A Long December… and here’s to 2022

So, we’re in that weird bit between Christmas and New Year again. That notorious chunk of time where I seem to flatline and become incapable of doing anything much at all after running at 1000mph into Christmas. There’s been no deviation from the long-established pattern this year: CRASH AND BURN baby! It’s like I have entered into a state of inertia…or maybe it’s just burnout…or depression…hormones…all of the above! – but whatever it is I’ve been completely out of it for the last several days – and not in a good way.

It’s not unusual not to know what day it is in this weird ‘no man’s land’ – I mean that’s everyone right? I wouldn’t say I am dissociated, either. I have a shit tonne going on in my brain but I feel paralysed and unable to do any of what’s on my list and that’s what I hate. It’s mental torture. I want to be able to relax and switch off and yet I get plagued by crap. To be fair, my tax return is like a dementor right up the last minute on January 31st so I may as well accept that that won’t be done just yet!

So, what can I say? It’s been a while since I have posted (again). I’ve been meaning to post something, the laptop has been on beside my bed for three days solid now, with the screensaver endlessly going. I keep looking at it, thinking I’ll write, seeing as I have some time (and that would be a good use of time rather than endlessly scrolling through social media on my phone and then feeling pissed at myself that I am not using my time off more effectively. Honestly, I think I need a tech detox for the next little while!…Ummm, well, WordPress excluded obviously.

There’s quite a lot of bits I could write about here, stuff to catch up on – like, perhaps I should go back to a few weeks ago and fill in from there? – well, what I can remember of it! Or perhaps I should write something thematic – I’ve been thinking a lot about the ‘senses’ in therapy – particularly smell and touch, oh an let’s not forget the x-ray vision! And then there’s Christmastime itself and all that that can bring up. Or gifts in therapy (in a good way). Or a reflection on the year (what a bloody year!). I don’t know. This will probably end up a mash up of all of it, span 4000 words and end up making no sense…so same as usual then eh?!

Maybe go get a cuppa before we begin!

And also, before I get going, I just want to say that I hope you are all hanging in there. My reader has been fairly empty of posts this last month from what I can see and I suspect that’s partly because it’s been the mad time heading into the holidays but also that people might be feeling similar to how I have been – kind of in a limbo, not feeling quite right, and not being able to reach out.  If that’s the case then, I get it. Lots of us have also had that hell time of impending therapy break to manage and then the actual break too so solidarity there. And I just want you to know that those of you who have written posts that I haven’t yet commented on, I will get to it…and I do see that you are there. So, that’s a long-winded way of saying I hope you are all hanging in there and that I see you x

Right, so where to start? The last few weeks have been a bit of trial. I mean I honestly was dragging my arse towards the finish line and the end of term. Only it’s not the finish line when you have kids and a family. It’s just dropping one set of responsibilities and commitments so you can focus on the others. Somehow, we got to Christmas day in one piece and the kids had the things they wanted. To be honest though, with a partner that works in health and social care it was inevitable that Christmas was going to a fucking washout. And we were correct. There were calls to Public Health on Christmas Day to report a COVID breakout and Boxing Day was trying to spread a very thin layer of staff across an already stretched service.

My wife has been working 14-hour days and has now, today, taken a suitcase to work and will be sleeping there- there physically aren’t enough nurses and care staff around and there is no alternative.

People might think that this new COVID variant isn’t a problem, “It’s just a cold” they say – but it is a problem when it’s EVERYWHERE and staff have to isolate who have got it. The workforce is decimated. Sure, we might not be getting the COVID deaths we’ve seen previously but when you can’t care for the most vulnerable in society in the health and social care sector because we’ve allowed the virus to run wild and there are NO STAFF…well, it’s criminal.

People are not receiving the care they deserve. Hospitals are cancelling procedures. Cancers are being picked up late. People are being discharged back into the community to free up acute beds when they aren’t really safe to be discharged because there is such a pressure on beds. I could go on and on.

I honestly can’t believe the burden that has been placed on key workers and healthcare staff throughout this pandemic. People are on their knees. The system is at breaking point. And the system isn’t a system. It’s people. People like my wife. People like my colleagues in schools. I am white hot with rage, and I cannot believe our government have allowed this to happen. Only I can. A bin fire of self-serving shits are running this country and we seem powerless to do anything to hold them to account.

Anyway, this isn’t meant to be a rant about the state of things, but I just feel so fucking angry. I’m angry that the government has shafted us. I am angry that some people aren’t doing more to limit the spread of the infection by just being fucking sensible. I am angry that the people that end up suffering the consequences are the people who have sacrificed enough already. I am beyond pissed off that we are throwing the clinically vulnerable under the bus as if having ‘a pre-existing condition’ means you are collateral damage for keeping the economy moving. And apparently, I am meant to send my kids back to school on Wednesday where no mitigations other than some open windows are in place, and primary aged kids are not being offered the vaccine in the UK. I mean for the love of GOD!!!!!!

Whew.

Deep Breaths RB!

So, back to therapy, which is what you are all here for, right?!…

The run in to the Christmas holiday was a bit fraught. Anita had a week’s break at the beginning of December (I think that was when I last posted) and so that set things off a bit internally knowing there was going to be so much disruption over the month. There were a few sessions between her coming back from that break and before the Christmas break – I think two weeks/four sessions. The first session back was really connecting but also really hard.

I’d asked Anita if we could start sooner that day, but she couldn’t which set some of the parts off. I was anxious that I might arrive and get derailed by the protectors who were feeling pushed away. It was the last thing I needed but always possible after a break. Fortunately, Anita and I reconnected really quickly (thank goodness!), she felt really attuned and pleased to see me and I settled quickly. I was cuddled into her and catching up when ‘out of nowhere’ (but also not out of nowhere) all the stuff about being a tick came up for the young parts and it was agony.

I guess I was panicking that after the separation we’d just had she may find my need to be close too much, like Em. Anita was incredible, really reassuring and holding, but there just wasn’t enough time to put it all back away at the end of the session. I left feeling a bit unsettled and off for the next few days. Anita and I exchanged some messages and she was really responsive and containing and it was enough to get through to Friday but I was more than ready for the session by the time it got to Friday morning. The young parts felt like they were hanging over a precipice and I just very badly needed to connect.

My best friend ‘Girl In Therapy’ wrote and published an excellent article that weekend that describes perfectly how triggering talk therapy can be for people with CPTSD – here’s the link:

https://www.girlintherapy.co.uk/articles/7fmjc9tewgc7nucxol32yhhk7x2c4q

– definitely worth a read if you haven’t already seen it.

The huge irony wasn’t lost on me as the next hour played out with Anita and how closely it matched the article.

I felt a sort of anticipatory dread as I walked up the drive. Something felt off. The dog started barking at the window and then I noticed her daughter’s dog was there, too. Ugh. I never have to ring the doorbell as the dog always alerts Anita that there’s someone there. That day the noise of the dogs really fucking irritated me – even though they settle once I’m there. I guess I was feeling sensitive and seeing her daughter’s dog triggered the jealousy and all that stuff about being inadequate and ‘less than’. Great.

It took a while for Anita to come to the door that day, not ages, maybe a minute or two – but that’s REALLY unusual. I started to feel myself panic. Anita finally opened the door and she had wet hair and looked absolutely done in. Basically, she didn’t look ready or in the right space for therapy which sent the parts that were already in a panic into freefall.

My need was huge that morning, I was already experiencing a vulnerability hangover from the tick stuff earlier in the week, and so it didn’t take much for me to read the evidence before me “Anita isn’t up to ‘me’ today” and go into hiding. I need Anita on her A game, not an Anita who was trying to ‘phone it in’. I’d clocked all this before I had even got into the room, and so by the time I sat down False Adult had taken over and was shielding the young parts. As children we were so good at knowing how to behave and adjusting to what was ahead of us and this hypervigilance has stuck. Sometimes I think it’s a superpower and sometimes it’s a complete bind.

Even though Anita had been so present and available and validating earlier in the week, I still feel a lot of shame about my insatiable ‘need’ and so my perception that Anita wasn’t fully there meant I could just avoid what was going on – pretend like Monday had never happened. I still feel so embarrassed that I am so affected by what happened with Em. I am terrified of Anita finally seeing me for what I am. She swears blind that what happened isn’t my fault and that Em is not fit for practice. She told me she thinks I have a very strong case for a complaint to Em’s governing body but also said that she doesn’t recommend a complaint because it’s a horrific process to go through (having raised a complaint herself).

Anyway, as the session went on, I could feel my young parts getting more and more distraught inside but the False Adult was so good, there’s no chinks in her armour, that there’d have been no way of Anita knowing. Especially as Anita was a million miles away. She had no idea what was going on. She didn’t seem curious, either… like, “RB, last session was really really hard and we left things a bit up in the air. You text me in the week and I know you feel unsettled after the break too…and you’ve spent half an hour talking about COVID and Brexit. Is there anything else going on for you that maybe we need to look at? Are the child parts ok? What do you need today?”

I could see the clock ticking down and I felt sick inside. I knew I wasn’t going to get what I needed that session and that I was going to be left holding all this over the weekend and it would be carnage. The session was over. I felt abandoned and rejected … unseen. I stood up and gave Anita a half-hug as I left. It was weird. I can’t remember the last time we didn’t touch in a session but it was setting all kinds of fireworks off inside. Mentally I was calculating that there were only two sessions now until Christmas break….AND IT ALL FELT LIKE A HUGE DISASTER.

Touch is such an important part of my therapy now. After all those years of there being ‘no touch’ and being made to feel like I was some kind of…tick…a parasite…for wanting to be close to Em I can say that the physical proximity and closeness that I usually have with Anita has done so much for moving things forward for me. I have said before that it is often when I am safely physically held that I feel able to look at the hardest, most vulnerable stuff. Anita can be so much more attuned – she can physically feel when I start to tremble, or I hold my breath, or whatever the fuck else happens that might not be evident or visible from a distance and respond accordingly. There’s just more of that co-regulation and so my nervous system can settle quicker and we can do the work.

Anyway, it sucked that day when I really needed to be seen and held both emotionally and physically and instead left feeling completely untethered and alone. It’s hard enough ‘detaching’ at the end of a ‘good’ session but never having connected in the first place is agony.

I text and called my friend when I got home – False Adult had gone offline and the Angry Teen had taken root. I was so upset, angry…all the feelings. Anita not being ‘present’ sent shockwaves through my system. There was a part that felt like I wasn’t deserving of her attention and care and so felt awful, there was another part that couldn’t work out ‘what had changed’ and another part that was furious that she wasn’t doing her ‘fucking job’! Somewhere on the outside of that was Adult who knows that A was probably tired or just a bit off, like we all are sometimes, but unfortunately all the noisy parts weren’t having it, “She’s just had a fucking holiday, she should be better than this!”

Anyway. Fortunately for both me and Anita I had to teach a double lesson that afternoon which meant no one could take to WhatsApp and let rip. Lol. After my lesson I had simmered down a bit and all that was left was a little part wondering where Anita was. What had happened? What had gone wrong?

So, I simply text:

Where were you today?

A replied that she wasn’t very well, had started to feel ill in the session, and had taken herself to bed, and was sorry that she’d felt distant.

Adult me understood it but there was another voice that couldn’t understand why she hadn’t said this during the session. If she’d have said, “RB, I’m really sorry but I don’t feel great and so I’m sorry if I don’t seem myself…” or anything really. Trying to carry on like I wouldn’t notice she ‘wasn’t there’ is daft. I could see it. The problem is, the narrative I create when she seems far away isn’t that she’s sick, it’s that she’s ‘sick of me’ and wants to be away. Ugh.

Anyway, I got through to Monday’s session which had to be an evening because my kids had broken up. And ARRRGGGHHHHHH fuckola. BAD BAD BAD. I don’t remember what happened – dissociation! Anita felt a long way away again. The distance was unbearable. Having listened back to the recording I can hear she was trying really really hard to get to me but I was totally frozen. At one point she asked if I would like a hug because she would like to hug me…and I just shook my head. I hate it when that happens. Every little part inside was screaming out and there I was frozen and unable to get out my prison.

The session ended and I felt absolutely desperately sad. I moved to put my shoes on and just fell apart, crying with my head in my hands and shaking. Anita shuffled over to me and wrapped me in her arms and I just sobbed as she held me close into her body. It was awful. I felt like the time had just slipped through our fingers again but at least I wasn’t going to leave completely disconnected.

Fortunately, my session being the last session of the evening Anita had a bit of time to run over and we had fifteen minutes where we really connected, and fixed things as she held me and I cried. She reassured me that she was still there and that we were going to be ok and that she understood that my defences were up because parts don’t feel safe and are scared. She acknowledged my fears and things felt sooooo much better.

It was time to go, though, and Anita gave me one last tight squeeze, kissed me on the top of my head, and said, “I love you, you know. I really do. You are very precious.” I got my elephant out my bag and handed it over. She took it and said she’d have it washed and ready for me for Friday ready for the break.

The week flew by as it always does at this time of year. I had to pack a lot into the week and before I knew it, it was Christmas Eve and the final session of the year. It felt nice to see Anita so close to Christmas and for the break not to be three weeks long like it used to be with Em.

I walked into the room and sitting there was my elephant and next to it, a gift bag of presents. Our stories were out on the side, too. The session was light but connected. I asked for a hug pretty close to the start of the session so there was none of that horrible feeling of space and distance. I have no idea what we spoke about but I know that it felt fine and safe. Anita said that she’d bought me some little things that were silly but had made her think of me and that I could take them away for Christmas and handed the bag to me as I left.

I gave her a big hug as I left and walked out feeling about as good as I could going into a break.

Earlier in December I had bought Anita a Christmas gift of a glass rabbit ornament with snowflake patterns on.  

She always does her house nicely at Christmas and so it felt like a perfect present given our story ‘The Rabbit Listened’. She placed the bunny beside the candle lantern I had given her last year. I didn’t notice it as I was walking up the stairs and she said, “Did you see bunny? He’s sitting next to the present you gave me last year.” It doesn’t sound like a lot but actually, to have A remember what I got her last year and to put these things up in her home…well… I don’t need to explain do I?

Oh, and just an aside whilst I think about Christmas and hypervigilance…GROAN… last year I had an evening session before Christmas and got to see all Anita’s lights outside her house (in the day you don’t notice them). This year, again, I got to see them in the evening. As I walked in the door I said, “Did you change the lights on that bush?” and she said that she had as the set from last year had broken. This is how much shit my brain stores- a single evening session a year ago and remembering the type of lights on a bush in a fully lit and decorated garden…trauma anyone?!

Anyway, we’re kind of up-to-date again. This holiday has been ok. Like I said, I have been quite lacking in energy and not doing much but I haven’t been overwhelmed with that attachment slime. Last night I was struggling to sleep- after really doing nothing but sleep in the last week – I missed A (very ready for Tuesday session now) and so I grabbed my elephant and breathed in its smell – Anita – and fairly quickly the young parts settled and fell off to sleep. I felt settled because that young needy part of me was quickly transported into the safety of Anita’s arms through the smell of the elephant.

