of myself;
  • I don’t like to let people down and so often take on more than I can manage. (I wouldn’t say I am especially a ‘people pleaser’ but I certainly am not very good at putting my needs before anyone else’s – or even alongside them for that matter.)
  • List goes on and on…

Annoyingly, when I am stuck in mental/emotional hell I still don’t really talk about it despite all the therapy. I think this is quite common for those of us who have had difficult childhoods, actually; we’ve learnt that our needs invariably don’t get me and so we almost learn not to have them or talk about them.

Of course, I am getting better at talking and opening up (to some people) but it’s incredibly hard to build trust and so those ‘lucky’ (ha!) few that get to see my struggles and vulnerable side can be counted one hand. My wife said last night that she feels like I keep the vulnerable parts secret and she feels pushed away. I told her I was only trying to protect her from me and that the reality of what goes on in my head is not something anyone else would want a part of.

She said all the right things but I still feel like if I really and truly showed just how broken I am she would head for the hills. After 13 years together I should know that she stays….but it’s going to take some time to be brave. When she asks how my day has been how do I reply ‘it was fine, uneventful, but part of me is struggling really hard and wants to cut myself’? I mean who needs to walk into that?

It’s just like how it is in therapy. What happens if I truly let it all out, become so vulnerable and open, and then it goes wrong? The fear of rejection and abandonment is horrendous – I think it’d annihilate me.

As a result of all this perpetual ‘keeping up appearances’ and ‘biting off more than I can chew’ (ha, that’s so funny given my anorexic history!), I quite literally feel tired all the time (physically and emotionally)… but, as I say, this is not a new thing. I wake up tired; stumble through the day (well that’s how it feels but no one would know); burn the candle at both ends but never benefit from the light – just burnout; then crash into a pit of exhaustion at night.

Every now and then, when things feel bad (like they do today), I sit and wonder if what I am experiencing at the moment is just a bout of depression that’s crept up on me and taken root without me noticing. It is Autumn after all. Maybe I am pushing myself too hard. I don’t always find it easy to say no or put my needs first. No matter what I do there never seems to be quite enough hours in the day to get done what needs to be done and still leave time for whatever it is that I need and naturally this is going to take its toll isn’t it?

Today I have a list longer than both my arms put together of things that I need to achieve. I have completed some tasks, been reasonably productive in fact, but am nowhere near where I need to be and time is ticking away. I just looked at the clock and realised I have less than an hour before I need to collect the children from school and then it’s all go until 8pm when I get home from tutoring.

What have I done for myself today?

Nothing.

Not even had breakfast, lunch, a drink….and that’s not me bigging myself up on some eating disordered headspace thing. Really don’t need to be heading into that area again.

I just haven’t stopped again.

Time goes so quickly.

You might be wondering, then, what on earth I am doing here?! Well, knowing there is absolutely no chance of finishing what I need to do I have stopped and downed tools, briefly. I’ve made a coffee and wanted to write something. I keep telling myself I need to make time for this. Writing has always proved a really useful outlet and so writing here, as I have said before, is a bit of a lifeline at times. Putting the scary stuff out into the world knowing that there are merry bunch of mental health bloggers out there cheerleading me on is really really helpful to me…. ESPECIALLY when I am on a therapy break!

Ugh!

Yes…that horror has begun now! How long til 29thOctober????????????????????????????

There is so much bubbling inside that I want to say, that I need to process, that I want to document and if I don’t make time for it and let it out then it’ll just keep causing me trouble. I have run out of time for today and have not mentioned anything about what has actually been going on either inside or outside therapy! Awesome post!

I just needed to get it out there:

I am stuggling… and the coping is not going especially well.

It’s taking a great deal of effort to hold all my pieces together right now so any contributions of rubber bands and chewing gum will be gladly received!

“I don’t want you to go away”

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With just ten minutes of Monday’s therapy session remaining I finally said it. In words. In the room. To her face. Not written down. Not kind of implied and hoping she might read my mind. I actually said the sentence that has been persistently in my head for the last month (well, it’s always there) aloud. It may not have been very loud, it may have come from a young part, but it was loud enough for her to hear:

‘I don’t want you to go away’. 

OMG what just happened?! Did I actually directly tell my therapist how I was feeling about the summer therapy break and show vulnerability and need even when several parts were screaming at me to keep my mouth shut? Looks like it, doesn’t it?

We all know by now that these feelings are always there in one way or another. Every time I have to leave my therapy I feel like my therapist is ‘gone’ and it’s a huge struggle for the youngest parts to just make it through the week…but therapy breaks, well, crikey, they are the absolute pits and no matter what I do, or how I try and prepare for them I always end up on my arse, in a heap, sooner or later.

Ok, so I did kind of have to throw myself over the metaphorical ledge to get the words out and take a forty minute running jump at it: sliding through dissociation, silence, and shaking just to reach the drop off, but I did it- and you know what? It was ok. She didn’t freak out (of course she didn’t) and it opened up a really useful conversation about breaks and the difficulties I have with maintaining connection with her.

It’s fair to say that therapy has been a bit weird lately. It’s my fault. I do want to kick myself sometimes. I’ve been struggling to really connect with my therapist/hiding from her for a variety of reasons. Some of it is definitely a hangover from last Easter break and how she reacted when I finally properly let her in and told her about the eating disorder stuff. I have struggled to trust her with the big things since then because I am worried that if I so much as allude to issues with my body or food she’s going to overreact and write to my GP or threaten to ‘work towards an ending’  again (shudder).

My rational adult knows that I can trust her and that we now have an agreement (that we worked out together) in place around what we do if I end up struggling with eating and she is concerned that things are bad but even so, the teen parts are still hurting after how things were handled and most of what I need to say to my therapist comes from these younger parts. As I have said many times my adult knows what she’s doing and has it together…it’s the others that let the side down! They’re the ones that need the therapy and if they don’t feel like they can trust Em then we’re all screwed.

