Mother’s Day Followed By A Hint Of Therapy Break Dread…

Denial is good right?!

I’ve been putting off writing on the blog this week… which is strange because there’s been plenty of ‘crazy-making’ topics to talk about! I think it’s almost as though there is so much ‘ugh’ stuff running round my brain that I’ve just buried my head in the sand and tried to power through, pretending it was just a normal week rather than a recipe of emotionally triggering events set to send me over the edge! I guess it’s a survival tactic – head down and run!

Last Sunday was Mother’s Day in the UK. It’s the annual, in your face, reminder that my mothering wasn’t great (read: totally lacking, emotionally neglectful, and trauma inducing!) whilst great swathes of society celebrate their wonderful mother/daughter relationships. The shops are fit to burst with ‘Thank You To My Lovely Mum On Mother’s Day’ cards and gifts as soon as Valentines Day is over and it makes me avoid the shops for the month.

It’s not altogether different to how I feel around Father’s Day – everyone is celebrating a relationship when I am grieving a loss: my dad is dead. My mum might be alive but I’m in the process of grieving a loss; grieving the mother I never had but so desperately wanted and needed. Both days ‘parent’s days’ are tough in different ways.

I had to avoid most of social media over the weekend because I wanted to puke at the photos of mums and daughters together posting ‘she’s my best friend’ stuff or ‘thanks for all you do for me’. I totally get that it might sound like I am bitter or begrudging of people who have those ‘magical’ relationships with their mums and are, most importantly, securely attached… but it’s really not that at all. Honestly it’s not! It’s clear that a healthy, safe, nurturing mothering relationship is what I am longing for. I guess I am jealous.

I had to unplug over Mother’s Day because it’s just so hard having everyone else’s love and connection thrust upon me when I’m so very aware of the deficit in my own relationship with my mother. I feel like a broken record banging on about the mother wound but it’s huge isn’t it? I find that it’s hard enough navigating the week to week fall out of developmental trauma and struggling with maternal transference in the therapeutic relationship without this stuff being everywhere you go!

I find it sadly ironic that I was actually born on Mother’s Day and have had this almost farcical relationship with my mum. Mother’s Day is a day of celebration and yet it feels almost like a sick joke that I actually turned up on Mother’s Day and yet have always felt almost motherless.

The relationship was doomed from the beginning and as much as I resent what’s happened over the years, I can also see that my mum and I were subject to a bunch of shit circumstances that made our bonding experience very difficult, bordering on impossible. It doesn’t excuse everything that’s gone on but I can understand a bit why things are how they are… did I just make a concession?!

My birth was complicated (we both nearly died) and as a result my mum didn’t get to see me for the first twenty four hours of my life because she was so poorly and so was I. I spent three days in an incubator on a neonatal unit. When my mum finally got to meet me she didn’t recognise me as being hers she thought another baby was hers (this is a story she tells like it’s a joke, but working in therapy I realise how fucking tragic that actually is) and so that critical window of bonding was missed. We never had that lovely time of skin to skin contact that I had with my babies immediately following their births. There was none of that essential oxytocin released between us. We never got to know each other at the primal level.

I was not held or touched for three days apart from nappy changes and care from midwives. I was stuck in a fish tank – alone. I understand why. I was tiny and fragile. That’s what happened back in the early 80’s. These days they know so much more about the importance of those early hours and days with mothers and babies; they put little squares of fabric in with the mother and baby and keep swapping them over in order that the baby can identify the mother’s scent when they finally can come out of the incubator. It makes complete sense; build the connection and the relationship.

It’s hardly surprising that a young mum who had a difficult pregnancy, a highly traumatic birth, and who received next to no support would develop postnatal depression – again something that was nowhere near as understood as it is now. It’s like a hideous catalogue of errors that has led to a fractured maternal relationship. I really feel that if things had have been done a little differently I may not be struggling in quite the way I am today. I mean I get there was plenty of shit that went on as I grew up but I do get the sense that the seeds were planted very early on, before I was even born.

I feel so sorry for my mum, at 22, going through what she did. My adult self wants to befriend her 22 year old self and give her some support, some guidance, and tell her that it’s going to be ok. She is good enough, even if the world (family) is telling her otherwise. She needed a good friend, and a good therapist back then – in fact I suspect she could use those now. I am lucky to have both of these things today.

I feel so fortunate, I had really positive birth experiences with both my babies (planned c-section), bonded with them, they both fed easily, my wife was supportive, and the transition into motherhood as easy as it could possibly have been and yet there were certainly days where I was so exhausted from night feeds that I wondered what the hell I was doing. I can’t imagine what it must’ve been like for my mum. She was just a baby when she had me and even as a proper grown up at 29 when I had my first child I still found some days a trial.

Anyway, I saw my mum on Sunday and it was nice. We did a kind of joint Mother’s Day/birthday celebration with a cake. As I have said before I don’t really have a problem with the relationship my mum and I have now. Sure, we don’t touch and we don’t have a great deal of contact, but when we see one another it’s ok; it’s good enough. She’s kind. She doesn’t judge me. She’s great with my kids and that goes some small way towards repairing the damage…well my adult sees it that way…don’t dig too deep or ask to many questions to the others!

I’ve learned to accept what the relationship is in the here and now. Our adults get on fine. The problem I have is trying to come to terms with what the relationship wasn’t when I was small. I am trying to come to terms with the lack of nurturing and holding I received as a kid. That’s where the work is. That’s what’s so hard in the therapy. Some weeks I find it easier than others.

This week I am not finding it all easy. What’s up? If Mother’s Day was fine then what’s the problem? Well, this is week is hard because I’m now heading into my last session before I have a month long therapy break. I can feel all the younger parts groaning in unison. My dreams are filled with my therapist and I’ve felt steadily more unsettled as the week has progressed. Basically, because the therapy mother is about to disappear all the trauma and pain of the mother wound is right back on the surface…and that sucks!

I am both desperate for my session on Monday and dreading it. I so want to see my therapist but I also don’t want to see her because once the time is up, that’s it….I’m on my own… we all know how that worked out at Christmas and that was only 2.5 weeks. Eeek. Whilst I know she’ll be back (eventually) there are parts that feel abandoned and scared, and others that feel plain angry that she’s going away. Argh!

This Monday’s session was totally fine. We talked a lot about the stress I am feeling around my cancer follow ups and blood tests. It was front of mind because I had to go and get blood taken that afternoon ready for my consultant appointment on Wednesday. It’s a horrid time leading into hospital appointments because I never really know what news I am going to get. I never in a million years imagined I would be diagnosed with cancer 6 months after giving birth to my son so I never take for granted that these appointments will be fine. You just never know and that is really anxiety provoking.

We have started edging around the subject of my eating disorder in the last few weeks, too. And whilst part of me is cringing and wanting to run away there is another part that is relieved to tell her how things are, how they have been, and let go of some of the burden. I struggle not to judge myself as I tell her the details of what’s happened over the years and how much I battle still – but she doesn’t judge me and so I am learning to be a little more compassionate with myself.