I can’t say strongly enough that it is these things, the touch, the texts, and the willingness to try and meet the needs of the young parts (within reason) that have meant I can do a better job of regulating myself outside the room and holding the young stuff for myself. And it’s because I have something tangible to tap into. There is evidence all around me of my relationship with Anita, and it’s within me, too.

I can imagine what it is to feel safe because I have felt safety with Anita. I can imagine how it is to feel held because I have been held by her. I no longer have this longing and unmet need to be held – because she’s done that for me. And whilst I might miss her and wish I could see her, it’s not the same pain of wanting but having that need unmet – deliberately withheld week in week out.

I can easily bring Anita to mind and feel grounded because I can feel her. I know she’s out there and will be back on Tuesday – which is huge because in the past she’d disappear cease to exist, and it was massively distressing. I know I have a disorganised attachment style (I mean duh!) but I do think that bit by bit A and I are working towards building an earned, secure attachment. I’m not there yet – but things are so much better than they were!

I wish I had more energy to write that out properly and explain it as I am sure there will be some people rolling their eyes – but it’s really down to infant experiences that were missed being filled (to an extent). I guess it’s a kind of limited reparenting. Parts of me are healing through Anita’s willingness to repair some of what was missing.

Some people believe that the time for those wounds to be healed and those needs to be met has passed – we, as clients are not children anymore, and so instead we need to grieve for what we didn’t have and accept that. We need to hold everything on our own. Be our own parent. That was Em’s philosophy.

No touch. No outside session contact. No transitional objects… no “colluding with that young part that wants to be held” (puke!).

I don’t think it’s as simple as that. I don’t think it’s an either or. I still have to grieve for all that never was and that should have been. I am regularly faced with the limitations of the therapeutic relationship and have to grieve what I can’t have in Anita. But that’s not to say that there isn’t a lot to celebrate, because there is a lot that I do have and there is a lot that has been soothed that was left raw and in agony before. It’s ok for there to be a level of dependency because eventually there’ll be interdependency and then independency… or at least that’s the plan.

Anyway, this is SOOOO long and I need to go and feed the kids!

Take care and here’s to a better 2022. X

Oh, and here’s my gifts! 😊

Sometimes We Just Need A Mum…

I want to try and put into words something that has been weighing heavily on me the last month or so, especially. I mean, to be honest, it’s always there isn’t it – the mother wound – but I guess at the minute I just feel acutely aware how big of a deal it really is, and how heavy a burden it is to carry, particularly when I need some support and care as I struggle under the almost crippling weight of my day-to-day life.

I’ve written about the mother wound in detail before, here, but that was a long while back and maybe this, today, will have a slightly different quality to it. I know I make mention of this issue a lot on the blog because it really is the foundation that my shaky house is built upon. Today, once again, I feel the need to give it full attention because parts of me feel like I am crumbling right now.

It’s weird. When I try and look at this…this…’stuff’… the words just don’t come, or certainly not in the articulate, polished way I would like them to. There’s so much pain and shame wrapped around it like barbed razor wire, and this wounding spans so much of my life too, so it’s hard to really to find the right words to explain something that feels like it’s part of me, part of my make up.

If I listen deep inside myself, looking for the words, there’s just the overwhelming howl of a massively distressed baby and the screams of other very young children… and maybe if I listen very, very carefully, there’s a little voice whimpering and whispering, ‘Mummy’ over and over again.

It’s actually heart breaking.

Sometimes I think I struggle to write about this because the experience of this… feeling of… annihilation started before there even were words available to describe it. At other times, I just think it’s impossible to find the vocabulary to capture just how massive the sense of being ‘motherless’ is.

There is so much loss attached to what I am experiencing at the moment. Of course, I do have a mum… it’s just I need/ed a different kind of mothering, a different relational experience, and so the continual reminders of what I ‘don’t have’, even now, as an adult, is like being plunged into a vat of vinegar and, unfortunately, I don’t have any skin.

Ouch.

I can’t say that feeling of loss I experience is the sense that I’m now missing something that I have formerly had – rather it’s the loss of something I wish I had have had – something I very badly needed- it’s the felt sense of there having been something ‘missing’ my whole life, something that is integral to a healthy functioning.

You, know, sometimes I think it feels as if there’s a vital organ missing inside me and I’m continually aware of the cavernous void left behind. I feel this ‘empty’ space acutely in my chest – a black dark hole that seems totally unfillable. It’s the space left where a mother’s love and care should have been. I’ve spoken before about how the edges of this place feel almost ulcerated. It’s angry and burning…it’s bloody painful. No. It’s worse than that. It’s pure agony.

If you met me in-person you’d never guess I suffered with any of this. You’d probably experience me as a high functioning, self-sufficient, independent person who is always busy and keeps things going for myself and my family. In my day-to-day life I am successful, popular, and funny (omg imposter syndrome just kicked in big time there!). I don’t really lean on anyone or ask for support even though I really need it sometimes. My friends are absolutely amazing but there’s just some things they can’t do for me – like take my kids for a weekend so I can get on with jobs. And lately, I guess this is where that lack of ‘mother’ has really shown itself and had the spotlight shone on it.

I’ve spoken about my childhood many times here. How my mum would go away during the week and come back at weekends and how the legacy of that plays out even now – especially in my therapy with Anita. I hate the time between sessions and our breaks feel unbearable. I can’t stand being ‘left’ or feeling like I’ve been ‘forgotten’ and I am terrified of change when we are reunited after a break largely because I was never sure what kind of mood my mum would be in when she came back.

Lately, I’ve had a strong sense that my mum is avoiding me – or rather stonewalling me. I haven’t actually seen her since August, and she only lives 20 miles from me! I get that she may not want to see me – for whatever reason- but I really struggle with how little she engages with my children. They are great kids and what’s really sad is that they really like to spend time with her and yet…what can I say to them? She’s not in touch. She doesn’t ask after them… or at least, she hasn’t in a good while.

I sent a photo of my daughter putting decorations on the tree the other week and it wasn’t even acknowledged. I saw the blue ticks appear on WhatsApp and I saw she was online…but there has been no response… and I have no idea why. Other family members have rushed in with ‘OMG she looks just like you did at her age’ or ‘what a lovely photo’…but nothing from mum.

I try not to feel upset by it. I have said many times how my mum and I have a relationship that has reached a kind of equilibrium. It is what it is. It’s not close but it worked well enough – ’til now. But I think doing this deep attachment and trauma work with Anita has kind of lifted a bit of the scab on this stuff. Where I had convinced myself that I was ok, and things had moved on into a place that was ‘good enough’, the truth is I feel hurt that my mum seems completely uninterested in me. But the real big sense of hurt comes from the feeling that she’s rejecting my kids and by extension it’s like my inner child is experiencing that pain of abandonment all over again seeing just how ‘unimportant’ they are to her.

Recently, I had a real hard smack in the face when I was speaking with Anita. Don’t you just love the unexpected landmines you can trigger in therapy?! We were just chatting near the end of session. It was winding down and coming out of the deeper stuff and into more day-to-day. I said how I had taken my kids to a fireworks display that week and she told me how she was taking her grandchildren (her son’s kids) to the big fireworks display with her daughter the next day. It felt like being on that awful gameshow ‘Bullseye’ where when the contestants failed to win the presenter would say, “look what you could have won!” A sucker punch as they stared at speedboats and his and hers matching shellsuits. I find myself staring at a kind of mothering I just can’t have.

In that moment as I was cuddled into her, I felt so many things. Jealousy was definitely one of them and then hot on its heels – grief. Anita, of course, is involved with her kids and grandkids – it’s as it should be, but it just threw my experience with my mum into even sharper relief. It wouldn’t even occur to her to take the kids to something like this, or offer to take them for me. When the kids were very little we went on a Christmas train one year, or sometimes we’d go to see Santa, but lately there’s been nothing and I don’t know why.

Sometimes I wonder if she’s somehow come across this blog because I can’t fathom any other reason for the radio silence. I tied myself in knots for weeks trying to work out ‘what I had done’ for things to be as they are now. I know that if she had found this writing she’d be hurt. Of course, it would be hard to read this stuff in black and white. I think anyone’s first reaction would be to feel wounded and the victim and then shut down. But the thing is, I’m not trying to blame her for my experience of her when I was growing up. Like any mother she did the best she could with the tools she had available – and as a young mum, they were few.

I don’t think for one minute she set out to be how it was. As a mum myself, I know how it is to be stressed, tired, and at the end of my tether, and hand on heart I know I do not always get it right. Far from it! I’m a sensitive person and perhaps other children would not have been as impacted as I was by her absence, or her wanting me out the way, or the fighting and violence I witnessed…or the difficult teenage years we had. But it has impacted me and I am trying to heal from it. It’s not easy healing from something when you can’t have a reparative experience with the person who you experienced the wounding with.

So I take myself off to therapy twice a week and rake over this attachment stuff – and it’s hard because as an adult who has done pretty well for myself and feels like I have a reasonable insight into what’s gone on, I still haven’t done enough work in the therapy room to escape the sense that I haven’t done enough to make my mum want to stay (and, yes, I know that is the voice of my inner child).

I used to make excuses as to why my mum wasn’t all that involved with me and my kids. She had a massively stressful high-powered job and so there simply wasn’t the time or energy for us. Then she retired, and it was still the same… but then COVID hit, and we were in a pandemic so therefore couldn’t spend time… but then the restrictions lifted and it’s more of the same. It feels so rejecting. I don’t know if it’s intentional. I don’t know if she genuinely doesn’t want us in her life or whether she is so busy with other things that we’re an afterthought.

Again, this is where the contrast with Anita really stings. Anita obviously works but she takes an afternoon off each week to collect her grandkids from school, takes them to swimming lessons, and then often has them overnight. K does similar things for her granddaughters. So many of my friend’s parents are active participants in their grandchildren’s lives, too. They’ve taken on regular childcare – not because of the financial savings for the family (although that was a factor when the kids were pre-school age) but because they actually want to spend time with their family. My kids have never spent a night at my mum’s, or been picked up from school…and my god, sometimes I could really use the help given I work after school every weeknight until late. Having someone collect the kids, feed them, and put them to bed would be amazing!

It’s not just that I could do with a bit of help now and again, though. I feel so sad for the relationship that they, too, aren’t getting. My mum’s parents were incredible with me growing up. Despite living hundreds of miles away they’d have me for holidays, write me letters and send me magazines and sweets in the post. There was no sense, ever, of being ‘out of sight, out of mind’ and it’s continued through into my adult life. I ring my grandma every day to check in now she’s alone, following my grandad’s death last year, and I do that because we have built a relationship over my entire lifetime, and it is solid. It’s such a pity my kids won’t have that. I feel so sad, too, because my dad would have been such an amazing, involved grandparent. He loved kids. Although my mum makes not bones about the fact that she ‘doesn’t like children’.

I really need to get over this stuff, though, because whilst there’s this wish for something better all that happens is I get hurt over and over again. I need to realise that things are never going to change and move on from it. I’ve said in the past that I can’t expect people to be mind readers so if I keep stuff to myself and then don’t get what I need I shouldn’t really feel disappointed so this summer I did something a bit different. I let my mum see what some of the reality was for me – I don’t know what I expected but I know, deep down, I hoped for some tangible care and support.

In the summer my wife and I were going through a particularly tough time – tbh this whole year has been devastatingly hard for us. In January my wife got very ill with COVID, then lost her job, all the while trying to manage a serious health condition that could end her career. She found a new job (yay) but was immediately put under immense pressure with unrealistic working patterns and conditions which put her health at serious risk again and there were threats of ‘failing her probation period’.

We were both at our wits end. It felt like we were lurching from one disaster to the next. Stress exacerbates my wife’s condition and it was a vicious cycle. Financially, it was a really hard year, too, as after my wife lost her job in January we also had a period of time where she couldn’t work due to an operation that saw her out of action for almost a month. Then she was having to pick up agency work whilst she looked for a new position which pays nothing like enough and isn’t guaranteed hours. We were literally a couple of weeks away from not being able to pay the mortgage and bills.

The stress levels were making me ill. I couldn’t sleep, my anxiety was off the chart, I genuinely thought I would have a breakdown at times. And I certainly would have had it not been for Anita and K. No doubt about it. It’s been their love and care got me through this year – when really what I needed was my mum…or a mum that does being a mum.

Like I said, I never really share anything with my mum, I think she knows I am in therapy but we don’t talk about it! This summer she had asked me to collect her from a trip she’d been on. I’d cancelled work to enable me to do it – so lost two hours pay (which we really couldn’t afford), asked a friend to have my kids so I had space in the car to put her and her husband’s luggage, and then drove across the city and waited in a coach station steadily unravelling. My wife was away from home for work and had been driving hundreds of miles on top of working 14 hour shifts. She was suffering with her health and I felt completely exhausted. I’d been juggling my kids and work all week alone and by the time it reached Friday I just couldn’t cope anymore.

I was driving down the motorway with my mum and step-dad and I just let it all out. I was on the verge of tears but angry too. I was in a place of complete overwhelm. The dam burst. I don’t know what I expected to happen, but I guess maybe I thought showing how stressed and anxious I was might maybe elicit some support from her side.

Nope.

If anything, she’s distanced herself since then. She hasn’t asked about my wife’s health or job. Her health is massively deteriorating but thankfully she’s found another job. She hasn’t asked how I am. When my childhood friend died a couple of months ago she went to the funeral when I couldn’t. I just don’t understand it.

I feel like I am moaning- and I guess I am. I just really wonder what it takes for the little girl inside to finally give up hope of being seen and loved by a woman that seems incapable of seeing me and accepting me for who I really am. I would literally walk over hot coals for my kids. Having just seen her friend’s daughter die of cancer you’d think she might see the parallels – I was the one of us that survived the cancer but the roles could so easily be reversed. Wouldn’t you want to invest in a relationship with your child?

It’s Christmas time. It’s a difficult time of year for me. Mind you, when isn’t eh?!

As my kids rehearse for performances (streamed online this year via zoom) it reminds me of the years standing on stage and staring out into the audience and seeing the faces of my friends’ mothers but not my own. I feel silly, as a grown-up woman still being upset by these ‘small’ things but I really wish my mum had have been there more when I was a kid…I wish that her physical and emotional absence hadn’t have left this gaping great hole inside. I feel like it’s going to be my life’s work getting over this.

Like I say, I am so lucky to have a couple of amazing therapists in my life. But they’re not my mother. I can’t call them at 10pm and ask them to come over because I need them, and things feel overwhelming. I ought to be able to do that with my mum – but I can’t – because she doesn’t know how to be that type of mum.

I have to mother myself.

And my god I am trying but sometimes we just need to be held by someone else.