In addition to stuff around the ED I have been struggling to reach out or let her in because I’ve felt pushed away – and that bombshell about needing ‘to work towards an ending’ if I didn’t go to my GP has just got stuck on loop. Fucking soundbite from hell. I feel wobbly at the best of times and parts of me are certain that she wants to get rid of me… Disorganised Attachment 101. I do know this is really very much about my skewed perception of things rather than it being the reality but I don’t require a lot of evidence of her supposed lack of care in order to shutdown and hide. It is a nightmare.

For example when I asked for a regular check in around the time when the ED was off the chart bad and she essentially said she had no time I couldn’t help but feel like the whole therapeutic relationship was just a huge pile of shite and that she did not care at all. It takes a lot for me to express any kind of need and so to do it and then get a no was just hideous. Add to that the hell that was the beginning of July (cancer follow up at the hospital neatly coinciding with the anniversary of my dad’s death) wanting to reach out to my therapist and knowing I couldn’t, or could but she wouldn’t reply sent me into a complicated rage and devastation cycle:

 Why the fuck do I bother? She clearly doesn’t give a shit about me.

I wish she was there and could give me some reassurance. I miss her.

I’m done with this. I hate her.

What is wrong with me? Why doesn’t she care?

I hate myself.

It’s so hard constantly trying to juggle and manage utterly conflicting but intense emotions. I get that this is where the work is. On a good day I can completely see how my therapist is just a therapist and is doing her best to help me but other days it is so much more complicated than that. It drives me insane.

When the five week summer break started flashing persistently on the radar it added in another level of internal struggle. I absolutely want and need to be able to connect with Em before the break but the moment any kind of vulnerability or need starts to creep in the room I have dissociated. I am gone and it takes ages to try and get back to her. It’s been horrendous feeling like she is behind glass and I’m stuck in a long dark tunnel. This week was even worse than usual. There wasn’t even the ten minutes of adult small talk at the beginning before a plunge into young parts’ chaos and dissociation. Nope. I sat down, looked at her, and went numb.

AAAAAHHHHH FOR FUCK’S SAKE!!!!

It’s so annoying. I spend all week wanting so badly to be in that room in order to try and work on this stuff and yet my mind plays tricks on me. I can’t even really remember what we talked about in the session, now. I know that she was trying really hard to draw me out and connect. I really wanted to talk and yet there was a part inside freaking out ‘if I tell you how I feel you’re going to leave’ which is hilarious, really, because of course there is a therapy break coming up next week anyway, and she is leaving, so what’s the difference? I guess a therapy break isn’t forever, though, and yet to some of the young parts there is a real and genuine fear that I will get terminated for being too needy if I tell her how I really feel.

It’s that old chestnut: I am too much.

No matter how many times she tells me I am not too much and that she wants to hear everything I am feeling I still can’t trust in it fully. I really want to, though. I am trying. And I do get there eventually.

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So often what happens is that as we creep towards the eleventh hour in therapy I am able to talk a bit. I guess I build up enough trust, or perhaps enough desperation to let some stuff out the bag. I sense the clock ticking down and I get a ‘now or never’ sort of motivation but also an ‘oh she is still a safe person’. This is a pattern I have noticed in my sessions – the last ten or fifteen minutes is where the work is really done. But this is also true as we head into a break. I conceal how I feel for at least a month leading into a holiday (‘what’s the point in telling her anything, it won’t change anything’) and then suddenly the break is almost here and I let it all out. I don’t know why exactly. Perhaps it’s about feeling like I can’t contain it on my own during a break, or maybe it’s about safety. If I let all the really vulnerable stuff out just as a break starts then I have time to recover from it, let the dust settle a bit, we can pretend like it never happened if it is totally mortifying… I dunno.

So anyway, when I said ‘I don’t want you to go away’ I felt like I’d had some kind of out of body experience. Who the fuck said that? It was a young part for sure but I have never allowed that stuff out in this way before. Sure some of you might be thinking, ‘seriously, you’re getting wound up about this??’ but it was huge. Em handled it really really well. She asked me what I was scared of and I said ‘that you won’t come back’ and we talked a lot about how massively traumatising this all felt especially in relation to my dad having gone away and died on holiday.

I always feel silly getting stressed about her going on her summer holiday. It certainly is the hardest therapy break in the year and not just because of its length. It just falls so soon after the annual sucker punch of my dad’s anniversary. I have experienced someone I love not coming back from a holiday, and I have had it front of mind for the whole of July, and then off she goes on holiday for a month in August. The timing sucks.

I wish I didn’t get so scared and anxious that she would respond negatively to something that is fairly normal and understandable. Like surely it would be more weird if I was completely unaffected by her going away for 5 weeks especially given the timing. But I do fear her rejecting me. It is a huge stumbling block for me. I wish that I could retain all these positive therapeutic experiences where she responds to me as I need her to. If I could hold onto her and her kindness and care I know it would enable to be more open and vulnerable but unfortunately I just cannot hang onto these connecting moments and file them away in my memory banks to give me some courage the next time I have stuff to let out (which is basically every session).

I know it’s a process…but god…it’s long isn’t it?!

Anyway, that’s kind of where I am at now. I have one more session on Monday and so that revelation in the last ten minutes of the session might have been the start of the emotional flood gates opening. I kind of hope so. I don’t really want to sit on all this attachment stuff over the holiday and feel alone, unseen, and unheard. I want to tell my therapist how it feels so that she can help me put things in place so that everything doesn’t disintegrate the moment I walk out the door.

She said we are going to work on building on the felt sense of connection between us in session next week…..god only knows what that’s going to entail but I’m telling you now if she gets me to imagine fucking angels or a sodding box to hold positive feelings in I will throw my pebble through her window!!

X

 

 

 

Crash and Burn

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I guess it was kind of inevitable that a week like this would happen again sooner or later. It feels like I have been running along a cliff path fairly successfully for a while now. Sure, it’s been challenge, a test of endurance, I’ve turned my ankle over a few times but have generally been making progress in a forward direction with only occasional minor scratches from brambles that have overhung the path. I have felt my fitness level improving. It’s been ok.