I know it won’t last, though. I can’t sustain that without regular reassurance. I know that as soon as Monday’s session is done I am going to have a real problem on my hands. I don’t want to fall into unhelpful coping strategies but I also can feel it coming. It’s like a storm rolling in on the horizon. I already feel body conscious because I’ve been eating well for the last few weeks and that in itself makes my brain panic. I don’t want to feel abandoned and rejected and alone but I know that even if I manage the first week of the break, at some point the wheels will fall off. I’m not being fatalistic, I just know the pattern…

So, that’s kind of where it’s at right now. I guess we’ll just have to see how Monday goes. I hope I can go in and be open. I am worried that I will shutdown and shut her out as so often is the case as we head into a break. I don’t need that, though! I will endeavour to connect with her.

Wish me luck! I know that so many of us edge towards Easter therapy break now and so I’m sending you all holding and containing thoughts/wishes: you’ve got this.

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Anxiety and the wrong shoes

img_2559I am fluctuating wildly in my moods and behaviours at the minute. One minute I feel borderline suicidal and the next full of fight and motivation. I’d like to blame it on being hormonal – but I know it’s not just that. Sigh!

Last week I briefly spoke about how I had manically cleaned my house within an inch of its life in preparation for a therapy session via Skype (it doesn’t sound any less mental a week on does it?!) and how perhaps I was in avoidance mode; cleaning the house meant I didn’t have to focus on the ‘real issue’ at hand which was the rupture that my therapist and I had over Christmas and that we are (still) steadily trying to repair bit by bit.

I recognise that some of my behaviour recently has been a bit ‘on the edge of normal’ (whatever that is) and on reflection I realise that I have been operating from a point of high anxiety and it’s been subtly seeping into my day-to-day.

To be honest I am always slightly (a lot) anxious and/or depressed (what fun!) and am acutely sensitive to seemingly small things: changes in routine (especially my therapy) knock me for six and send me spiralling.

Apparently, I am a highly sensitive person (HSP); whilst this trait certainly has some benefits (being intuitive, empathic, feeling, with a complex inner life!) some aspects of it can be debilitating (social anxiety, noise intolerance, being overstimulated/terrified by violent movies, needing to retreat from the world when it feels overwhelming).

My anxiety escalated to an unmanageable level over the Christmas therapy break (anyone notice?) and although things are a little better now, particularly now that my therapy has resumed, I feel that the residual levels of stress and anxiety I am carrying are higher than normal and are massively impacting on my life.

Why am I anxious right now?

How long have you got?!

Clearly the usual things that bother me are still there:

  • My physical health (or lack of it) concerns me. I have been ill pretty much consistently since September and have so little energy that I have stopped exercising altogether (good for my weight but not a lot else) and am barely making it through the day even when trying to conserve my energy. My bloods suggest that I am still in remission from my Hodgkins but living on an 8 week turn around for check-ups is anxiety-inducing in itself. I live in a state of constant worry about if and when I’ll get ill again.
  • My fragile mental health – ugh! Therapy is causing me anxiety because although things are slowly getting better, my therapist and I still have a great deal of talking to do about the rupture that happened at Christmas. Whilst things feel so tentative my internal child parts are even less settled and contained than usual and so it is really hard to manage. This week all I have wanted to do is reach out to my therapist and seek some kind of reassurance. Don’t worry! I’m not stupid. I am not going to go down that route again. One rupture and sense overwhelming sense of rejection is enough to be dealing with; I don’t need to add any fuel to the fire. But it does nothing to alleviate my anxiety about feeling abandoned or rejected when I can’t reach out or even the thought of doing so reminds me of all that has recently happened.

 

Then there’s the extra shit – icing on the cake if you will:

  • My wife’s skin cancer is stressing me out. We are waiting on the results of her biopsies to know where to go from here-  but right now it’s a crazy limbo type space trying not to overthink things but underneath it gnaws away at me. I don’t have a brain that just shuts off, unfortunately. Oh my goodness I would love an ‘off’ button.
  • My best friend from primary school has been hit by the big C again and I am utterly devastated. As if it wasn’t bad enough getting diagnosed with breast cancer the day before your thirtieth birthday, going through chemo and having a mastectomy, she then relapsed eighteen months later – the breast cancer had metastasised and was now in her lymph nodes under her arm. More treatment. And now last week they’ve found it in her bones. I mean seriously. Wtf? I am so sad for her and her family. To face fighting cancer three times in less than five years with a young family is just hideous. I can’t help but become even more anxious about my own future, too.

 

Then there’s the minging glace cherry on top of the cake:

  • My neighbours. Ugh. It’s too long and dull a story to recount here but suffice to say I am not a crier (I struggle to hit those buried emotions) and yet found myself in tears on Friday due to an incident that happened. The ‘thing’ itself is not a big deal and yet because I am so on a knife edge with my ‘everyday life’ what happened last week sent me over the edge. My brain has run wild and my anxiety has spiked horrendously. When you don’t feel secure or safe in your home it’s horrid. I really struggle with conflict and even when I know I have done nothing wrong I struggle to not find fault or blame myself. I need to get better at managing stress!

Anyway. It’s been a bit tentative this week for sure. One minute I am desperately sad and frightened hiding in my bed, the next I am driving my car with the stereo on full blast belting out something from Pink’s new album (I think my teen part is quite lively at the moment – perhaps after the letter I wrote to her).

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Today Pink’s ‘Secrets’ was on loop in my car… the lyrics really resonate with me/the teen right now – it’s kind of how I feel about therapy like there’s a few things I need to let out the bag. It’s a right belter of a track too:

Secrets

What do we conceal? What do we reveal?
Make that decision every day
What is wrong with me, it’s what’s wrong with you
There’s just so much I wanna say

I like to make-believe with you
Da, da, da, da, do, do, do
That we always speak the truth…ish
I like how we pretend the same
Da, da, da, da, do, do, do
Play this silly little game, hey!

I’ve got some things to say
‘Cause there’s a lot that you don’t know
It’s written on my face, it’s gonna be hard to swallow
(Everybody’s got a secret)
I got some things to say
(Everybody’s got a secret)
‘Cause there’s a lot that you don’t know
(Everybody’s got a secret)
It’s written on my face
(Everybody’s got a secret)

I let the walls come down
I let the monster out, and it’s coming after me
Do you feel exposed where it hurts the most?
Can you wear it on your sleeve

Put it in the closet, lock the doors
Wondering which one is worse
Is it mine or is it yours
Put it in the closet, lock the doors
Wondering which one is worse
I’ll show mine if you show yours
I’ll show mine if you show yours, hey, hey, hey!

*

So, yeah, it’s been very up and down emotionally for me lately…To Monday morning, though. Get to the point eh?!

Usually I am pretty particular about what I wear to therapy. I try and dress well – not smart or anything like that, I just want to feel good in what I am wearing. I’m generally in some kind of jeans or dungarees (don’t judge me! I am a lesbian after all!) but I am fairly well put together – everything is clean and I make an effort with my appearance. Legs are shaved, eye brows are shaped, socks and pants are good! (like it even fucking matters! ha!)

I don’t usually wear makeup day-to-day but I generally slap on some foundation to cover the greyness and a bit of mascara to make my eyes look less tired on a Monday. I don’t think it achieves much but it is the mask I put on to go pour my heart out.

I’d describe how I dress for therapy as one of those casual no one would know you’ve made any effort looks – surf style. However, if I don’t blow dry and straighten my hair there’s an issue! I look like my granddad with his crazy bouffant hairdo. Oh man I miss my long hair that I could just whack in a tucked under pony tail. Damn you fucking cancer!