(And yes, Anita is on holiday – ANOTHER break in the therapy – so it’s hardly surprising timing that this has come up so forcefully now!)

Triggered By Testimonials

Oh man…here we go! I think it’s fair to say that I am right in the thick of exploring my wounding, now, through being triggered over and over again in therapy…

Don’t worry.

Everything is still fine.

Just…crikey…there’s always something isn’t there?!

Where shall I begin?

I guess maybe I should provide some context and say that therapy, this week, is disrupted again because Anita is away doing some CPD. This has meant my usual Friday and Monday sessions have been changed. Not lost. Not cancelled. Just changed. We rescheduled these appointments weeks ago so that I would be able to still see her. So, I saw her on Thursday and I will see her on Tuesday evening BUT as anyone with this kind of attachment crap will know, disruption to routine isn’t easy even if materially not a great deal has altered.

So, that’s probably why I have had yet another mini-meltdown/tantrum this week. The impending sense of disconnection from Anita had set all the littles inside into a bit of a panic.

Great.

Not.

I can’t remember a great deal about Monday’s session. It was fine. Sometime in the middle I asked for a hug, and we chatted as I snuggled into Anita. At one point Anita and I were talking about photographs and blogs and she said that she’d just updated some pictures on her website as now she will only use her own pictures to avoid any copyright issues. I know it’s a random conversation, but the backstory to how we got there isn’t worth the time here.

One thing I don’t do since working with Anita is go looking on her website. Even when I first came across her, I didn’t read every page of her site. I didn’t need to. She’d been on my radar for a few years, anyway. Every time the shit would hit the fan with Em, I’d do a search for therapists, and she’d pop up at the top of the results page. In addition to this, my friends also found her for me, saying ‘I think she looks like she’d be a good match for you’.

I know what a minefield therapy and looking online for stuff can be and so that’s why I tend to avoid it. Stick with what you have in the room, don’t go searching on the web. Only, this week, because I was already starting to feel disconnected from Anita I stupidly took to the internet in hope of finding something connecting.

YEAH.

Fucking idiot.

I know.

So, there I was migrating round her website and it was all fine…until…I clicked on the testimonials page.

Oh holy shit…

Deep breaths RB!

Of course, as you’d expect, the testimonials were lovely. Really, lovely. You can see as you read them that the work that Anita has done with these clients has been life-changing. The comments are warm and there’s a real sense of how important and transformational the therapeutic relationship has been for them.

I mean, as a prospective client, it’s good to see this, right? You don’t want to see ‘This therapist is utter crap – don’t touch with a barge pole.’ (which is what should be on Em’s site!). However, reading those comments as an existing client TRIGGERED THE SHIT OUT OF ME.

I find it hard enough at the best of times to believe that what Anita and I have is real and important, but the slap in the face reminder that I am, yet again, one of many, and I am just Anita’s job…well, I really didn’t need that kind of spotlight shone on the relationship this last week.

So many feelings were sparked. I felt sooooo fucking sad. The little parts, for whom Anita is so very important, were in tears. It felt like yet another reminder, to them, that no one really wants them, and that they are never really deserving of anyone’s full love and attention. Basically, it just tapped into that wound where I was never central for my own mother and so I am certainly not with this mother substitute.

Ouch.

Fortunately, I have some great friends whom I can talk this stuff through with and get some perspective.

My best friend pulled no punches when I told her about what happened, ‘So you went looking for connection in her testimonials page when you can have real connection with her in WhatsApp?’ she said.

And yep. I shan’t be doing that again – there’s nothing good to come from stalking people’s social media ☹. Although having visited Em’s site a few times in the last two years, reading hers make me see what a fucking bullet I have dodged not working with her anymore!

My friend reminded me of my own words about love. So many times, I have said that we can have lots of different relationships and love different people and that doesn’t make one relationship better than another. She also suggested I let the young parts really speak this time and give them a voice. So, I wrote some things down that they were saying. Unfiltered. And it is so painful to see it.

Basically they were calling bullshit on my adult wisdom and want the strength of their feelings to be seen as important and for the relationship to be significant and not just one of many. Basically, these little ones want to be loved by Anita like a mother should love them. I know that’s not possible. It’s the fantasy and coming face to face with what the relationship isn’t and can’t be is painful – and there’s a lot of grieving that will have to happen around that…but it’s the work.

I plan to take that stuff to session on Tuesday night, if I am feeling brave enough, as I think those little ones really need to express their hurt. It’s not Anita’s fault and there’s nothing that can change, but the feelings deserve time to be heard and felt, I think. And I trust Anita will handle what I have to say with compassion and care.

Anyway back to earlier in the week – I muddled my way through Monday and Tuesday and then hit another wall on Wednesday morning. I needed to go into town to run some errands and I knew it was the same day that Anita works in the city. I felt so sad knowing that I would be about 150m from where she was working and yet could not see her. Again, those feelings that had been activated when I saw the testimonials on Monday came up again, because now she was with other clients and not me.

FFS RB!

Anyway, on Wednesday I sent Anita a text which obviously made no sense to her:

And so had to try and explain better what was going on. I was flooded with shame and embarrassment but at the same time it wasn’t doing any good me festering away in pain:

Anita responded kindly:

but I felt GRRRRR and tearful and it seemed to get worse as the day went on as you can see from the messages! I was so glad that we had a session scheduled for Thursday morning as the week seemed to be going at snail pace and having to wait for a regular Friday slot would have sent me over the edge.

We had a good session on Thursday once I landed and came back in touch with the feelings I had struggled with. Anita did her best to reassure me before she went away. I was quite shaky for a period of time, and I sobbed quietly into her chest for quite a while. It took some time for me to regulate and feel safe, but I got there eventually, listening to Anita’s slow and steady heartbeat.

Anita commented that she could feel I was tense and brought up the message I had sent her on Wednesday morning. She said something about how every relationship she has is different and that she never works with two people the same. That didn’t really help. She said something about how there are so many different kinds of love and I don’t know what because it all kind of blurred as my brain fixated on not being good enough, or special enough, and all that crap.

It was quiet for a bit and then I said, “Do you think I am weird?” It’s not the first time that I have asked this question but the answer from Anita doesn’t deviate much.

“No” she replied. “You’re not weird. I think you’re scared. It can be very easy for you to go into fight, flight, freeze. That’s not weird. When you think about it, it makes sense. It’s very easy to spook. I think we’re all a bit like that. It’s like when I walk in the dark, I’m fine, but if I think about ghosts I am petrified. And it can be anything that can trigger that feeling rejected or abandoned for you. It’s the same. When it happens it can feel so real. Suddenly every noise you hear is scary and every little thing can trigger you. It’s what’s inside to keep us safe…but sometimes we can play tricks on ourselves. Especially if we’re hypervigilant already.”

We spoke a bit about this and then there was a pause.

I took a deep breath and then I asked her if “is this real?” (honestly, this particular young part keeps asking the same questions over and over again. Anita must be so bored of it!)

Anita pulled me in closer to her and with so much warmth in her voice said, “I’m real, and how I am is very real. I don’t think I could be something that I am not. I wouldn’t know how.” She spoke about how every relationship is unique and blah blah blah. I know it sounds like I am being a brat here but when I am struggling like this I don’t want to hear about everyone else or how everything is equal, I just want reassurance that our relationship is solid and important.

There was another period of just quiet as I snuggled into A.

A little voice said, “I love you.” Anita replied, “I love you, too. You’re very precious to me and I love you lots.”

Then it was the end of the session and time to go. I felt ok-ish but as I drove home I had a good think about things and drafted a long message to Anita. I knew she wouldn’t respond to it as she’d be away but I felt like I needed to say it before five days rolled around:

A.

It must feel like you are banging your head up against a brick wall working with me, sometimes. You said when I first came to see you that it would take a long time for me to trust you, and I told you it would be hard because my system would be perpetually testing you after what happened with Em, and I hated that because it wasn’t fair when you hadn’t done anything wrong. I guess, at least, we partly knew what was coming back then, although I don’t think I was prepared for the level of crazy that was going to come up.

I feel so stupid sometimes. Lately, I just seem to lurch from one overreaction to another and I know it’s hard work for you. It’s driving me mad, so I really don’t know how you don’t just throw your hands in the air and tell me to ‘get a fucking grip’ and give up on me…but you haven’t yet, and instead you offer more reassurance, care, and time.  

Every time I have a massive meltdown about something really small: not replying to that text about breaks, not getting a hug after the break, or testimonials on your website (and all the other things I’ve lost my shit over!) I get so flooded with shame and embarrassment by the way I have behaved and the strength of my reaction. If anyone was looking in it must seem so disproportionate to what’s actually happened.

There’s lots of reasons why I get so upset over seemingly small things – but I guess really it all boils down feeling inadequate and unworthy of your love and care but also being terrified that it’ll be taken away. I am always looking for evidence of something going wrong or proof that something is wrong. I am so determined that I won’t get hurt again, that I’ll leave before I get left, and so the moment there is even a hint of a perceived rejection or that what we have is ‘not real’, I’m running.

I know you care about me. The evidence speaks for itself. Week in, week out you demonstrate your commitment to this therapy – and us, and me – our relationship. I really, really see it. Or at least adult me does. And I am so grateful to you for everything that you do for me and all the various ways that you show me and all my tangle of parts inside that you’re safe.

I can’t imagine that there are many people that would tolerate my mess and still be there time and again, rescheduling so we don’t miss sessions, giving me extra time, wandering around in the dark when I’ve had ANOTHER meltdown, allowing out of session contact, discounts, gifts, stories, and even washing soft toys. So, I REALLY REALLY do see it. And I do trust you. And I love you. And this is why it’s so scary now and why when things blow up, they blow up massively.

I’m more vulnerable than I have ever been. It’s like my armour is off and that’s never happened before. In the past, everything I have felt has been kept close to my chest and rather than express anything I’ve dissociated. But that doesn’t happen now and so when something gets triggered, I’m more prone to being hurt because there’s no protection. So small things feel painful. I’ve never really let anyone in before and there was a level of safety in that.

I prefer not being armoured up – it’s bloody heavy defending myself from everything all the time. But when an arrow creeps through that’s when things go really wrong. My protectors get the rage and go to war and that’s what’s been happening lately.

So, it’s not a text being ignored, or your telling me you’re keeping your distance because you have a cold, or other clients saying nice things about you that’s the issue – they’re just the triggers. It’s feeling like I am being rejected, or abandoned, or that I just don’t measure up compared to other people that’s the problem.

I’ve always struggled with the fear of being rejected or abandoned. I’ve always felt that there’s something wrong with me because it’s so easy for people to leave me. That’s where my wounding is. And it keeps happening. It’s not just the original ‘mother wound’ that’s the problem it’s all the rejections since, too. Then what happened with Monika seemed to confirm the narrative again and I guess I just really really don’t want the pattern to repeat again with you.

More recently having had my grandma tell me how my mum really didn’t care that she was leaving me when I was five has really opened up that wound again. I always knew she didn’t care, I felt it, but I guess part of me wanted to think it was just my take on things and maybe it wasn’t as bad as I imagined. To have my felt sense validated is in some ways positive but in other ways it’s completely devastating, and I think this is probably why I am even more wobbly than usual. There’s a lot of grief to work through.

The problem with this early attachment wounding that happened from the beginning is that it triggers a response that feels like it’s life and death…because years ago it would have been. I get it’s not now, but my brain hasn’t quite caught up with that.

Anyway, this is a really long-winded way of saying…I don’t know, really…I love you and I am sorry I am a crazy, jealous, easily triggered nutcase.

Big hugs x

So, I sent that on Thursday afternoon…and there was radio silence. As I said, I didn’t expect a response to the detail of that but we had agreed that an emoji or gif is useful when I reach out with something big or vulnerable.

I got my knickers in a bit of a twist by Friday evening and decided that I wouldn’t contact Anita at all until I saw her on Tuesday night. Grrr. Raarr. Good thing she’s on a course about anger right?! Timely CPD if ever there was any! Lol. Fortunately, yesterday morning a message came through:

Sending a big hug your way with a hug and heart emoji

And then today there was another one:

 Sending big hugs filled with love xx

And they’ve done a lot to settle my system.

So, yeah, it’s all ok. Some big feelings to work through again but I am looking forward to reconnecting on Tuesday night and feel like it’s all ok enough.

Everything Is Fine.

Hi all,

Hope you’re all hanging in there in this bloody bleak misery that is ‘post clocks going back knackeredness and lethargy’! I don’t know about you but, honestly, I am completely done in. I haven’t acclimatised at all to the time change and my poor brain and body just can’t get to grips with the dark evenings and working to what feels like the middle of the night when it is, in fact, only 8:30pm when I stop work. I hope something gives soon because I really don’t think I’ll make it to Christmas in one piece if it doesn’t!

Zoom isn’t doing me any favours, either. Having myself reflected back on screen – crikey – talk about tired-looking! I really need a sunshine break and about a month off from the day-to-day grind or, failing that, some makeup that I can put on with a trowel! LOL. I really need a permanent filter on my face. My brain hasn’t caught up with the fact that I’m not twenty five anymore and am, actually, creeping towards forty!

Help!

I realise that I am blogging really infrequently these days and I wonder, actually, if anyone’s still reading this blog very much anymore. I rarely look at the data but today I did, and the stats seem high but the engagement not so much. Social media success (not that’s what I want or am looking for) seems to be built around putting out lots of content and hitting some secret crap tick on algorithms to keep ‘current’ and ‘visible’. I just don’t do that, nor do I have the time to, but I know what I am like online, I think we’ve all be programmed to be drip fed regular content and when that content doesn’t come we go and look for it somewhere else.

Anyway, that’s just some random thoughts because this blog really hasn’t been for anyone but me, it’s been my personal account of the ups and downs of my healing journey in therapy over the last several years. I am delighted, of course, to have come across some fabulous people along the way and your support has been so welcome and valuable. I guess there’s a part of me just wondering where I go from here. I think it’s perhaps because WordPress updated my site today and took another year of subscription payment and I thought, ‘Wow, do I even want to blog for another year?’

I’ve been so aware that I don’t have time to really write ‘properly’ anymore. I bang stuff out rather than craft it like I used to in the early days, and I notice it. Lots of the people I follow have fallen away over the years, too, they just stop blogging and I wonder if that’s kind of just what happens? People get to a point where they’re healed enough or bored enough and go do something else with their time?! Therapy is not central to their existence anymore and so they don’t need to write about it. I don’t know.

I know that when I first started this blog, and I was right stuck in the thick of that agonising attachment pain ALL THE TIME, I mean literally ALL THE TIME and being triggered week in week out by my therapy that I found it really comforting to be alongside other people who seemed to be in the same boat and at similar points along their therapy and mental health journey as me. It made me feel less alone, for sure. I often wondered, though, where the people who had come out the other side of the process were? Where were those people who had put the time in and gone the distance with therapy and were ‘better’ or at least ‘better than they were at the start’? And maybe I just haven’t come across many of those people but it’s a shame as I think it gives us all hope to know that it won’t always be terrible and triggering and …all the stuff.