Then it happened. Just as it always does. This week I’ve unexpectedly fallen down an exposed mineshaft that was overgrown with weeds and grasses. I wasn’t looking carefully enough at the ground as I was running along, probably  had my head up to take in the scenery. I guess I was slightly distracted/daydreaming, and I just didn’t see that there was no safe ground in front of me, and BAM! Here I am battered and bruised down in the dark cold hole. I’m not sure if anything is broken but I have a pretty sore head.

I’m not alone down here either. There’s a couple of distraught child parts and a fucking livid teen part too. I don’t know how long they’ve been here but they are cold and hungry – well the teen isn’t – she doesn’t eat. It’s cramped and uncomfortable and we need to get out.

Unfortunately there’s no phone signal down here and I can’t call anyone for help. If I shout no one will hear so there’s little point in wasting my energy. It’s not ideal for sure. I need to find a way of getting out of here on my own. I am a good climber. I’ve been in similar places before (I really do need to start looking where I am going don’t I?!… stop tumbling into these dark places and over ledges) but right now I am just too tired to start trying to find a route up and out of here because it’s not just me that has to get out; I have to find a way to help the young ones too. I simply don’t have the strength to carry them on my back right now.

I’ll try and avoid extended metaphor overload today but basically that paints the picture.

Things feel shit.

So, yeah, it’s been a tough, emotional week since my last post. Actually the weekend was fine – or at least I think it was. I don’t really remember! My memory sucks at the moment.

On paper my therapy session on Monday was fine too. I was firmly in my adult. I talked a lot. I didn’t dissociate. I didn’t feel sick. I didn’t start shaking. I could ‘sort of’ look at my therapist. It was fine. I’m sure she was delighted to have the normal adult version of me sitting in front of her for a change. But it was just like having a chat for 50 minutes – or a bit of a moan – no real work was done.

I know that not every session has to be agonisingly hard work, attending to child parts, or dredging up past trauma. I know that the easy sessions have their place too, and to be honest, I really didn’t want to do any of that hard stuff on Monday because it was my wedding anniversary and that evening my wife and I were having a date night and I just couldn’t have a session that floored me.

I suppose, in part, Monday’s session was about protecting myself from getting stuck in the child parts’  pain and trauma. I wrote the other week that I have been struggling a lot with being dissociated outside of session and I didn’t want to be emotionally unavailable to my wife in the evening which so often happens on a therapy day. I usually have to go to bed early and sleep or just be on my own. So much gets activated in session that I feel like I am in survival for the early part of the week.

I know that I was avoiding stuff in session, though. I have been avoiding returning to the letter I gave her before Easter and going through it properly (ugh! Like what is the bloody point in writing this stuff and then not discussing it?!). And I also avoided giving my therapist a thank you card until I left the session.

This week marks two years in therapy with my therapist (this time around). Generally, if I have something to give my therapist (like a card at Christmas) I hand it over at the beginning of the session but for some reason I couldn’t give her this one. Why? I dunno. I guess it’s because whilst it said exactly what I wanted to say it just felt too exposing in the moment.

The front of the card said ‘I know you’re not a hugger but I am hugging you in my mind right now’ – see my problem?! HA. Like whilst it is the perfect card it is also just absolutely cringeworthy and horrendous because the touch issue is still so massive for me. It really is a biggest fat-assed elephant now. There is barely any space for any other of the others in the room now. How many elephants can you fit in a therapy room?!

I didn’t really even know what to write in the inside of the card. I think in the end I put something really boring like, ‘thank you for the last two years’ – which is not at all like me, but the words just wouldn’t come. Maybe I should’ve taken that as a signal to not give her the card at all. I dunno. But she is important to me and I do value her and the work we do together (or at least adult me does!) and I wanted to acknowledge that. So, yeah, I awkwardly handed her the card as I got up and left and walked back out into my real life – straight to tutor.

Monday evening was glorious. My wife and I had a great meal out in the centre of town and then walked the ten minutes down to the riverside (we are really lucky to live in a such a nice city) and had dessert and coffee in a bar with a terrace overlooking the water. It was 26 degrees. A perfect summer evening. AND childfree! Yay. So, I guess doing therapy like that on Monday at least afforded me some quality time with my wife.

Unfortunately, the rest of the week has sucked. I could feel the young parts stirring on Tuesday. They hate it when they don’t get to seen by therapist and then really struggle. I think they also feel exposed now because I gave her that card and what happens if she rejects them for it because it’s ‘too much’. I won’t lie. I am also sad that she hasn’t acknowledged it now she’s opened it. Not that she ever would. We don’t do the outside contact thing so it wasn’t ever on the cards – but still, there is a part of me that feels a bit hurt. It’s not rational but there we go. I know she’ll say something on Monday…but…ugh!!

Wednesday was my cancer follow up appointment at the hospital. It’s a day I always dread and requires a great deal of effort for me just to rally myself enough to go. I have to go, though. There is no choice. But it is not easy being repeatedly plunged back into the place where I had 12 rounds of chemo and memories of all the associated feelings (both physical and emotional). It triggers all sorts of stuff for me being there surrounded by people who are very ill and waiting to go have their treatment. I feel sick to my core.To make matters even worse my consultant was running two hours behind and so I ended up spending three hours in that place feeling anxious and triggered. Ugh.

Another thing that really doesn’t help matters when I feel so anxious and alone is that I know my therapist is literally only a three minute walk from me when I am at the hospital as the NHS psychotherapy building is just round the corner (she does three days a week there and is where I first met her).

Knowing she is almost within touching distance but that I can’t see her is completely hideous. I so want to be able to reach out and yet, obviously, I can’t. Ouch. I can’t even text her to check in on these really hard days. And they are hard. Sitting waiting to be told whether or not my cancer has come back is not an easy appointment to have to go to every couple of months. The build up to it is bad enough, but the day itself if awful. I feel so alone with it.