Sometimes I really cover up – even in the summer I can sit in a jumper with my arms concealed not wanting to draw attention to my scars or bony/skinny body. Other times I might choose to be more revealing – it’s a weird one. Sometimes I want to hide everything from my therapist and other times I want her to see me – I want her to know how things are. I’ve read a few posts about what people wear to therapy and I think it does tell you a lot about what might be going on both consciously and unconsciously.

Anyway. I felt pretty vulnerable on Monday (what with the rupture and having had the Skype session rather than a face-to-face) and wanted to snuggle up into something cosy and comfy (a onesie would’ve totally been perfect – but not ever going to happen!) and so I ended up in a pair of jeans I haven’t worn in a year or two (I have 25+ pairs – a bonus of having had the same frame since 17 years old) and a jumper I found when I cleared the loft out the other weekend… that come to think of it I had when I was in college too (hmmm maybe the teen part is more present than I thought!).

I was happy enough with the outfit but as it came time to leave home I had a problem. Shoes. Shoes? Yes. Shoes. I couldn’t find a pair that went with the outfit. Granted jeans and a jumper is pretty much all I wear and so really ALL my shoes go with this. But not on Monday. I couldn’t find a pair that felt ‘right’. I have 8 different pairs of Rocket Dog sneakers in various colours, trainers galore, and loads of other shoes…and yet for some reason nothing I put on my feet felt ok with what I was wearing. I don’t know what was wrong but I felt self-conscious about my feet…

The outcome? I changed my entire outfit to accommodate the shoes. I opted for my current favourite pair of shoes and dressed around them. I know. I think, maybe I need A LOT MORE help.

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All of the recent crazy has alerted me to the fact that I need to be very gentle with myself for the next few weeks – when possible. I know I am walking a fine line here and I absolutely cannot afford to crash and burn like I did at Christmas.

Positively, the session, once I arrived went well. My therapist and I really talked and I once I had got through moaning on about my current life annoyances/worries the conversation changed tack and went to a place that I am usually wary of going to for fear of judgement and feeling ashamed.

My therapist asked me outright about my eating disorder and self-harm. Yikes! Usually I recoil a bit from that kind of thing but I tried to stay present and open with her. Little by little we got onto talking about the therapy and our relationship. I told her how I have been feeling when I dissociate and how we need to find a way of working more effectively with the traumatised attach parts.

I managed, somehow, to stay in my adult but was able to be open and vulnerable with her for the remainder of the session and it paid off. I might be imagining it but things felt different. The session had a different quality to it and my therapist who almost NEVER self-discloses shared something with me and that made me feel much closer to her.

Anyway, the real challenge now is to keep on this path. I need to try and keep letting her know how things are and work through everything that has come up as a result of Christmas and before. I know she doesn’t deliberately do things to hurt me but because I am so frigging sensitive even the hint of a wrong word or tone can send me out into orbit. It’s really tricky.

My young ones are beginning to really struggle and it seems a very long time until Monday. I hate that it makes no difference to those vulnerable parts of me whether I have a good therapy session or a not so good one. I can leave the room feeling connected and cared for and yet I can’t hold onto any of it and still find myself feeling desperately alone and lost and abandoned by Wednesday. It’s devastating really. My stomach actually aches knowing that it is still four more sleeps until Monday. Adult me needs to try and soothe the upset little ones but unfortunately it is much easier said than done.

I don’t have a lot else to say really, so I’ll leave it there for now.

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Don’t worry about it until it happens…

Don’t worry about it until it happens.

I am frequently on the receiving end of this nugget of advice. Clearly it’s well-intended and generally comes from an oracle who is extremely blessed not to struggle with anxiety or, indeed, any form of mental health difficulty (my wife)! Maybe she’s right. There is little point in getting wound up about things that are completely beyond my control and worrying about an eventuality that may actually may never happen- but just going on my experience, quite a lot of what I worry about seems to end up happening somewhere down the line!

I saw this on Pinterest earlier:

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And whilst I completely get the sentiment, my reaction to it was, ‘well it always rains sooner or later so surely that’s just being prepared!’

I can’t tell you how much I’d love to be able to live in the moment and not have every one of my internal cogs working double time, under huge strain, formulating ‘what ifs’ but that’s just not how I am built. I stress about the past. I stress about the here and now. I stress (a lot) about the future.

Anxiety is exhausting.

I fret a lot. I know that I think about things too much. My sprouting grey hairs are telling me that if I needed evidence! I sometimes wonder if the saying ‘ignorance is bliss’ is really true. I never really switch off and find it almost impossible to relax… it’s hard work being me. That’s not a cry for sympathy, it’s just an acknowledgement that running on turbo charge takes its toll after a while. It’s not sustainable.

I keep myself very busy (avoidance tactics) and then periodically end up burning out and drowning in whatever it is I am running from. The problem with the ‘busy’ tactic is that the stuff that I am avoiding is still draining energy somewhere in the background. If I were a smart meter there’d be a level of energy drain that is persistent and continual. It’d be a really good idea to unplug those energy guzzling elements but I have no idea what is plugged in or where in the house those items are located (that’s what therapy is about). So instead of conserving energy, knowing that there is this continual drain, in my frustration I just overload the system and plug in some bigger items so that the underlying stuff is just a buzz in the background.

I’m not sure about that analogy. It made sense to me when I thought of it!

Over the years I have tried all sorts to switch off, calm down, relax…and not much has been effective. I can be in a really tranquil spot alone and still my brain whirrs. I have repeatedly tried guided meditations and my brain fights against it and starts compiling shopping lists or suchlike midway through. I’ve tried visualisations in therapy and whilst my brain can take me to snow capped mountains or gorgeous beaches my body has other ideas. It’s always on edge. I’ve tried body based therapies such as craniosacral therapy (love this but more the therapist than the process!) and reflexology. I’ve been for massages. Done deep breathing. I’ve exercised. You name it, over the years I have tried all sorts.

The hypervigilant, anxious, part of me so far has proven stronger than whatever I have thrown at it…. and I am beginning to wonder if it’s because somewhere deep down I know that those bits are still needed as somewhat unlikely protectors. If I dare to relax too much then when something bad happens I won’t cope because I won’t be ready for it.

Since my dad died I have been especially on guard and that was heightened even more after my cancer diagnosis. I’ve been stressing out for the last month (have you noticed?!) and whilst a lot of it is clearly based in the attachment stuff that gets thrown into sharper focus on therapy breaks (and subsequent ruptures with my therapist – sigh), none of this has been helped by the continual worry about hospital check ups and never being able to rest easy with my health.

I see my consultant every three months for a follow up to check I’m still in remission. For about half of that three months I feel passable, i.e I just about hang tight to the knowledge that my body is on my side at the moment – but as the appointment draws nearer the sense of panic sets in, sleep deteriorates, and I am cranky as hell. What if I’m not ok? What if my bloods show something? What the hell would I do if I get bad news? What about the kids?

It all starts to swirl in my head. The memories of undergoing treatment edge towards the front of my mind and I get increasingly worked up. Again, logically there’s no point in worrying about something that might not happen…but then at the same time I know there is a fairly strong possibility of things going wrong within the next few years for me. It’s just how it is. My original treatment was ‘kill or cure’ and because I know that, I am almost unbearable to live with the week leading into my appointment.