I guess I feel, a bit, like I am transitioning into that space a bit now. I know that a lot of what I write here comes when I have had something blow up in therapy or there’s a rupture of some kind, but, actually, a lot of the time things are smooth and fine. Like today, I am here because I know the blog is sort of shrivelling up and dying, and I want to check in, but there’s nothing much to report right now. I mean, I’ve just eaten half a packet of bourbon biscuits Anita and I are doing the work, but I’m not sure if there’s anything especially interesting happening that you guys would want to read about. (Actually, there’s a blog that I need to write about what I think is/has signalled the end of my eating disorder – and I think that is massive!…)

That’s the thing, you know?- drama is interesting, ruptures get us engaged, BUT smooth, easy, doing the work with a solid therapist where things are connected and contained isn’t all that exciting is it? Does anyone want to hear about that, really? I know, in the past, when I would read stuff about therapists physically holding their clients or giving them transitional objects or washing something for the client so it smelled like them, and there seeming to be a really solid, loving connection, I would find it really painful to read because I so badly wanted that from Em and she would not budge on her boundary.

In some ways it felt like I was self-harming reading that stuff. I used to get that stabbing pain in my solar plexus and it would feel like that massive mother wound was just bleeding out. The thing is, reading those posts from those bloggers also helped me to see that my needs weren’t wrong, and that actually they could be met I just wasn’t with the right therapist for my needs and in the wrong environment to start healing my wounding.

So, what I hope, more than anything, for those of you that have read along with my significant struggles over the years in the therapeutic relationship with Em, is that you can see that it can get better but sometimes things have to get worse first. Sometimes therapeutic relationships don’t work out how you want- it’s not your fault- and there is the chance of something better elsewhere you just have to be brave enough to search for it.

If therapy tanks with one therapist that isn’t necessarily a reflection on you. It might seem to be repeating a pattern from the past, (we’re the common denominator), and we sooooo don’t want that to be the case, so we keep bailing out the leaky boat and trying to be what the therapist wants us to be…but that’s the problem. It’s not about fitting yourself into someone else’s idea of how you should be or behave ESPECIALLY IN THERAPY THAT YOU PAY FOR!! Sometimes, then it’s better to jump ship, swim in the cold water for a bit, and get to shore because the swim is easier than you imagine.

It’s really the thought of the cold water and the currents that keep us desperately clinging on and bailing out water with our hands as bucket loads flood in…and I swear to you, you’ll get through that bit where you feel untethered and alone. Not being triggered all the time and held ‘stuck’ in that desperate state of the sinking boat is so much of a relief especially when you make it onto dry land and find someone who is fully in your corner and actually can do ‘unconditional positive regard’.

Right, I’ll leave that absolute crap of a metaphor up there, now!

But without sounding gushy, I really can see how far I have come in the last couple of years. The shift inside has been so massive and it has meant that my life feels so much more manageable (even if I am always tired!).

I feel like Anita and I have reached that really lovely place where we ‘know’ each other, it’s safe (SAFE?? OMG I know what safe feels like now!), and no matter what comes up we can work through it. I am not scared of conflict or ruptures anymore – because when they happen there is such a lot of learning and growth, and most importantly, healing that comes from them. All of me, all the parts, KNOW that Anita can handle my rage and my love and all the feelings in between and that she actually welcomes all of me and all of my feelings. I am safe to feel my feelings and express them with her. She isn’t in the least bit bothered by my messy, unfiltered, reactive feelings and that’s so bloody freeing. To know I can have a hissy fit and run out the door one week and still be welcomed with open arms in the very same moment is massive. It’s something that was never afforded me as a child, and certainly not in my last therapy.

I know that maybe what I have written mightn’t make sense because, clearly, I still get triggered and there are ruptures – but relationships aren’t smooth all the time. What I am trying to say is that even when my ‘stuff’ is triggered in relation to Anita and the youngest parts are freaking out – deep down I know that the relationship I have with A is built on solid ground and there’s nothing we can’t find our way through, and because of that I can let out what needs to come, all the pain and anger and jealousy and god knows what that’s there and that’s so helpful. Anita sees me, all of me, all of my wounding, and she cares for all of the parts – even the ones that are complete pains in the arse!

Anyway, I am rattling on about not much here and I’m not convinced any of it makes sense! – so I’ll go make a cup of tea and have a few more biscuits and ponder on the post about the end of a twenty year eating disorder.

Take care all x

Another Therapy Break and “A Little Friend”

So here we are then, half-way through my least favourite thing – another therapy break – and ugh, I just feel utterly bleurgh. It’s not been helped by getting my period yesterday, either. TMI?! I always feel drained, and tired, and in need of care at this time of the month anyway, so having Anita away, too, has felt especially shit this last couple of days. Thank goodness for endless cups of tea, cake, soft toys and my weighted blanket…it’s just a shame I can’t hibernate, really.

Things are still as relentless as ever with work and life, and it’s still another week until half term break from work so I feel as if I am running on fumes right now. It’s that juddering, lurching motion before I completely conk out. Eek. I’m really just hoping that I can free-wheel my way into next Friday. I desperately need some time off and some serious sleep. I think the first few days of the holiday are going to be spent in pjs watching movies with the kids and recharging our batteries.

So, I guess I should backtrack a bit and fill in to how I got to this midway point of the therapy break.

Actually, the lead into this therapy break wasn’t too bad. Well, I mean, I had the usual internal panic about it (but of course!) and felt a bit sad about it (no surprises there), but Anita and I were able to talk about it several times before it actually happened which makes such a difference.

Break anxiety is not the elephant in the room (I don’t think there are any elephants in our therapy room, actually!) like it was with Em. I don’t have to feel shame or embarrassment about the feelings that come up around disruptions to my therapy. I don’t have to pretend that I am not impacted by breaks and separation from Anita. AND perhaps most importantly, I am not made to feel like there is something wrong with me for experiencing feelings of abandonment and rejection (even if adult me knows that’s not what’s happening) when Anita goes away – and it is such a relief.

I definitely think that being ‘left’ with my painful feelings around breaks exacerbated the actual time of the breaks I had with Em. But then I felt so alone with my feelings, before, during, and after breaks so, maybe it’s just that the whole thing was a disaster! Ugh. Never mind!

So, anyway, a couple of sessions before the break Anita directed our attention towards the upcoming separation. I had obviously, already, had my big meltdown last month when she told me about the breaks she had planned – or rather the meltdown about the way the information was delivered with the formal seeming note -and so we had discussed how hard breaks felt for me then, during that big rupture repair session, too.

On our last Monday session before the holiday, I was cuddled into Anita – I can’t remember what we’d been talking about during the session – all sorts of random shit about the trip I’d just taken (we’d missed previous Friday’s session), I think, but there was a period where it went quiet, and I felt so relaxed and safe. After a little while, I asked what she Anita was thinking.

She replied, “I am thinking about the gaps that we are having… how we haven’t had any gaps recently, really, and now there seem to be quite a lot in one go – with you going away last week and then me going away next week… and I’m wondering how you are with that, really, as I’m guessing you’re not very good with that?”

She held me closer to her and I started to cry. I really wasn’t expecting my reaction having been so settled a minute before. I guess I was in no way armoured up in that moment and so the genuine reaction just came. It felt really freeing that Anita had brought the subject up and given the little parts (and all the others) space to feel whatever was there in that moment – especially in the safety of being physically cuddled.

I have been so used to pretending I am ok about breaks (with Em) and masking what I really felt, or at least downplaying it if it did come out, that having the reality of how I actually might feel acknowledged by Anita let me be exactly how it was in the moment. It’s ok to feel sad and to cry about this stuff because it feels huge to parts of me.

I had felt moments of really deep sadness and longing when I was away on the previous Friday (missing my session), not enough to not enjoy myself, but when I was sitting down alone waiting for my wife and kids I felt a real ache in my chest that I wasn’t able to be in the room that morning. I text Anita a GIF to say I missed her, and amazingly we both sent each other a message at the same time.

It felt really lovely, to see that she was thinking of me and reaching out, not just responding to a message I’d sent. It felt connecting. I think so often we worry that being out of sight means being out of mind, but here, again, was Anita demonstrating not only that she does exist outside the room but that I am thought about occasionally, too. Those moments go such a long way in showing my system how things can be in a relationship. How I am not a burden, or unwanted, or too much etc.

So that Monday was our first session back…but there were only two sessions between the breaks and it felt really crappy. Anita went on, “I just want to reassure you that it will be ok. I know that’s not always easy to believe.”

I sniffed and my tears kept coming. Anita gently rubbed my back and held me close to her. I felt so sad. Like in that moment, all the feelings of how it was when I was small and my mum going away time and again just came flooding up and out. Part of me wanted to tell her I didn’t want her to leave me, but I guess those are really the words I swallowed so many times over the years as a kid that I needed my mum to hear. Watching her disappear on a train week in week out for years really has taken its toll on me and here it was playing out again.

Anita reassured me, “It will be ok. I promise. It will.”

I so badly wanted to believe her and clung on tightly to her. There would have been a time where an angry teen part would have shouted something internally, like “Fuck off! What do you know? You fuckers always leave. You don’t care! And I’m left here trying to hold it together through the shit storm.” But the teen was silent – or rather, she wasn’t even there. Instead, I just allowed myself to sink into the immediate moment of safety, connection, and reassurance rather than fight against it.

I guess, when it’s like that I am trying to absorb as much ‘the good stuff’ as I can so that this week, when things start to wobble, I can remember how it feels to be connected and held. And it is working. When I feel distressed or upset, I can now call to mind all the times that I have been safe and held by Anita. I don’t have to try and imagine what it might be like to get what I need because I know it, now. I have experienced it.

I used to find it so difficult when Em would say things like, “that young part of you wants to be held. Can you imagine what it would be like for that part to get what it needs?” It always felt so rejecting when she was sitting right there and yet a million miles away. I’ve said before that it felt like having my nose pressed up against the window of a sweet shop and the owner saying, “you can’t have any of what’s in here, but try and imagine what it would be like to taste this stuff.” It felt so rejecting and cruel.

I knew what I needed, she knew what I needed, but I couldn’t get it. I couldn’t imagine what it would feel like to be held and the longing for it felt so fucking painful.  Em wanted me to take my young parts and hold them but I didn’t know how to do that for myself because I had never experienced being held. She used to say things like, “you do it for your kids so you can do it for yourself” again it felt so alienating and so distancing. Fuck.

Thankfully, now, I have experienced enough actual holding with Anita that when it feels bad, I can take myself to a place where I can go some way towards soothing that little part that needs cuddling. However, my visualisation doesn’t involve adult me holding that young part, it’s remembering how it ACTUALLY feels to be held by Anita. That’s what helps me. It is self-soothing, but I can only do it because I have a built-in reference point now. I can tap into that place and part that knows what it feels like to feel safe, and cared for, and held.

Asking someone to imagine being held when they have never ever had that is like trying to get someone to bring the smell of the sea to mind when they’ve never been there and only ever experienced the city. It’s impossible. It’s frustrating. And it makes you feel like you’re stupid for not being able to do something really simple… but it’s not simple when you haven’t got a basis to work on.

So, there I was in the moment with A, absorbing all the love and care I could. I’d stopped crying and was feeling settled and calm. I glanced up at the clock and noticed it was coming to the end of the session. Adult me had spoken a lot about my trip away but it wasn’t until the end that the important stuff (for the young parts) came. A little part of me whispered, “I missed you when I was away.”

With so much warmth in her voice, Anita replied, “I know. I missed you too. It felt very strange on Friday not seeing you. I’ll see you this Friday, though.” And then that was the end of the session, she gave me a big squeeze and kissed me on the head and I got up, put my shoes on, asked her if she would wash my elephant for me, (“of course”) and then we chatted about something random and adult.

We hugged again, at the door, as I left and I walked out feeling pretty good, but also knowing that it wasn’t going to be easy that week as there was only one session remaining before the break and that anticipation of A being away was sure to hit the various parts of me as the week progressed. I felt a bit clingy and A and I exchanged a few pictures, GIFs, and texts over the course of the week.

Thursday night was terrible, though. I was really looking forward to seeing Anita and felt quite ok in my mind, but my body had a completely different narrative going on. At about 8 o clock I’d just settled down from finishing work when I got the sensation of trembling throughout my body. I didn’t seem to be outwardly shaking but internally I was juddering. Sometimes I physically shake, and it looks like I am shivering, but it wasn’t like this that evening it was more subtle. I couldn’t seem to settle myself and eventually fell asleep but feeling really unsettled and not ok.

To add insult to injury my unconscious fired out a spectacular nightmare that culminated in me being attacked and then strangled by a family member (just wonderful!) and the last thing I remember was me trying to scream “help me!” over and over again but no sounds coming out until I woke up crying and shaking. I felt like I couldn’t breathe and the feeling of pressure in my neck was intense.

I text Anita that morning to give her the heads up about how bad things felt. And she replied with a lovely warm, holding message telling me that she was really looking forward to seeing me and sending hugs and love – but part of me was disappointed that we frequently do 75 minute sessions when we’ve had breaks or breaks are coming  (we’d done that on the Monday) but that day we weren’t when I really felt like I needed it and so whilst the message was really perfect at least part of me felt like she didn’t see how much I was struggling.

I arrived at my session at 10am, our storybooks were on the side next to my elephant and something else that I couldn’t quite see. I sat down. Anita said, “I thought we were starting at 9:45 today and doing longer?” I cannot explain how gutted I was when she said that. She had thought we were starting early which is obviously why she hadn’t asked if I wanted to start earlier in her text that morning. Ugh. Fuck. So, I said that I didn’t think we had agreed that – but had for Monday and never mind, but the little parts were wailing that they could have had another 15 minutes that day and hadn’t.

Anita could see immediately that I was really not ok. I knew I felt off after the nightmare but thought I was just about hanging it together with my rubber bands and chewing gum. Anita asked me straight away if I wanted a hug. I nodded and sort of collapsed into her arms. “I can feel you’re shaking” she said. I hadn’t been aware of that, or at least it felt similar to how it had been during the night, I didn’t realise it could actually be felt by someone else.

As I lay still, I became really aware of how badly I was trembling. It must’ve taken a good thirty minutes for my body to stop shaking and for everything to regulate. Anita and I didn’t really talk much until I got my system and breathing settled. Once things levelled out and I felt normal again we chatted about all kinds of stuff, but I wasn’t able to before then. I wasn’t in my window of tolerance.

I am so grateful to have a therapist like Anita. So much of my wounding is early, preverbal, trauma and so the touch and the holding does such a lot to soothe and calm that terrified, traumatised part of me. Once I am in my window of tolerance, I am good to go but it can take a while to get there and I really need that connection with Anita, the coregulation to get me to a place to do the work.