Most people don’t understand how truly terrifying it is to live in the shadow of cancer. They sympathise, of course. But they also think I should be delighted to have ‘beaten’ it. And I am. But it never truly goes away. The fear of it returning is always there. And it all becomes very real again as I sit in a packed waiting room full of other cancer patients.

Actually, the other day my therapist and I were talking about maybe doing some EMDR in relation to health trauma as a way in to maybe working with the attachment stuff in the future. She’s been suggesting EMDR on and off for about 16 months now! I am a bit reluctant/sceptical about EMDR because I get so dissociated and have so many parts and I know several are not on board with the idea and I think that could make the early trauma difficult to work with. She said that choosing something like the cancer/health stuff to work on might show me how things can work and might give me a little bit more confidence in the process. It’s worth considering because I find these hospital weeks completely agonising.

So EMDR could be a good shout for that. That is, of course, if I keep going to therapy!!… because on Wednesday I lost the fucking plot. Like spectacularly lost it.

Thankfully, this time I didn’t actually act out any of my thoughts/feelings like I might have done in the past but I am not sure if that’s because actually I can’t be bothered and have mentally shutdown/walked away or whether it’s because I have managed to self-regulate a bit. No, actually, it’s probably because my friend absorbed it all via WhatsApp as I fired off angry message after angry message to her instead. We do this sometimes! Just vent that stuff to each other rather than jamming our therapists’ phones. The outcome of all that is that I didn’t end up sending an ‘I’m done and won’t be coming back’ message to my T which is suppose is a good thing. Ha!

How did I find myself in a place where I was ready terminate with my therapist having only two days previously given her a thank you card? Well, no surprises, this all comes down to the fragmented parts and the different feelings they all have. It’s bloody exhausting, for sure!

Sitting in hospital, feeling scared, my mind automatically went towards my therapist- as it always does when I feel vulnerable. I wanted to be able to text her and tell her how things were. I wanted to be able to reach out to her and her respond in some kind of reassuring way. I needed some of that care that she shows me in session when I talk about how awful the hospital stuff makes me feel. But I couldn’t reach out. Or I could. But she wouldn’t respond. And that feels like a huge kick in the teeth…especially on a day like that….it’s bad enough on a normal shit day! So instead I had all these feelings and nowhere to put them. And then I started to get angry. Like properly got the rage. Hello teen part!

Episodes like this send me through a horrible cycle. The youngest most vulnerable parts are scared and need support, they need to reach out and get some kind of emotional holding. They can’t. It’s a boundary. Things feel really overwhelming. The need is huge. And yet there’s the stark reminder that the person I have come to rely on for emotional support is not really there. She is only there in the paid for time (actually the ‘paid’ time isn’t so much an issue, I want more contact time but she just doesn’t have it). And whilst adult me understands (sort of), the child parts don’t AT ALL. They can’t understand why the attachment figure is unavailable. They can’t understand why she can’t check in once during the week via text. They can’t understand why she doesn’t care that they are falling apart because they worry she is gone. They can’t understand why she is how she is in session but is not there at any other time. It feels really abandoning. It hits that deep core wound, the mother wound. Here I am again on my own, struggling, and no one is there who cares.

Fuck.

Then the fun really begins because before too long the teen part comes online. And OMFG she is boiling with rage (because she is so hurt). She’s got so much to say! She is ready to unload. She wants to scream at my therapist for being a ‘fucking liar’. She wants to tell her that ‘we don’t need you’ and ‘you are making things worse for us’. She is raging that the relationship is a ‘complete sham’ and that ‘whilst you (T) might think the little ones are stupid, that I can see exactly how this all fucking works, don’t pretend you care.’ Basically what it comes down to is that the teen part has been through this shit enough times now and will not be hurt any more. Therapy is an agonising and constant reminder that ‘I am not good enough, not important enough, and no one really cares’ and so ‘I’m fucking done with having it shoved in my face’.

Obviously, it’s completely horrendous when I am stuck in that place. Part of me so badly wants to let rip and let it all out. I want my therapist to know just how fucking awful this stuff makes me feel. She tells me that my anger is important and that I need to let it out… unfortunately I usually only really feel able to express it at moments like these. And it is not acceptable to let it out via text. I have done it once or twice before and then felt terrible afterwards – shame and embarrassment overload.

I have even ‘quit’ a few times and then the little parts freak out: ‘What have you done?’ So yeah, it’s a bit tricky to say the least because I have all these horrible feelings and yet she has no idea how consuming they really are. I don’t really know how to go in and tell her just how bloody awful it feels, how utterly crushing it is for the young parts to feel ‘left’ week in week out and then how angry it makes me that she is not there when things feel bad.  I hate feeling like she doesn’t care. Given how session was on Monday it’d feel like a completely different person turning up this coming week if I really said what was going on.

So anyway, I’ve spent the week since Wednesday alternating between rage and sadness and completely sunk in the depths of depression. Yesterday I stayed in bed all day between school runs. I just couldn’t do the day. There we things I was meant to do. We have guests arriving tomorrow and I really could’ve done with cleaning the house and getting on top of chores but I just couldn’t.

I had a long phone call with a friend which helped to make sense of things a bit so that was good but I still can’t quite get over the feeling that I’m at an impasse with my therapy. I feel more and more like the little two year old girl stuck in a huge grey space on her own clutching the ear of a soft toy bunny that so often comes into my mind. There is no adult to help her.

I mean, I guess, this week might also, in part, be me hitting self-destruct as we approach an enormous summer break and the anniversary of my dad’s death. I will see my therapist in person on the 30th July and then again on the 3rd September and whilst I should be able to do a Skype session somewhere in the middle of that. I. CAN’T. EVEN. GO. THERE. I can’t even explain how thoroughly overwhelming the idea of another long break is right now.