It’s been especially bad this time round because I have been ill with a cough/cold/flu thing on and off since September and I just can’t shift it. I have no energy at all. I wiped the kitchen surfaces down today and it totally wiped me out. I wish that was a joke. It makes me nervous because I was heavily radiated to my chest following chemo and I know that a potential problem in the future is lung damage and possible cancer. Great.

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Anyway, I went to hospital with my game face on and the appointment was ok. I got a really good prod and poke and there’s no need to worry right now. The doctor was satisfied with me…apart from my weight…but that’s nothing to do with cancer is it?

My wife was right (on this occasion). My bloods are as they were – no change. They’re still not perfect, i.e infection fighting capacity is rubbish, but there were no markers for cancer. Good. I went and had a chest x-ray done to check there’s nothing untoward going on in my chest and I’ll hear back about that next week.

So that’s all good. Last night I slept a little easier.

Perhaps that should be a lesson in not worrying. But I do worry. Because as I said, there usually is something lying in wait round the corner ready to shit on you. My friend getting myeloma and dying when her treatment failed was heart breaking. How is that even real???? And today, my wife has been fast-track referred on the two week cancer pathway to dermatology as she has several confirmed skin cancer lesions by the GP. So, there we go.

I was right to ‘worry’ about the ‘dry skin’ patches and nag and nag for her to go to the doctor after months of her saying it was fine. Fucking healthcare professionals are the absolute worst at looking after themselves.

She’ll be ok. She is brave. She might have to have her face dug out and/or radiated but she’ll be ok….won’t she? She has to be.

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So yeah, that’s some what’s going on here.

I’ve also got a therapy post to write at some point having seen both my therapist and the other one again last week – but right now I feel a bit overwhelmed and can’t even deal with thinking about what last week’s sessions were like or, indeed, what therapy will be like this coming Monday.

It’s unlikely to be anything near to what I need (holding, proximity, emotional attunement and containment) because I won’t tell my therapist what I need because my inner child is so scared right now since the rupture that it’s gone into hiding and I have quickly entered a dissociated state once I’m there… and so there’s a part of me that feels like cancelling….but another part that won’t because there’s that tiny flicker of hope that that 50 minute session will help turn off some of the plugs just for moment and help me recharge my batteries.

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I haven’t listened to Travis since I was about 17…and yet today this song came into my head. Says it all!

 

 

 

Fight. Flight. Freeze. Or all of the above?!

So, Monday’s therapy session was supposed the hail the start of the Christmas therapy break. No prizes for guessing how it went. Ugh! Same old pattern: I started off quite chirpy and present and then somehow when my therapist suggested that perhaps the dream I was talking about might actually be about how I felt a sense of loss around the break and how I was worried about things falling apart…. well, it took me by surprise and I felt a massive shift in myself.

I thought the dream was about grieving the loss of my friend…which it also probably was. Damn why are dreams so multi-layered?!

Up until that point I had been sailing through the session firmly locked in my adult. I’ve notice that I try and do this as I head into a therapy break. I think it’s something about wanting to try and ground myself firmly in a coping place before I am ‘left’ (or abandoned!). I don’t want to dredge up hard feelings, awaken the child parts, or really even let my therapist in when I know I am going to be left without contact for a period of time.

Sometimes this strategy works just fine and sometimes it really doesn’t at all! If I don’t have complete control over the conversation, then my therapist can say things that trigger a response in me and override the adult’s ability to keep things surface level. That’s exactly what happened when she brought up how I might be feeling about the break.

It’s not as though I didn’t know we would be addressing the time away from therapy in some capacity. I mean Monday was going to be the day to do the pebbles, to create a holding message for the therapy break. But before we even got to talking about them I had shut down.

As soon as she mentioned the break there was a part of me was really raging and angry. I think my therapist even commented that I might be angry about the coming disruption. I hate it when she says ‘maybe you are angry’ because it’s one emotion that I am not very good at expressing and it’s only recently that I have noticed what the feeling is. My way of feeling and expressing anger up until very recently has been against myself: self harm and anorexia are the products of internalised anger!

Usually I say, ‘I’m not angry’  but when I think about it, yep, there is always a part of me that is and of course she is right. I think in part it’s the frustrated teen part who knows that it’s going to be her job to run the show and protect the little ones but there is a far darker more pervasive part, too, that steps up and that’s the inner critic. That voice is terrifying and scary but it has also acted as a protector (of sorts) over the years.

The problem with the sessions before breaks is that if I can’t hang on to adult then team ‘Fuck You’ turn up. They simultaneously want to fight and run. I know I sat for a very long time in silence in the session desperately hoping that my therapist would reach out to me. I know she tried repeatedly to find a way to connect with me but when I am like that she has no chance because the critic has me on lock down. The parts of me that crave closeness (mainly little ones) are imprisoned by the hard one.

At one point I could hear its voice saying, ‘Just leave. She doesn’t care about you. Fuck this. You don’t need her’. My therapist asked what was happening in my head and I finally said that a voice was telling me to leave. She asked why hadn’t left and I replied, ‘because that voice has even more power over me when I am not here’. And that is frightening for me. I told her that I knew that the moment I left the room it was going to be very difficult. She said ‘because there are things that need to be said?’ and I nodded.

To be clear, I have never attempted suicide and yet recently there have been several occasions where I have mentally planned out how many pills I would need to take to put an end to feeling this way. I don’t think I would ever act on the plan. Although I am writing this from a place of feeling ‘okish’ and I don’t think suicide attempts usually come from this place.

Ultimately, there are several reasons why I can’t see myself taking an overdose. First and foremost: I just will not do that to my kids. I know what it is like to lose a parent and I will never willingly put my children through that, or put them through a failed suicide attempt. Even when I looked, and often felt, like I was dying when I was going through chemo I drew on every last ounce of strength to keep it together and present an ‘I’m ok’ front for my kids.

My daughter still worries every time I have to go to the doctors, even if it is totally unrelated to the treatment. That’s a hell of a burden for a five year old to carry and I am not going to deliberately add to that. With my history of cancer and the heavy duty treatment regime I underwent it is not beyond the realms of possibility that I will get ill again, either through relapse or as a side effect of the treatment. One day I may not be here for them anyway so I will not take myself away from them through my own volition.

This time two years ago I was being radiated to my chest every day for three weeks. I had a two day break from radiotherapy over Christmas but by which time I couldn’t swallow anything that was in any way crunchy because my oesophagus was essentially microwaved and red raw. Christmas dinner was a disappointment!

As much as I don’t like to look back at what I went through then because I just find it totally overwhelming, I do have to remember that when I got diagnosed there was a part of me that was terrified and part of me that dug deep, really deep, and that’s what I have to do now.

I made it through, bone marrow biopsies, CT guided biopsies through my chest wall to reach the tumour, multiple PET and CT scans, several lung function tests, heart echo tests, oh, and don’t forget twelve chemotherapies and radiation!

The treatment stripped me back and my immune system is still knackered. Which is why I am almost always ill now. I lost all my hair. I knew I would lose the hair on my head but nothing quite prepares you for it coming out in your hand in huge clumps and blocking the plug hole as you shower.

Even when I made the choice to shave my head there was something about sitting in the salon watching my lovely long hair fall to the floor that was awful. I wasn’t prepared to lose my eye brows, my eye lashes, and ALL MY BODY HAIR. I am sure there are some women who would like to look like a nine year old downstairs – indeed I know many pay for the privilege, but I hated the whole thing.