I spent the entire session cuddled into A. She asked me if I wanted a story about fifteen minutes from the end but I said no, I didn’t want to have to move from where I was in order to have a story. Anita then said to me that she’d got me “a little friend” to go with my elephant and that she’d washed it alongside him, so it smelled the same.

Did I ever mention that I absolutely love this woman?

Again, it’s these sort of things that really do so much for my young parts. She’s not in the least bit weirded out that I ask her to wash a soft toy for me before breaks so that it smells like her, and I can have that whilst she’s gone. At the end of the session, she gave me a bag and inside it was a little soft toy rabbit. “I saw this and thought of you”, she said. I wanted to cry because it was so thoughtful and relevant to our relationship.

Anita and I have this thing where I call her my rabbit. I gave her the storybook, ‘The Rabbit Listened’ for our first therapy-anniversary last January because I really related to the fact that through everything this rabbit stayed alongside the boy and never went away and heard and helped him through all his emotions. She reads this book to me a lot when we have stories.

Anita sometimes refers to herself as the rabbit so the fact that she’d bought me a soft toy rabbit as a transitional object for the young parts felt really lovely. Really, really, lovely actually.

I felt sad leaving the session knowing it would be a while until I saw A again, but at least I was as well-equipped as I could possibly be going into it. I decided I wouldn’t text her over the break, or at least try not to.

So, on Sunday evening I was so delighted when I got message from A with three pictures of the landscape of where she was that day – and again, I thought how really lucky I am to have a therapist who really gets how attachment wounding can play out and what is needed to try and repair that for the young parts. I sent her some pictures back of where I’d been that day and felt good for having checked in.

I miss A, a lot, but I feel safe in the knowledge that she is out there, that she cares, and that she will be back on Monday evening. She’ll not be back in time for our Monday morning session so she scheduled me in a late appointment so I don’t have to wait even longer to see her. I know I say it all the time, but what a massive contrast to what I used to get with Em.

More Rupture Repair And Thoughts On Past Therapy.

Hi all!

It’s been a while since I last posted (again!). Don’t worry, everything is completely fine, it’s just that every time I sit at this laptop I just can’t find the words I want, or even really channel my thoughts in a logical direction. I am so busy with work and juggling my day-to-day life at the minute (lots of spinning plates and a few smashed bits of crockery to boot) that I simply don’t have stretches of time to sit and write and so instead I just go and crack on with something I can do in twenty minutes because I seem to have an endless list of chores and jobs and emails and bleurgh to suffocate under!

Anyway, I am here now and hopefully over the next few days might be able to cobble something together before Anita goes off on her holiday on Monday. Boooo! It’s probably best I get up to speed before that inevitable shitshow commences and I go mental (again)! Obviously, that’s not my plan, but there’s a good chance that when I am THIS tired and creeping towards being THAT hormonal that things mightn’t be smooth sailing…and I hate boats anyway, always get sea sick…so….

Right, let’s do this!

Anita was so attuned and responsive to me in the days between our ‘shit hit the fan’ day/session on the Monday and our next face to face session on the Friday. She clearly had heard and taken on board everything I had said to her in that intense heart-to-heart session and despite my having left that session feeling ok, seen, heard, held, safe…I did check in with her quite a bit over the course of that week via text – nothing major but just the usual pre-meltdown/withdrawal kind of levels. I guess the part of me that was wondering if she was really stable and safe needed to keep testing that – but also that young part that so fears abandonment was checking ‘Are you still there?’

I was so looking forward to seeing Anita on Friday. Monday had been such a balls-up with time because I had had my big tantrum and stayed at home when I should have gone to session, and then I went when I realised I was burning the house down round the relationship – which meant we only had like 35 minutes together instead of the hour. Usually, if something feels off or has gone wrong I might ask for a slightly longer session, I find 75 minute sessions the best length – it’s enough time to land, do the work, and pick up again at the end. But I didn’t ask for this on that Friday because I was so aware of how stressed Anita had been on Monday. She had told me explicitly that I didn’t need to take care of her and yet here I was, not asking for what I needed to try and not add to her burden. Ugh. FFS RBCG!

Looking back now, I think, perhaps, I was unconsciously trying to stay away from anything that might be ‘too much’ for Anita in that Friday session too, as I spent the first forty minutes talking about stuff outside the room. But actually, at the same time I had stuff that I needed to talk about that wasn’t about ‘us’ or what had happened on Monday. It had been my childhood bestfriend’s funeral the day before the session, and it had kicked up some more gripes about my relationship with my mother (ugh the woman is just fucking useless). I needed to get it off my chest and also feel into the grief – so maybe I wasn’t being totally avoidant, but just prioritising what felt front and centre in that moment when I arrived.

As I said in my last post, even though what happened with Anita on the Monday felt like a catastrophe at the time, in reality the rupture was repaired, or was a good way towards being repaired, all in the space of that same Monday morning. I had been given space for my wounded and angry outburst and discovered what the reality of the situation was with Anita…and it wasn’t about me and her, although obviously it had crept into the work like smoke under a door.

So, on Friday I wasn’t wracked with anxiety and dread about whether Anita and I were solid enough to withstand what had happened. I knew we were. The worst of the anxiety was done and over with and I felt pretty ok, like I say, I genuinely feel like the foundation that Anita and I have built our therapeutic alliance on is like a really solid granite bedrock – not some shifting sand. Even when things get unsettled, which is bound to happen on and off given the nature of the issues I struggle with, things resettle sooooooo quickly.

I can’t really explain how much of a contrast this is to how things were with Em. I mean, those of you who have followed this blog for a while will surely see it. The days, weeks, months…years…that things would fester with Em was ridiculous. I would sit on my anxiety and stress about what things felt like between us for AGES, waiting for the ‘right time’ to bring it up. But there never being a ‘right time’ everything always felt so precarious and I felt like if I made the wrong move she’d terminate me…(oh the irony!…how right I was!)

Instead, I would suffer that agony of broken attachment and lack of connection that becomes so horrifically somatised for people with complex trauma on my own. It was safer to manage that than risk rejection from Em which felt like it would be unsurvivable to the young parts. It felt almost like a life-or-death situation at times – the body was endlessly in survival mode. That constant feeling of anxiety, the nausea, pain in the solar plexus, an empty black hole of ache in the chest, tension headache, tight jaw, poor sleep, or nightmares when I did sleep, the racing heart, the jumpiness, oh, and the physical shaking… I mean my poor fucking nervous system was in tatters.

I would suffer so much during the time between sessions and ‘hang on’ for the Monday and Friday session times, hoping so badly that the person sitting opposite me would for once show me some warmth and create an environment where it felt safe to express how I was feeling in the relationship with her. But more often than not, when it was apparent that that long hoped for relational experience was not going to materialise, I’d end up feeling even worse than I had outside the room, to the point where I would dissociate to escape how painful it all was.

In all honesty, it was pure torture.

In addition to this, the ruptures we had weren’t even really repaired – it was more that I had to let things go, paste over the cracks, because I was so scared of losing her. Em was never willing to apologise and instead rigidly stuck to her position making me feel like I was deficient and defective which confirmed the narrative I already had playing inside me. Of course, none of this did me any good at all!

It’s hard.

I knew really a few months into the therapy resuming, with Em, that it wasn’t right for me. The level of distress I felt in relation to her was unbelievable when I think about it now. The problem with this deep knowing (that things weren’t right) is that it’s not what so many parts of me wanted to hear. You’ve got to remember, too, that when you’ve grown up being gaslighted and emotionally abused by a parent it’s hard to trust your gut because you’re so often told you are wrong or that something is wrong with you.

It’s not surprising that I felt attached to Em – in so many ways my relationship with her replicated the experience I had growing up as a child with my mum. She was another emotionally unavailable woman who disappeared in the week and then put me down, eroded my sense of self, and told me I was wrong when I (occasionally) expressed dissatisfaction or had a need.

I mean it was maternal transference 101 – only in the very worst way.

I sometimes wonder why things had to get SO bad before we terminated and why I didn’t quit sooner rather than have it all get so horrifically traumatic, but it’s so hard to leave someone you’re so deeply attached to when part of you in still hanging onto that tiny glimmer of hope, that maybe, just maybe this time if you behave in the right way, this new ‘mother’ will accept you and not abandon you.

I mean we, as humans, are hardwired for connection and more than anything I just wanted to be accepted by this person that I cared so much about even if I was pushing my way through a jungle of red flags week in week out – but I’ve been brought up in that jungle and have never seen anything but red so I stuck with what felt familiar even if it was painful. It really wasn’t until I returned to K and regular craniosacral sessions that I realised that the alternative version of connection that I had in my mind was possible and not some unachievable fantasy – like Em had led me to believe.

I used to wonder why people in abusive relationships didn’t just up and leave and now I know. I know I wasn’t married to Em (!), but I think similar things are in play with domestic abuse victims. It’s so complex and taps into so much wounding from so long ago. I should have left so many times, but I always went back, gave it another go, tried to bend myself into the mould that she wanted. It didn’t work though, did it? What she wanted me to be was at complete odd with and who I am and what my needs were.

I’m so sad now to look back and see how much emotional pain I put myself through. I really feel like a faithful dog that just kept going back to get kicked over and over and over again. And it wasn’t until she delivered the killer blow that I got free of it all.

Ugh.

Anyway -that’s not how it is with Anita, thank goodness! Writing that, I can see there is still so much work to do on that stuff with Em. Bloody therapy to recover from therapy…isn’t that just the gift that keeps on giving?! I think I could have gone on an around the world trip with the money I’ve put into therapy over the years!

So…back that Friday session. After I had spoken about the immediate stresses and upsets of my daily life there was a natural pause in the conversation. I guess that’s when I really landed in the room properly. I was quiet for a minute and felt the young parts move to the front. I could feel that worry about being too much – that’s always there-  and, despite, wanting a hug I didn’t ask for one. Adult me knew everything was ok but those more vulnerable parts didn’t.

Anita gently broached the subject of Monday gently, “How are you feeling about us now?”

I whispered a barely perceptible, “Don’t know.”

“Don’t know?” Anita mirrored. “That’s what I wondered.”

There was another silence and the room felt really still.

“What do you need? What can I do?” Anita asked.

Again I replied with, “I don’t know.”

In that moment I don’t think I was being avoidant or obstructive or not asking for what I needed. Sometimes when things feel overwhelming I literally don’t have a clue what I need. I mean looking at this now, clearly I needed to feel connected to Anita but when I’m stuck behind my glass wall, I don’t remember that it doesn’t need to be there.

I let out a long sigh and felt like I wanted to curl up in a ball.

“It’s hard isn’t it?” said Anita with so much warmth and care in her voice.

More silence, from me.

“Because I am thinking about what a difficult situation it all is. I think that it’s going to happen where I am not in an ok space and it’s going to feed back because you are so sensitive to change because you’ve always had to be, you notice things in me that I might not… and it’s like I was saying to my supervisor and was saying to you on Monday, that I am not taking on any new clients because I don’t feel I can take on any more than I have at the moment – but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t affect clients that I have now… and our relationship… and my relationship with my family, even. It affects everybody around me but it’s really hard for me to know what to do with that. Does any of this makes sense?” She sounded so apologetic but also just really real.

I let out a small, “Yeah” but I couldn’t work out where the conversation was going and sighed deeply and felt myself starting to drift. The bit about not knowing what to do with that set of a panic inside, was she about to tell me she was going to stop working for a bit? I had no idea.

“What do you want to happen?” I asked.

Anita paused, took a deep breath, and said, “I feel like I have broken your trust. And I know it’s going to take time to regain that again. And I wish I had a magic wand to make that happen, but I don’t. Because part of me, no, no I know, I don’t know why I brought that up, cos I know that it’s natural for you to think that it’s you and not me – and actually it is me and not you. You haven’t done anything wrong or different. It’s me. But like I said on Monday when you [Anita] get down, I don’t think you always realise how much it’s affecting you until… you don’t function properly…but I don’t want to lose the relationship, I really don’t. I am hoping we can learn from this, both of us. Because I think if we lose it [deep sigh] what would be the point? That’s not what I want, but obviously for  a relationship to work be both need to want the same.”

I honestly couldn’t believe that she might be thinking that I didn’t want to work with her anymore over what had happened. As I said, it felt huge in the moment but in the big scheme of things it wasn’t a deal breaker because we’d done so much repair on the Monday. If anything it brought us closer together.

“I just don’t want to be too much for you” I replied.

“You’re not too much for me! You’re not too much for me! It’s not you that’s too much for me. And you’re really not! It’s other areas of my life that’s too much and I am trying to sort that out. But you are not too much for me… I know it’s hard to believe that isn’t it?”

I nodded.

“And I guess that’s what I’m thinking. That’s the learning. That whoever you work with – if it’s not me – if you choose not be with me – and I want to work with you – don’t take that the wrong way and think I don’t want to work with you because I do – I don’t want to lose this relationship. But I think the learning is that you will go into relationships and things will happen to the other person but that doesn’t meant they want the relationship with you to end. I don’t. you’re not too much for me – others areas of my life are, but you’re not, you’re not part of that. Can you hear that?”

I didn’t know what to say, the mention of not working together (even though that’s not what she was saying set parts of me off running away).

After a little while Anita asked, “What are you hearing?”

And I whispered, “I feel like I’m not here.”

“Uh hmm, like you’ve detached a little bit?”

I nodded.

Anita asked if she could give me a hug, and again I nodded and then shuffled across the sofa and  snuggled in for a cuddle. I listened to Anita’s steady heartbeat and eventually I started to breathe more regularly, in time with Anita. When I get stressed I seem to hold my breath without even realising I am doing it. It’s nice when A and I hug because eventually my system settles and I feel my body relax bit by bit. I can go from a state of panic, heart racing, etc to a point where I almost fall asleep.

We didn’t really say anything in the remaining ten minutes of the session but that hug felt so healing and holding and by the time it was time to leave I felt so much better.

On the drive home I was thinking about what Anita had said to me, the bit about her breaking my trust really sat uncomfortably with me because that’s not how I had experienced the last week. When I got home I wrote out a massive long message – I think pretty much all my worries came out – and I sent it to Anita:

Things I need you to know. I trust you and I love you…too much probably…and that makes me really vulnerable in this relationship. When I get triggered badly, like on Monday morning, I will look to run away and push you away and act as though I could easily just end things – even though it’s the very last thing I want to do – but I do it because I’d sooner be the one to pull the plug on us than you do it and have to deal with that pain because honestly I can’t even let myself imagine how crushing that would be. It’s bad enough when you are away for a little while, but actually gone… I just can’t…

You say that what’s happened is not because of me and that I am not too much for you, and I really do hear that. I actually really understand that what has happened isn’t actually anything to do with ‘me and you’ and that’s really positive. The flip side of that, though, is that when things are wrong with us, we can do something about it together, or I can do something about how I am, and that will probably help move things forward. In this situation I have absolutely no way of knowing what will happen and I can’t affect any change or take steps to make sure things go ok for you, and by extension – us. But it doesn’t stop my brain trying to think a way round it, “maybe if I don’t text her this…” or “keep the young, needy parts hidden for a while”… you know how my brain works!