Maybe all this anger and wanting to quit is about me leaving her before she leaves me? I am shit on long therapy breaks.

Part of me is scared I’ll end up in another bloody horrendous anorexic mess like at Easter. I don’t want that. And even though I don’t want that I don’t even feel like it’s a conversation we can have now after all that happened recently around not eating.

Basically, I just don’t want to care anymore. I don’t want to feel like someone else has the power to impact me in this way – or rather their absence has the power to. I don’t want to feel abandoned or rejected anymore. I don’t want to feel so painfully alone and inadequate.

Man. I so bored of feeling shit about this.

I KNOW!

I know it’s the work.

But jeez. The work is hard isn’t it?!!

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Emotional Vampires

Isn’t it funny how a therapist can repeat the same thing over and over again over a period several months (or in my case years) and although you understand what they are saying, agree with it wholeheartedly, you don’t really do anything about it? It’s like you get what they are saying, on some level, but don’t then go on to apply it to your life because the way things are now is the way things have always been and you are used to it: ‘it’s not all that bad’.

And then, one day, after treading the same ground again in session, albeit perhaps talking (complaining) about another relationship or area of your life, and about how exhausted and drained you feel, you receive the same response you and actually ‘hear’ what the therapist is saying. You finally take it in, absorb it, and start considering how to make changes based on the information that you have always known deep inside but have been reluctant to do anything with for fear of, what – rejection, upsetting someone?

What on earth am I talking about? (Honestly, after that convoluted mess I’m not even sure now!!) Well, it’s about being mindful of ‘what goes out’ and ‘putting in boundaries to protect yourself’.

My therapist ALWAYS tells me that ‘too much goes out and not enough comes in’ so far as my life goes. I have lots of things plugged in that drain my energy and very little that recharges or replenishes the battery. She is right about that. And sure, on some level this is adult life isn’t it? You grow up, take on responsibilities: work, family life, and friendships all require energy. Sometimes these things seem to take a lot of what you have to offer and both your physical and emotional energy gets drained.

There are some things that you can’t do much about; the house is always going to need cleaning and clothes need washing etc. That’s a bore and unless there’s a magic fairy about to come into my life I have to accept that there are some chores that just have to get done and take a bit of energy. That’s fine.

I also know that often I don’t help myself and I frequently add more and more draining things into my life at the very time I need to be unplugging them. Like, let’s face it, Easter was a complete fucking mess wasn’t it? Not eating and heading down the path of full blown anorexia wasn’t exactly replenishing or rejuvenating. I can’t beat myself up about it. It was what I felt I had to do at the time and is a well-worn coping strategy. It’s not ideal but it’s ok right now. I have found some balance with food and exercise again. That’s not really what I am talking about, though. I absolutely do need to work on my negative coping strategies but there is another area of my life where I can unplug a lot of the ‘drain’.

There are things in life that are unavoidable that drain you but there are some things that ARE TOTALLY AVOIDABLE if you just put in some boundaries about what you are prepared to accept and tolerate… and we all know how big a fan I am of that word! (has my therapy actually worn a path in my brain where boundaries are seen as a good thing…actually yes!).

The idea is that on balance, work, family, and friendships actually give you something back too! No shit Sherlock! When you need someone they’ll be there for you in the way you have been there for them. Relationships are about reciprocity. It’s not fair to be the one that is always taking just as it is not fair to expect someone else to always be the one that gives.

I think this is an especially sore spot for many of us that over the years have sacrificed and hidden our own needs from our narcissistic mothers in order to survive our childhoods. We are so used to giving and listening, being amenable… and being ‘used’ that it can take quite some time to realise that this is not the blueprint for relationships. It doesn’t have to be like this. We should expect for our needs to be met in relationships too… not plain ignored!

Actually, I was whinging on about something at the end of Monday’s therapy session as a bit of an afterthought and suggested that a person in my life was an emotional vampire and I was beginning to really resent it. I don’t know where that came from but it was exactly what I was thinking! Then I said to my therapist ‘I don’t know how you do this job because it must be like being sucked dry all the time’.

But then I remembered some things that are sometimes really difficult for those of us that struggle with ‘the authenticity of the therapeutic relationship’ and they are 1) she is not my friend (I know that!) and 2) ‘SHE GETS PAID’ to do what she does. That is the fair exchange in the relationship. That’s where the balance is restored (to an extent) and how her need gets met.

It’s not always easy when those upset teen parts start chiming in about how ‘the relationship isn’t real because if we stop paying the relationship ends’ but actually that is completely how it should be, we pay our therapists to listen to us because it is not an equal relationship. They keep their needs out of the space so that we can get what we need. That doesn’t come for free. The care absolutely does come free. The relationship is real. It’s different in other relationships. The currency we exchange is our time and willingness to listen to the other. It is not a one way street.

It’s funny because since Monday, and finally hearing what my therapist has been saying for a long time about being allowed to put my needs first and not having to please others (especially those that give nothing back), I am feeling pretty pissed off! Like fully annoyed! Not with her, but with myself for allowing people to take the piss for such a long time. Like seriously, why have I been so willing to put the needs of others first often at the expense of my own emotional wellbeing?

This week was basically the straw that broke the camel’s back (or the event that made me draw a line in the sand!). Another person has started unreservedly dumping their shit on me, unfiltered, with no regard for what I am going through. It happens quite a lot! But this week something shifted and I was like, ‘be a bit sensitive; please don’t talk to me about X when you know that I am struggling with Y and at least acknowledge that you are writing to an actual person!!’

This is one of the dangers of Blogland, I think. Whilst, for the most part, us bloggers are really very supportive because we try and build up a sense of being there for one another via comments or whatever – sometimes people just come out of nowhere and flood your inbox don’t they? I know I am not alone in this.

I guess, maybe, it’s because we write so openly and so people feel like they know us and identify with us. I guess maybe there’s a part of them that unconsciously thinks that because they have read all about us and our woes that must open up a space for them to unload on us. I sort of get it. The thing is, people have a choice whether to click onto this page, to follow, and to read. No one is asking you to do that. When I open my emails I have no idea what’s going to be there.