So, what am I saying?

If I made it through all that and survived then I must survive what I am going through right now. I have to believe that things will get better. Experience tells me that it will be the case. Each time that I hit the deck emotionally and/or physically, there is something that picks me up or I, at least, navigate my way to a more secure space to catch my breath a bit.

Ok, I’m not soaring through the clouds by any means today, but the sense of feeling like I want to die isn’t there. It doesn’t ever last. It’s just an extreme response to some really difficult feelings. It’s almost as though I feel like I cannot hold the emotion and so the only way is out. But it’s not. The only way is to go through it and wait to come out the other side because it happens eventually.

I’ve said a few times when I have commented on other people’s blogs that I liken therapy and life to the story of Michael Rosen’s, We’re Going On A Bear Hunt. It’s a great young children’s book. A group of children set off on an adventure to find a bear and on the way they encounter several obstacles:

‘We’re going on a bear hunt. We’re going to catch a big one. What a beautiful day! We’re not scared.

Uh-Uh! A snowstorm! A swirling whirling snow storm. We can’t go over it. We can’t go under it! Oh no! We’ve got to go through it.’

And that’s how I see it. I journey through life on my ‘bear hunt’ and a lot of the time it is a ‘beautiful day’ and when things are good I don’t feel ‘scared’ at all. But then sometimes I am faced with obstacles, sometimes it’s ‘thick oozy mud’ and other times I am caught up in the ‘swirling whirling snowstorm’.

What I do know for sure is that the obstacles are all part of the journey and I can, and will, overcome each and every one that is thrown at me….ok, a cancer relapse may be a bit out of my control, but barring that I will keep going forward because there is always the chance of the beautiful day in between the challenges.

It’s all about trying to hang onto that knowledge when it feels bleak. It’s not at all easy because when things feel bad I suffer from optimism amnesia. Last Monday, in session, I was caught up in an emotional storm and part of me felt frozen. Actually, I did. I was physically stone cold. But what I mean is, the fear, or shame, or whatever it was made me freeze. In the moment I couldn’t find a way out of how bad it felt. It was impossible to imagine that things could ever feel better when I was locked in that headspace and I just couldn’t talk. So rather than run from it, I just sat with it.

I used to get really annoyed with myself when I would shutdown and freeze in session but my therapist is great (gush, I love her!) and is really working with me to notice when this happens and how it feels when I leave the window of tolerance…or as a friend and I joke ‘letterbox of tolerance’ (because that space is so narrow).

I used to feel like these responses: fight, flight, freeze were a barrier to the therapy but now I see that it is all part of it. Processing how it feels when I get to that place, not necessarily in the moment because it is not always possible, is important and bit by bit we are doing that.

We didn’t do the pebbles. We touched on them briefly and I said that I was feeling anxious and stressed about them. I can’t really remember what we said, actually. I know I said something about how it was difficult for me to express the need for them (or the message) and part of me was really attacking that part of me for being needy. I think my therapist asked me if I had any ideas what to put on them and said she’d had some ideas but didn’t elaborate on what they were. I think I just went so deep into my shell that we didn’t get anywhere with it.

On reflection I know what it is that has been bothering me about the pebbles. It’s fear. I am scared that she isn’t going to say what I feel I need her to. Above all, I want a message that comes from her, not one that I have crafted with her. I don’t want to help script the words. Essentially the message I am asking for/need is a demonstration of care on her part. I am asking her to prove that there is a connection in our relationship.

Sounds ok? Well, it did ought to be after all these years but there is a big part of me that is terrified that what she will write will prove something entirely different to me – a lack of care and connection. Part of me can’t bring myself to go through that. Part of me would sooner live in the hope that just maybe she cares rather than have my heart broken by her showing me in black and white that I don’t actually matter at all to her.

I totally get how dramatic that seems.

I felt a bit frustrated at the end of the session because the critic/(asshole protector) part had taken so much of the session and had side lined the little ones that needed holding and containment in preparation for the break. But my therapist told me that the part that had shown up in session was as valid as all the others, and had a place there. She acknowledged that it often shows up around breaks and disruptions and that she has a far clearer picture of it now….which I guess is a good thing.

Leaving the session felt pretty awful but actually this week hasn’t been too bad at all. I have been really really busy and really really ill. I haven’t had capacity to look inwards or think too much. I can feel there are some little ones feeling a bit upset and in need of a cuddle but generally they are coping ok.

At the beginning of this I said ‘Monday’s therapy session was supposed to hail the start of the therapy break’ and perhaps that’s why I am not in full blown meltdown about last session.

A few weeks ago my therapist offered me a session on Thursday 21st to see her (because she couldn’t do our regular Monday slot on the 18th). Usually she works in the NHS in the middle of the week but must have started her Christmas leave by then and so had a session slot available if I wanted it.

Of course I wanted it!…but I knew the moment she said it that it was going to be pretty much impossible. I went home to check but I knew my wife is in meetings that morning and wouldn’t be able to work from home. Both my kids are off school as of Wednesday and so as much as I would like to have cut the break down a bit by having that session it wasn’t going to happen. I considered Skype but to be honest it would have been a nightmare with a 3 year old and 5 year old tearing around.

Then I had an idea.

Is it wrong that I invited someone to come and stay for three days under the guise of a ‘Christmas get together/catch up’ because I knew they would be here to look after my kids on Thursday morning so I could go to therapy??!

I know.

This is not one of my proudest moments.

It’s also a time where I really hope that my therapist doesn’t read this blog! Because that’s a whole other level of crazy right?!

Don’t get me wrong I am very much looking forward to seeing my friend and spending some quality time with her and her son (my kids’ half brother) in the lead up to Christmas. I am excited about taking the kids out to do fun things together. I am looking forward to chatting and watching Christmas movies. But I won’t lie. I am fucking delighted that I can go to therapy on Thursday and have another stab at a decent, connecting session to get through the remainder of the break!

Right, I’m going to go hang my head in shame now before I go and see Father Christmas!

I am shining my weird light brightly today so the rest of you know where to find me! 😉

 

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Grief.

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I woke up in the early hours of this morning sobbing violently, again. A dream. It wasn’t a bad one but it deeply touched on that vulnerable place that I have been desperately trying to guard, the place where feelings of loss and abandonment reside. I awoke to find myself physically shaking. I was stone cold. Tears flowed endlessly down onto my pillow in the pitch black. It was not gentle crying, it was full-body, snot-ridden, ugly crying. The physical embodiment of my grief is not in the least bit pretty, it is warts and all, let it all hang out, pain.

Since my friend died last month after battling Myeloma for two years, I have felt unbelievably sad, lost, and empty but have continued to function in my day-to-day. Externally it has been pretty much business as usual. This is partly because I’ve had to carry on, partly because I am in denial about it,  and partly because I know that’s what she’d have wanted me to do. She would have told me to hold my babies tightly, to find joy in the small things, and buy myself flowers (now that she can’t bring me home grown roses from her garden)….and that’s exactly what I have done or, at least, what I have tried to do.