I genuinely don’t feel like things are badly broken. I just don’t know how I need to be to give you the space you need to get yourself into a better place. I absolutely don’t want to work with anyone else ever. I think you know that – at least I hope you do. I don’t feel like you have broken my trust. I am actually really glad that you could tell me how things were for you and be authentic and real with me. I actually feel like that was a big moment for us. Not a bad one. I just wonder whether you regret letting me see that, and then I wonder if you’ll take a step back from me again to regroup.

What’s panicking me is that ultimately, no matter how much I’d like to pretend otherwise, when it comes down to it, I am just your work. And we both know that when the shit hits the fan in our personal lives often the only area we can make changes to relieve pressure is in our work lives. I know that ‘currently’ I am not too much for you but what if that changes?

I am so sensitive to how you are, and I feel when you are withdrawing…and that’s difficult for me even if I now know why that happened recently. But what happens if one day I have a meltdown, or am just too clingy and you think, “fuck it, I just don’t have the energy for this anymore?”…you can just walk away. And I’ve been there before….and it was bad. But if you were to go, I honestly don’t know how I would cope. It makes me cry even thinking about it.

I feel like I am in this impossible bind – not because of what’s happened this week – but with therapy in general. Like I feel like there’s a real closeness between us and the relationship matters to both of us, and yet look how readily I lose my shit (the note with the break dates on) when I get faced with the reality that I am just another of your clients. It’s just a bloody nightmare.

I don’t know what I am trying to say, really, other than I am not going anywhere unless you push me away and that you mean a lot to me. Big hugs x

And she replied with:

Thank you for sharing. I don’t regret opening up to you- I feel honesty is really important between us. I just didn’t realise how badly I was failing at holding it all together after years of growing my self-awareness – I’m not sure I’ll ever fully get there! You are right. When things aren’t good we often need to change our work balance. So, I’m not taking on new clients and looking to see what I can let slide – but honestly, you aren’t even on my list of things to change. Yes, reading on Monday sounds good. Sending you lots of love and care xx. [and a load of hearts]

Crikey, this is really long so I’ll leave it there for now. But, good news is everything is good, settled, back to normal with Anita…well, that is, of course, until the weekend comes and she disappears for a week! More on that next time! x

Fine But Not Fine…

Well, it’s been a while since I have blogged – in fact, it’s probably the longest I have ever gone without writing in any shape or form whatsoever. There’s no real excuse for it, I have had the time (it’s just been the school summer holidays here in the UK), but I just haven’t had the inclination to write. Almost every time I have thought about sitting down at the laptop, I have had a massive internal block, like something or someone inside puts up a massive barrier and so I haven’t bothered pushing it.

Instead of writing, I have sat in the garden, taken the kids to the park, met up with friends, gone for ice cream or to the beach or the woods, or done a million other things. I’ve even sat outside in the middle of the night under a blanket watching shooting stars!…or… I’ve simply done nothing at all…and it’s been great!

There’ve been days, like today, where I have thought I would actually like to write, where I have had stuff to say, and then I’ve procrastinated with the laptop turned on beside me and found other things to do like scroll through Insta, Twitter, Facebook etc on loop (!). I just haven’t managed to get my fingers typing. I guess, it’s probably something about how writing usually just flows for me and if I’m not in that space I find it quite arduous. I spend so much of my time teaching people how to write that I don’t want to have to think about the process when I am actually writing…or trying to find something to say.

The other thing I have noticed is that I have really struggled to read other people’s blogs. It’s not because I am not interested or don’t care – I am and I do…I just couldn’t. So I apologise if I haven’t commented on posts and have been AWOL.

I’m not entirely sure what is going on with me, to be honest. When I sit and try and look inside myself it’s like a vacuum – space – it’s just quiet – still – dare I say it, peaceful…… well, no…that’s not entirely correct…there is some noise from some of the parts…but I have largely been able to switch away from it (and them) and have been able to focus on other things not getting dragged into that mess… which is actually so refreshing.

I honestly don’t know if this is progress, or just another type of dissociation. I hate that I second guess myself like this. It’s like I don’t want to say all this positive stuff and it end up being too good to be true and then end up spectacularly ending up flat on my face in a few weeks (hours) and everyone rolling their eyes – like “uh huh, there she is, the nutter is back!” I suppose it doesn’t really matter what it is right now, because however I have achieved it, I finally have some clear space around and inside of me. Rather than feeling the weight of the world on my shoulders and feeling like I am being crushed in a vice, I feel like I have a little bubble of space around me that is preserving my energy but allowing me a bit of freedom to stretch out and unfurl, too.  

This newfound space has been especially apparent this week as I have gone back to work. Although I am tired (OMG I am soooo tired!) and have had some students really trying to push my buttons, I don’t feel like I am having my life force drained from me. I guess, what I am clumsily trying to articulate is like I feel like I might have got myself some kind of energetic boundary installed (finally!). I am not taking on other people’s stuff in the way I have previously and also not letting them take from me. I don’t mean that I am not caring or totally detached, more that I have plugged my leaky bucket and am retaining some of the energy that I need to function for myself which actually means I function better for others, too.

Basically, I am ok enough, and although things are happening (which I’ll get to in a minute) I feel like I have one foot in the process and another on the outside which is allowing me to get on and do things rather than be completely derailed – which is absolutely what would have happened in the past with any hint of stress in the therapeutic relationship… y’all know why I am here blogging today, right?! Don’t worry, the drama is coming soon!

The end of the summer holiday was really really good. I did some brilliant fun things with my wife and kids and made some awesome memories. The last Friday of the holidays we went to totally fabulous place with an inflatable assault course on water and had a blast. It’s the sort of place where you just let go and immerse yourself in the madness. I honestly haven’t had that much fun since I travelled the world in 2005. I felt so free, so full of life….and joy.

Joy??? What is joy?!!

My best friend from university came to stay on Saturday and we spent a fab 24 hours putting the world to rights, sitting in the sun on bean bags, incense burning, eating and drinking, and then retreating into the hot tub to star gaze in the evening. Again, it was another great day and really highlighted how lucky I am to have sound people in my life with whom I can be completely myself and relax with.

Then, last Monday, we took a trip to Harry Potter Studios and had such a magical time. I kept welling up, I was so bloody happy – like my entire system was utterly in its element – I was in my element. I kept stopping and thinking how great everything was. I guess, for the first time – maybe ever – I was able to be completely in the moment and not feel like I was on the outside looking in, or worse, not even there. My mind wasn’t wandering or fixating on stuff. I just enjoyed being present, experiencing life, having fun…

Part of me is so pleased to report this – I’m 38 FFS and maybe, finally, getting a bit more settled…I just wish I could have been like this years ago when I was doing so much amazing stuff and couldn’t really take it in. Oh well, small steps.

What was really a huge milestone, too, was choosing to do this stuff at a time when I would usually have had therapy with Anita. In the past, I would have really not wanted to book anything that would mean missing a therapy session. The insecure attachment I have/had just wouldn’t allow it. It’s bad enough when my therapist/s go away (more on this later, too) but I certainly wouldn’t have wilfully taken myself away from a session because the fallout from that would be too huge and destabilising.

But I did, this time.

Because…well…

I guess I know Anita is there. I know that if I go away or she goes away that she’s there to come back to – that the relationship will survive disruption. I mean there’s been a lot of disruption in the last 20 months. The world won’t collapse if I miss a session or two (Ha…you should hear what the little ones are saying to that!! “Who are you trying to kid, we’re in meltdown here, you gloating cow head and we don’t want Anita to go on her breaks in October and December and we’re not Ok!”).

I suppose what I have just started to take steps into, albeit tentatively, is going out and living my life instead of living from one therapy session to the next. I absolutely need my therapy. I really do benefit from my routine. Twice a week sessions is the sweet spot. And I do not like disruption – I wrote about how unsettling it was recently when A had to cancel a session due to sickness so I am not a bloody pro by any stretch of the imagination, I can’t just take it or leave it all the time. BUT…I can survive a bit of change and disruption…especially if I am doing something fun. And that is massive. Really massive. When I was doing all the things last week I occasionally thought of Anita and how I was looking forward to telling her about what I had done but there wasn’t any desperate missing her…in those moments. There wasn’t the big gaping sore hole #motherwound in my solar plexus screaming out in pain. There were a few bits of that this week as life returned to normal, though so I’m definitely not out the woods where that is concerned.

Yeah, you just read ALL of the above right. Don’t worry. It’s not some imposter having gained access to this blog – it’s still me – just maybe the budding version of a new me. I bloody hope so – anyway. What’s brought about this change, I wonder? I have to say that I think a good part of this more solid footing is down to the work I have been doing with Anita and K over the last couple of years. Don’t get me wrong, I am still a colossal mess (highlighted after Friday’s session), but I am not quite a big a mess as I was when Em terminated me in February 2020.

I really feel like the attachment work I have been doing is paying off. I can, a lot of the time, bring Anita to mind when I am not with her. Even the distressed child parts are getting a little more secure…which is amazing. As I say, sometimes it’s a complete shit show but there are glimmers of improvement. Even when I am doubting everything and feeling like things aren’t safe and a sham I can look back at the evidence to the contrary and generally talk myself around quite quickly. I can talk to those parts who are so upset and angry now, and tell them that it’s ok and explain why it’s ok.

I am very very aware that this is slow process and can be like a dance of two steps forward one step back. But I do think it’s important to celebrate small wins.

Another thing that’s jolted me into another space is that my childhood best friend passed away a couple of weeks ago – and suddenly life feels really fragile again. Not in an “OMG everything is dangerous” kind of a way, but in an “I’m only here once so let’s fucking do this!!” So that’s what I am attempting to do.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not going to be plain sailing, I’m not dim, and this was highlighted on Friday when Anita told me she had some breaks lined up.

For Fuck’s Sake…

I’ve just said how well I’ve coped with MY being away. It is an entirely different proposition when SHE is away and I am still here…and I want to be with her!

See, here I am, the RBCG you all know and love! Lol!

Over the last few weeks there’ve been some small rumblings inside from the young parts about the therapy. It’s hard to put my finger exactly on what’s been wrong other than a feeling in my gut that Anita is slightly backing away, maybe. There is no evidence of this whatsoever in the sessions – they are as holding and containing as ever – but outside them it’s felt like she’s taken a step back. But then this might be because she was sick and a few other disruptive things have happened.

We had that difficult conversation about outside contact a while back where she explained that writing was hard and that she hadn’t been responding because it was challenging. We agreed at that point that sending a GIF or an emoji would be fine because it’s really about settling the young parts anyway. And largely she has done that…but also at times she hasn’t. And that’s where it gets difficult for my system.

Consistency is so important for me and so any hint of change or reduction in contact can feel abandoning or rejecting and so set things into a panic internally. I have been sitting with this for a while and not said anything because when I think about it, it’s probably nothing. Most people would probably scan through my WhatsApp messages and see no difference at all. It is that subtle a change, but I feel it. And also people’s lives ebb and flow and their availability changes…I get it…just some parts don’t. And they’re the ones that need the therapy most!

I guess I will need to talk about it tomorrow, now, though, because Friday’s session has set off a landmine which might not have felt so massive if I wasn’t already brooding about the perceived change in our communications.

So, I was really looking forward to seeing Anita on Friday having not had my session on Monday. I had really missed her in the later part of the week and felt like she wasn’t there…ugh…and I felt a bit anxious going to the session. I really just wanted to go in and give her a hug on the doorstep, reconnect, and maybe read some stories on Friday. But I hadn’t even been in there thirty seconds, I’d barely sat down, when she told me she was taking some time off and handed me a piece of paper with the dates on.

Ugh.

I didn’t even look at the note and placed it face down beside my phone.

The armour that goes on when there has been a break, that I so desperately wanted to take off, stayed on, and I stayed in False Adult for nearly an hour. It was painful. Anita did acknowledge that she never knows when to tell me about her breaks but I was already so into ‘pretend that it’s ok’ that the conversation that I really needed to have, that the young parts needed couldn’t be had.

What I needed when I arrived was to land in the room. To reconnect. But instead it felt like the welcoming space was about to be taken away again so what was the point in getting comfortable? I felt a million miles away from Anita. She was sitting on the same sofa as me but she may as well have been on the moon.

It’s hard to really put into words how this stuff feels and those of you with complex trauma won’t need me to explain. Sometimes that need to be close is so overwhelming that my system shuts down, I am quiet, and it’s clear as day that something is wrong, and often Anita will ask me if I want a hug. However, when False Adult is running the show, chatting away, the young parts are so hidden that it really would take a genius to see that it’s all a front.

With about 15 minutes to go I ran out of steam. I was so frustrated with myself for not getting what I actually needed but I felt unseen too, and I think the Teen felt angry, actually. I might have been in hiding but I guess, I had hoped, by now, Anita would know that there’s more underneath. Sometimes I wish she would say something like,

“You seem really chatty today, and it’s interesting to hear about your work etc, but I am also aware that there are young parts inside that might need some attention after missing a session and also me telling you I’m having some time off. Can I just check in with how they are, too? Do they need space today, or are they ok for us to carry on as we are?”  

I can’t remember the last time I spent an hour sitting ‘far away’ from Anita. It just doesn’t happen. So often that space between us gets closed down and it settles things. I felt like I was on an island on my own on Friday. And that’s not Anita’s fault. She was there…but she wasn’t there for the parts that really need her.

In the end I gave up the pretence of being ok and asked for a hug. I spent the last fifteen minutes in silence, crying cuddled into her chest. With a few minutes to go, a little part asked, “Is something wrong?” – it was all the worry about the feeling like she has been trying to get away from me, the missed session, and the upcoming breaks panic.

Anita assured me that nothing was wrong and said that she wondered if this was because of the reasons I’ve just listed above – well the missed session and break. She doesn’t know about the messages.

We didn’t have time to talk about it because it was time to go. I left feeling flat and deflated and disconnected and generally a bit meh.

When I got to my car I took out the piece of paper Anita had given me with the dates of her breaks on…ugh…no…not good. I mentally calculated how many sessions I’d miss and realised that in December the way it might work is that I could potentially not see her for an entire month because of how her break and then the school Christmas break lands…and then of course there is Christmas itself which will be another break.

Deep breaths.

But the thing that really got me as I started to spiral into doom zone was the wording of the note. It’s typed and generic and what she will have printed out to give to all her clients:

Just a quick note to let you know I will be away from

 x date -x date

and

x date to x date.

I do apologise for any inconvenience this may cause.

With warm regards, Anita

And you know what. Adult me is completely fine with this note. It tells me what I need to know. It’s fine…it’s just…ugh…it’s really, really not fine for my young parts who haven’t been told what’s going on, haven’t had it broken down for them and explained that it’s not her leaving them or abandoning them and they haven’t done anything wrong and that it’s just a letter she sends out for information.