The other important thing to note here is this: I am not a therapist and whilst I absolutely understand how agonising it can be in therapy I am not here just to absorb your emotional angst outside your sessions. I can’t do that. I have enough of my own!!! I absolutely can be here as a listening ear but if you want to engage with me then hey, remember I am not just your blank screen! My inbox is not your journal space. And the person that writes this blog has a shit tonne going on!!

I do want to make it clear that I have made some amazing friends via my blog that I speak with daily, and so this is by no means directed at everyone. It is possible to forge meaningful and reciprocal relationships here and I am open to that! BUT basically, the place I have arrived at this week is this (with the help of my T and those blogger friends):

I am not some receptacle for another person’s emotional shit. I need to protect myself from burn out.

Great Mantra right?!

I’m not suddenly going to become some unempathic, hard-hearted, arse hole – far from it! But what I am going to consciously start doing in my life is realising that I can make boundaries around what I am prepared to accept from others, look at what I’m giving out, and let some relationships go that aren’t giving me anything back. I need to look after myself so that I can continue to give to those that actually deserve my care. I want to spread myself more thickly on those I love! And actually, I want some energy left over to love myself….

LOVE MYSELF!!

Did I just say that?!! Eeek!

*Do you know what is really rubbish? Is that I have just written a post about maintaining my personal boundaries and emotionally protecting myself and there is a part of me that feels like there will be some backlash to the post. Like ‘Don’t write a blog if you don’t want people to contact you’…FFS!!!!

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The Good Place

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I am in a good place at the moment (internally/emotionally not literally). I know, right? What on earth is going on here? Who’s writing this and where did Rubberbandsandchewinggum go? As I type this I am sitting in a soft play centre (so clearly not a literal ‘good place’ unless you are five years old) with Dolly Parton’s ‘Islands In The Stream’ in my headphones…

After that last sentence, part of me wonders if I am on the verge of a breakdown and just haven’t twigged and am about to have something big fly out of left field that’ll knock me out; but the thing is, I actually don’t think this is a ‘manic’ good place which is what so often happens after a low/depressive/ED episode. I am not brilliantly full of energy, buzzing, or even very motivated –far from it! In fact I am tired and a bit stressed out from a busy week of (crappy) work and dealing with stuff I shouldn’t have to, but it’s nothing overwhelming or anything I can’t cope with.

So right now I am ok. I am here. In a good place. I am reluctant to use the word ‘normal’ as it’s so loaded but that’s kind of what it is. I am present and things are good enough.

Often I struggle to try and articulate to my therapist how much I struggle to be present in the moment. I am shit at just ‘sitting with it all’. I usually run from myself in the present,  ruminate on the past, and project about the future. I find it difficult to just be in the moment…mind you it is little wonder when being a parent on Saturday morning today involves this! FFS:

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But I have noticed since my holiday I am here. In the moment. And granted in the current moment is a little bit surreal but I’m fine with that. And I do at least have a coffee and some time to write!

I haven’t suddenly had some kind of epiphany. I am not suddenly better. I am not suddenly without trauma to heal or devoid of attachment pain. I have not had some fantastic therapy session that has made me feel held and contained and left me able to be more present (although it wasn’t bad on Monday!). Nope. Nothing like that. But there has been a definite shift in me this week. I doubt it will last (I am a realist after all) but I want to document it here because I know that when the wheels fall off (which they undoubtedly will again) and I end up careering into that dark zone I can easily forget that it can be like this. This feeling might be fleeting but I want to pay attention to it when it does happen.

How can I describe what’s going on with me?

It’s not about being content, as such. As I said, the demons haven’t gone away. But there’s a sense that I am fine not being fine. I am able to be bit more accepting of myself. Yeah, that’s what it is. It’s the feeling that I am ok as I am. In whatever state I am in. It’s ok to be me. My feelings are ok. I don’t need to hide. I am human. I guess that’s what my post when I got back from holiday was leaning towards when I thought my anonymity had been blown.

I am who I am.

I am working on myself.

I am not a finished product.

I will never be a finished product because we are always changing and evolving (even when we feel stuck!) but you know what, I’m not some chronically flawed asshole that doesn’t deserve to be happy either. I shouldn’t feel like I am in hiding all the time. I shouldn’t be perpetually feeling like I have some kind of deficit that means I shouldn’t live.

And that’s really how it gets at times. I feel so often like I am hanging on by a thread. It’s about survival rather than actively living. And that is a crock of shit when the odds are that my life is going to be cut short due to either a relapse in my cancer or a nasty side effect of the chemo and radiotherapy that saved my life three years ago.

You can’t expect to have your chest heavily radiated and your body chemically poisoned and get away with it for the next fifty years. There is a strong chance that if my Hodgkins doesn’t come back I could now develop problems with my heart or get lung, thyroid, or breast cancer due to the radiation as well as any other number of nasties from the chemo. Great. It was a risk I was made aware of when I underwent treatment but there was no other choice. The Hodgkins would have killed me.

So really, I ought to be living now didn’t I? Lots of cancer survivors I’ve seen go crazy manic once they ‘beat cancer’. There’s a lot of bucket list ticking off: sky dives, obstacle course runs, sponsored this that and the other. And that’s great. I guess it’s a celebration of sorts. But that’s never been where I’ve been at. I have just wanted to get back to my life and carry on being boring and like everyone else – only with the shadow of cancer alongside me.

I want to just be ok living in the moment. I think this has long been my goal even before the diagnosis. All I really want to is to be comfortable in my own skin.

Today, I feel a bit like that. I am here doing not much but I am in the moment. I’m not perfectly fine. Far from it. I am more than ready to see my therapist on Monday. I need that space. I need to let some stuff out. I want to see her and connect. I have missed her. At times this week it has been agony for the young parts. But importantly I accept that this is where I am at. I am trying really hard to now make a conscious effort to accept myself in whatever form I happen to be in.