From the mundane to the extraordinary and everything in between I’ve tried to be present and engaged in life because my friend can’t be in hers. She’s gone. Now, more than ever, I feel the pressure of needing to ‘live’ and not just live but live authentically and fully.  I won’t lie, though, truly there are days where even existing has been difficult. I know I put too much pressure on myself. I should give myself a break. I am grieving for goodness sake! And grief is not neat. There’s meant to be five stages I think, but in my experience is looks more like this:

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There is a part of me that longs to have what feels like the weight of the world lifted from my shoulders just for a minute or two. I know. I know. Get over myself. It could be so much worse…I do know that. It’s just for me, right now, it is bad. I am so tired of battling in one way or another – whether it be against myself or with my health. It’s just exhausting. I never ever seem to reach a point where I feel safe and balanced. If my head feels ok (ha, when was that again?) then invariably my body gives up on me. I’m still coughing and spluttering and heading towards the dread of the three monthly cancer check up.

There’s no wonder I am not full of joy or exuding Christmas spirit. How can I be when my friend isn’t here this year? How can I feel jolly when in a week’s time we would have been celebrating her sixtieth birthday over our annual Christmas crafting day (faffing about making pompoms, or jabbing stuff in oasis, or buggering about with PVA glue and tissue paper). It was always the perfect excuse to get together with my collection of older women/surrogate mothers and consume too much cake, too much chocolate, too much mulled wine. A day with giggles on tap.

I could really use a day like that right now. We had planned to do it this year anyway to celebrate our lovely friend but as it’s worked out no one is around because life is like that – people have children and grandchildren to look after etc. Life moves on and commitments come up. I’ve got so much on this next couple of weeks that even I am probably going to have to cancel the coffee and cake in town we had planned in for Wednesday instead of a full craft day. I have to be on an interview panel for preschool.

There’s a part of me that wishes the world would just stop turning for a little while. I want to pause and take time to reflect on what has happened to my friend, and to me. I want to mourn for what I have lost. And yet, somehow in my waking hours there just is no time to. Not only that, I am fearful of letting it out because I know the flow of pain and loss and grief can’t just be stemmed when the clock demands. And there is so much unprocessed grief – my dad’s death still haunts me.

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So because I don’t face it in the daylight, my grief seems to come out in my dreams and then the floods of tears wake me and they just will not stop.

Last night’s dream:

I called in to see my friend’s husband to deliver a Christmas card and see how he was holding up. I found him sitting in the living room, dishevelled and unwashed. He was a broken man. My heart ached for him.

It felt strange being in the house, as though my friend could walk in at any point, her things still dotted around the room, her presence still felt. We talked a little while  and I told him how much she had loved him and how that if there was such a thing as soul mates then they certainly were the closest example of it I have ever witnessed. He cried and left the room.

I sat in the chair that I have always sat in and closed me eyes. My friend’s voice came into my head, ‘darling girl, look after (husband) for me. It’s terrible for him and he’s so blinded by grief that he can’t feel me. I know you miss me but you know I am here. I am always with you’.

So again, it wasn’t a terrible dream. It just hurts. My soul aches. I know that sounds dramatic but that’s how it feels.

I can’t tell you how many times things have happened where I have thought, ‘I must text (friend) to tell her…’ and then it hits me that she’s not here. I can’t tell her that my daughter has lost her first tooth, or that my son did a good job as a king in his nativity, or simply that I feel a bit sad right now and would love to pop round for a cuppa.

The grief of no longer being able to share the everyday is hard to manage.

I know that this loss is also really hard right now because I am just about to start my Christmas therapy break. And so all my feelings about my friend dying are getting muddled up with my therapist disappearing for nearly a month.

I struggle enough feeling like my therapist is really gone (dead) on breaks or in between sessions and I know this comes from various events that have happened in my life: my mum consistently being away during the week when I was little, and then more recently my dad dying three days into his month long holiday in Thailand. So throw in this massive recent bereavement and it just feels incredibly difficult.

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Basically, it seems to work that if people are out of sight for me then I am shitting my pants. It is massively anxiety provoking being away from my therapist for any amount of time because I rely on her so heavily. The idea of her being actually gone (dead) is terrifying for me and that is exactly how it feels when I can’t see her. There’s none of this ‘holding in mind’ stuff, and being able to feel secure in the knowledge that she will be there at a fixed time on a fixed day. It really is just horrendous. I’ve tried to explain it to her but I not convinced she really understands.

This year is even worse than usual because obviously one of my mother figures has actually just died. The one other person (aside from my therapist) who I felt totally got me and accepted me just the way I am is not here anymore. It is devastating.

Tomorrow I am meant to go to my last therapy session of 2017 and somehow get something written on my pebbles to take away with me over the break. I know that in theory they should function as a transitional object and should be better than nothing. Having a tangible, physical reminder of my therapist on something concrete did ought soothe me when it feels bad. The thing is, I am so worried about her not writing something that is adequately holding or containing that I’ll just end up feeling rejected and abandoned by her at a time when I least need to feel that the connection is tenuous.

It’s really hard knowing how to handle it if she starts trying to bring in the adult in the message. Last week she acknowledged that my adult doesn’t need the pebbles and it’s the young ones that need something but I know that it doesn’t always follow that a message to the little ones materialises. In the summer we had a similar conversation before she wrote and sent me a holding text message. It fell so flat because it was worded so formally and didn’t talk to the parts that need her most.

I guess I’ll have to see how it goes. Part of me already feels like I am shutting down in preparation for the break. Part of me dreads going to session tomorrow because it signals the start of a period of time that I know is going to be challenging. There is  also another part of me that desperately needs to go and try and connect tomorrow -to try and charge up that felt sense of connection and holding.

I just wish I knew which part of me was going to show up and sit on the couch tomorrow. If it’s the silent and withholding one then I am screwed…thing is, if it’s the open and vulnerable one I fear that she is also screwed.

Either way, by midday tomorrow I can say that the grief I feel is going to be massive. I hate therapy breaks.

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Ouch.

Cancer: the thief

*Trigger warning: cancer, cancer treatment, and death spoken about in no uncertain terms.

One of my closest friends is, as I type this, dying in hospital and it’s only a matter of time until the phone call comes to tell me that she is gone has died today.

When I started thinking about, and writing, this post this morning it was from the position of knowing that my dear friend was receiving end of life care in hospital and I wanted to express how sad, angry, and frustrated I feel about what has happened to her, and how unfair life seems sometimes.

It seems like an odd thing to be doing, carrying on with this piece of writing now, but I need to process this loss and writing is all I can manage right now. Every time I talk I burst into tears. I’ve cried and cried all day and now the tears have temporarily abated there’s a huge part of me that is grieving but another part that wants to tell everyone about this wonderful lady whilst I shake my fist and rage at cancer.

*

I feel like I am perpetually being robbed by this fucking hideous, persistent, crafty, bastard thief we know as cancer. I live in fear of it every day of my life, like so many of us. We (my family and friends) try to pretend like it doesn’t exist and that I am/we are unlikely to be burgled again, but I know the truth: it is only a matter of time before someone I love is taken from me or that I will be taken from my loved ones because cancer just won’t leave us alone. It can’t. It’s so deeply woven into the fabric of our existence these days. With 1 in 2 of us now being subject to some form of cancer diagnosis in our lifetime, there is a sad inevitability about it: you will be robbed blind, it just remains to be seen in which way, will it be your life or the life of someone you care about that is targeted…or both?