What’s sad is it’s that fucking reminder that whatever I think or hope the relationship is, when it comes down to it, I am a client and she can hand over a formal note and disappear. The young parts have seen the note and have no clue who the person is that wrote it. Is it Anita? She never speaks like that to them. And then of course it brings the protective parts rushing in. The Teen is doing her best to soothe the little ones but again is absolutely blind with rage at me for letting myself think there is anything special about the relationship.

Is this note from the same woman that holds me in session, or reads stories, or buys me presents, or tells me that she loves me? It certainly doesn’t feel like it. And I know it isn’t a case of it being one or the other, it’s not black and white, and for fuck’s sake it’s just a note about a fucking set of break dates….but it’s so much more than that. It feels distancing and disconnecting. Breaks do this anyway so the delivery of information about breaks is so important.

I really don’t want to sound like a nit-picking pain in the arse here, I don’t want to be hard work for Anita. But I do want to write about my response to something as innocuous as a note with holiday dates because I think it really demonstrates how complex trauma can come out. I don’t imagine that Anita would have it on her radar that I could have spiralled like this. But even a sign off can be really triggering. Warm regards…lukewarm regards.

And I am fine. Like I am getting on with my life. As I said from the top, I am in so much of a better place than I have ever been before, but these things still sting.

I text Anita on Friday because I knew this was going to fester:

Only having a little (large) meltdown about breaks…next time can you tell me about it first and give me paper/dates later. I’ll explain on Monday but the formal tone of the note just really jarred something internally – and whilst adult me is totally fine, the little parts aren’t at all. X

And there’s been radio silence to that.

Shit.

Arrrghhhh… this is not what I needed!

Like I get I’ve said we’ll talk about it on Monday, but I am surprised given the fact that I have said that the little parts are not ok that she hasn’t sent me a GIF with a hug or something for those child parts. It’s what we agreed before…so what’s going on?

And so of course, this has made me wonder if the niggling doubts I have felt for the last couple of months are actually something rather than nothing. I am hoping that it’s just me, it’s just life, that I haven’t done something wrong. It could be too that Anita thinks that things are ok, but maybe unconsciously they’re not.

Anyway, that’s that. Part of me doesn’t even want to go to session tomorrow now. It’s just so exhausting being like this isn’t it?!

X

ps. I do see how much of a contradiction this post seems to be! I’m fine/Ahhhh it’s all bad! But I guess what I am saying is although my young parts are reacting/reactive currently I am not overwhelmed or totally consumed by the stuff that is triggered. I see this as information about my internal world to be worked through, rather than a total catastrophe. Having said this it really all does depend on how it goes tomorrow talking about it!

* only if the person you’re working with is safe and trustworthy!

Disruptions Are Unsettling.

It’s been a few weeks since I last posted. Life has been just as hectic as ever this end. It’s all been pretty same same…where same same is high anxiety, stress, and general survival – holding it together with rubber bands and chewing gum!

Therapy over this time has been fine, there’s nothing really ‘big’ or ‘blogworthy’ I can think of to talk about hence the fact that I haven’t posted in a while…and add to the fact it’s the school holidays and we’ve had family visiting, there hasn’t been much available free time to sit and type.

Anita and I have been getting down to work and it’s been good. It’s felt really comfortable in so much as no matter what comes up, we can get through it and process together. I’ve had lots of really strong somatic responses to the stuff we’ve been talking about – I am so over pins and needles in my feet and cramp in my legs! When I am with Anita, I feel confident that she cares and that I am safe with her and that’s a big part of the work – it feels safe to feel the feelings with her.

I wish I still kept notes from my sessions because I literally have no idea what’s gone on in the last few weeks – the specifics escape me almost immediately after a session unless there’s something very important or memorable happened. Instead, what I tend to be left with is a feeling of how things are/have been…and that feeling is that it’s ‘fine’ or ‘good’ even if the content has been ‘hard’ or ‘upsetting’.

I think I had hit a bit of a complacent patch “Ha! I’ve mastered this therapy business.” Because the time between sessions has been ok (even if life is really tough) and it’s felt like two sessions a week has been just the right amount of holding and containment to cope with what the world throws at me…which btw seems to be giant dollops of horse shit a lot of the time!

So…good…it’s been manageable…

It’s not so good, then, when that routine gets thrown out the window at short notice.

Oh no!

It’s a fucking great disaster when that happens! That’s when I realise that things are hanging by a thread and not quite as good as I think…or…I guess a different way of looking at it, is that that my maintenance plan works but is very necessary to keep things going.

Anita and I have had some largely ‘adult’ sessions recently, where I have talked about some really big things that required a lot of trust to bring to the room – one of these sessions was last Thursday. Yeah, Thursday, not Friday. Anita had to reschedule my Friday session last week which was ok (only a little internal wobble!) but I was conscious that it felt longer until Monday. I knew I would cope but would be ready for the Monday session when it arrived.

Over the weekend the young parts started to move in after the string sessions with them being largely absent. I could really feel that little part missing A and wanting to be close to her. Rather than ignore that little voice inside, on Sunday evening I text Anita and asked if we could read stories in our Monday session. I felt really small that evening and like I could just use a session where we would connect and cuddle and hear some of the little one’s concerns. I needed a bit of a break from the hard work I had been doing in previous sessions and to give those child parts space so that they didn’t creep out into the week between sessions and hijack me when the attachment stuff got really activated.

I went to bed early on Sunday night, I felt really tired and a bit hormonal and figured the sooner I went to bed the sooner I’d get to therapy and put some of the things that were bothering me down for a while.

I woke up at 10:20pm and glanced at my phone. There was a message from A. I assumed it would be a message to say that we could read stories and she’d see me in the morning.

It wasn’t.

It took a few seconds to process what was there before my heart sank and that internal wailing from the youngest parts kicked in.

I responded to her message about cancelling the session and then turned over in bed and cried… a lot. Of course, Anita can’t help getting sick. It’s just one of those things that happen. It just felt really bad timing. Adult me gets it – those young parts who were so ready for a story did not.

I hardly slept on Sunday night, my anxiety sky-rocketed and every small sound in the house set my system jangling. On Monday morning I asked my wife if she might be around on Wednesday morning so I could get to session, but she is in meetings and has some big work stuff on this week that was already causing her/us stress and so she wouldn’t be available.

I’ve mentioned before that it’s been a real nightmare these last few months with my wife’s job, anyway, and it’s all coming to a head at the moment so I really, really needed to retreat into that calm space with A this week as I am freaking out inside. Sometimes it just feels like the universe conspires against me!

I’m still not sure if I can get to Friday’s session this week, and next week looks impossible, too. It’s a nightmare trying to rope in favours for childcare over the summer holidays in order to get to sessions, and whilst I’ve done reasonably well over this break it’s just looking really unlikely that I’ll get to see Anita face to face between now and school returning.

I can, of course, do online sessions which are better than nothing, but are far from ideal especially when my body is off its tits and just won’t calm down and the young parts are really activated.

I feel physically sick from the anxiety I am feeling this week. It’s so annoying because I had been doing well, even though things felt scary and difficult…but now, well, jeez it’s hideous. I think some of it is tied to my cycle too – I feel paranoid about bad things happening when I have PMS and this is really heightened this month…although I think I have mentally adopted the brace position until I know the lay of the land with my wife’s job.

I don’t really have anything much more to say – I guess I just needed to let off steam about this somewhere where people will understand how big a deal not getting to therapy and last minute disruptions are.

Hope you are all holding up ok. x

The Power Of Two Way Communication: Authenticity, Honesty, And Vulnerability In Therapy

A few weeks ago, I was really struggling with the sense of Anita being out there somewhere, still. It seems to come in waves. The protectors had been doing their thing and then the really vulnerable stuff from the young parts had been really activated and I just felt really at sea outside the sessions because so much was going on inside them!

I bang on so much here about the sense of object constancy (or lack of it!) and I was right in the thick of that horrible stuff again – panicking that something had gone wrong, or something had changed between Anita and I, that she was fed up or backing away…all that wonderfully destabilising shite! Although there was absolutely no evidence of this in the sessions AT ALL, because I was so sensitive and hypervigilant, I was looking for evidence of things going wrong. This was especially apparent and troubling me over the weekends which is always just the very best time for having a worry overload about therapy… you know, when the therapist ISN’T THERE!

Anita and I have a really great therapeutic relationship and I feel so blessed to have found her. It’s been incredible to have this amazing connection and to experience so much healing with my therapist – especially after what happened with Em. As I’ve said a lot, my relationship with A is not straightforward or plain sailing. It is not ‘easy’ being in the therapy. I don’t go in and relax and chat – we do A LOT of work both in the room and out of it and A LOT of my stuff gets triggered in the relationship with Anita. It’s certainly not pretty, but it is authentic and stripped back and it is really working with the wounding in a meaningful and productive way.

Anyway, you know what it’s like when you are stressed out and panicking about things going wrong in therapy. I trust Anita implicitly, but there are certainly parts that are poised looking for signs of abandonment and rejection. I figure this time I’ll get out first before being pushed away and having my vulnerable parts annihilated like what happened with Em. I said at the very beginning when I met Anita that she’d have her work cut out for her because she’d be tested so much more because of the breakdown of the therapy with Em. She didn’t seem in the least bit fazed and understood that my ‘antenna’ (her word) would be very active.

I posted a picture on one of my recent posts about runners

…and after what happened with Em my runners are race fit, wearing spikes, and waiting for the starting gun. Honestly, they’re set for a world record run if they need to go! How funny would it be to line up all our runners together in a mini ‘Therapy Goers Olympics’…It’d be the saddest competition ever but my goodness can you imagine the races?!

*I’m really sorry…this post, and my brain, is all over the shop.

I think the feeling of being distant from A outside the sessions was what was triggering the protectors in sessions at that time. It’s really hard to explain what exactly it was that was wrong. If you were to look through my message exchanges between A and I most people wouldn’t see anything amiss. I just felt like something was wrong. A is usually so responsive and yet she seemed to have backed away somehow. She felt distant and I didn’t know what to do.

I didn’t say anything when I first felt it because I know that I am so fucking sensitive to small changes and I also realise that A has her life and does her very best where I am concerned. I know she’s not big on using her phone and so if she doesn’t respond to me then it’s not her ignoring me, she is probably just outside with her phone away from her. So… I just sat with it, trying to remember all the evidence that things are actually fine with us. And I (adult) know they are fine… but it’s not the adult that sees and feels these minute differences in communication and when things start to get stirred up my body goes into a state of high alert and panic.

On her break in June (ugh) I felt really disconnected and was upset that in the first week she had seemed AWOL and I worried that something was up. But then she sent me a bunch of lovely photographs halfway through the holiday and was much more ‘there’ in the second week so it sort of settled stuff down. When she came back, she told me that her phone had run out of charge in the first week and as she’d been wild camping there was no power – so I do get it…well adult me does!

So, the other week I wanted to get a handle on myself rather than spiralling off thinking that something bad was afoot. But then a couple of weekends felt ‘off’ and my spidey senses were so alerted that I just couldn’t get over myself. I’d had a terrible week anyway, things have been really bad for my wife with work and she’d been away working most of the week. It was the same week where I had had the extra session (that I only just recently logged in my brain – what a fucking fool I am!) and coincided with the anniversary of my dad’s death.

Basically, I was a complete emotional mess, and my system was melting down (not that dissimilar to how things are now, actually!). The week was topped off with a really crap interaction with my mum that had exacerbated my stress and just left me feeling overwhelmed, unseen, and unsupported. I had sent Anita a text on the Friday afternoon where I said something about hoping she was still holding onto the invisible string…and she didn’t respond. On Sunday I sent her an ‘I miss you’ gif and still no response.

“OH GOD. WHAT HAS HAPPENED? WHAT HAVE I DONE WRONG????”

Anita is usually so good at replying to that kind of message but there was radio silence.

Don’t panic.

Don’t panic!

DON’T PANIC!!!!

In the normal run of things, I probably would have been ok with no response. As I said a minute ago, I get she has a life, and isn’t always by her phone – but it just felt really off. You know when your gut just ‘knows’ things aren’t quite right but you can’t put your finger on exactly what it is? Well, it was that. I just felt something was off.

Usually, if we’ve not had much/any contact between sessions then A will send me a message the night before saying something like, “looking forward to seeing you tomorrow” but again there was nothing on this particular weekend and because there was so much already not right in my day-to-day life my brain started to freak out and everything started to spiral. I felt sick to my core… “here we go again” I thought and braced for inevitable rejection.

By Monday morning I was terrified that I was going to walk into something terrible and convinced myself that it was better to stay away then go in and be rejected in some way. My runners were warmed up and ready to race…away.

I sent a stressed-out message first thing:

A, I feel really anxious and like something is very wrong – or that I have done something wrong. I couldn’t get to sleep for ages last night and when I did there were nightmares again. I’m scared I am not going to be able to connect because the protectors are so out, and I can’t bear the thought of it feeling worse than it already does. I’m wondering whether I should just stay home and give us both a break today – which is probably just running away but it all feels too much, and I don’t know how to make it better.

Anita responded warmly and said that from her side nothing was wrong, that she’d had a busy weekend, and that she thought that if I didn’t come that it might actually feed the protectors and that she was really like to see me.

I could see her point, but I also had that enormous feeling of dread in my stomach and didn’t want to go and it be awful. Anita’s message was clear – things were ok with her…but I was not Ok. My need for connection felt enormous and overwhelming and I feared that if the protectors kept me ‘safely’ disconnected from A it would lead to some really bad dissociation. But I decided I needed to go. I didn’t want this feeling of rupture to increase. I feared being abandoned and yet if I didn’t go I would be stopping myself from having any chance of getting what I needed.

Anita is so familiar with my inner battle and comments on it frequently…neither one of us is new to this push and pull dance that goes on for me. So I got in the car and drove to session. The closer I got the more anxious I felt.

I arrived at the session feeling sick, like I would actually puke, and so nervous I was actually trembling. Anita opened the door, sometimes I just walk in and barely look at her, but that morning I, somehow, managed to make fleeting eye contact.

She was not scary.

She was Anita.

Nothing had changed.

I moved towards her, she opened her arms and we hugged on the doorstep. I find that when I do that, it often helps to keep the protectors at bay. I needed to connect straight off. I didn’t want to hide from A, I wanted to be able to get to the bottom of things and make it feel better. I wanted to let her in not run away.

In a really soft, gentle voice, Anita said “I can feel you’re really struggling” as she held me to her. I could feel my heart pounding in my chest. We hugged for a few seconds and then I pulled away and went to the therapy room. As I sat down and felt completely overwhelmed despite the hug literally twenty seconds previously. Anita gently said, “I am here. I know it doesn’t feel like it sometimes but I am.”  She was sitting beside me, but I couldn’t look at her. I felt so vulnerable and overwhelmed.