Self-acceptance…eek. Am I edging towards that place?!

I put weight on on holiday. So what? I can’t be bothered to even engage with that. It’s my body, it’s still (too) slim, I don’t need to starve myself to drop a couple of pounds to please to unpleasable eating disordered part. I won’t be any more happy thinner – in fact I know I won’t be. Anorexia messes me up big time. I hated myself at Easter.

The attachment stuff is big right now. It’s been so active in the early part of the week. The ache was there almost from the moment I walked out of therapy on Monday. But this week I haven’t run from it. I have acknowledged it. I have accepted it. And it’s been a little bit more manageable. Strangely, in accepting it, rather than feeling ashamed about it I have felt more connected to my therapist. She always tells me that I have nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed about so far as these feelings go. I struggle with that. But she’s right. And in accepting myself a tiny bit more I feel a tiny bit better.

So this is how it is right now. I’m doing as well as I can and that’s good enough.

I think this is all about baby steps.

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A Much Needed Week Away

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So, this is the post I had planned to write before the Instagram episode on Thursday night where my anonymity in Blogland and Social Media World was compromised. God that sounds like some kind of MI5/Secret Service statement doesn’t it?! For now, I am ok with my decision to keep this blog public but I guess we’ll just have to see how things pan out in the coming weeks. The worst that’ll happen is I’ll password posts or something.

Part of me is too tired to even care about it. As things stand right now I have bigger concerns. It’s all about doing a reality check sometimes isn’t it?

Currently, my best friend from primary school is in agony with metastatic breast cancer that has now found its way to her sternum. She is battling hard, third diagnosis in five years, but we know that this is going to kill her. I am devastated – in fact I ended up bursting into tears on the bus from the resort to the airport on Thursday just thinking about it (and I don’t cry!).

Her struggle is so hard to watch and a potent reminder that my very good friend died of Myeloma just before Christmas less than two years from being diagnosed. I still haven’t processed the loss and keep imagining I will see her again. My brain is really not very good at dealing with death.

In addition to this, I actually have my own follow up at the hospital this coming week to check (and hopefully confirm) I am still in remission. So in reality, who cares if someone I know might find out a little more about my mental health? It’s not going to kill me. It’s not cancer. It’s only the truth.

Anyway, my holiday. I’m not sure anyone wants to really read about this but I think it’s important for some balance to show that not every aspect and minute of my life is a complete shit show! Ha! Having said that, since I got home I have slumped and the attachment feelings/pain have ramped up enormously. I guess I can’t really escape that.

The last time I had a proper holiday abroad was I was eighteen weeks pregnant with my son. He is now almost four years old so it’s been a while. I have always loved travelling and have been fortunate enough to visit lots of the countries on my bucket list, but since getting diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in early 2015 travelling abroad has been off the cards.

Until recently I have been pretty much uninsurable. Despite being in remission, I am now classed as having a pre-existing condition and so the cost of travel insurance has been insane. For example, when I finished my course of chemo and radiotherapy in January 2016 we thought it might be nice to get away in the May once my hair had grown a bit and I was a bit less fatigued. We needed a holiday. We found one. We almost booked it. And then I got an insurance quote for that week in Greece: £1000! It was more than my ticket!! So, needless to say we didn’t end up going.

I have intermittently generated insurance quotes for trips and until recently they’d still be in the several hundreds of pounds and made things unaffordable. It seems mad that I have no active disease and am fitter than almost anyone else I know: running, cycling, swimming etc, and yet have to pay such an enormous premium. I would understand if there was active disease or I was compromised as a result of having had cancer but I’m not, not really.

I get tired, of course I do, but then I pack a lot into my weeks and have two young kids. That’s being a mum not necessarily a cancer hangover. Or maybe I should say, the cancer hangover is not so physically debilitating as to stop me from going to an all-inclusive resort in the sun, sitting my arse on a sun lounger, reading books, and eating plenty… in fact that’s surely exactly what I need! Low risk and relaxation. I need stress reduction – because these days the biggest problem with having had cancer is the continual stress and anxiety about it coming back.

It was my 35th (wtf how did that happen?!) birthday in March and my wife and I were bickering with one another about absolutely nothing at all. We’d just reached that point where we needed a break, a proper break, not another midweek ‘break’, self-catering in a static caravan in Devon which is not really relaxing at all or long enough to unwind. We needed to get away properly. So before I even entertained searching for a holiday I generated an insurance quote….and low and behold it was £42. Win! Having said that my wife and two kids all got insured for less than £10 with a high level of cover so go figure…

I quickly found a holiday and booked for us to go away for half term week. The joys of internet travel agencies and credit cards eh?! It’s amazing what you can do in five minutes online…and how much you can spend!

The kids were super excited to be having a holiday when so many of their friends regularly go away. My son was in his element on the plane, ‘mummy, are we really in the sky?’ and my daughter was good as gold.

We arrived at the resort and I could feel myself relax instantly despite having left home the best part of 15 hours ago. It’s a feeling that I haven’t truly felt in a very very long time. I know that chilling out has always been a problem for me. My brain is always buzzing even when I feel low, but I hadn’t truly realised the levels of stress, anxiety, exhaustion, nervous energy that was the cocktail fuelling my system. I guess it’s not a surprise to anyone that reads this blog!! Haha.

It was so nice to be away from the responsibilities and routines of home. My dogs were in kennels for the week. My neighbour was feeding the cats and fish. I didn’t have to cook or clean. No school runs. No teaching. Just sunshine, swimming pools, and the spa. Whoop.

It was amazing.

The most surprising thing for me was that for almost the whole week I didn’t experience any of that horrible gnawing ache in my tummy. The absence of attachment pain feelings was a massive relief. I didn’t feel agitated and lost. I didn’t feel young. I didn’t feel angry. I didn’t want to harm myself. I didn’t desperately long to be with my therapist. Sure, I thought about her, but I wasn’t consumed by that need to be in contact. Seriously, having that weight off was incredible.