The fact remains, if you’ve been burgled once you’re likely to be the victim again. Just like my beautiful, darling friend. She had breast cancer fifteen years ago and then got diagnosed with Myeloma (bone marrow cancer) in 2015… and now she is dying. I guess some people might say that she was lucky to survive the breast cancer and get more precious years with her family and friends but it’s hard to see it that way right now when for the last two years I’ve watched the bravest woman I know try every line of treatment available only to watch it fail. We all hoped desperately for success and yet one by one saw each treatment was unsuccessful – now there is nothing left to be done, in her own words to a mutual friend, ‘we’re scraping the bottom of the barrel now’.

I have known this woman for a decade now and feel utterly blessed to have had her in my life. She was an English teacher, like me, and when I took up my first teaching job she promptly took me under her wing and supported me in any way she could. At the end of the first year of teaching my dad died suddenly and she was the one who delivered flowers to my doorstep and planned my cover lessons. She was there for me all through my subsequent mental breakdown. She has always been there. She has two children around my age and she became a great friend but also a mother figure. She never dodged the difficult questions with me. She noticed when I was sinking into anorexia or depression and would always say something caring but not intrusive. She always made me feel normal and cared for and SAFE. Later she supported me in my return to work and then through my pregnancy when I was teaching. Since then she’s been there through it all with me, another baby, my own cancer diagnosis and treatment, and now, sadly, I have also seen her through hers.

I have watched a beautiful, loving, kind, and vibrant soul have her life stolen from her bit by bit by the cancer thief. I was devastated to find out she had been diagnosed with Myeloma just around the time I was confirmed in remission with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. I had more chemo and radiation to go but I knew that my treatment was effective and it spurred me on. The relief I felt to have been successful in my own cancer battle was short-lived because I knew now what lay ahead for my friend. I couldn’t take it away for her and I knew that her odds and stats were not in her favour. My cancer was curable, hers only treatable.

So whilst at the beginning we thought she might get 5 years or more with her and were ready to cheerlead her through her treatment, we are now less than two years in and she is at the end of her life, there are possibly days left but more likely hours remaining. There have been no good spells for her because she has not responded successfully to any of her treatment. She has been fighting a losing battle but hell has she put up a huge fight.

This warrior woman is a rock and an example to us all on how to live life and how to cope when facing death. Now barely sixty years old she has faced her diagnosis with a grit and determination that I know I would have struggled to muster. I know, in all likelihood, somewhere along the line I will either relapse in my Hodgkin’s or get another cancer diagnosis as a side-effect of the ‘kill or cure’ treatment I’ve already had. I am terrified of that happening but my lovely friend has shown me it is possible to smile and live through hell. I just don’t want to. I am scared.

I’m not going to dress this up and if it’s too much for you then stop reading. Cancer treatment for Myeloma is hideous. The treatment regime has been gruelling. I have felt so powerless as I have witnessed her go through bone marrow biopsies (this is the worst pain I have ever experienced) chemo after horrid failed chemo, blood transfusions, infusions, injections, poison after poison in pill after pill, and none of it has been effective. She’s suffered hair loss/thinning (the least of her worries), severe jaundice, crippling exhaustion, desperate anaemia, neutropenia, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, constipation, aching, balance issues, weight loss, bloating, insomnia, physical weakness and pain….and so much more. To watch someone keep going in the face of total agony is harrowing. She has always put a brave face on and yet I’ve known how hard it’s been. There’s a look in her eye: fear, I think, that she doesn’t show to many people but because I have been through cancer treatment she knows I get it, she doesn’t need to hide from me.

Less than a month ago I sent her a message to see how she was as she’d just started on another (last chance) line of treatment and got this in reply:

‘You know the score more than anyone: bad taste in mouth, tired as hell, and a belly like a poisoned pup. Lots of fluid retention with this one so looking pregnant! Hey ho, what a week! At least I got through the five days of treatment. Three weeks to recover now’

Despite the horror of it, and believe me this treatment is horrific she was still chirpy. I have messaged several times over the last few weeks and then two weeks ago my friends and I got a blanket text:

‘Unfortunately I’m in hospital. I’ve been here since Friday and I’m not sure when I’m going home. You know how I feel about that! Hope all well with you x’

I was in hospital on Wednesday 18th in the haematology centre having my regular consultant follow up. Fortunately I am still in remission (phew). I knew my friend was on the ward literally through the door, but that she was too ill for visitors. Since then I have been texting and getting no replies, like everyone else.

On Thursday when I was house hunting in Cornwall I received a call from my friend’s husband saying that she was now too ill even to reply to messages and that he would keep us informed. In my head I couldn’t process what he was saying at all. I couldn’t read between the lines. Maybe I didn’t want to.

I spent some of my therapy session talking about my friend and how I felt about what was happening. I said how I am not ready to lose her yet and that I always thought having time to say goodbye to someone would make it in some way easier when the time finally came. I can tell you now – it doesn’t. I can safely say that watching a person suffer and deteriorate before your eyes is no easier than losing someone unexpectedly. Unfortunately, I now have experience of both types of loss. What I do know is that losing someone you deeply love generates a pain and grief that is inconceivable until it happens.

After my session on Friday I went to Tesco. I was ambling round the shop in a post-therapy daze when another ex work friend/mum replacement (I try and collect these mothering older women!) text me to say that our friend had further deteriorated and is now on end of life/palliative care. As I read the message I felt my world start to crumble. Things suddenly became real in a way that they hadn’t until now. I left my trolley and walked out the store and sat in my car crying. Despite knowing that treatment isn’t going well and that she is desperately ill in hospital, I am not ready to say goodbye to a woman who has seen me through the best and worst times in my life. I can’t lose another person whom I love.

In the early hours of this morning I had a dream about my friend. I was visiting her in the hospital and she was unresponsive in her bed, as she is now. I sat there holding her hand when another version of my friend walked in the door and sat with me. She was as I have known her before her illness, full of life, vibrant, exuding warmth and love. She came in and sat beside me and said:

‘This body in the bed isn’t me, darling. It’s just my shell. It’s what’s left of my earthly body. I am here with you now in the way I always have been. I’ve had a good life. I’ve been so happy. I want you to tell people about me. I was a good teacher, wasn’t I? We had a laugh didn’t we?’

and I replied:

‘We absolutely did! You were the best teacher but you are so much more than that. You are an unbelievable wife and mother. I am proud and blessed to call you my friend. You are without doubt the kindest soul I have ever met and my life is all the richer for having had you in it. I love you so much.’

she replied:

‘I love you too. I’ve got to go now but I’ll see you soon’.

I woke up sobbing my heart out and couldn’t stop crying for a couple of hours.

*

I found out that my friend died early this morning.

So today is a bad day. It’s right up there among the very worst days of my life. I am beyond devastated and I miss my friend so very much. I will always miss her but I will always carry her in my heart.

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Why does physical illness always go hand in hand with a mental health crash?

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Look, I apologise in advance for this. It’s basically an, ‘I’m really poorly, am feeling sorry for myself, and I really miss my therapist’ ramble written from under the duvet, on a Friday night, whilst my wife is out at a gig that I am too ill to go to.