I immediately asked for another hug as I knew I was going to disappear and that there was a very small window before it could all go to shit. I’m familiar enough with myself now to know that there’s not much time to circumnavigate the protectors coming online and I really didn’t want to be imprisoned by them and unable to get to A that day.

(Yes, I am totally aware of how much UNNECESSARY drama there is! – chill your tits RB!!)

Anita opened her arms and told me to “come here” she said. I shuffled across the sofa and snuggled in close to her I could barely breathe. I felt like I was hyperventilating and struggled to catch my breath – I felt so panicked. It’s almost like being that close to her, being held safely by her, allows all the stuff I have been holding to finally come out and the strength of the overwhelm is right there in those moments. It’s like a dam bursting, but kind of in a good way. It’s a relief to let it out even if it is hugely draining.  

“I can feel you’re really shaky,” Anita soothed and held me tighter to her. I just lay there in her arms trying to ground and regroup and focus in on her steady breathing and slow, regular heartbeat. I can never get over how big a physical response to emotional upset I experience now. All those years of being numb or dissociated and now it’s like everything goes wild – I feel ALL THE FEELINGS with Anita. I am still not great letting it all out by myself: I get the panic and the anxiety and the tension and shaking at home, but the tears only come when I am safe with A and it is the tears that really need to come.

It can take quite a long time before I am able to actually talk when this sort of thing happens because my system takes a while to settle and regulate. I really, really need that co-regulation and proximity to Anita. She is so patient and just allows whatever is there to come. I was crying and hanging onto her like my life depended on it when she softly said, “I so wish I could take all this away from you…It absolutely cripples you doesn’t it?”

“I don’t feel very good.” I murmured.

“What can I do to help?” Anita wondered.

What more could she do in that moment? Not a lot. She was already holding me, trying to get me to a place where I felt safe and Ok…my struggle wasn’t about what was happening in the room. It was about my perception of what was/wasn’t happening anymore out of it. Somehow, I was going to have to tell her that I had got the sense that something was wrong because our interactions outside the room seemed to have changed and I needed to know if I had done something wrong and basically if I was about to get some kind of boundary talk.

Anita started talking. And to my complete surprise, she knew immediately that the state I was in was about was about the messages – or lack of them. I hadn’t said a word. And that’s why I love her. She’s so intuitive and attuned. Em would never have joined the dots on this, and if I had explained she would have shamed me and put me in my place…closed ranks, reasserted the boundaries, told me that it was my own fault, and I would have felt even worse than I already did.

Fortunately, Anita is not Em. She began by telling me that because of her dyslexia it takes her quite a while to formulate messages in text and that it’s worse at weekends because she has less time and needs to be on her own to think about what she needs to say. She said that when she doesn’t reply to me it’s not that she can’t be bothered, in fact, she said, “It’s the exact opposite. I don’t want to get it wrong. I don’t want to send the wrong emoji or message and it look like I don’t care. If anything, it’s that I care too much and I don’t want to hurt you by getting it wrong. My little ones get so overwhelmed that sometimes they run away.”

She explained that she’s so aware of how hurt I have been by other people that it’s the last thing she wants to do. She said that sometimes parts of her get triggered around writing, not necessarily to me, but admin stuff that might need doing and then they need, “Escape time”.

It was all going so well, up to that point. I could understand what she was saying. Her honesty about what happens, and her process was valuable. But the word “escape” sent fear through my system. Does she need to escape from me? Am I too much for her?

I had been quietly cuddling into A but I think I must have started to shake again, “What are you thinking” Anita asked. I took a deep breath and whispered, “I don’t want you to feel like you need to escape from me”.

Anita didn’t miss a beat and emphatically replied, “I don’t want to escape from you! It’s an escape from the parts of me that really struggle…escaping from needing to get it right…escaping from me! It’s me… it’s not you. It’s not your fault. You’re not too demanding. You don’t ask too much of me…I hope this makes sense…”

At this point I was sobbing fat tears into her chest. I so needed to hear that. There would have been a time where I would have just sat with that word, ‘escape’ tumbling round in my brain, doing so much damage, because I would have feared bringing it up only to have my thinking confirmed: I am too much and she wants to get away form me. With Anita, I still get triggered (!!!) – like I said earlier – but somehow, I feel like I can tell her what’s up. I’m confident enough in us, her, the relationship to be able to tell when things feel bad, and she so quickly puts things right.

“I hope you’re hearing what I am trying to say.” She soothed. “I’m sorry I couldn’t be there for you as much as I’d like to have been there for you this weekend. And it’s not because you are too demanding because you’re really not…” and she went on to tell me some things about her weekend and just how hectic it had all been and how she’d been overthinking a reply and a GIF to send me but couldn’t find exactly the right one and then how her phone had actually died again.

She reiterated how she really didn’t want to hurt me by not responding well enough. “I care too much for it not to feel like I really care. I want to show you that I really care. I don’t want to get it wrong. Then I don’t do anything…which is worse. Then I think I’ll do it later when I have the time…and…but it’s not that you’re too much.” The authenticity in her voice was so moving. It was so connecting and so healing and such a contrast of what I have been used to. “I really, really do care” Anita went on, “And maybe I should just put that?… I’m sorry.”

My young parts were really able hear what she was saying it was enough to settle them and my adult came back online (finally!). I didn’t say anything and continued to listen as she spoke about her struggle with writing being one of her flaws and a fault – we’ve spoken about it before a bit, and how this internalised pressure really had come out for her recently – not because of me. I realised just how much of a challenge it feels to her and I realised that it can’t be easy especially as I am an English teacher.

It was at that point I decided to tell her that my English teacher is not in a relationship with her and that I wanted her to know I don’t judge her messages in that way. I also explained that I felt really sad that she felt like she was inadequate or flawed because she absolutely isn’t. I do think this a is a legacy of the education system for dyslexic people – if not now, certainly in the past where there was very little understanding or support for dyslexic people.

More heartfelt words came from Anita. The poor woman was completely covered in my tears by then! “I’m scared of hurting you if I get the words wrong. I don’t want you to hear negative. And with trauma that’s what can happen. I am scared that I could hurt you and it’s the last thing I would want to do. When we are here in the room – like just now – you heard the word ‘escape’ and what you heard wasn’t what I had meant- but when we are together, we can talk it through…I really do care about you. I really, really do. You mean so much to me. And the last thing I’d want to do is hurt you. And I hear what you are saying, it doesn’t matter what I send, just send something.”

Anita said that she knew in the past I had told her that an emoji would be enough just to maintain the connection but somehow, she hadn’t let it sink in because she feels that sometimes it isn’t enough.

“It’s like you are dead.” I groaned. “Even a picture of the dog helps when it’s like that.”

Anita took it all on board and we agreed what we would do going forward.

It was a massive session – really huge. The entirety of that session happened in a cuddle and that feels really important, too. Feeling physically safe and held really helps me say what I need. I was so dysregulated to begin with but over time that closeness and proximity helps me get back into my window of tolerance.

I felt like I had run a marathon in that hour, but it was so helpful. The honestly and vulnerability on both sides was so connecting. The level of emotional intimacy we have now absolutely stuns me sometimes, but it’s really teaching me so much. It’s ok to be vulnerable, and wounded, and all the things that seemed so dangerous and shameful in the past. The fact that Anita models this behaviour is so massive for me. It’s such a contrast from the blank screen of Em – I mean it their approaches really are like chalk and cheese – but I find having someone tell me what’s going on for them, explaining their feelings, rather than leaving me doing guess work so helpful. I feel like Anita and I genuinely have something really special.

Since then, things have been great so far as our communications outside sessions has gone. We don’t have big, long wordy, messages – we never have (except when there’s been a big rupture). Mostly it’s photos of nature or GIFs that we send but it’s really helpful to me. A couple of weeks ago, though, things took a desperate nosedive. Lots has been going on here and I have been right up to my limit with coping. Anita and I hadn’t had contact since the Monday session where we’d read a new story book and we’d had a joke about it. When Anita sent me a message on the Thursday evening telling me she was looking forward to seeing me the next day I just crumbled. I was so ready to see her the next day.

Here is the thread of messages. It was bad but Anita in her magic really settled things.

Can you see why I love her?

This last weekend she reached out knowing I was going to the hospice to visit my friend to tell me she was thinking of me. I text her when I got out saying it had been really hard and she told me she to drive home safe, that she was thinking of me and sending love. The care she exhibits means such a lot. I have loads to write about but…crikey…this is epically long! Sorry! I’ll come back in another post.

I guess what all this post demonstrates is how important finding a good fit in therapy is. Finding the right therapist for you is essential. Everyone is different and needs different things. Some people would hate to work the way Anita and I do, and would prefer the detached, cooler approach of Em. But that didn’t work for me. I’ve seen a lot of therapists in my time, and I can hand on heart say, I wish I had met Anita years ago…and never crossed paths with Em! Because for me, it’s all about the relationship…and this relationship is so healing for me.

I saw this – and really it says it all. I don’t feel alone anymore, and my child parts don’t either.

Chosen Family: A Friend For Over Thirty Years

I can count on my fingers the people that I hold close and have let into my heart. I’ve never been big on acquaintances – I’d sooner be alone with my thoughts in nature than stuck in a room of fake smiles and raucous artificial laughter. I don’t do surface level friendships or communications; I don’t see the point in it.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a chameleon (trauma does that to you!) and can float round a large gathering appearing comfortable, being funny, showing interest, bringing people together – but as an introvert, that kind of situation wipes me out for days afterwards and it takes time to regroup. I would rather spend time with one or two close friends in a space that allows quiet for chat than out shouting over music any day of the week.

I am finding more and more that I avoid situations where I get out way less than I put in. I’ve always been a people pleaser, a giver, but I’m nearly forty now and I know that I am finally done wasting energy putting myself in situations that don’t feel good on an energetic level- whether that be with my family or in social situations. I only have so many spoons and these days I am seeing that I am actually worthy of using these spoons to support myself! Who knew?!

I want genuine, authentic, ‘warts and all’ relationships with like-minded souls. I seek people who are able to be vulnerable and show their wounds as well as their triumphs. I want deep conversations and comfortable silences not performance. Life is too short for show. Let’s get down to meeting one another on a soul level and supporting one another in our vulnerable authenticity rather than hiding from one another and putting on a brave face.

Over the course of my life, I have met some truly wonderful people who I cherish – friends that feel like family. And my goodness, I have needed a chosen family with the blood relatives I got dealt! Once that bond is made, once I let you into my circle, there’s no getting out… but then those people who are in that space don’t want out (at least they don’t seem to!).

There is nothing better than connecting with people who know you and see you for who you are, who love you in spite of your flaws and because of your sensitivity, people who celebrate your successes and commiserate with you when you fail, people who just want the best for you…and for all that to be reciprocated, for the love and care to run both ways. I want to know and be known by my chosen family.

Today I want to write about one particular member of this small group of special people that I hold dear in my heart. I don’t know if she’ll get to read this because currently, she’s very ill in a hospice suffering after a long battle with cancer… and also it means sharing the blog which is a vulnerable act in itself – not that she’d share it with anyone, but our mums are friends and I have always been a bit reluctant in case my mum got wind of what I was writing! (Can you even imagine?!)

This is not the first time I have written about the cancer thief on this blog – my darling friend and second ‘mother’ died a couple of years ago from myeloma and it knocked me for six but there was perhaps a bit more acceptance on my part then despite the devastation because she was almost sixty, this time I feel at a complete loss because there is no fucking way that my friend should be in this situation at 38 or having been battling since she was 30. It’s just brutal.

When you keep your world small and your loved ones in single digits I think you feel the loss of these significant people all the more acutely and I want my beautiful friend to know just how very much I love her. I know she knows anyway, but I just want to say it again publicly.

This amazing, strong, selfless, inspiration of woman is my longest standing friend. We met at primary school when we were six and I’d just moved into the area. We struck up an instant friendship. Back then we were all about roller-skating, gymnastics and playing with our dolls ‘Anna’ and ‘Amy’ (seriously, we had the same shivering baby dolls!). We spent hours playing and chatting and just being little girls together. The first time I went to her house to play I stepped in a bowl of custard, and I’ve never been able to live it down! But I love those memories.

It’s funny, really, because I moved away from the area when I was eleven and yet despite years of not really seeing much of each other there has always been this unbreakable bond between us. Whenever we have got together it’s like no time has passed and it hasn’t mattered that we haven’t actively been in one another’s lives. We pick up like there’s been no separation and I guess that is the hallmark of a strong relationship.

In some ways this is odd, isn’t? A friendship forged over just five years in childhood is not like my university friendships formed as a young adult and where you might think there would be a greater degree of like-mindedness and yet it is every bit as strong, every bit as valuable. As small girls we weren’t talking about the tremendous hurts our families caused us, our struggles with our bodies, sexuality, self-harm, health concerns, because that stuff wasn’t there then – back then we were just two little girls who got on well but somehow that deep knowing of those little girls has kept going all these years.

We are now two women, mothers ourselves, who still have each other’s backs and have come through so much – I’d smash anyone who wanted to hurt her in the face with my rollerblades- just you see! When I got diagnosed with Hodgkin’s it was incredible to have a friend who really ‘got it’. She understood the fear, and the bloody awful side effects of the chemo and radiotherapy. I never had to pretend I was ok about my cancer with her. We spend so much time protecting others when we get sick and trying to be ‘ok’ but to have someone who really knew what it was to feel chemically sick, to lose her hair, and all the other shit that comes with it was so valuable to me. I hope that she feels that there never needs to be an act for me even at the end now.

I’m not doing a great job with this today; I keep getting massive waves of grief and overwhelm to think that we are where we are. I so badly want to be able to put into words how very proud and honoured I am to call this special lady my friend. Ask anyone and they’ll tell you what an amazing person she is. The love that she and her family is held in is immense and it’s not surprising because she’s fucking incredible. She set up a charity to support people with cancer whilst battling with her own and has created a legacy that will live on long after she’s gone. I just wish she was going to be here to see it.

There is so so much I could say here about all her achievements but fundamentally I am just so proud to call her my friend and so thankful that she even wanted to be my friend. She has no idea how her friendship when we were kids helped me get through some really tough times. The safety and stability our friendship offered meant I didn’t feel alone when everything was terrible at home. I could at least escape into love and care at school.

Sometimes I think that life just seems to be a series of losses and heartbreaks, and wonder why we do it to ourselves? If essentially all relationships are set to end why bother? Why walk into something that will end causing us pain? But then of course, relationships are what makes life worth living. It’s our interactions with one another, the love we feel for one another that truly makes a life. And whilst I am beyond sad that I am watching, helplessly, as my darling friend faces this horrible time I am so very grateful to have been with her on this journey that we call life.

It’s not what we do in life that matters. It’s how we make others feel. And a lifetime of friendship, care, and love is the greatest gift she has given me. I will be lost without her.

I love you L.