Sadly, it didn’t last!

I think it was Wednesday (bloody Wednesdays will be the end of me, I swear!) when those feelings started to creep back in. The young parts started making themselves known again. I could feel that shift in myself from predominantly adult to all the others. I started to feel snappy and short tempered and my wife and I ended up having an argument. It was nothing big. I was just being unreasonable and angry. I know it’s because of those attachment feelings coming up (might’ve been a bit premenstrual too!). Suddenly I felt suffocated being around people. I wanted to be alone…or with my therapist. Argh. What a shitter.

Fortunately, I got over myself, or rather, I returned to default – i.e having those feelings and masking them from everyone else. Don’t get me wrong, I was still able to enjoy the last two days of my holiday but I was very much aware of carrying that additional emotional baggage inside me again.

What also didn’t help matters in the least was the set of scales in the hotel room bathroom. I clocked them the moment I walked in. I ignored them for almost the whole week, determined to leave the ED back in the UK, but then once those attachment feelings, doubts, and anxiety crept in so did the body stuff. No real surprises there.

I knew it was a bad idea to stand on the scales. You can’t go to an all-inclusive resort and eat pretty much consistently for a week really packing it in: full English breakfast, smoothie, and pastries at breakfast (breakfast is a meal I never bother with!); a plate of hot food, a salad bar, bread, and a plate of desserts (yes, three or four different sweet items) for lunch; ice cream, drinks, and snacks beside the pool; repeat lunch at dinner time…. and then not gain weight. So yeah. Of course I put on weight. Still not enough to take my BMI into the healthy range but not a million miles off it either.

I saw this:

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I wish it were true!

For some reason I can’t cope with the idea of having a healthy BMI. It’s madness. I do get that. The idea of the calculator ever saying ‘18’ makes me feel strange. Usually my BMI is mid-16 and now it’s mid-17…and that’s fine isn’t it? Only it doesn’t feel fine. I feel stodgy and fat. I am due my period and so some of this will be hormonal stuff and water retention but my head is conflicted. I am trying really hard not to resort to my unhealthy coping strategies. I don’t like being caught up in active anorexic behaviour. It makes me miserable. I don’t function well. So it’s going to be a challenge. One of many!

Since getting home the attachment pain has ramped up even more. The little ones two and four are very active. I was delighted to crawl into bed in the early hours of Friday morning when I got home and snuggle with my teddy bear but I could feel that ache of not being read a story, held, or tucked in by ‘mummy’. Don’t judge me!

I have felt really flat and lacking in energy these last couple of days. Everything feels like it’s a struggle. I have got things done – all the holiday laundry is completed, I have mowed the lawn, and taken the kids out on their bikes but it has taken a ridiculous amount of coaxing myself through.

This morning I still feel flat but am going to try and take it a moment at a time. I have jobs to do today: painting fences and exterior walls and this will allow me to feel like I have accomplished something by the end of the day whilst appearing ‘present’ when everyone else is in the garden doing their own thing.

I also got my bike serviced whilst I was away on holiday and so I might go out on it tonight once the kids are in bed. I know once I am out I will enjoy it but I am not sure right now if I will end up in bed and sleeping instead. I guess we’ll see.

Tomorrow is my therapy session. It’s only been two weeks since the last session but it feels like a very long time ago. I am both desperate to see my therapist and dreading seeing her too. I want to have a good, reconnecting session. I need that with the week I have ahead of me. I have so much to do. But I am frightened that the session will fall short. So often a return to therapy after a disruption is not quite what I need. I can’t settle. It takes a while to rebuild trust. I’m hoping that it won’t be like that though. I need my therapist to see me even if I am hiding.

During the last session I had, I handed over my letter with about twenty minutes to go and we started to work through it. My therapist was amazing and said all the right things but obviously we didn’t have time to cover everything – in fact I think we only got through the first couple of pages in a light touch way and she quickly scan read to the end before I left.

She said that she thought there was a huge amount in it and that we should definitely come back to it when I returned from holiday and so we agreed that we’d continue to talk about it next session. So that’s what I am walking into tomorrow. The stuff about connection, touch, boundaries, transitional objects, outside contact….it’s all waiting for me.

Fuuuuccckkkk!!!

I won’t lie. I am nervous (shitting myself) about it. I know that my therapist always handles things well when I spell it out this clearly to her and we generally have really connecting sessions. I should feel encouraged by her response to what we talked about at the beginning of the letter but I feel anxious. This is big stuff for me. I know it needs airing. I’m just not sure that I am ready to hear the reasons why I can’t get what I want from her – no matter how kindly it is delivered. And I know that’s what’s going to happen.

I know tomorrow I must go and start to grieve another loss or, should I say, several losses. But I guess this is what therapy is about. It’s not always getting what you want. In fact many of the needs could only have truly been met in my infancy. It’s now about trying to work through it with someone who cares and has empathy for the situation. Adult Me understands all of this. Truly. But the little ones can’t accept or understand why they can’t get a hug or reach out when they feel sad and alone.

And that’s the conflict.

If we were working with Adult Me all the time I’d be fine…but as we well know, the work needs to be done with the little ones and therein lies the problem. I have a two year old screaming to be held, a four year old silently crying in a corner, a seven year old that wants to run away, an eleven year old that feels like she’s dying….and the list goes on….so many parts suffering in one way or another. And because I am dealing with child parts I keep hitting the same boundaries over and over again, circling the same issues time and time again. This is the work but man it’s tough going!

So, yeah, I went on holiday. It was great to escape, relax, and recharge a bit but now it’s time to roll my sleeves up and get stuck into therapy again. Really get stuck in.

Wish me luck!

x

P.S The reason I haven’t really gone into any detail about my last session with the letter is because I think I’ll write once I have been to therapy tomorrow and addressed the thing as a whole.