My immune system is beyond crap. My blood levels have never fully recovered despite it being nearly two years since I completed my last round of chemo. As a result of depleted lymphocytes, my infection fighting capacity is pretty non-existent. The doctors had hoped that things would’ve improved by now, but unfortunately my body is stubborn and has decided it would rather pick up and fight every bug that is going! I’ve been ill for almost two weeks now with the exhausting cold, cough, chest infection, no voice thing that’s doing the rounds. I’m so so bored of it. I just don’t have capacity in my life to be ill and still.

I thought I was getting better at the start of the week, hence the fact that I managed to drag myself to therapy on Monday albeit sounding pretty husky. By Tuesday, though, the dry, croupy sounding cough headed south and turned one of my lungs into some kind of gurgling swamp and I suddenly felt like I’d had all my energy burgled from my body during the night.

I finally made it to the doctors on Wednesday. By which time both my lungs sounded like crackling Autumn leaves being trodden on every time I tried to breathe. I’d spent the whole night trying to sleep propped on the sofa in between coughing fits but it was all a disaster. I know that I need to get better at seeking help before I am completely on my knees but I always worry about people thinking I’m some kind of malingerer or hypochondriac….which is I guess a hangover from all the doctor visits when I was misdiagnosed with my cancer where I was repeatedly sent away (fobbed off!).

I didn’t see my GP (apparently she’s retired) instead I saw a stony-faced misery guts with GP qualifications. I was really only there about the chest infection so it didn’t really matter that she had the bedside manner of a cadaver. The annoying thing is, though, that I could’ve been there about anything: my mental health, or illness, depending on which way you look at it has been pretty bad for the last six months or so.

Realistically after the huge anxiety attack I had a few weeks ago, coupled with the negative feelings I’ve been having about my body and the urge to self-harm it would have been good to air some of those concerns and discuss the possibility of medication for the times when things get out of control. Of course I didn’t say anything, I just took my prescription for antibiotics and went home. I didn’t feel comfortable telling her anything about my emotional state. I wonder how many people feel like this about their doctors?

By the time it got to yesterday I couldn’t even get out of bed. I was absolutely knackered and felt like my body was made of lead. My wife had to take the day off work to look after our son as I just couldn’t move or function in any meaningful way.

I’m not really here to moan about how ill I feel, what I wanted to talk about is how I’ve noticed that when I am poorly my ability to function effectively in a mental/emotional sense is seriously compromised. I wondered if any else has noticed this in themselves?

I’ve said before that I struggle to maintain the connection with my therapist between sessions and that I hate midweek especially. It’s so tough. It’s essentially when the little parts of me are most active and start to overwhelm me. It’s the time when I most feel like I need to check in with Em, to ask whether she’s still there, that things are still ok, and that something hasn’t happened that has changed the relationship.

It’s a really tricky position to be in because that tiny, screaming, terrified bit of me that is totally uncontained is desperate to reach out to her and seek reassurance but the thing is, when I do that, she doesn’t respond and so that desperate little girl feels completely abandoned and then can’t trust her when we go to therapy.

So this week has been hideous. Because I have been so poorly it’s felt as though my adult has jumped ship or died. I haven’t had the physical or emotional strength to hold it all together and my little ones have had free run of my mind. I’ve felt like I am completely emotionally unanchored. I feel like I need grounding and holding tightly. I have been so ill that I’ve stayed in bed and hugged pillows to try and settle and soothe those little parts, but it hasn’t helped and I just feel lost. This small inner child is desperate to be held close and I don’t know how to do that for myself so it’s become overwhelming. I really could use a transitional object – not that I’ve said this before!

I always miss my therapist between sessions but this week it all feels unmanageable, like a life and death situation. I feel like my filter is down and I desperately want to tell her how I feel and how much I miss her. I want to tell her how scared and vulnerable I feel. I basically want some kind of reassurance from her that things are safe still. Rationally I know that everything is fine and that we can work through some of this stuff on Monday but the child parts don’t get any of it. They just want to be cuddled…by her…NOW!

It’s tragic really and I know it’s basically my wonderful friend ‘maternal transference’ doing the rounds. I know that this desire to be taken care of and nurtured back to health comes from my childhood where I was never cared for or fussed over when I was sick. More often than not I was packed off to school because my parents were busy, or sent down to a relative because, ha, my parents were busy. Always too busy.

When I was a bit older and my parents had split up I was left at home in bed when I felt unwell. My day would be spent drinking Lucozade, making toast, and watching Supermarket Sweep and the lunchtime episode of Neighbours….and then watching the repeat again at 5:40pm. There was no one there to take my temperature, hold me close, bring me treats etc. There was never anyone there.

I think so much of how I feel when I am ill (or well for that matter) stems from this feeling of my not being important or worthy of care and affection. I always felt like an inconvenience, something to be managed (when ill) and so now, it’s little wonder that when I feel like there is someone who maybe does demonstrate some care and compassion (Em) I want to latch onto it and hold it greedily against my chest, or place it inside myself. I want that person to be there when I am sick.

I feel like a whiny kid writing this, but actually that’s exactly what it is, I currently have a bunch of whiny kids loose inside that want to be held and contained and my adult who is really just a crap babysitter isn’t even available to try and do the job.

I hope I am well enough to go to session next on Monday – pray to the antiobiotic gods! – as I don’t think I can cope with a missed session right now. As the title of my blog suggests, I’m ‘holding it together with rubber bands and chewing gum’ – it’s fairly precarious.

The one positive from being this poorly is that I haven’t got the energy to think about physical self-harm and I am not eating much because I feel rough and so that in itself is enough to take care of the anorexic voice for now. It’s a sad day when you feel lucky that you’re only dealing with illness and attachment issues!

I literally just want to be held. I know it can’t happen. I want to cry.

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I wrote this poem over the Easter break and gave it to my therapist (must’ve been having a brave day!).  It still feels really relevant today:

Not here

I am not in your presence

but, oh

how painfully aware of your absence I have become.

 

Time and distance

stretch

out

endlessly

between us…

 

You are so far away.

 

The holding place in my mind

struggles hard to keep you whole

 

Are you merely a figment of my imagination?

A hologram, perhaps?

 

*

 

Even when within my reach

you always feel so very far away

 

I can see you,

feel you, but

I cannot touch you.

 

That small space

opens up like a vast ocean

I stand on one shore

you on the other

 

You beckon for me to join you

promise to be my guide

and to witness the lessons of the Self

that only I can teach

myself.

 

For the longest time I have waited

warily watching

assessing the dangers that might lurk hidden

in the deep.

 

I believe I will reach you –

eventually

(is it misplaced confidence or simply wishful thinking?)

and so I begin the swim.

 

My muscles relax into a familiar rhythm.

The hardest, aching parts of me begin to soften

as the distance between us lessens.

 

It’s farther than I thought, though, and

sometimes cold

sometimes silent

sometimes strange –

The horizon keeps shifting.

 

I tread water a while

rest and catch my breath.

I look up and discover that

I can no longer see you.

 

Panic.

 

a sudden shiver

a lightning bolt

 

Both sea and sky shift rapidly

calm blues now rage-filled greys

Angry, turbulent clouds roll heavily in

raining hot tears down like shiny silvery bullets.

My fear rises alongside the storm-whipped waves

 

I am exposed

I am scared

 

Is there still safety on your shore?

I can’t be sure.

But it’s swim or drown

and so I keep moving.

 

There’s no going back.

I must have faith in what I feel

And trust in what cannot be seen.

 

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